Creativity as an Equation

What the hell is this Muse thing? Somewhere along the line (definitely not in Kindergarten) we are told that a Muse is needed to create something, anything, of beauty or perfection. A muse is needed for inspiration. A muse is needed…. But no one really tells us what the hell a Muse is exactly. We are told that when this Muse strikes, the piece we create will be perfect, amazing, acclaimed, brilliant, and maybe even bring us recognition! So is it when we create something we are proud of, we credit a muse (without even knowing if that’s the case)? When we create something easily we credit a Muse as helping us along? Have we been trained to mistrust ourselves and credit some fanciful and miraculous Muse?

We’ve all seen or heard an amazing piece of art and heard the creator say, “It just came to me!”

Others, and perhaps this is the more known definition of a Muse, claim to be inspired by one person. A model, a partner, maybe even a place or setting, pinning all their inspiration and output on this one thing.

Let’s look at the muse in a more…traditional way. Zeus brought the Muses into being (by sleeping with his Aunt, whatever) to celebrate victory over the Titans. He wanted to help his people relieve the sorrows of their past. The nine baby girls he produced with his Aunt, the Muses, created a distraction of sorts by calling attention to art and beauty. Oh these young ladies were good!

We have translated the Muse into someone that inspires us to create—but if we think about it in Zeus terms, a Muse is a distraction. It’s something that frees our mind of worries, tragedies, politics, our life (responsibilities, worries, that large pile of laundry, the bills that have to get pushed off to next month). It’s this freeing of the ‘bad thoughts’ that can lead to inspiration and creation.

We can drift our mind away from these thoughts by simply doodling, taking a walk, listening to music, a podcast even! It was a podcast that inspired this little blog. And it was not a podcast on creativity but a semi-technical podcast on shooting film photography. An episode full of camera model numbers, ISO speeds, aperture settings…I was barely paying attention, letting my mind drift. Then I heard the gentleman hosting the podcast say he could hardly find time to shoot a roll of film in his busy life—this was maybe around episode 4 or 5. I skipped ahead to an episode he posted a year later and he casually mentioned he had shot 18 rolls of film that week. Wow! Did creating his podcast make him feel accountable to go out and photograph? Why the change? What happened?  Did focusing on a podcast make him less anxious about shooting–so he didn’t overthink it–he just went out with camera in hand and shot with a relaxed mind? That sort of change in a year (which is really not a long time) is amazing and beautiful! I was struck with inspiration because I was listening to a podcast about nothing I do—I don’t shoot photos with film cameras. I don’t even have a working film camera (I do have a broken one though).

So this little creative endeavor here started because I was listening to something new, unfamiliar, I was half-engaged in the content which let my mind wander (open?) to a snippet of a sentence uttered by a podcaster. I will argue that Muses (distractions) are all around us. We just have to find the right ones.

Mostly we’re not satisfied with just inspiration, which is why we wait for our Muse to bring us that perfect idea. But we should be satisfied with just inspiration because that’s what is all around us.

Inspiration + time, while not a Muse, is what we can get and it’s all we have. While I think this is just the start of the creativity equation, it is the hardest part to allow into our over-scheduled life.

Inspiration can be easy: take a walk this week. No headphones. 10 minutes. See what happens.