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Nick Jefferson

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Why Creativity Needs Mundanity

Posted: 08/21/2012 4:32 pm

My poor family.

As if mile upon mile of Pacific Coast Highway with only the 'Tapping Game' (a spectacularly under-rated form of in-automobile entertainment in which 'Tapees' barely notice the hours as they try to guess which particular tune the 'Tapper' is knocking out on the dashboard, window, etc) to break up the boredom wasn't bad enough, yesterday I subjected them to over an hour of 'Speaking Personally: Aldous Huxley.'

This is a 1961 audio interview (complete with retro crackle) in which the author -- characteristically -- ranges over myriad, complex topics offering seemingly effortless insight and thematic synthesis.

Pure genius.

(Unless you happen to be a Jefferson boy under six years old, and terribly excited about your imminent arrival at the Happiest Place on Earth™.)

(More of Walt later.)

Huxley -- novelist, essayist, mescalin-adventurer, creative inspiration to Jim Morrison -- was, of course, a deep, deep thinker. And notwithstanding the misgivings of my kids, I can't help but recommend the recording -- any two-cent reproduction, précis or redaction by me would be just that.

A self-appointed square circle, Huxley was on the one hand a man of strict scientific mind (and indeed family -- his grandfather was Thomas Huxley; 'Darwin's Bulldog' of the 1860 Oxford evolution debate), yet he believed profoundly in the power of spirituality and 'mysticism': a kind of higher consciousness that existed in what, in his famous 'Doors of Perception' essay, he memorably termed 'the Antipodes of the mind.' For those of us in the creative industries, it is here, in the brain's Australia, where the magic happens; those fleeting, often-difficult-to-pinpoint insights that create ground-breaking work.

For Huxley though, this was intellectual inconsistency (the greatest of sins): how could he maintain his unshakeable commitment to logic and rationality alongside his clear understanding and experience of this other, equally legitimate aspect, of human thought?

The need to bring about some reconciliation between the two is a subject he deals with in the interview. 'The final, highest and most difficult problem of reason' is, he says 'how can we allow the irrational its proper scope within a general framework of rationality and benevolence?'

This is, of course, in some respects also the key challenge of a creative agency: getting enough of the leftfield, right-brain, Pencil-winning stuff in a framework that is sufficiently commercial and organized to ensure timely, profitable client delivery.

It's a topic I gave a lot of thought to as we left a leisurely lunch in Malibu and turned off onto the parking lot that is the I-5 into Anaheim on a weekday at 5 p.m.

Disneyland, it turns out, is awesome. And that's not just according to my sons.

Far from the maltitol hades the snobs would have us believe, it is instead a temple both to the pursuit of excellence and, ultimately, creativity.

I ain't -- for the record -- saying it's Malibu, but it is indeed a place where dreams come true. Perhaps not the dreams of the fat-assed soda-swiggers who save their thighs the trouble of chafing by traveling around the parks on Wall-E style obesity buggies, but the dreams of the 'Imagineers,' the creators, the John Lasseters, the Walts.

And so Disneyland started me thinking about dreams.

Dreams only exist because of reality.

Without that contrast, we wouldn't really be able to acknowledge them because we wouldn't really be conscious of them. They would be the polar bear in the snowstorm on the white piece of paper.

Every point needs a counterpoint. Contrast is what adds the value.

Because life is, as any member of the digerati will gladly tell you, ultimately binary.

Black/white. On/off. 0/1. Simon/Garfunkel. Woody/Buzz. Barnes/Crawford. Luke/Darth. Religion knows this. Ask a man (or, less likely, a woman) of the cloth: it's all good and bad, darkness and light, Himmel und Erde. And here at Disney they know it too -- in a world without villains there can be no heroes.

As the chairman of the board said: 'You can't have one without the other.'

Huxley hints at this pairing of opposites when, later in the recording, he restructures his question (and in slightly less highbrow terms):

'Can one have the flowering of mysticism without the dung of superstition?'

Clearly he sees the necessity of some sort of mutuality, or co-dependence: the flower doesn't grow without the dung. Opposites attract, per Ms. Abdul and MC Skat Kat's opus magnum.

But does Huxley have the right 'dung': has he, so to speak, got his shit together?

Because what if mysticism's fertilizer is not, in fact, superstition but plain, old, boring reality? Every door (even Of Perception) needs a frame. And those frames will be in a house, in a wall, a fence: something real, mundane even.

Mysticism, creativity, irrational thought, whatever we want to call it needs some parameters, right? Even a 'no-rules' environment requires this even if, as in the cheesily-named 'Blue Sky Cellar' here in the Magic Kingdom, the one (clichéd) rule is that 'there are no rules.'

And in a creative agency don't we need just enough order -- methodology -- to develop, make sense of and juxtapose against the chaos that results in 'out-there' brilliance?

So perhaps Huxley's apparent intellectual conflict isn't in fact a problem.

Perhaps in embracing mysticism, irrational thought, the Antipodes of the mind, or -- more generally -- the creative brain, we are not in fact denying reality: we are simply -- and very deliberately -- escaping it. A conscious, eyes-wide-open embrace of the unconscious.

Perhaps the flower of mysticism blooms not so much because of the dung of superstition, but because we see it in a world of weeds, brush and, to be genuinely mundane, soil.

And so perhaps the spark of creative excellence can only ever ignite on the pyre of plodding pedestrianism?

As the Lizard King never would have said:

'C'mon set the shite on... fi-re.'

 

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