Often, when people take on creative endeavors, including say, writing regularly for a psychology blog, they may encounter roadblocks to creativity. When stymied by such a block, some may be inclined to lament, “if I only had more time… better equipment… more money, etc.,” as if those ideal conditions would somehow clear the way for artistic flow. In the rare occasion where we find ourselves in that pressure-free scenario, where time is unlimited and we have all that we need at our disposal to create, creative inspiration still tends to escape us. As Conan O’Brien puts it, “comfort can kill an artistic impulse.”
Here are some ways limitations can be beneficial to creativity as outlined by 3 well-known creative individuals.
Working with a limited set of tools:
Critically-acclaimed musician, Jack White, is known for employing an artistic style that uses a minimal palette; for instance, his band, the White Stripes, was comprised of only 2 members. He was interviewed on Conan O’Brien’s web series, Serious Jibber Jabber, where they discussed his stylistic choices:
Conan: “It’s almost like a concept of minimalism, right?”
Jack: “I looked at it as a way of limiting myself so that I could create more things, create more songs, because I’m so boxed in my brain is forced to work with the tools that are at hand. I can’t let some engineers fix it or let the 3 other members in the band cover it up with what they’re playing – I am in this box by myself, or me and Meg are in this box so we have to work. And I still do this, no matter what I do… Anytime I give myself free-reign and all the time, all the money, whatever, everything in front of me, it is not good for me – it makes me disinterested…”
photo credit: brooklynvegan
Committing to something:
Charlie Day, who is best known for his role as Charlie Kelly on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (he’s also one of the executive producers of the show), was a guest on the Nerdist podcast, hosted by Chris Hardwick. During the interview, Day discusses his experience of committing to a project even when it feels like he’s out of ideas.
Chris: “I always ask writers / comedy people about pushing through the wall when you’ve done so many seasons of your show, it’s like, ‘what’s left?’ Where you just feel empty, but you’re sitting in front of a computer, or however you write, and you have to write something by the end of the day”
Charlie: “That’s the only reason you get it done and that’s the best way to do it. Look, I don’t know. How does Woody Allen make a movie a year for however many years he’s done it? Or how did Larry David do that many Seinfelds? We’re only doing 10 episodes a year so I think we can come up with 10 good ideas in the course of a year… But it is true we do walk in there and say ‘Gosh it’s the 9th season we’ve done absolutely everything.’ But last year, in our 8th year, we were just sort of backed up against the wall, like you’re asking about, and then I think cause of those limitations I suppose we had to sort of dig deeper and find better things. I think it’s one of the best seasons we’ve ever done so um I don’t know, they’re good problems to have.
It’s good to be out of ideas – it’s the only way you come up with an idea… Also I think the good thing is, get yourself on the hook for it. You know, like take money from people – and be like forced to write. Otherwise… you do feel like you’re done. I felt like I was done after season 1 of the show.”
photo credit: tvrage
Don’t be afraid to start over again:
Renowned stand-up comedian, Louis CK, spoke at a tribute for one of his own comedic inspirations, George Carlin, about the valuable lesson he learned of scrapping what is familiar and safe to make room for more authentic creativity.
“I hated my act. I’d been doing the same hour of comedy for 15 years… I was sitting in my car after the show just feeling like, ‘this was all a big mistake – I’m not good enough’ and I felt like my jokes were a trap. And I listened to a cd of George, talking about comedy and workshopping it… and the thing that blew me away about this fella was that he just kept putting out specials, every year there’d be a new George Carlin special, a new George Carlin album, they just kept coming. And each one was deeper than the next and I just thought how can he do that? It made me literally cry that I could never do that… So, I’m listening and they ask him, how do you do all this material? And I hear him and he says, ‘well I just decided every year I’d be working on that year’s special, and I’d do the special, and then I just chuck out the material. And I’d start again with nothing. And I thought, that’s crazy! How do you throw away? It took me 15 years to build this **** hour! If I throw it away I got nothing! But he gave me the courage to try…also I was desperate…this idea that you throw everything away and then you start all over again. And I thought well okay when you’re done telling jokes about airplanes and dogs, you throw those away, what do you got left, you can only dig deeper…and that’s the way I’ve done my act, and since then I’ve done 3 comedy specials and I’ve started down the same road, it’s been a massive change for me.”
photo credit: indiewire
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Last reviewed: 9 Sep 2013