Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Creativity and Talent - One and the Same?

That's me trying to be creative
Many of us are creative, in one form or another (heck, even writing code can be very creative - I know, I've been there).

The question is how many of those creative people are also talented at their choice of expression?

A while back I read an article in National Geographic about hypergraphia - The driving compulsion to write; the overwhelming urge to write. Hypergraphia may compel someone to keep a voluminous journal, to jot off frequent letters to the editor, to write on toilet paper if nothing else is available, and perhaps even to compile a dictionary. (From MediciNet.com)
[I left out the last sentence of this definition, by the way, and tomorrow I'll explain why.]

I thought this sounded heavenly, maybe I could catch that neurological disorder and have a constant drive. Yet the more I read about it and thought about it, the more I understood two things: the first, I do have my own compulsions to write. I may not write on toilet paper while in the bathroom, but I do feel compelled to write my ideas. The second thing I realized, and perhaps the more disturbing of the two, is that none of this promises any talent.

And that's talent
My teachers have always beat Edison's words into me: "Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." I have a few lazy bones in my body so it only worked to some extent thus far in my life. That is - working hard, paid off. Shocking, I know

What about writing, though? Since a true creative work requite both the drive and the talent, what to do about that 1% talent? Worry about it, or concentrate on making it to the 99% rather than the 75% (which is where I think I hover at the moment)?

I will add here that many believe the drive to be more important than the talent. I tend to disagree. This has to do with one of the discucssions we had here about the kinds of writers - do you, as a writer, aim for art or for entertainment?
I think it is rather obvious that those who wish to achieve a glimpse of art in their work, need some talent in addition to drive.

Finally, if the frontal lobes are important in "providing the judgment and flexibility of thought that underlines talent," and "structures in the temporal lobes and limbic system supply drive and motivation" - will there be a time where we could simply take pills to increase one or the other?

[The quotes are from a print National Geographic issue which I found a(n illegal?) copy of it here.]

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redchurch said...

Melly said:

"I will add here that many believe the drive to be more important than the talent. I tend to disagree."

It all depends. I have known many geniuses who had problems being motivated, or for whatever reason didn't have the right attitude about their work/craft. Much good their genius did them when they weren't actively producing anything!!! There's a line I love, that I read somewhere. It goes... "Nobody cares how smart you are."

I try to remind myself of that every day, when I find myself feeling a bit too 'smart.' Ultimately people will only care about your talent so far as it shows in the final work. Whether you 'had talent' while producing it, or felt talented, are all pretty irrelevant. I do not believe there are any 'misunderstood artists' - I think this is just a poor rationalization for failure. It's saying, "I was genius, but everyone else was too stupid to realize it."

This is my problem with the 'let it be art' mindset--it rewards and praises obscurity for its own sake. Something unpopular is actually just... misunderstood, rare, or somehow precious. I refuse to tell myself such lies. ;-)

"This has to do with one of the discucssions we had here about the kinds of writers - do you, as a writer, aim for art or for entertainment?"

What does talent have to do with which perspective you hold? George Lucas may not be high art, but he's talented, no? What about Spielberg? Dan Brown?

I think the true difference in the two perspectives is that one thinks that writing will carry a bad story, and the other thinks a good story will carry bad writing.

I tend to think a good story will carry bad writing. Not that anyone should aspire to bad writing--duh! As we all know Dan Brown is a 'bad writer' - so be it. But that hasn't stopped his juggernaut of a story from reaching the masses. Some would say it's a poor story too--but clearly it got enough things right to impress millions? Or does that... simply not matter by the definitions of art? Art & Artists call Dan Brown trash, so I guess he must be trash?

I don't buy it. I have to go with something Heinlein once said...

"Obscurity is the refuge of the incompetent."

Translation: "Your talent is irrelevant if you're the only one who appreciates it."

A self-proclaimed artist is just a self-proclaimed artist. They haven't been valued as such by anybody else. Same for the self-proclaimed genius, or any other "I'm so cool!" label.

Nobody really cares until you create something that affects them. Whether it be art or entertainment is up to the audience. I don't think the creator can label their own work as art without seeming a bit conceited. So I try not to touch that one with a ten foot pole.

All I really care about is a good story. I will try my best to write well during the process--but it's ultimately the story that people care about, not the writing.

I guess you could say, it's the difference between ideas vs. execution. Both are important, but I tend to think a good idea will travel farther when poorly executed than a bad idea that is well-executed. Because really, who cares about well-executed crap ideas? :)

I think the artist mindset is much more focused on execution--the subtle nuances of 'art' or 'craft.'

But we could also split hairs over 'writing' vs. 'storytelling' - the reason I'm in the entertainment camp is because I care more about storytelling than I do about writing. A bunch of pretty words is just that to me--pretty words. It says nothing for the composition of ideas. We should all strive to write well, but the only measure of fiction success is whether or not people enjoy the story. Whether good or bad, words shouldn't get in the way of that.

Melly said...

Eric! Haven't seen you here in a while :)

I'm not sure why you get so, I don't know what, each time I mention the A word (art), but you do and I've come to expect it ;)

I'm also not sure this is even something we can really argue about. It has to do with personal goals and views and especially with personal struggles.

(I hope it didn't come across in my post that I think I'm overly smart, I don't, definitely not more than the average graceful visitor who come to this blog and honour me by reading it.)

I don't put down writing for entertainment, and I sure read many books just for that purpose. But those books that also have that extra thing, the one I call art, are what I'm striving for, knowing very well that in all likelihood I'll never achieve that. Hence my personal/inner struggles.

In the mean time I just keep plowing along, working on that 99%, so I can at least take the first step towards achieving what I want...

redchurch said...

Mel, I did a post on this. I think the difference is whether you view a novel/book as a product, and your job as the writer being part Customer Service. Or User Experience oriented.

Could be also in my coming from the video game industry. It doesn't matter if the designer is happy with the work... it ultimately hinges on whether the game player had fun or not. Fun in itself is a subjective term, but not nearly as subjective as art. ;)

I guess that's my problem with art. It's a subjective topic, a subjective class of work, and can't really be judged in any kind of objective way.

Entertainment can be judged objectively--based on whether or not it was 'entertaining' - you can go on the literal definition alone.

I prefer to work towards goals which are objective rather than subjective.

That and, I refuse to hide behind subjectivity. A lot of artists use the label of art as a protective shield; "Well it doesn't matter what you think--it's ART."

This is exactly why I dislike the label. Labels exist for objective purposes--to classify or organize things. Art, as a label, seems to negate its own purpose.

Entertainment entertains. What does art do? What purpose does it have? Other than just a means of expression, or exercise of ego for the artist?

I view my novel as a product with a clear-cut purpose. Calling it art doesn't really do anything for me or the reader, and so... I reject that label on pragmatic grounds.

The only person who benefits from calling it art is perhaps the artist--if their definition of worth is dependent on the label itself, (ie, art = good).

Suffice to say, that is not me. :)

Darius said...

Writing has always been a strange and interesting thing in creative terms; but in the age of the bottom line, it's gotten stranger. Here's the brief autobiography of one serious writer, c'est moi:

In school, from elementary through grad school at the U of Chicago, I was always recognized by my teachers/professors/peers as an outstanding writer.

I always had it in the back of my mind that I kind of wanted to write. However, my creative output was zero until age 23. I mean, I could write grade A term papers anytime, but my undergraduate poems, for example, were decidedly not creative.

Starting at age 23, I suddenly had something to write about and spent about 17 years doing just that. Genuinely creative stuff. For me the answer to the question of, "How does writing talent translate into creativity?" was: have something you passionately desire to communicate and creativity just flows and follows toward shaping that communication.

I ended up with a nonfiction book manuscript that, by all accounts, turned out somewhere between good and great. I was well qualified to write it by both education and experience. I then tried to disprove what I read in Literay Market Place:

"If you are submitting a nonfiction book proposal without a marketing platform, you are wasting your time."

I only proved their point. Unless you already have a degree of reknown for something else so that you guarantee book sales (or, I suppose, an inside connection), you can't become well known for writing well because publishers aren't interested in taking chances.

In case you think I'm kidding, feel free to check out, "Gospel, Chapter One: Angel" under my previous posts. Let me know if you think it's got problems, but I'm pretty sure practically anyone would respond to it.

It's the only piece from the manuscript I've blogged, and I'm really torn about what to do. If I blog the book it's guaranteed unpublishable, from what I understand - I've kissed "first rights" goodbye. Also, you can't really blog a full book. But better maybe for 30 or so people to read my real writing once in a while than for it to be tossed into the trash by whatever stranger disposes of my "estate..."

mr. schprock said...

A question I've posed to myself is: if you had to choose between being talented or confident (can't have both), which would do you the most good? I believe people with medicore talent but plenty of chutzpah stand a much better chance at being successful (in the conventional sense) than those who are far more talented.

Very thought-provoking post.

jay said...

Hey, I was reading your blog and I think you’re pretty interesting. If you want, you could submit your entry to this creative contest going on right now (it’s being hosted by my school – the Art Institute of California, San Diego). They’re giving away gas cards and art magazines. I haven’t won anything yet, but I want to get one of the 30MB video iPods they’re giving away. Anyway, it’s at http://itshowyougetthere.com - just thought I’d let you know!

Melly said...

Thanks Eric, I know and I commented back.

I will reiterate what I've said countless times before. My writing isn't art (I wish it were) and I'm not the one who can call it so in any event. In that sense, it matters very much what people say about art. And it is because art is subjective that it is so interesting to see how consensus actually arises about works of art. Usually over time.

Darius, there might still be hope for publishing your story in print. There has been a lot of discussion over the net about e-publishing and making your book available online for free with Cory Doctorow, the SF writer from Boing Boing being a major voice in favour of such practices.
I'll be happy to come and take a look at your first chapter when time permits (although I do warn you that I tend to shy away from religious matters).

Mr. Schprock, thank you and I tend to agree with you - those with the confidence succeed more.
Since at the moment I feel like I'm neither (talented or self confident) and since I'm a bit pig-headed I'll probably take the talent and hope I could work on that self confidence...

Thank you very much, Jay. I'll take a look. That's mighty kind of you.

Bernita said...

If you write messages to yourself on your palm, would that be a combination of dermagraphia and hypergraphia?

Melly said...

Good one, Bernita :)
Finally, a lighter approach to the subject. Thanks.

rdl said...

will there be a time where we could simply take pills to increase one or the other?
There is already - Prozac and such - used not for depression but by Type A's to be even more organized/productive.
I like Redchurch's take on this subject.
Great stuff, melly.

rdl said...

oh yea, love the hat!:D where can i get one? it looks handmade.

Melly said...

Thanks rdl.
Yes, I guess some drugs could be considered as helping... ;)
Eric (redchurch) is a very interesting and smart guy. I love it when we "debate".

And oh yeah, mock away :) LOL!
It's my mom's hat. I was visiting and enjoying the sun so I needed a hat. I think she may have gotten it in Spain but I'm not sure.
(My dad took the pic.)

Jennifer said...

Maybe it depends on what your pursing as to whether it's really 1% tallent 99% persperation.

And I think that you might have only one % and can work really hard but that won't necessarily make you as good as someone who has 50% talent and only works 25% at it. That's not saying though that you can't be good at something...just means you might never be GREAT or OUSTANDING.

It's those that have all the talent in teh world and don't use it that sell themselves short. As long as you use the talent you have, put effort into it then it's my bet you won't end up regretting things.

Just my opinion though. This is coming from someone who was told constantly they weren't good enough...and though I had some talent and I worked hard they didn't think it was enough and I should just forget about architecture and change my major...I never listened to them though--and by golly I made it through :D (okay personal rant done)

Melly said...

Oh my, oh my. Some issues we have here :)
Jennifer, I never took that saying to mean that you're only allowed 1% talent, that's something I'd have to consider now - LOL!
"It's those that have all the talent in teh world and don't use it that sell themselves short." - you are so right!