Inspiration Monday: Filling the well.

William Kentridge

Several experiences topped up my well of inspiration. Maybe they’ll feed you too.

I’ve been reading Brian Grazer’s book, A Curious Mind. Grazer is a mega-successful movie producer (Splash, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, etc) and he identifies curiosity as the key to his success, his creativity and a happy and engaged life. By having an open and enquiring mind, he has been comfortable with risk taking and exploration. Curiosity is the spark that kindles new creative explorations.

If you can look at learning a new skill, like, say, drawing, as a thing to learn about and explore, rather than an grim evaluation of yourself and your skills, you will make eager progress. If you are genuinely curious to learn about people, you will search out new connections and ask questions without preconceptions. If you are curious, you will not let the past hold you back. If you live a curious life, you will fill your head with a rich soup of influences, ideas and inspiration. You will make new connections which will lead to new ideas and creations.

As Glazer puts it, “Life isn’t about finding the answers. It’s about asking the questions.”

Last week, Jenny and I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see Refuse the Hour, William Kentridge’s multimedia chamber opera. We went with zero knowledge about what the piece was about (Jenny impulsively bought the tickets on craigslist at the last minute). I vaguely knew of Kentridge as an artist but was surprised to think he had made a stage work. Turns out he has a rich resumé in many forms and has even staged operas at La Scala, the mecca of grand opera.

Refuse the Hour is about his lifelong fascination with time, its plasticity and relativity, and the piece brimmed with fresh insights. It combines a poetic script, incredible vocal performances enhanced with audio processing, mechanical musical sculptures, dance, an orchestra playing modified instruments and film projections that layer drawings over performances

What I took away from the evening was the incredible act of creative collaboration between a score of enormously talented people. The program fairly bulged with accomplishment. Each person — the dramaturg, the choreographer, each musician, the singers — had paragraph after paragraph of accomplishments. Honestly, any one of them could have been the headliner, but they all worked together in a joyous harmony. There were so many unusual intersections between the forms, it couldn’t possibly have come from a single creative mind.

One singer took a refrain from the script Kentridge read, and turned it into a aria running up and down the scales. Another singer then sang the same aria backwards into a megaphone, perfectly mimicking all of the reversed breaths and shifts. Then an artist played an array of airpumps venting through brass horns. Next a tuba and a modified trombone took over. Meanwhile, a flickering projection of Kentridge’s hand turning the pages of a sketchbook was layered on top of a couple fighting in a stark painted kitchen set in gorgeously coordinated graphic costumes. I could go on and I would never approximate the tapestry of ideas and skills on display.

Above all, the experience urged me to think of new ways I can collaborate with others in such an open and generous way. The power of Ours over Mine is immense and exciting.

BigMagicFinalI am also reading Elizabeth Gilberts’ latest book: Big Magic. The author of Eat Pray Love has become somewhat of a self-help guru and is now focussed on thinking about the creative process and how to overcome fear.

I really like the book. Liz has a wonderful, chatty writing style, confessional and inspiring. I was particularly caught up with one notion: that ideas are a life form that inhabit the world just like dogs and walruses and have a single purpose — to be made manifest. They appear to us creators and it is up to us to shun them or to adopt them.

If we do take them on, we now have a responsibility to show up and do the work to make them come to life. If we fail in holding up our end, the ideas will wither and then slip away. Ultimately it will then appear to someone else. Drag your feet if you must, but don’t be surprised if ‘your’ idea eventually blossoms attached to another artist’s name.

I love this idea. It takes away the pressure of judgment, of self-evaluation, and replaces it with a spark which it is up to us to kindle. We don’t own the idea. We are simply its collaborator. Liz’s perspective turns the wasteful drama of self flagellation into a joyous, if sweaty, dance.

What have you read, seen, experienced, or thought of recently that could inspire me and others? Please share your discoveries and help fill my well with inspiration.