"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Nonproductive Creativity vs. Productive Mediocrity

Perhaps Leonardo's greatest discovery was not the perfectibility of man but its opposite: He found that even the most profound thought combined with the most ferocious application cannot accomplish something absolutely true and beautiful. We cannot touch the face of God. But we can come close, and his work, imperfect as it may be, is one of the major demonstrations of heroic procrastination in Western history: the acceptance of our imperfection — and the refusal to accept anything less than striving for perfection anyway.

Leonardo is just one example of an individual whose meaning has been constructed, in part, to combat the vice of procrastination; namely, the natural desire to pursue what one finds most interesting and enjoyable rather than what one finds boring and repellent, simply because one's life must be at the service of some compelling interest — some established institutional practice — that is never clearly explained, lest it be challenged and rejected.

Interesting look at nonproductive genius, of which the author says there is much in academia, compared to forced production. At The Chronicle.

I know that we often feel the push to capitalize on our talents, to make money just to pay the bills, and people complain about the quality of the resulting product -- mediocre TV, sensational journalism, poorly written genre books, scandalous, attention-getting art. We mostly agree that money isn't the whole point. The point is to share genius, inspired energy, with others. One hopes to also make a living at it, but completing work is not just about money. Leonardo worked on commission, btw, and still didn't complete that much. It was his recognized genius that kept him afloat financially, to the chagrin of other artists who did complete work, Michelangelo, e.g. Genius alone doesn't pay as well as it may once have, so we don't have the option of postponing completion of work if we want to make a career of it. We have to make judgments -- when is something finished? When can it no longer be made better? When is it time to move on anyway? We show ourselves, our level of talent and genius, in what we choose to share, what we label "finished." Maybe Leonardo was never satisfied with his own genius, or maybe he didn't feel the urge to share. Today, creative people must resist the pressure to put half-realized work out there to try to make a buck. In my opinion. I might feel differently if my writing paid for an expensive lifestyle. It's easy to get attached to that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If we never get anything done, there is still hope.