In the act of creativity, the artist lets go the self control which he normally clings to, and is open to riding the wind. Something almost always happens to startle us during the act of creating, but not unless we let go our adult intellectual control and become as open as little children. This does not mean to set aside or discard the intellect, but to understand that it is not to become a dictator, for when it does we are closed off from revelation.
— Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art
I first fell in love with music in 1996 when I discovered Weezer’s Buddy Holly video on our family computer. (It was included in the Windows 95 release as one of its pre-packaged media items.) I remember watching it over and over again, amazed that such a band could have existed in the 70s when Happy Days was produced.
It was the first time I discovered music that resonated with every cell in my body.
The internet, still a luxury at the time and because we were slow adopters of new technology, I couldn’t quickly unearth the truth about Weezer’s roots and place them in their proper era. It wasn’t until I came across the Blue album sitting on a friend’s bedroom dresser that I realized it had only been recorded two years prior and that they weren’t just one-hit wonders. I could finally feast my ears on an entire Weezer album! This prospect thrilled me, and the next time I visited my local music store I found Blue on cassette tape and played it on repeat for the next several years.
Every time we come across something that lights us up — a band, an artist, an author — there is a childlike excitement and energy that carries us forward, deeper into relationship with beauty.
Many of us want to go beyond the initial infatuation, beyond listening, to recreating and recapturing the essence of what first resonated with us. We want to become the vessel for communicating beauty.
It was that first encounter with Weezer that eventually set me on a path of studying classical piano. The seed had been planted. I watered it. It grew, and I thought I’d remain on that path indefinitely, wanting to be a professional musician touring the globe.
It didn’t take long after getting into the thick of the technical side that my interest began to wane. Playing scales, while helpful, just didn’t do it for me. The initial fire was getting smothered by a pursuit of perfection, and I lost interest altogether, eventually dropping out of the conservatory.
It took six years for my love of music to return. Six years before I could touch a piano or listen to music and enjoy it.
I often thought about that transformation, from love to hate to love again. It took me awhile to understand what happened, but eventually understood that I had let my creative energy become subject to technique, rather than putting technique in its proper place as the servant of creativity.
Putting second things first, I closed myself off from wonder. From the mystery and beauty of music.
Art that resonates with me has a sense of spontaneity about it.
As though the artist, being completely open to the flow of her creative energy becomes merely a conduit. Moving her brush in rhythm with the Source of all things. The pianist moving his fingers across the keyboard freely in tune with the fire within.
Creativity is birthed out of mystery. It comes from an unspeakable and undefinable place. As soon as it becomes too clearly defined, too clearly articulated and prepackaged into technique and methods, its soul disappears.
C.S. Lewis said that if we pursue originality for the sake of being original, we will not create anything original. But instead, if we merely try to tell the truth, what we create will be original.
But how do we tell the truth? To tell the truth we must listen. Listen to our own voice, to the original energy and inspiration that moved us in the first place, bringing tears to our eyes.
The beauty of art is that it communicates something beyond words. We look at a painting for hours because it captures something beyond definitions and words. It cuts through conventional wisdom, peeling back layers of cultural assumptions and presuppositions, revealing naked, pure truth.
To tell the truth about something is to uncover its essence.
This is why the greatest art, when first introduced, is often criticized. Because it says something about us — our culture, our society — that offends us. This is exactly what happened to Van Gogh and other impressionistic painters, for example. Their art was seen as ugly because they captured peasants and prostitutes. The wealthy — those who could afford expensive paintings — wanted to be isolated from suffering. From the dirty parts of life. In capturing the parts of life we try to hide they were offended.
The biggest obstacle to telling the truth is comparing ourselves to others. When we look at what others are doing — how they express themselves or what resonates on social media — then try to recreate it, we are turning the creative act into a formula. Secretly hoping that by following the ‘formula’ our work will also resonate and be successful.
The best thing we can do for ourselves — for our art — is to listen to ourselves. To let our own voice guide us, even when no one listens. Again, with Van Gogh, only a few people saw the genius of his work while he was alive. Almost no one understood what he was trying to do or capture. The world was not ready for it.
If you have the urge to create but fear expressing yourself wrongly or imperfectly, just begin. Just let it out.
It is only through the act of creating that we will uncover the truth we have to tell. Little by little you will chip away the parts of your expression that are impersonations. Slowly you will uncover your own voice. Your own way of telling the truth. Listen to your creative impulse. Talk about your art with people who spur you forward rather than those who — with the purest of motivations — make us overthink our expression and stifle our creative energy.
Create like the wind. Let it blow where it wants to. Be open to revelation and mystery flowing through you.
Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.
— Marilyn Monroe