Saturday, June 13, 2015

Watterson on Making Creative Fundamentals Fun

In 1990 commencement address to the graduating class of Kenyon College, Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame discussed the importance of cultivating a curious, creative mind. Excerpts:
It's surprising how hard we'll work when the work is done just for ourselves. And with all due respect to John Stuart Mill, maybe utilitarianism is overrated. If I've learned one thing from being a cartoonist, it's how important playing is to creativity and happiness. My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year. ...

We're not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery—it recharges by running.

You may be surprised to find how quickly daily routine and the demands of "just getting by: absorb your waking hours. You may be surprised matters of habit rather than thought and inquiry. You may be surprised to find how quickly you start to see your life in terms of other people's expectations rather than issues. You may be surprised to find out how quickly reading a good book sounds like a luxury.

At school, new ideas are thrust at you every day. Out in the world, you'll have to find the inner motivation to search for new ideas on your own. With any luck at all, you'll never need to take an idea and squeeze a punchline out of it, but as bright, creative people, you'll be called upon to generate ideas and solutions all your lives. Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.
Read the whole thing. A kaleidoscopic array of memories scattered through my head as I read Watterson’s speech. A undergraduate philosophy professor telling me that the best writers have an abiding love for thinking deeply. The condescending smile of an older friend who said that reading was a luxury in which I wouldn’t be able to indulge as I aged. The way acquaintances’ eyes dull whenever conversation strays into anything more complex than sports scores or sitcom season finales. Heinlein’s famous quote on focused living. (“In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”)

For the adult, time is tight. Engaged thought is a luxury. Finding mental and chronological space to write? That’s beyond precious. I believe that’s part of Watterson’s point: Given that it’s so difficult to engage in the worthy stuff that makes creativity possible, why not make that very stuff part of our ever-shrinking recreational lives? In other words, we should make the fundamentals fun if we want to create.

(Picture: CC 2008 by Brad Arnold; Hat Tip: Between Two Worlds)


Tony said...

It's shocking how often you come face-to-face with people who attempt to shame you into feeling guilty about writing and reading. Happened when I was young (to a lesser extent) and happens now too, even in creative-capital Los Angeles.

Reading stuff like this goes far to remind us that deep inside is a suppressed but deeply creative wellspring. In the best interest of our respective sanities, let's keep it flowing.

Loren Eaton said...

I run into it all the time. Part of it seems to be that people see creative pursuits as simple escapism. Now, some of it is, but some of it (I'd argue a lot of it) deals with the stuff of universal human experience. It's just hidden in plain sight behind plots, settings, and characters.