Sunday, June 16, 2013
On Second Thought: God, friends and creativity
Decades ago, in a conversation about music, my brother Greg made the case that a singer isn't as creatively important as the songwriter; that the songwriter generates something from nothing, whereas the singer is merely repeating or interpreting. He would rather have songwriting talent than singing talent, he said.
As a kid who transfixed by the idea of making something where before there was nothing, his logic made perfect sense. I downloaded his opinion onto my own personal hard drive, and there it stayed for years to come. I think of it as the "God" definition of creativity: You can only claim to be creative if you're the one making something from nothing. And since being creative was good, and merely parroting someone else's creative product seemed less honorable, the singer was less important than the songwriter.
It would be years before deeper thought intruded, but eventually it did. And when you think deeply about what it means to be creative, you inevitably end up (say I) admitting that no one creates something from nothing -- well, except perhaps God himself. The songwriter used language he or she was taught; most likely used melodic tropes evolved through the ages. The song might be new, but it's hardly without foundation material.
Meanwhile, the singer might or might not be creative. She might mimic others' styles. She might fake emotion. Or she might bring whatever that thing is that truly creative people bring to what they do. You can think of it as the "special sauce," or as a way of stamping the starter material with a piece of one's soul. Whatever.
Most of creativity -- all of it? -- is taking what we're given and adding what's uniquely ourselves. Some of us do it on a grand scale. Some of us add just a little bit.
Collaboration rules. We collaborate with composers, singers, painters, or writers who went before us. We work in real time with other musicians, artists, editors and technicians. Being creative doesn't make us God. But talented friends and curious hearts can make us creative.