Simplicity

Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.             

Charles Mingus                                                              

 When involved with the creative flow, there’s always the temptation to really ‘take it over the top’.  Why not—after all, creativity is a celebration of a kind, and you’re letting out something you’ve been bottling up for who knows how long?  Many of the quotations we read about creativity talk about freeing oneself from societal and emotional constraints, casting aside personal inhibitions, touching the chaos within oneself and bringing the whole universe to order.  I envision an explosion that resolves itself into something peaceful and orderly.

Creativity isn’t just about bringing out the richness and beauty within, it’s also about restraint, balance and perspective.  A flute solo will not be four times lovelier because it’s played four times louder.  (Similarly, and to my regret, something cooked at 350F for one hour will not be four times tastier if you cook it at 1400F for fifteen minutes.  Those who refuse to eat my peach-and-Brillo omelettes have told me so, mostly through their refusal to dine.)

Creativity is not a single-step activity.  You can’t just ‘be creative’ and it’s done.  There are always the inspiration, the idea, the desire, and the PLAN for making a thought a reality.  These do not happen simultaneously.  Just now, I’m having lots of ideas, but that doesn’t mean I’m being creative.  I’m looking for the most effective way to express my ideas, which means I must know what’s going on in my head and heart, because these will colour and influence my idea.  Even at this point, I’m not being creative.  Once I know what I want to say, I can start choosing my words, and I am beginning to be creative.  Eventually, I’ll finish and I will have been creative.  There is no defining moment.

For some plans to become realities, experimentation must be carried out—nothing really looks or sounds that wonderful the first try.  I can’t think of a single act of creativity that did not involve immense amounts of practice! practice! practice! or trial and error.

August Rodin wrote:  The more simple we are, the more complete we become.  Think of the last time you were creative—you started with an idea, but you had to keep paring it back as it became more complicated.  The idea would become difficult to manage and develop without keeping it simple.  Every painting, no matter how complex, was painted with simple lines, and it was the combination of simple lines that created complex imagery.  The same is true for music—the most captivating pieces begin with a simple theme.   When you were finished, and your magnum opus was there for all to see or hear, your creation had completed you—said just a bit more about the essential artist.

An element of creativity is restraint, which itself is challenging.  Enthusiasm can get the better of us, and we tear ahead, embellishing and complicating was started out as something very simple.  I have ruined any number of stories and poems in just this way, because I lost sight of a crucial element—simplicity.  Many of the ‘elegant’ embellishments I added (which contributed to the failure of my efforts) were nothing more than clutter or impediment, and added nothing of value at all.

That said, perhaps there’s an element of timing, and this is where the ‘universal order’ begins to emerge.  Creating an image, you need the form of your figure before you can begin to give it colour and texture.  To try to do so during the rough-draft phase would be frustrating and unsuccessful.  Later, when the image is blocked out and other, key elements are in place—that’s the time to begin to adorn.  If you were building a house, you wouldn’t dig and complete the basement and then move on to the upper floors.

Confucius said (he really did!): Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.  There’s always the temptation to take something simple and make it just a little bit more something than it was originally.  With restraint, good timing, and a bit discipline, our efforts to be creative can be fully realized through our keeping it simple.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Leonardo da Vinci

 

 

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