Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘video’

25 FEBRUARY, 2014

Alice Walker on Creativity

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“Creation is really a sustained period of bliss — even though the subject can still be very sad.”

To wonder what creativity is is among the chronic perplexities of the human condition. We’ve dissected its four essential stages, outlined its five steps of idea-production, and expounded theories about how it works. And yet the nature of creativity eludes us, perhaps because somewhere between the myth and the mechanics lies the simple truth that the creative spirit flies by its own accord, is accountable to no one, and differs for everyone.

In this lovely short segment from PBS’s American Masters, part of a feature documentary, one of the greatest writers of our time — the prolific and Pulitzer-winning Alice Walker — reflects on the nature of creativity with a beautiful and culturally necessary antidote to the “tortured genius” myth:

Creation is really a sustained period of bliss — even though the subject can still be very sad. Because there’s the triumph of coming through and understanding that you have, and that you did it the way only you could do it — you didn’t do it the way somebody told you to do it, you did it just the way you had to do it. And that is what makes us us.

In her altogether superb 1983 prose collection In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (public library), Walker considers a darker aspect of creativity amidst a cultural context of oppression, as she contemplates what “creativity” meant for Black women two generations earlier, who stifled their muses as they themselves were being stifled by the gruesome grip of slavery — women who “were Creators, who lived lives of spiritual waste” as they were being “driven to a numb and bleeding madness by the springs of creativity in them for which there was no release”:

What did it mean for a Black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers’ time? It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood.

[…]

How was the creativity of the Black woman kept alive, year after year and century after century, when for most of the years Black people have been in America, it was a punishable crime for a Black person to read or write? And the freedom to paint, to sculpt, to expand the mind with action did not exist. Consider, if you can bear to imagine it, what might have been the result if singing, too, had been forbidden by law. Listen to the voices of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, and Aretha Franklin, among others, and imagine those voices muzzled for life. Then you may begin to comprehend the lives of our “crazy,” “Sainted” mothers and grandmothers. The agony of the lives of women who might have been Poets, Novelists, Essayists, and Short Story Writers, who died with their real gifts stifled within them.

[…]

Therefore we must fearlessly pull out of ourselves and look at and identify with our lives the living creativity some of our great-grandmothers knew, even without “knowing” it…

Complement with more notable thoughts on creativity from Leonard Bernstein, Charles Bukowski, Ray Bradbury, William S. Burroughs, Ira Glass, Albert Einstein, Neil Gaiman, T.S. Eliot, and other cultural icons.

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20 FEBRUARY, 2014

Why Science-Fiction Writers Are So Good at Predicting the Future

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“At its core, good science fiction must rest on good science.”

“Trying to predict the future is a discouraging and hazardous occupation,” Arthur C. Clarke declared in 1964, and yet he got it astoundingly right in his own predictions, including his 1968 vision for the iPad. He wasn’t alone — Isaac Asimov predicted online education, Douglas Adams predicted ebooks, Ray Bradbury predicted that we would reach Mars (though, so far, we’ve only done so with robotic extensions of ourselves), and Jules Verne envisioned the hi-tech Nautilus “at a time when even a can-opener [was] considered an exciting new concept.” In fact, science-fiction authors have a formidable track record of predicting the future — but why?

That’s exactly what Joe Hanson of It’s Okay To Be Smart — who has previously explained the science of why we kiss and the mathematical odds of finding your soulmate — explores in this fantastic short film for PBS:

One right prediction in any one body of work would be lucky, but this many right answers can’t be luck — clearly, something sets these people apart. Many of the greatest sci-fi writers also had serious scientific training: Isaac Asimov had a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and Arthur C. Clarke had degrees in math and physics; H.G. Wells had a degree in biology…

At its core, good science fiction must rest on good science…

How far can we see into the future? Well, it depends on what we’re looking for — Isaac Asimov said that when we look at stars or galaxies or DNA, we’re looking at simple things, things that follow nice, neat rules and equations; but when we look at human history, it’s chaotic, unpredictable, our vision is limited. Science transforms the complex into the simple — that’s how we explain the chaos. Science is how we see farther, and science fiction is where we write down what we see.

Complement with this fantastic visual timeline of the future based on famous fiction and some vintage visions for the future of technology, then revisit one of H.G. Wells’s as-yet unfulfilled predictions with Edward Gorey’s illustrations for The War of the Worlds.

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18 FEBRUARY, 2014

How Creativity Works: Neil Gaiman on Where Ideas Comes From

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The power of desperation, deadlines, and daydreaming.

Beneath the eternal question of what creativity is lies the mystery of where good ideas come from and how we can coax them into manifesting. It’s a conundrum that has occupied artists, inventors, and philosophers alike since the dawn of human thought, but especially so since the dawn of psychology. We have Graham Wallace’s model of the four stages of the creative process from 1926, a five-step “technique for producing ideas” from 1939, Arthur Koestler’s famous “bisociation” theory of how creativity works from 1964, and a number of derivative modern ideas. The best answer, however, often comes from those who summon and wrangle ideas for a living, rather than merely contemplating the mechanics of the creative process.

In this wonderful excerpt from the Q&A after his December 2011 Wheeler Center interview, the ever-brilliant, ever-witty Neil Gaimanchampion of the creative life, disciplined writer, wiseman of literature, one romantic bachelor — answers every creative person’s most dreaded question: Where do ideas come from? At the heart of his answer is the recognition that creativity is combinatorial and that, like Koestler proposed, it relies on intersecting two seemingly unrelated ideas:

For me, inspiration comes from a bunch of places: desperation, deadlines… A lot of times ideas will turn up when you’re doing something else. And, most of all, ideas come from confluence — they come from two things flowing together. They come, essentially, from daydreaming. . . . And I suspect that’s something every human being does. Writers tend to train themselves to notice when they’ve had an idea — it’s not that they have any more ideas or get inspired more than anything else; we just notice when it happens a little bit more.

Complement with Gaiman on creative doggedness, the secret of genius, and his 8 rules of writing.

Photograph by Kimberly Butler

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