Freud denied that psychoanalysis could shed any light on creativity. Creativity is not a talent, he continues, it is a way of operating.
It's not an ability that you either have or not have, and it is absolutely unrelated to your IQ.
Cleese concludes that creativity is a way of putting yourself in a certain mood—an "ability to play" with ideas, not for any immediate practical purpose, but just for fun.
I disagree on a pretty fundamental level.
What he's actually talking about lateral thinking: unconnected concepts fused together for no particular purpose.
This only works if the definition of creativity is "new, novel, unexpected ideas." But, while this definition is fine for inventions, it rarely applies to art, music or literature—at least nothing great or classic art of any kind (although it does fit most modernist or contemporary ideologies of the creative process.)
He's right—if you want to have new, novel, breakthrough ideas that are completely unconnected to any motive, objective, aim or goal, then just be open and allow yourself to play.
But this will not make you successful.
Creative success is not about how you make something, or how creative it is: almost every successful book, art, movie or breakthrough was riding the trend of the times, taking on issues that were pressing and relevant, copying copiously from things that had come before--good ideas that never took off or could have been better. Often all that is needed is a little tweaking, repackaging and rebranding.
Anybody can be creative. If you want to be successfully creative you need to focus on making things that people will like, and you have to have a solid idea of how you're going to get paid.
I know that's a bummer—our collective pathology of creativity teaches we can do what we love, follow our passion and the money will follow. It almost never happens. It may have worked, very rarely, in the long distant past, but lessons from art history teach us that sell-out peacocks like Dali and Picasso, who follow whatever is trending, succeed more often than the sad and ferocious feelers like Van Gogh (if this is surprising to you, read my post on Picasso.)
This doesn't mean, of course, that you can't be passionate about what you're doing. Creativity is like electricity—it works when it's plugged in, but it can power anything. Just because you aim to make something that people will buy and will support you (so you don't have to waste your life in a meaningless job) doesn't mean you're not being creative. You're using the same parts of your brain. And, making something you know will succeed frees you from the crippling doubt and insecurity that most artists assume is "just part of the process."
It isn't. You're making a choice.
For example: a few days ago I went to a public art party and started working on a painting. It was kind of fun. I mapped out more than I could reasonably complete though, and I was working in acrylics rather than oils like I'm used to. I didn't finish, and actually the painting was a mess. I brought it home with me (on the back of a motorcycle) and was supposed to finish this week so they could hang it up and possibly sell it.
Instead of finishing the painting, I finished the book I was working on (Write, Format, Publish, Promote). It's not a huge deal, but I got it done and put it up on Kindle. Now I can email my list about it, get some reviews and start selling. It'll earn me a few hundred dollars a month, but more importantly, it'll connect me with thousands of people and significantly grow my platform.
Instead of art, I make book cover designs, or cover design templates, that people can use to publish easier.
Instead of fiction (so far) I'm publishing guides and how-tos.
Is it revolutionary? Is it art?
Here's what I know: I'm transitioning from self-employed, working with clients, to 100% passive income. Which means on any given day, for the rest of my life, there's nothing I will have to do--I can always focus on the projects I want to, the things I care about and am interested in.
A lot of artists focus on their passion and never make a profit.
I focused on profit first (by providing value) so I can spend the rest of my life (full-time, not working at all) exploring passions, art and creativity.
Which would you rather be, creative, or creatively successful?
How to do it
1. Before you start making something, ask yourself what it's worth, who will pay for it, and how.
2. Then think how you're going to get it in front of them, package it and promote it.
3. Then think about what you'll do next. Always have a string of projects lined up.
Every project should either earn money, or build your reputation and influence, or make new friends.
For example; last week I noticed Mark Coker of Smashwords posted an "Indie Author Manifesto." I immediately spent a couple hours turning it into an infographic/poster. Mark liked it so much he's asked me to make a translated version in different languages. Mark's someone I've had on my radar for a while but had been "out of my league" previously. But now that I've made myself helpful, he knows who I am.
Like Emerson says, "Make yourself necessary to somebody." Promoting yourself all the time is not only tough, but it doesn't work. Use your skills to build things that help other people. Help enough people and making money gets much, much easier.
One of my favorite stories is about the ancient philosopher Thales. People were making fun of him because all his big ideas couldn’t put money on the table. What’s the point of being a genius if you can’t earn enough to feed your family? Thales used his knowledge of heavenly bodies to predict a bumper crop of olives; he invested in all the olive presses in Miletus and made a small fortune, so he could go back to doing what he loved (while also proving that philosophy can have practical value). I view creativity the same way. You can use it to make whatever you want. Why not make some money first, so you’re truly free to pursue your interests?
What do you think? Have I sold out, or have I discovered the secret?