Recently, while going through a piano forum, I came across this thread that discussed the merits of a popular 80’s keyboardist. Most dismissed his talents, but a certain poster made a very interesting comment. He, a professional keyboardist himself, said that while this keyboardist is unlikely to ever play Carnegie Hall, he had what many accomplished pianists don’t – creativity. His lack of dexterity and polish didn’t compromise what was innate and special to him – an ability to use his instrument in ways that were previously unknown even to him.
I found this to be a very interesting example of defining creativity. And, the very premise of it – the creative act – explains why so many creative people have tendencies towards depression. It is a year since Robin Williams left us, and I am still as unable to understand it, as I was a year ago. The good that has come out of something so tragic is that people, especially people in a position of influence, are more willing to discuss their own struggles with depression. It is not necessary for someone in such a position to have to discuss it in the public sphere. But, his loss proved that the general lack we use to explain depression – having the ability to express talent, success, finding meaning in life etc. – may still not be enough, or even close to getting towards understanding the problem. No one, no matter how enviably privileged, can consider themselves safe from ever suffering this.
There is some correlation for sure. Most of our workforce, occupations, are focused on doing activities that are well-established in terms of their competence. You go from point A to point B to point C everyday, because that is what works and keeps everyone happy. Pepper it with some human interaction, and it may not even be boring. Having to be creative, on the other hand, is refusing to go from point A to point B in the pre-determined way. Even the goal might itself change in this scenario, by will or just the way things come to be, so that you land up on point D or E. By willing to be creative, you are venturing into the unknown, the unfathomable. You may see point B, want to be there, but there is no certainty that you will get there.
Robin Williams had the privilege of working in the most facilitating artistic environment in the world – Hollywood – for most of his career. You may be at the top of your game as an actor, writer, dancer, costumer etc., but if Hollywood comes calling, you would find it hard to say no. Everything here is regularized, made for absolute efficiency in channelling the creative minds that populate it. And yet, it hardly ever ensures the health or success of anybody who gets to work there. Because, it can’t. We look from the outside (unless you, who is reading this, are on the inside. If so, please share your experiences) thinking it a perfect place to help us achieve our creative ambitions, and yet, it has its own set of limitations, one of which is common even with us – the inability to foresee how a certain creative idea, or life itself, will go.
This is, by no means, an attempt to understand Mr. Williams’ motivations. No one can even dare to presume, no matter how much psychologists and entertainment journalists come up with theories that may even have surprised and intrigued Mr. Williams. I don’t understand it. But, I find it refreshing, and relieving to an extend, that successful, creative people are willing to talk about it by their own volition.
For the rest of us, even if we don’t have the luxury to work only towards our creative ends, having an entourage of people helping us with everything, from the way we look to the image we project to the world, there is still much to be said and thought about the way we perform these things. We understand we want to be seriously creative, because we know we can make things that demand value and approval. But, is it really that easy? To venture into the unknown, with the knowledge that wherever we get will be worth it, not just to us but to others? It is the very breeding ground for fear, anxiety, unsurety. Because, things are unsure.
Talent is only a tendency to get something right a number of times. Nothing else. You may be able to get it right more often if you focus and practise enough. But, no one can predict you won’t falter at all. Everybody does. Great writers write bad novels, great musicians hit the wrong notes, great athletes make mistakes that are so obvious to angry fans at the stadium. The willingness to make something, and be good at it, means you are, primarily, setting yourself up for failure.
But, can you stop? I know a number of happy, content, enviable people, who are happy because they stay within their set parameters. There is no rule that in order to be happy, you always have to try something new. Even the novelty of change can wear off after a while, feeling like it’s change that is the same old boring thing. Ultimately, our mental lives come custom-made, and subject to change. Any attempt to understand it generally, from the outside, can only be an idea worth thinking about. And that is what idea/creative people are equipped to do.