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What Four Artists Can Teach Us About Creativity

Posted on January 2, 2020

Creativity isn’t something that you’re born with. Making music, art, or film is not only about generating ideas, but also having a process to acquire and improve the skills you need to make these ideas come to life. By examining the creative process of artists from different disciplines, you can apply new ideas to improve your own musical practice.

John Williams: Practicing consistency

“It’s not hard work that makes success; it’s sustained hard work that makes success”

John Williams’ day is like clockwork. He gets up at the same time, eats at the same time, and does his work at the same time. Every day his goal is to write three minutes of music. He does this every morning, and allows himself time in the afternoon to clean up what he created. Then every night, Williams not only goes for long walks, but he also practices the piano until he goes to bed. That’s what he does seven days a week. He doesn’t take a day off, because he doesn’t believe in it. To John Williams, it’s this consistency that has lead to his success.

When you are embarking on your own musical path, it’s important to be consistent, but also to have sustainable goals. John Williams focuses on writing three minutes of music a day. Maybe you practice for 15 minutes, or maybe an hour. Make your goal fit within your schedule. It’s that consistency that will help you become a better musician.

Shonda Rhimes : Say yes to what scares you

“Who you are today . . . that’s who you are. Be brave. Be amazing. Be worthy. And every single time you get the chance? Stand up in front of people. Let them see you. Speak. Be heard.”

Until 2013, Shonda Rhimes often said no. She focused on her career but said no to what scared her. By committing to saying yes to the things that scared her as part of her process, she began to explore, empower, cheer on, and love her truest self. By saying yes, it gave Rhimes a new viewpoint on things, and helped foster her creativity. It gave her a view of life outside of her job and gave her insight into what she wanted to do to have a happy and fulfilled life. It completely changed the way Rhimes worked, and allowed her to be more effective.

When you are embarking on learning something new, like learning a musical instrument, you’re saying yes to something that scares you. By dedicating time to that endeavor, you’re opening yourself up to new possibilities. First you’re saying yes to playing, then yes to new songs, then yes to new techniques. If you’re saying yes to music, what else can you say yes to?

Vincent Van Gogh : Bring experimentation into your practice

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

At 27, Vincent Van Gogh decided to be an artist. He dropped everything and started to paint. In only 10 years, Van Gogh created a body of work spanning over 2,100 artworks and he’s now touted as a genius.

Van Gogh was self-taught. He started by methodically following each step in a set of art instruction manuals and he learned through trial and error. When creating, Van Gogh looked for the techniques and materials that would best serve as an honest expression of his vision. As he mastered one technique, he’d leapfrog to wherever his passion led him next, so his artistic path was a more of a labyrinth then a straight line. For Van Gogh, no technique or material was better than another. Instead he mixed and matched what he learned and created new styles of painting that were never imagined before.

Being a self-taught musician, the fear of doing things right can sometimes hold us back. Taking inspiration from Van Gogh, you can apply his process of experimentation to your musical learning. Find the songs that inspire you on a particular day and use that as motivation to become a better musician. If you feel stuck, look back and ask yourself if you are you always playing the same songs or the same type of music. Try breaking out of your normal patterns, and explore new techniques to add to your musical palette.

Frida Kahlo : Persevering to overcome barriers

“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”

Frida Kahlo lived a life of pain. She suffered from the lasting effects of childhood polio, and a near-death streetcar crash when she was a teenager. Her life was filled with surgery after surgery, and she would often spend long periods of time in bed. But nothing stopped Kahlo from painting. To ensure she could still paint after surgery, Kahlo created a special easel that allowed her to paint even when she was confined to her bed.

We should look to Frida Kahlo’s determination as our inspiration for our musical practice. Some days are hard, and it would be easy to neglect your practice for a day or two (or three). But it’s easy for one or two days to become weeks or months. By persevering, you can ensure you continue your musical practice. It might not be your best day or you may not sound the best, but that doesn’t matter. By just playing, you will get the satisfaction of getting it done.

By adopting some of these lessons and practices into your own musical endeavors, you can create positive habits. This will allow you to continue to play and grow as a musician.