I’m reading this book by Jonah Lehrer, ” Imagine: How Creativity Works .” Since I purchased it, upon the recommendation of Tom Rush, Mr. Lehrer has become embroiled in scandal of his own device. It appears he plagiarizes himself. As in he repeats choice chunks of his writing in multiple articles. Worse sins have been committed, but having followed the brouhaha I’ve been disinclined to read his tome. But having just finished Anne Tyler’s ” The Beginner’s Goodbye ,” which is slight and somewhat forgettable but has some brilliant insight into relationships, I decided to delve in.
Having started once previously, I decided to continue where I’d left off. Not to waste time beginning again a book I may never finish. And there was a bit of overview and then a story about Bob Dylan. About his retirement after his 1966 tour, fed up with being a musician. Lehrer posits that:
“Every creative journey begins with a problem. It starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find the answer. We have worked hard, but we’ve hit the wall. We have no idea what to do next.”
Although tales are told of easy discovery, willful creativity, dig deeper and you will discover the brilliant artworks you admire came after a huge period of frustration. And that the insight came instantly. It wasn’t like after recording “Blonde On Blonde” Dylan knew he wanted to execute a left turn to “John Wesley Harding”…he just knew he couldn’t keep on doing what he was.
This is what we deplore about so many of our so-called “artists”. The repetition. You’ve got one album, one single, and you’ve got them all. Whereas the greats, the classics…all their albums were different. Whether it be the left-turn of “Led Zeppelin III” after “Led Zeppelin II” that ultimately led to “Stairway To Heaven” and the rest of the fourth album, or the obvious difference between “Love Me Do” and “Revolution 9″. You see the Beatles just couldn’t keep on repeating themselves, it was artistic death.
And that’s what this Lehrer book seems to be about. The spontaneous combustion of ideas, the instant insight, and it’s always instant, after the debilitating frustration, but what struck me was the title of this piece, a quote by Louis Pasteur.
There’s value in experience, there’s value in education.
And in America, teaching to the test is hurting us. We have to teach people how to think, not load them up with facts that will soon leak out of their brains.
I find it fascinating how many people can’t wrestle with concepts. Can’t hold two competitive thoughts in their brain at one time. They’ve never been taught the power of analysis. And believe me, great artists are champion analyzers. They may or may not want to expound upon their process, but it’s there.
Pasteur’s quote explains why the “Idols” fail. They’ve got exposure and fame, but no foundation. There’s nothing to build upon. No background that would allow them to have brilliant insight.
And then there are the teen phenoms. Theoretically, they could expand their horizons, but Justin Bieber knows fame and fortune, little else. And his handlers want cash.
Furthermore, those who’ve broken out of this mold, most famously Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake, did it via collaboration. MJ with Quincy Jones and JT with a host of allies. One can posit that Timberlake has given up his recording career because he’s empty. It’s easier to fill himself up with a film role than confront his frustration and consider where to go next in music.
So you have to prepare yourself. You think you can be a better manager than Irving Azoff or Cliff Burnstein, but you’ve never had the practical experience, and this prevents you from landing an incredible act and developing them. Unless you know the game, your odds of succeeding are miniscule. You’ve got to pay your dues.
And seemingly everybody in the “arts” today has not. Reality TV is the norm. Where you’re famous for being famous. No one wants to listen to Kim Kardashian, they just want to look at her. And did you ever notice there’s never a second act for these self-made, two-dimensional icons? To think Paris Hilton can be a successful deejay is to believe Stephen Hawking can win the Olympic marathon.
But it’s not only the arts. It’s business too. People go to school and learn how to do everything but think. Which is why when entrepreneurs are replaced by managers, usually the enterprise sinks. Steven Ballmer’s almost worthless as the CEO of Microsoft, especially compared to Bill Gates, and when Michael Dell turned the reins of his company over to someone else, it sunk, he had to come back and rescue it.
Our whole country has a lack of preparation. People can’t understand the Presidential election because they can’t understand the debate, the underlying issues. What difference do tax rates make if you pay no tax? And I’d say most people do not understand that when the tax rate is raised on incomes over $250,000, it’s only the excess, the amount over $250,000, which is taxed at the new rate. The original $250,000 is taxed the same way it ever was.
Connections are important. Network like hell. But it’s less important if you’re an artist, if you’re reliant upon breakthroughs. You’re better off staying at home reading, going for a walk in the park, contemplating your frustrations and intermixing moments of complete thoughtless abandon. Because in the arts, in science, we only care about the end result. The iPad, “All Along The Watchtower”, “Pulp Fiction”.
If you keep on doing the same thing over and over, you’re never going to break through. If you’re frustrated, don’t put your nose to the grindstone, face the impediment. Work with it. But know the solution will be instant. Maybe a few moments or weeks after you’ve determined to give up.
How did he come up with that? That’s what we always say about great art, that’s its intrinsic appeal. Its differentness, alongside with its encapsulation of humanity.
You won’t hear any of the foregoing from businessmen.
But every great artist will testify about frustration and insight, and if you haven’t been tempted to give up, your work is not worth a damn.