Musings on creativity

All artistic and creative endeavors are attempts to push the limits of the chosen discipline. 

Right now in the world of craft beer (yes, brewing is a creative endeavor) the India Pale Ale (IPA) style has been pushed to and past its limits in hop taste and alcohol content.  The IPA, particularly the American strain, is naturally a hoppy beer.  A quick primer, if you make a beer really hoppy you have to increase the amount of malt in the beer to keep the beer’s taste balanced enough to make it drinkable.  If you increase malt you increase the available sugar for fermentation which increases alcohol content. 

Many brewers have pushed the hop bitterness and alcohol content to such a level in their quest to make the hoppiest IPAs possible they are in some sense not making IPAs. 

The creative instinct is to always push to find new ways of expressing the same ideas or take an existing idea and push it all the way and past its limits.  That is how something new and different gets created. 

Bebop for example was created as an extension of traditional jazz and took the blues forms of jazz, increased the speed of the blues making the solos dizzying virtuosic performances while at the same time trying to find the most important notes in the music and attacking them at jagged sideways angles. 

Back to beer, the stout style was an extension of the porter style in 19th century England.  It began as a slightly darker and higher alcohol porter known as a stout porter, but slowly displaced the porter style entirely and became known as just stout.  Today true porters are rare, but stouts are ubiquitous. 

That brings up the other thing about creativity.  As it seeks to push the limits and find new ways of expression it inevitably destroys something that came before.  Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  While it is true that two forms of the same artistic discipline can exist simultaneously, it is also true that one of those forms has to become the dominant form over time.   

What is the drive that makes artists and creators push the limits to find and create the next wave?  Is it a natural rebellion against the status quo? Or is it an innate restlessness and curiosity that constantly seeks new input and knowledge? 

The answer is probably a little of both.  Certainly not all creators are overt rebels, but any true act of creation is an act of rebellion.  Also, all creators have a little curiosity hardwired into their brains and personalities.  Overtime the artist ages and matures and as they do, one of two things occurs:  get comfortable with what they are doing and start “mailing it in” ceasing to push the limits of their creativity or they become more confident in their rebellion and intentionally push to find new ways of expression and make their audience think and become a little uncomfortable. 

There is a reason many of the most successful musical acts best music came at the beginning and the start of the middle phase of their careers.  That is when they are still taking chances and trying to push themselves as well as the music.  As they get older, many artists become stuck doing the same songs over and over again.  Not just playing the old hits, but recreating them time and time again in the guise of new music.  That isn’t just due to losing their artistic fire, but the more successful they become the more business depends on their success.  Once you become an industry instead of an artist, it becomes a lot harder to take creative chances on a new album.  If it doesn’t sale, jobs will be lost and houses will be sold. 

Art and creation are destructive rebellions that push the limits of their discipline.  Sometimes watching those limits be pushed in real time is disconcerting, but in retrospect it is always fascinating. 


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