To create is to resist; to resist is to create.
I’m John Fanning and this is the “Create with John Fanning” podcast. How’s it goin. Howy’re yis all doing out there? So, this is Episode 2 of my series of episodes on creativity, based around my book “Create”.
Last time I gave you an intro or overview of who I am and why I’m doing this podcast, and how artists and writers basically don’t own creativity and how I’m going to use my own experience and the experience of many of the creators I’ve met to talk about our shared understanding of what it is to create and how to get there. Even when my own experience and the experience of so many creators I’ve known is one of dealing with the difficulty of being a creator, what I call Walls, in a world where value equals capital, not art for art’s sake or the opportunity to share with others. To be a so called real artist you have to be “successful” which means receiving capital, where art is a product, as opposed to art as art and then as a product, not the joy of creation, what I call a Door to creativity, something you en- joy and the joy of sharing it, your creation, even if it’s only with one person.
So, last time I said I’d get into family, friends and villains, but in the interim I thought about it and felt I should get into what creativity is, what a creator actually is and why it’s important to live a creative life.
What is Creativity?
So, “To create is to resist; to resist is to create.” Why did I start with that quote? Well, that’s the last line from “Time For Outrage!”, or in the original French, Indignez-vous! a small but powerful book, more a pamphlet I suppose, by the French diplomat Stéphane Hessel. But then a lot of books don’t have the power this little book has. It was published at the end of 2010 when Hessel was 93 years old.
To create is to resist. To resist is to create. When we create we resist the modus operandi of society, we resist what we are told we are, what we are supposed to be, what we ought to be, and become who we are. By resisting we are becoming creative beings, one of the most powerful things we can be.
Hessel was a diplomat, but no ordinary diplomat, because he was a French Resistant who fought in World War II, surviving a concentration camp, and resisting the Nazis to create a new world for future generations, by resisting the powers in charge. He created a different idea of how the world should be, one against authoritarianism, one of freedom, creative one. After the war he was involved with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 with Eleanor Roosevelt. His activism refocused on the social vision that was created after World War II, one of solidarity and compassion for other human beings. Indeed, he and his book were often referred to as inspiration for the Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignados, the American Occupy Wall Street movement as well as many other political movements.
Hessel’s amazing life was actually one of the inspirations for me writing my novel “Ezekiel”, how one individual could envision a better world and have the will to create that reality along with a few others, even against such a huge killing machine such as the Nazis. What an act of the imagination, of creativity, to imagine a better world.
Of course this gives us the opposite of what creativity is too, destruction. If you’re inspired by destruction then you burn books instead of writing them, like Hitler. You kill life instead of creating it, like Hitler. There’s a great irony here too, Hitler was a failed artist. He abandoned creativity, and because he was a psychopath, instead of embracing it in others, by being empathetic, he destroyed creativity, in his manipulative, criminal way, making an art of destruction.
So Hessel and others kept the door to creativity open during and after World War 2 by imagining a better, more creative world. He and people like him eventually helped walls fall, literal ones like the one in Berlin, and so many other figurative ones too. And this is one of the things I want to talk about today, walls, walls and doors.
You see, I see walls and doors as paths. Walls are a path away from creativity and doors are a path towards creativity. This is really important. Away, and towards. Doors to creativity would be notebooks, process, space-time and many others I’ll talk about in later episodes, but walls, they would be school, perfection, capitalism, what I call lexical prisons, trolls and many others. We have to be aware of what a wall is, and what a door is, so that we don’t confuse one for the other. They’re simple metaphors, but then can’t simple things be very complex too.
Walls are what I’ll talk about in the next episode, and after going through many of the types of walls that stop our creativity, that move us away from creativity, I’ll get into talking about all the doors towards creativity, how we transform walls into doors, how we make doors through these walls.
But before getting into that I want to talk about the idea of creativity as an idea, because creativity can be a pretty amorphous word. Like Love, with a capital L. It can mean so many different things to different people, all of which are neither wrong or right, it just depends on the persons perspective. To me, on a simplistic level, I see creativity as walls and doors, and in the end windows out into the world. But before I get to the walls and doors, and the windows out into the world, I want to talk about this amorphous apex of the triangle of creativity, before getting into what I think a creator is.
The funny and inspirational Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, in a Ted Talk, Art with Wire, Sugar, Chocolate and String, I’ll leave the link for, on the transcript on my website, talks about creativity, and in a cool way about how getting shot helped him get to the US.
He has a lovely clarity on the distinction between creation and creativity and I won’t paraphrase it all here as you can look at the video for that, but generally he draws, pardon the pun, a distinction between creativity being how we cope with creation, while creation sometimes seems a bit ungraspable or even pointless. To him creativity is always meaningful. He sees what we “see”, in inverted commas, as artistically as creativity and what nature, the world gives us, objects etc. as creation. Which explains inspiration (something I’ll get into later as a door into creativity) in that it’s something that we “see” spontaneously, differently, when others don’t “see” it all.
Then there’s the art critic and novelist John Berger. He used to talk a lot about ways of seeing too, and even wrote a book of the same name. He says the process of seeing is less spontaneous and natural than we tend to believe. The book he wrote was based on a BBC 2 television series where Berger compared what he called “the stillness and silence of a painting” as divorced from the “religiosity” or what “people teach us about art.” So, we are conditioned to an extent in how we see creativity and creation and this link between creativity and inspiration is to make the distinction for yourself between creativity and creation. So it would seem that creation is where inspiration lies, not creativity.
Connection, or “flow” as the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it in his book also called Flow, is the experience every creator talks about in some way, the wonderful experience that happens when you’re in the zone. You lose yourself. You lose awareness, because you’re in the moment, fully present. You get away from time and space. Your brain chills out, gets relaxed, reflective, because you are focused on the pleasure of something you are passionate about. So creation helps your health. First there’s the mind. It connects you to the world. And when your mind makes connections, when unrelated things come together, when we imagine new ways of communicating, then we’re being healthy, in flow. It stimulates your mind, and later, your emotions and feelings, something I’ll get into later.
In society the idea of being creative and getting inspired is oftentimes frowned upon, so running a “business” that focuses on exactly that can’t be lucrative. Right? “You’ll never make enough money to support your family with that,” was the kind of stuff we always heard from people when we started our retreat in France. We didn’t blame people for their skepticism. They just didn’t understand. Fortunately these potentially discouraging comments came to us when it was too late for us to be discouraged. We were already locked in. And so, we just did it, kept creating our retreat and life in France. You see, we weren’t doing it to support a family. We were doing it because we believed in it.
And of course this is exactly the language I heard when I was a young fella growing up in Meath.
This is exactly what an Irish relation, who shall remain nameless as he’s still alive, said to me when I got third prize in an essay competition. And you know what, he wasn’t even being mean, just clueless. To him it was a useless thing to do, create an essay. Who cared.
“Maybe you’re right.”
I was thirteen. What I really wanted to say, if I’d had the words and knowledge, the language, was:
“Nothing, yes, nothing, has ever been achieved without creation, without essays, ideas, without a creative leap because the future will come from creative leaps. If we are to survive in the face of population explosion, global warming, nuclear weapons, our survival will come from our passion and intuition to create, creations we have not yet even imagined.”
And then I would have said, “Creation is existential!”
But I was thirteen. So I told him he was probably right. I knew he was wrong at the time, even if I didn’t know how to respond to him.
Everything, from maths to space travel, from writing novels to falling in love, cooking a meal to planning a vacation, takes creation, imagination, a leap. A leap into the unknown, out of the mundane. All our myths and symbols came from creation, our philosophies, sciences. It’s what makes us different from all the other species on this planet.
Physicists and mathematicians don’t rely on logic alone to arrive at new science. They will tell you that imagination is also key to making new leaps. Quantum physicists, and string theorists after them, were inspired by their imaginations to create new visions of reality and science. Einstein would never have come up with his special and general theories of Relativity if he weren’t being creative, trying to see things differently.
This is important. If we don’t have creation, we’re done. If we can’t imagine new ways of doing things or imagine new ways of living, we’re lost.
Creation is one of the most significant forces on this planet. I’ll say it again: “We are all creative beings. We are all creators.” If we bring this into our lives we make this planet a better place. I completely trust this. When you start to live a creative life it has an effect on you and all those around you. It brings joy, the joy of living, of being alive, of being in appreciation of what surrounds us, inspires us.
Why do I create? Why am I writing, creating this podcast? Why did I leave Ireland for Manhattan? How did I end up living in rural southern France married to an American, welcoming creators from all over the world?
Because I trusted my drive to create.
Trust is not belief. Beliefs are created by other people, mostly people we’ve never met. As Blake once wrote:
I must create my own system, else be enslaved by another man’s.The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
I trust creation, not dogmas created by others. It’s like Jung once said, “I don’t believe, I know.” That’s knowledge, that’s trust.
Another story comes to me now, from 90s London, as a way of trying to get at what I mean.
What the hell’s 90s London got to do with anything you’re asking? Well, before I founded La Muse and even before I worked in magazines in New York, I managed a very cool bar in Camden Town, called The Good Mixer, all this during the Brit-pop 90s in London. The bar is still there too, but I haven’t been back since it went under new ownership.
Anyway, the bar had fruit and veg sellers and barrow boys from the market out front, old age pensioners from the spike down the road, like in Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. Mods and all types of sellers from the Market Stalls up the road, people from all over London, as well as one man who had created a record label, “Blur” being one of his bands. It was a mad place and a lot of fun. The place was an amazing mix of eclectic creative people: musicians, artists, producers, sound engineers, journalists and the museos and groupies that followed them from all over the world. Mostly New Zealanders and Australians served behind the bar with me. You’d get ten Japanese teenagers sitting around one Coke for two hours, watching the sellers play pool and waiting for a glimpse of the guitarist from Blur. That was one of the many bizarre regular occurrences in there.
However, the thing I found in talking to any of the successful creative people in that pub was that they were simply doing what they loved. They were playing music, writing about it, producing it, mixing it, because they loved music. Some bands got lucky and got real famous. Some were well known for a few years. Others were dropped after their first album, especially ones taken on as tax write offs by the big companies – “boiler bands” as they used to call them. You had bands that made it big in England were unheard of in the States and bands that nobody knew of in England became famous in the States. It’s the way all creative industries go, nobody really knows what will be “successful” where and when, even though they say they do. Most of the musicians and other creators I met didn’t care. They just wanted to make music, have fun, and get drunk with other people on the same wavelength. It was a mad bar, a mad time. After two degrees I found myself serving alcohol and having fun with all these people, a worthless resume building exercise, but it was better than sitting in an office cubicle. Better than any MFA. Why? Because it taught me this lesson: you can have fun doing what you love, creating what you love. The success comes with the doing, the fun of creating, not with getting a load of money.
I’ve another story kind of in the same vein, or going at the same thing about creativity.
About ten years ago I met a woman in Maine who’d just dropped her last kid off at college the week before. She’d always wanted to write short stories. Of course I was there telling her she should take advantage of her new found freedom and go to a writers’ retreat. I’d met so many women like her.
“I wouldn’t know how,” she said “I’m not a real writer. I’m really not that creative any more.”
We were standing in front of her old colonial house, with its wrap-around porch and this amazing flower garden. Not only that, out the back was this mad organic kitchen garden she’d created.
“Well, if you’re not creative,” I said, “then either am I.”
“What do you mean? You write novels,” she said.
“You just created three kids, a wonderful home, gardens, and are a great cook. Each one of those things is highly creative.”
She looked at me, confused at first, then smiled. “You know, I’d never thought about it like that.”
Again, like I said at the outset, creation is not owned by artists and writers. Everyone has “it” in them. When you were a child all you ever did was create. It was called play, something I’ll talk about more in a later episode.
Creation is a way of embracing new, personal worlds, whether it’s making music like those guys in Camden Town, building, designing, mending, painting, sewing, engineering, or gardening like that woman in Maine. The list is endless. If you think you’re not creative it’s because you just haven’t found out what it is you love creating, yet.
Every retreat, over and over again, for nearly twenty years, I met people from all over the world who “needed” to create. They left everything behind and went to a little village in the mountains of the south of France, in the middle of nowhere, to create. And they’re still going there, irrespective of whether I’m there or not because we created a space, a safe space for people to create.
Some of these creators have never written a word. Some have never painted. Some are well established. Some are famous. Some old, others just out of college. Some the head of colleges. And what do they all have in common? The need to create. The need to be a creator.
Here’s the thing: As soon as we’re born we’re told who we are. A lot of the time by people who don’t know who they are. And so, the problem grows, consolidates its case, something like this: “I’m definitely not creative. No, other people are. The people making movies, acting in them. The people writing them. Even the people creating the billboards.”
Well, here’s my response: It’s not true, it’s a damn lie.
Society constantly kills creation by making us think we are only one thing, not many. The world is large, and so is each human being. We are many things, the most important: we are creative beings.
We’re all creators. Everyone needs to create, to make, to bring something into being. Creation is how we bring what is inside us into being. The idea that “creativity” is only for so called “professionals”, or those who make money from what they create is not only wrong-headed, but insulting.
What is a Creator?
Of course there’s a distinction to be made here, between what a creative and a creator are, which reminds me of another very cool woman I met, at La Muse. I had just told her she wasn’t a creative, and she wasn’t happy about it.
“Aye right, what do you mean I’m not a creative?”
We were in the truck, about seven years ago, going down to Carcassonne to get groceries. The woman talking was a Scottish ad executive from London. She was on retreat to “draw the line”, as she put it. By this she meant she was going to draw without taking her pencil off the paper. She’s a great artist, but she writes ad copy for a living. Again, another example of how people can be many things, create many different things.
Ya see she had been calling me a creative, herself a creative, the other people on retreat creative, and I didn’t want to correct her because I didn’t want to come off as a mansplainer, as I’d just met her, but now we’d had a few laughs, so I got into it.
“You’re a creator and co-creator, not a creative, unless you’re at work.” I said.
“It’s the same thing?” she said.
“No, it’s not,” I said.
“Explain.” She’s a very clear, funny woman and she loved definitions, so I said something like this:
“Well, creatives can be people who live life creating walls to not create or they could be people who work as ‘creatives’ for other people. You need ‘co-creators’ when you finish your art. They create internally their appreciation of one of your line drawing. And you’re a co-creator when you appreciate and respond to someone else’s art.”
“Then what’s a creator?”
“They make things. They create. They crochet. They paint. They sing. They repair cars, write imaginative business plans. Draw the line, like you.”
“Oh, so you’re saying society has co-opted ‘creative’ by making us think it’s the same as creator and/or co-creator?”
“Exactly. ‘Creative’ has become capitalized upon by the corporate world. (I’ll get into this idea of capitalism more later on. Anyway I’m digressing.) What I said to her was something like: “You’re a creative, the graphic designers you work with, they’re creatives. You don’t necessarily get positive co-creation, or creation for that matter, from your work. Some people do though. They’re creators when they’re at work. But companies want us the audience, the consumer to have a passive relationship with ‘creativity’ so we buy their products, not make our own. A ‘creative’ is a way of blurring the distinction between creator and co-creator.”
She smiled at me and said, “Ya know, that’s a well tidy idea.”
She called a lot of things “tidy”. I think it’s Scottish for good. At least I hope it is.
The word “creative”, just like the word “creativity” has been “robbed” by academic programs, theories, science, commerce. I’m sure if I met that Scottish artist today she’d talk about the advertising of “creativity” on the sidelines of major football matches, or how banks are using it in their ads.
My old drama lecturer would explain it differently. He’d talk about the Greek word “drama”, how it literally means to do, to act. He’d say if you’re a co-creator, you’re in the audience.
Actors act. Audiences watch, absorb. It’s a different level of creation. You create empathy with the characters on the stage, but you are not creating the character as an actor or playwright. You’re a co-creator when you enjoy and appreciate the play on the stage. And it can inspire you to be a creator, to write your own play, to act in one.You’re a creative negator when you’re criticizing the play, almost for the sake of criticizing it.
A co-creator can have wonderful ideas but does not bring them out into the world for the rest of us to see, experience, like a creator does. A creator acts on their ideas. They create software, paintings, books, companies. They’re co-creators who have become creators, become actors in their fields. They get up on the stage of the world and create. They climb out of the audience and start telling the audience about their play, business plan, design, project.
Now, wouldn’t it be great to be an actor too, to become the part, to live it, to write it, so others can enjoy what you create? Wouldn’t it be great to be a creator? But how does one become a creator?
Insight. You have an in-sight. You look inside yourself. You look inside and bring things into the world that nobody has ever seen or heard before, because it’s yours to share. But again, the question comes up: Why bother?
Creation is an act, a sacred act, a personal act, religious in the true sense of the word: “re” meaning again or connect and “lego” meaning to choose or revere and bond, ultimately meaning to choose again a reverential personal bond. Creation is religious because we choose to go over something again and again. We become devoted to creating. We reinvent. We re-create ourselves by creating over and over again. Creation is never still, it’s always changing. I’ll get into this idea of sacredness a little more in a later episode.
We created a writers and artists retreat nearly two decades ago to help other people create. We created a publishing house to get people’s creations out into the world. Now, I’m creating this podcast for the same reason, to empower others to create too.
I’m doing this podcast because no matter what you want to create, no matter what you’re into, there are so many things we all have in common — the walls, the doors to walk through those walls, and the windows out onto the world that creativity gives us. And of course the most important thing, to persevere in order to create, because it’s perspiration not inspiration that counts, and why, for your own good, and the good of others.
So, again, why am I creating this podcast? To help others create. So people don’t feel alone like I used to. So they don’t repeat the same mistakes I and so many other creators have made. So we can create something to reflect our needs, and the unconscious needs of all of us. And also because when we create, the world thrives, becomes a better, more beautiful place, not the destructive kind of world a Hitler imagines. Isn’t that what most of us want, a better world?
Also, epiphany: You don’t need permission to create. You don’t need a diploma in building to build a house. Plenty of people build their own houses, the whole thing, from electricity to masonry to plumbing to the furniture inside it. I renovated most of the house we left, myself. I learned as I went along.
So don’t ask for permission. Do it. Dance, sing, write, build. Now. Don’t think about what you want the work to be. Simply do the work you need to do. Write. Paint. Play. Design. Change it. Refine it. And some day it’ll be ready to be put up on a stage, or into an album.
You have to discover your own need, your own love, your own way, away from the psychology of the many, away from what Nietzsche called the “herd-instinct in the individual”, one publicists like Edward Bernays have been manipulating us with for the last hundred years. He would have us believe we can buy happiness. But you can’t buy happiness, because it’s a byproduct of creation, and creation isn’t a product, it’s a process. You’ll be happy if you buy this car is very different from You’ll be happy if you create a car.
“Oh, I’m not a mechanic because I haven’t built any cars.”
If I’d stopped writing because I wasn’t published I wouldn’t have any books finished, but more importantly, I wouldn’t be who I am today. By being a creator, by writing, by creating, I found out a lot of things about myself. If I’m not creating then I’m missing a huge opportunity to grow.
So thanks for listening. I started with a quote from that wonderful Frenchman Hessel but as I said last time, I’m going to end each episode with an Irish proverb.
This one literally means: Whoever doesn’t plant in the spring doesn’t reap in the fall.
An té nach gcuireann san earrach ní bhaineann sé san fhómhar.
This podcast is supported by you the listener via my Patreon page. If ya want to support the podcast and help me get a wage for doing it, because that’s how I see this podcast as a job, one I love doing, then please head over to patreon.com/johnfanning where you can get early and ad free access as well as extra episodes when ya sign up. Ifya can afford it then give me the cost of a price of a cup of tea or pint once a month. Ifya can’t afford it that’s grand too, ya can listen for free, but please leave a review on itunes or wherever ya listen to it and let your friends know about it so the listenership grows. Thank you! And thanks for listening. If you’re looking for more episodes you can find them on all the usual places like iTunes – or on my website at johnfanning.me under “podcast” where I’ve put up overview transcripts with links to all the people and ideas I mention. If you’re into social stuff and you’re looking to engage with me one-on-one, check me out on twitter @fanning_j and instagram @ johnfanning_. It’s been great sharing stuff with you today so until next time take care out there and be benevolent when you can!
Slán libh agus go n-éirí an bóthar libh.