The Loss of Creative Innocence

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Ever have an idea, invention, or creative thought, only to find out somebody somewhere in the world had already done that same thing?

In the old days, or BG (Before Google) we would happily explore some new landscape, in the innocence that we were doing something new and original. In the course of this journey, we could discover new things, improve ourselves, develop a creative flow, and sometimes just have fun. As a kid, I happily re-invented all kinds of things like rockets made of match-sticks, various kinds of model aircraft, and, of course, lots of musical principles, not knowing that all these things were already in existence.

Not anymore.

Within seconds of thinking of our concept, we can find entire discussion forums devoted to this idea we thought we had. There could be businesses, websites, patents and, of course, trolls who “know more” than everyone about the subject. We can also find ample opinions that our idea is naive or useless. Talk about letdown.

I submit that this instant information, with all its utility, can also be a great destroyer. Imagine if all the composers, musicians and inventors of the past had had immediate feedback on every idea, before it even had a chance to form fully; the very enthusiasm that drove them to create great things would have died. Imagine the Wright Brothers being trolled on a “Powered Flight” discussion group, or the myriad negative comments on the YouTube premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

I counsel my students not to share their unfinished compositions with others, or at least to be careful about who they choose as sounding-boards. This is because an offhand comment can easily derail the creative process. With the internet, we can expand this problem to include countless critics, including anonymous strangers with a desire to humiliate and put us down.

I think sometimes ignorance can be more than bliss; it may allow us to be ourselves and save some fragment of childlike wonder. It really doesn’t matter if somebody else has already done the thing you are doing, if some other music sounds a lot like yours, or if somebody thinks your idea leads nowhere. I suggest deliberately holding back from seeing what everybody else is doing, at least for a while, to give yourself a chance to create.

Go ahead and re-invent; you never know where it will lead.

  • Paul Miles

    I think all great art reflects something observed somewhere else. A shape, an expression, a gesture, and emotion, and etc. I believe that it is not a competition that produces art and music, but it is the embellishment of a perception.

    • randyhoexter

      Agreed. And I believe sometimes we need to create without the endless chatter of the internet…

      • Paul Miles

        Nowadays our artistic expressions must be cloaked in ‘acceptable’ excitement to get away from the mundane. It seems that we don’t need any more music. We’ve got Mozart, Bach, Billy Joel, Bernstein, Gershwin, John Williams, Etc. Do we need 15 minutes of fame, shock value; do we need to copy successfully marketed styles? The main problem I have is that people say, “It doesn’t go like that.” or, “What is that? I don’t recognize that. Play something I know.”
        People seem to want something familiar, so why should I try anything new?

        • randyhoexter

          These are very understandable feelings, and with the hype-based world we live in, it’s hard to muster up the energy to create. I get bogged down in all the things you mention. I think what I intended with my article was to suggest avoiding the comparisons and constant cross-referencing that is made possible by the internet. One of my former students calls it “giving your ideas time to breathe.” Once deep into the creative process, we may be able to shut off all the voices trying to tell us it’s pointless. In the end, the only person we need to satisfy is ourself.

          • Paul Miles

            “Giving your ideas time to breathe” might be a good way of saying that testing the waters is critical. It seems to me that I need to ‘satisfy’ more than myself otherwise I should just stay in my office and put on my headphones. I gotta share, gotta find my audience. There is no excitement in making music unless someone out there ‘gets it’ the way I do.

          • randyhoexter

            It’s probably a balance, like many things. We are social beings, and nobody wants to create in a vacuum. However, I think art of any kind created with sincerity and passion will find an audience, although sometimes that takes a while. Probably a personal thing, but I find that concerning myself with the opinions of others, especially complete strangers, can really cause me to become despondent, and not to move forward.
            Mr. Gould certainly took it to an extreme, but his philosophy was that art stands whether or not it has any “audience.”

            “To me, the ideal audience-to-artist relationship is one-to-zero relationship.
            I’m not happy with words like “artist” and “public” and the hierarchical implications.
            The artist should be permitted anonymity, unaware of the presumed demand of the marketplace. They’ll make contact on a much more meaningful level.” -Glenn Gould

          • Paul Miles

            Inspiring, Randy. It makes me think the difference between my playing is different when I have an audience. From your words, I am more determined to please myself with my improvising and that the listener might catch a glimpse of that in a purer sense than he would if he heard me trying to please him. Being self conscious trying to please others actually takes away from the art. Thanks.
            By the way, I sent you some of my ‘stuff’ in an email, but you probably don’t have time to listen to it. But thanks for your words here.

          • randyhoexter

            I certainly will listen! Looking forward to it. All the best!