Blog 1408: Just Like Them

“Don’t overthink – just do it!”

Ummm… Huh?

I’m often trying to work out what it is I love about the music i love, and how my own music stands up in comparison. Not so much “Is my stuff as good?” (it’s not), as “Do my songs possess the qualities I found in the songs that inspired them?”

On the one hand, I feel like a failure (or at least a hypocrite*) on the occasions I judge my music to have fallen short of the mark. On the other, I can feel pride (or at least relief) on the occasions I decide that my music differs enough from its inspirations so as not to be completely derivative of them. It’s a strange tension, my constant alternating between the need to be, and the shame of quite possibly being, “just like them”.

* I say “hypocrite” because one of the things in music I complain about most is people pushing mediocrity. Be it lazy or uninspired, it’s simply taking up space, distracting from or obstructing the path toward more interesting, rewarding (or, dare I say it, worthwhile) music.

It’s been suggested to me, more than once, that I overthink things (not least when it comes to making my own art). On the one hand, I can appreciate that idea. I imagine it’s offered out of concern that I may spend more time and energy thinking about what I’m doing than actually doing it – the implication being that the concerned parties enjoy my creations, and would rather I just get on with creating more of them. But then, if someone enjoys something I made, then they should know it came from the same “overthinking” process as every other creation of mine. So how do folks imagine that can one exist without the other?

I’ve encountered this “Stop thinking, start doing!” idea a lot, and I find it more than a little disturbing. Where did this idea come from? Do people consider thoughtless creativity to be good, or superior? Is thinking considered to be separate from, or possibly a hindrance to, “pure” or “inspired” creation? Does it really ruin the creative process to stop and consider it – or merely ruin the magical image some people have of it in their mind?

I make art because I enjoy it. I most enjoy making art when it’s the best art I can make in that moment. I enjoy art that does what no other art is doing – so why should I strive to do anything less with my own art? My “thoughtless” art – the art you will never hear or see – is stuff that, I feel at least, merely regurgitates other art I’ve absorbed, with no real contribution from me to it. So I have to think about it: “What is it about the thing I’m regurgiating that made me so enjoy consuming it in the first place? What’s the essence of the idea that inspired me? Can I create something in the spirit of that – draw on it, rather than trace it? Can I be a voice, rather than an echo? Can I contribute to the larger ongoing conversation? Do I have anything interesting to say? Failing that, can I at least be eloquent?”

In short: am I being Just Like Them?


PS. here are some of my favourite words I’ve ever heard spoken about creativity, by Mr John Cleese (via Maria Popova’s wonderful Brain Pickings):

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