All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today's clip comes from the opening scene from It Might Get Loud:
What can we learn?
It’s impossible to fail at self expression. I was recently listening to an interview with one of my favorite songwriters. He said he’d rather be on stage in front of thousands of people than in conversation with a few. And his reasoning was, on stage, there is no wrong. Maybe better or worse, but never wrong. Conversation, on the other hand, has rules and standards and boundaries. But in art, you can do whatever you want. It’s not about being right, it’s about being yourself. Jack is an eccentric guy, there’s no doubt. He got his start as a furniture upholster, where he used to submit invoices in crayon and write poetry inside the couches. He convinced the world that his wife was his sister. He frequently color codes his creative endeavors, like his recording studio which is completely outfitted in yellow, black, red, and blue. And in the opening scene of this movie, he makes a crude guitar out of a two pieces of wood, a few nails, an old wire, a soda bottle and a cheap preamp. Is it an act? Is it a persona? Is it just a clever way to sell records? Doesn’t matter. White’s relentless individualism is what matters. He refuses to be anyone other than himself. And it’s enabled him to enjoy both critical and popular success, winning piles of awards and being dubbed as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. And he doesn’t even need a guitar. If you’re just being yourself, how can anybody tell you that you’re doing it wrong?
The freedom to pursue what’s inside. The only artistic goal worth pursuing is freedom. Freedom over what I create, freedom over why and how I create it, freedom over whom I create it with and freedom over what I do with it once it’s created, that’s all I care about. Everything else flows from there. Macleod famously said tat the sovereignty we have over our work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will. Jack is inspiring to me for that very reason. He’s free. Not just in the way he creates music, but in the way he creates the opportunity to make music. His songs rock, but what I admire most is that he started his own independent record label, even established its first physical location, which is a combination record store, performance venue, and headquarters for the company. That’s freedom. Jack literally and figurative built the house where his freedom resides. He has complete sovereignty over his work, supreme, independent authority over his creativity. And so, watching this documentary as a guitarist inspires me to find new ways to express myself through the instrument. But watching this movie as an artist inspires me to find new ways to be free and to own my world. To own my media, own my platform, own my career and ultimately own my life. Tastes like freedom to me. Are you conquering your work, or is your work conquering you?
Constraints are catapults. White’s musical philosophy is to limit himself in various ways to force creative approaches to recording and playing. Whether he writes only three chords for his song, has only two members in his band, or plays only one string on his guitar, the constraint is what sets him free. I’m reminded of my favorite art book, The Art of Looking Sideways. Famed visual designer Alan Fletcher wrote that the first move in any creative process is to introduce constraints. It’s enormously effective. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I’m jealous of traditional journalists. They have deadlines. They execute against temporal constraints. They don’t have the luxury of even thinking about writer’s block, because if they don’t hit their word count by the end of the week, they’re fired. The same goes for farmers. If don’t tend to their crops and animals and land every day, there is no harvest. That’s a constraint too. The point is, all creators and communicators of ideas need to introduce constraints somewhere in their process. Whether it’s an output quota, daily deadline or accountability email at the end of each week, constraints are catapults. In the production management world, factories and organizations do the same thing. They identify their limitation, decide how to exploit it, and then restructure everything in the system around it. Are you running from your limitations or leveraging them?
What did you learn?
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That Guy with the Nametag
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