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We all struggle to be creative on demand. This is why if we want to come up with a great idea we can’t tell ourselves to come up with a great idea. We must instead go for a walk, or read a book, or join a conversation. All we can do is clear space in our calendar for creativity. This might mean reserving an hour first thing in the morning to write or paint or strum. Or it might mean taking a break when we feel that’s the last thing we have time for.

We would all love to be art machines like Andy Warhol – churning out piece after piece in the factory. What we forget is that Andy Warhol was an artistic genius. He was one of New York’s greatest art directors before becoming an artist. He wasn’t a run of the mill artist with a big heart. He was a creative machine. For the rest of us, the lesson is simple. When we try and manufacture art, the art feels manufactured.

A good example is when I record the podcast intro for Monkey Brain. In the past, I would record two attempts. The first, I mispronounced words, botched sentences, and in many instances, lost sight of the point. But it wasn’t manufactured. It was authentic. The second attempt was more polished, more fluent, more coherent. But it was also more staged. It sounded forced and unnatural. Today, I run with the first attempt, regardless of how much it makes me cringe, because a raw-feel trumps a manufactured-feel.

The reason raw is better is because it embodies more emotion. And if we get the emotion right, the audience is forgiving. After all, that’s what they came for. If they wanted a lesson, they would ask themselves for advice. What they really want is to feel they’re not alone. They want to hear their own words, and their own emotions, relayed through someone else.

If the first piece to good art is emotion. The second piece is story. We all want to hear a good story. I’ve talked about this in How Fiction Evolved Mankind. What we often overlook is that, at the core, stories centre around one thing and that’s revealing character. We are taught that stories also involve a setting, a plot, a conflict, a villain, and a resolution. This is true. However, all these devices act solely to setup and transform the main character.

In real life, we use all the same devices, but we often don’t give our characters (or ourself) time to unfold. An example of this is preparing people for camera. The more we prepare someone who is not a trained performer, the more wooden they become. They big up the moment in their head and force the performance. Even a trained actor comes across as somewhat manufactured. This is why we continue to use Marlon Brando’s name when we refer to the acting “elite” – because he was the first actor to deliver a truly authentic experience on stage.

On the flip side when we pull someone in from the street and sit them down without the big lights, and big cameras, and big crew, they relax because they have no expectations. They breathe and they transform right there and then on the spot. We see their pupils dilate when they recall a story that perfectly compliments their point. We see their pain when they recall loss. We hear their voice falter and their emotion run pure. And whilst we can say they weren’t as articulate and on point as we hoped, the emotion was just right. The viewer witnessed the character reveal themself right there in front of them. This is something that can’t be scripted, and this is the stuff we crave.

We monkeys are simple creatures. We want to connect – that’s it. So set yourself free. Give yourself room to breathe. Embrace the fumbles. And let yourself transform.


Rick Ruben, The Seclusive Zen Master

We try to go on a journey and let the artist discover who they are. And in the process the best art comes from them. It’s like getting them to be their true selves and taking away all of the distractions. There are so many things that get in the way of the artistic process. For example, commercial considerations. If you’re trying to make music to get on the radio, chances are you wont be using your own voice to its most potent – to its most singular. You won’t find what your personal gift is. The closer you are to the source the less distracted you are by any nonsense that could get in the way of making the art as good as it can be. For instance, concern about what other people think. Competition. Wanting to do better than someone else. Self doubt. Ego.

Try not to think too much. Creativity is more emotion and ‘heart’ work than it is ‘head’ work. The head comes in after to look at and organise the work the heart has created. Inspiration is not an intellectual activity. All we can do is engage in activities that allow us to tune into inspiration.