#GreenFests: Embrace your creativity and improve your life?
Will Gompertz, former director of Tate Media and current Arts Editor at the BBC, this week gave a highly entertaining …
Will Gompertz, former director of Tate Media and current Arts Editor at the BBC, this week gave a highly entertaining and engaging talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Having spent his career working with artists he has come to appreciate not just the quality of the work they produce, but the value of the underlying creative process itself. In fact, the embracing of this process, he argued, will be a defining feature of the 21st century.
In the 20th century we saw machines take over from brawn. The amount of manual labour required, at least in the developed world, dropped as more and more jobs were mechanised. In the 21st century, they’re likely to take over from brain. Jobs that we previously thought were safe will no longer be so. This is already happening. For example, much of the stock market is now bought and sold by computers instead of human stockbrokers. The Digital Revolution is upon us, whether we like it or not, and we are going to have to adapt.
Life in the digital age is going to be defined by creativity. As the Industrial Revolution led to the development of the middle classes, the Digital Revolution is going to produce a creative class. This is because computers, for all their many merits, are not capable of doing everything that humanity can. Most notably, they do not have imagination, nor the ability to realise the ideas therein. That is our domain.
Do not despair if you are reading this and thinking ‘But I’m not creative’. Two audience members who were having this thought were pulled on stage by Gompertz who demonstrated, through a little story-telling exercise, that that’s simply not true. The human brain is incredibly creative. The psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg, who has spent his life studying the creative process in literature, art, and science, argues that creativity lies simply in cramming two ideas together and discovering where they join. Hence a new idea is born.
Nobody is saying, I hasten to add, that the creative process is an easy one or indeed a pleasant one. Most writers fear the blank page; most painters despair at the blank canvas. Being creative is hard, and yet it is something that we are all capable of doing. There was a shift in the 20th century such that anything could be art (e.g. Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain on the right). In the 21st century, anyone can be an artist.
What does Gompertz mean by this? He avoided the sticky quagmire of attempting to define art or artists. Rather, he used his vast experience of working with creatives to identify those characteristics that they share, by virtue of which they are able to produce art. It these characteristics that will define the creative class; it the embracing of these characteristics that could improve your life.
First, artists are curious. They ask questions, explore the periphery of our knowledge and push the limits of what we perceive. This curiosity, this eagerness to learn more, leads them to become experts in their fields. This, in turn, enables them to be creative within these fields. Knowledge fuels the creative process.
Second, artists are sincere; they are serious about the work they produce. For it is their sincerity that makes their work authentic. Take, for example, the work of performance artist Marina Abramović. In 2010, Abramović performed a piece called ‘The Artist is Present’ at New York’s MoMA (see left), in which she sat on one side of a table opposite anyone who wished to engage in silent eye contact with her, for as long as they desired.
This piece only worked – it was only art – because she was sincere about it.
Next, artists break the rules. It’s only natural that their curiosity will extend to why the rules are the way they are; it’s almost impossible to push limits without ever crossing the line. We live in a society where rule-breaking is frowned upon to say the least, but we should be encouraging it. Especially in the arts. Take Shakespeare, for example. Shakespeare was the rule-breaker in chief, inventing over 3000 words that are now in common parlance. His willingness to play with the English language, to break the rules, has left it far richer as a result.
Artists don’t fail. Indeed, there is no such thing as failure. Failure is a temporal and subjective concept. Gompertz used Bridget Riley to illustrate this point. Having showed a huge amount of artistic promise as a teenager, Riley found herself in her early thirties not producing art of note. Her work was not the ground-breaking art that people had expected from her and she was considered a failure by most, including herself. That is until she was dumped. Furious at her former-lover, Riley painted a canvas black intending to send it to him. However, seeing that it still lacked something, she added a thin white line across the middle (creating two forms where before there was one) and a curved line to boot. The Kiss was born (see right) – a career launching piece.
Finally, artists solve problems. Their curiosity, sincerity, rebellion and inability to fail are all key to finding and developing solutions to some of the world’s most critical issues. Gompertz gave the examples of terrorism, migration, and climate change to name but a few. It is the belief that artists will be pivotal in solving these problems that lies at the heart of Creative Carbon Scotland. Our focus is mainly on climate change, where we are working directly on the link between art and sustainability and trying to encourage artists to engage with these issues, both in the content of their work and the nature of their practice.
To this end, we run the Green Arts Initiative, a community of practice which supports Scottish arts organisations to be at the forefront of growing an environmentally sustainable Scotland, and run monthly Green Tease events in Edinburgh and Glasgow to provide a forum for artists and sustainability folk. We are also running a project this November called ArtCOP where we are encouraging artists across Scotland to produce work in response to the critical climate change negotiations that will be happening in Paris at the time (see here to learn more about the significance of these talks). This is because we, like Will Gompertz, believe that creativity will be essential when solving modern problems and in changing the way that we live; that by embracing our creativity we truly can improve our lives.
To find out more about Will Gompertz’s arguments check out his new book ‘Thinking Like an Artist’.
Top image courtesy of the Evening Standard.