I recently read an article suggesting that creativity starts with darkness. The author argued that in order to be creative, one must start from a place of nothing where one’s mind is free of ideas and once you are presented with a clean sheet of paper you may start to “doodle”. This Zen like state of mind is supposed to be the breeding ground for ideas from which creativity flows.
I thought this article was particularly interesting because I was reminded of the pending release of Harper Lees’ novel, Go Set a Watchman. This is only her second novel, the first being To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960 – it is interesting to note that Go Set a Watchman was actually written before To Kill a Mockingbird, which has become a staple read for decades and is an absolute masterpiece in creativity. However, what is interesting to me is the back story. The novel was written at a time of significant civil unrest in America and, although downplayed by Lee, the plot and characters are apparently based on her own life experiences and real people. The reason this piqued my interest is because I believe whatever we create, whether it be a novel, sculpture, painting or a photograph is the result of our entire life of experiences, which includes the people we have met, the places we have visited, our work, our school, our friends and family, the books we have read, the music we have listened to, the relationships we have or have had, etc. etc.. Our creations include some part (large or small) of who we are and how we interpret the world around us and therefore, they say a lot about us.
Going back to the article I read; although our lives start with no experiences and are therefore, by definition, a “blank sheet of paper”, we gain experience from that point forward. I am not sure therefore, if we should even attempt to elevate ourselves above our life experiences and attempt to achieve some stasis from where creativity can occur. Since we are all unique, i.e. no two people have ever shared identical experiences, shouldn’t we actually be embracing those experiences in our creations? Isn’t creativity therefore born out of our ability to dig into our life experiences and use that as the starting point for ideas? I would suggest the strawman for creativity is not to start with a clean sheet of paper, but rather to start with the rich, complex lives we have each led and identify those parts that are meaningful to us – this would be my ground zero, my “place of nothing”.