Nothing new under the sun

Posted: April 17, 2014 in writing
Tags: , , , , ,

Today I was going to write about the commercialisation of art and the effect of economic markets on creativity. But I’m far too excited because I just booked tickets to see Postmodern Jukebox on the UK leg of their tour. So instead I’m going to enthuse about their music and then use it for a creative writing related lesson. Because, lets face it, drawing tenuous parallels to whatever’s drawn my attention is becoming my MO.

A painter’s pallet, but with notes

Postmodern Jukebox, like 2CELLOS, mostly perform covers of pop songs. But unlike 2CELLOS they don’t have a consistent musical style, instead playing around with different musical genres. The combination of styles is amusing, occasionally moving, and often better than the original version (depending on how you feel about the original, of course). I even enjoy their bluegrass version of Robin Thicke’s loathsome Blurred Lines (yes, I know it’s catchy, but that’s no excuse for misogyny).

Some people might argue that this isn’t really creativity – they aren’t writing new songs or creating new styles. But I totally disagree. Creativity is all about combining existing elements in new ways, like a painter mingling colours on her pallet.

Tolkien talks creativity

J R R Tolkien believed that the only acts of pure unadulterated creation came from God. In Tolkien’s view, what we humans do is a secondary act, using the elements that are already in place. As story tellers we create secondary worlds.

I don’t agree with a lot of Tolkien’s take on creativity,but I do think that he was onto something. In my view there is no pure, unadulterated creation, no bolt from the blue, flash of inspiration stuff, nothing completely novel and unprecedented. That’s a myth, a dream we’ve been sold that puts creativity beyond our reach, makes us feel like we can’t achieve it and so, in many cases, give up.

But creativity is about taking what’s already there and combining it in new ways. When you put together vampires and gangsters you get From Dusk Till Dawn. When you combine superpowers and food you get Chew. When you combine a pop song and a solemnly singing clown you get this:

 

These are all acts of creation, as pure and wonderful as any others. They all give us something new. They are all great.

Get creating

Idealising some pure form of creativity, over-using terms like ‘derivative’ as criticisms, these behaviours disempower us. No-one mocked the second cavewoman to bang two stones together and make fire. Hell, she probably used better stones than the first one. That’s creativity, a constant act of building on what’s come before.

Re-mixing, re-writing, copying a sketch, these are all acts of creativity. And that means we can all be creative, not because some secondary form of creativity is OK, but because this is the only form of creativity.*

This afternoon I’m finally going to watch the new Captain America film. Will it be uncreative because so many elements in it have been used many times before? I doubt it. And I can’t wait to see it.

In the meantime, here’s one more Postmodern Jukebox song to play us out. This one has a fantasy theme, and it makes me laugh every time:

 

*OK, if you believe in God then you might believe that he has another form of creativity. But humans don’t, and that’s what I’m concerned with here.

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Comments
  1. Creativity is a strange and mysterious thing….to people on the outside. I know where all my ideas come from, but it’s kind of difficult to say ‘well, I was inspired by this bit in Lord of the Rings, then took this bit from ElfQuest and tweaked it with something my college physics teacher once said, and then added some visuals I saw in a video game, which I then extrapolated out to include the shapes of some common objects for analogies’ sakes’…

    It’s a good idea to hide all your influences just so the reader isn’t smacked with them all the time (unless you’re Terry Pratchett and that’s your purpose), but really, yeah, it’s all a patchwork of things that have come before. If you pull back far enough though, you can’t see any of the individual patches; you can only see the new work they create by their rearrangement.

    • I like the patchwork comparison, may use that in future. And you’re right, hiding the influences, or at least not making them too in-your-face, is an important part of making something feel fresh, however old its ingredients.

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