Chronic Creativity

The other day, after watching The Mystery of Picasso directed by Henri-George Clouzot, I was struck by the fact that Picasso frequently changed his art in the process of creating it.

The movie shows Picasso's passion by allowing the viewer to watch him make every stroke. One painting, On the Beach No. 1, was changed by Picasso countless numbers of times. I watched him as he colored over a previously created face in order to make a new face.

I saw him wipe out a house with gray paint and then start over. Just when I thought that he was almost finished with, what I thought was, a perfectly good painting, he erased huge sections by simply slapping a color over the object of his play.

Personally, I found his repeated changes throughout the painting very frustrating. Initially, I complained, "What is he doing? Can't he make up his mind?" (Perhaps this frustration that I experienced is the same frustration that many people have with those around them infected with Chronic Creativity.)

People infected with Chronic Creativity can often appear, like Picasso, indecisive and disorganized. However, the fact is that those with CC have a very important reason to appear so.

When I stopped to ponder the "method behind Picasso's madness", I wondered if he was somehow "listening" to his art. I wondered if his art was "telling" him that it wanted something different much like the way in which a wife may "tell" her husband that she wants something different in bed. This thought led me to believe that listening to the art, or "hallucinating" is a common symptom of Chronic Creativity.

As a songwriter, it is very common for me to begin a song with my own original ideas and plans. (Yes, believe it or not, those infected with CC are capable of making plans.) However, when the song begins to play and the notes dance around in my mind, I "hear" the song "wanting" to be different. Perhaps a musical phrase at the end of a line needs to sound happier or longer. Often, a chord may not "like" the appropriate mood of the lyric underneath it. Certainly, the music speaks! It says, "Yes, THAT is perfect." or "THAT doesn't sound pleasing. Try something else." (Please keep in mind that this idea of personifying the art is just a metaphor used in my writing. Those infected with Chronic Creativity generally do not hear audible hallucinations while creating. That is called schizophrenia.)

This idea of "hearing the art speak" is an incredible attribute to the creative mind. It can also be likened to adaptability which is a commendable trait to have. There are many people who are able to make plans and stick to them. Plans are good. Sticking to plans can be good. However, the temptation in this is to become rigid and stubborn in the process. It takes humility to change one's plans. In doing this, the "planner" embraces new ideas and approaches as a very workable possibility.

Last week, my husband was working on an original independent film idea. He was beginning to edit and organize the video clips in the manner that he originally "planned" in his head. After several hours of discovering limitations to his plans, he became frustrated. At that point, I shared with him the possibility that his film was perhaps "wanting to be something entirely different" than he had planned. I asked him if he was willing to adapt to the art and "listen to the frustrations" it was manifesting. He made the argument and choice to continue working with the frustrations in order for his original plan to work —. which is fine. However, what would Picasso do?

I have a philosophy I embrace whenever I create. Whether I am writing a song or book, painting a picture, cooking a meal, playing the piano, creating a stage design, or doing my hair, if it begins to frustrate me, I usually bend and adjust the original plan.

I, personally, do not enjoy laboring for hours and hours and being frustrated. To me, it is like struggling to put a puzzle piece into a slot that it doesn't belong. Or have you ever seen that shape ball that babies often play with? There are little yellow shapes that fit into slots on a red and blue ball. Each shape only has one slot. I have observed babies angrily trying to force the pentagon shape into the oval shape. I have even seen some whip the ball across the room in a fit of rage because a square piece won't go into a rectangular opening. It can be quite an amusing scene.

We, too, can look like angry little circus clowns when we throw our tantrums and per verbally whip our art across the room because it won't "obey" our original plans. My simple solution is this: ADAPT. Listen to the art. Bend. Tweak. Change. Alter. Erase. Do it again — another way. Life is too short to be frustrated. Great surprises await us when we adopt a pliable attitude.

When I watched Headliners and Legends with Matt Lauer a few weeks ago on the life of Oprah Winfrey, I was tickled to discover that Oprah was considered somewhat of a failure as a news anchorwoman. Her critics thought that she put too much drama and expression into her local stories. Finally, somebody got a clue that perhaps Oprah would do better hosting a show primarily geared toward housewives. We all know the rest. Oprah is now a billionaire because somebody was smart enough to see that she had incredible gifts that were intended to be used in an entirely different arena. •

This excerpt is from Chronic Creativity: A Diagnostic Look at the Condition and How to Become Infected ©2001 Angela K. Mack. All rights reserved.

Angela K. MackAngie Mack Reilly is a musical director, performing artist, blues educator and writer who has a wealth of experience and connections in the arts and entertainment industry. More