What we talk about when we talk about creativity
My concept of creativity, as I believe that’s the same one many have, is linked to my love for music. Every time I fell in love with some band I always eagerly awaited every new works from them. What does creativity have to do with it? It’s obviously because it’s about artists, but it has to do with it because I’ve always expected something unexpected from them. If I have loved and love some artists, it is because I hope that they will enlighten a new way and if one of their new works casts the same light on the same old path, I feel betrayed. This is why we always say that band X has became “too commercial” meaning that they had not said anything new with their latest album and that, above all, this had greatly disappointed us. An artist does not have to please his audience. I’ve always forgave more easily an album by band X that disgusted me more than an album that meant me nothing more than the same thing they told me two years before.
From the artist — or from creative people, as they’re called today — I expect the stimulus, not the confirmation. Talking about art, the kick is even better than the caress, oh yes.
Not complacency, not the repetition for God’s sake. Not the comfort. Art should seek instability and inconvenience too. It should undertake new roads and explore new territories.
I was thinking about that while looking at a poster of some Botero exhibition, walking absently. Botero is an artist, in a social sense: he paints, therefore he is an artist. But I still saw his round, plump women. “After decades he’s still painting the same thing?”, I wondered. His art is recognizable, of course. He’s the one who paints round people. If an artist is recognizable — I will dare to say — it is because he has turned himself into a product. He’s commercial. And this does not only mean that he’s got a style but rather that he has a predisposition to repeat himself and talking about art I have never judged it to be a good thing.
An artist can take the road of almost infinite variations, no doubt about it. There are variations on the same theme that are, in fact, attempts to address an artistic question starting from more points of view, changing them, perhaps repeating dozens of times the same subject with different outcomes. Francis Bacon painted Innocent X several times and yet each time he obtained different results. They were not copies of copies of an original that had been particularly successful. If an artist often returns to the same subject, it is because he has identified a knot to dissolve and evidently every attack, every attempt is a progress towards the solution of an enigma that has not yet been revealed.
The true artist takes a path, not even an evolution. An evolution is based on a series of stages in which the following is better than the previous one. A path can be bumpy, foresee failures, can take paths that lead to nothing and then can free itself to some solution and even an evolution. But it could be the other way around and it basically does not matter. How many young dead artists could have continued to explore but did not have the time? Does this compromise the quality of their research? Not at all. Has Nick Drake been an incomplete artist for committing suicide at the age of 26? Not at all. What he left behind is the corpus of a work that is surprisingly complete and compact despite his young age.
The artist who repeats himself is not exploring any new path: he is only cashing out the dividends of a good idea.
The artistic path defines the quality of an artist. It’s not just his ideas that do it. An artist is supposed to point out a way but then he must also follow it, not stopping at that certain point, spinning around because he nailed it.
That’s my very personal take on that matter but here it goes: an artist who repeats himself may have been once an artist because he met a particular taste at some point in his career and then he started to spin around it for years “because it worked out” but from that point on he has not been an artist anymore: he has become the product of himself.
There is a fun game to understand if an artist has become commercial and has stopped exploring. I call it the “Automatic Generator”: if the works — songs, books, paintings, architectures, sculptures — of this or that artist can be generated by a computer and can still be perfectly believable as an original work by that artist then he is no longer an artist. He has become a name, a brand. There is nothing wrong about that. If modern society evaluates success as the highest value, being first famous as an artist and then getting rich because of that success is a lawful and even augurable way from the personal and economic point of view. On the other side, take David Bowie: you never knew what to expect from him and this is what will make him a true artist forever.
To follow an artistic path the artist should not have to have a style: he must have an attitude.The attitude is made of curiosity, of willingness to consciously make oneself uncomfortable, of the necessity of always taking unexplored paths. This feature is more important than an artist’s style because it is personal, it can not be reproduced by anyone. Style can be reproduced, not the attitude. The artist governs the unexpected and does so with a predisposition of mind, not with a style. His style, I‘d say, is his attitude, not his recognizability.
On the other hand we are talking about a true artist when you can never tell what to expect from him. Like the new album of your favorite band or your beloved director can be incomprehensible or annoy you or tell you nothing but still not be— at least —the faded copy of the previous work, there is nothing wrong if an artist disappoints, if he’s incomprehensible, if he fails.
An artist does not know what he is doing while he’s doing it. He makes art to understand art itself and then maybe, even afterwards, he can not explain why he did it.
A commercial artist knows very well why he did it and his bank account confirms it.
You never know what to expect from the real artist because he opens up glimpses on unseen views, even on the future. If he speaks of the present or the past he is a conservative and can not boast of the artist’s title.
If you do not understand his new work, if you do not recognize it compared to what it did in the past — I think — that’s all right, that’s how it should be. After all, a true artist talks about things that we have not seen yet, let alone imagine them. He imagines them for us. He shows them to us. This is why so many artists are understood only decades later and others are never discovered or understood: they have spoken and written and painted things that we were not yet able to understand.
In recent times creativity has become a job. What it is about to create is not yet known. In some cases it is justified that its borders are not precise because creative jobs are not easily understood. Creative people work with concepts and produce ideas. Sometimes just words, other times music, images, videos. The fleeting nature of this craft has made it even more vulnerable to attack from subjects who, since they do things, therefore claim to create. But I do not care what exactly a creative person is and whether he is an artist or not. It is not very interesting to know it either. It is more interesting to say what a creative person is not.
That one who remixes ideas that are not even his own and passes it off for his own is not a creative person is not
That one who repeats indefinitely a formula is not a creative person That one who is predictable is not a creative person That one who has a style and not an attitude is not a creative person
A style is good for any problem: a car or a painting, a house or a bag. Products in the end, that can be customized with the unmistakable style of this or that artist. But the attitude is not replicable. The attitude is the mental predisposition of the true artist who faces a problem not adapting his style like a dress but facing it with a certain predisposition, with a personal intelligence. This is why the results are different: because a particular artistic intellect reaches different solutions regardless of his style, not because hehas a style.
Art does not have to please. The artist does not have to be appreciated or even understood. Art must not put anyone at ease.