Monday, November 22, 2010

Soul Nugget #10 -- Creativity and Control

Today I had the privilege of going into the radio studio with Randy Mahoney and doing a "stories behind the songs" interview and I got to play a couple of songs. It is yet to be determined whether or not it is going to actually get on the radio, but regardless I had a great time doing it.

Anyway, one of the thoughts that I wanted to share that we didn't have time for was this concept of creativity vs. control. Imagine a spectrum:

Control <-----------------------------> Creativity

This spectrum represents two different ways to approach any kind of art or creative endeavor. Good artists live in the tension between the two ends. As a songwriter, I am always faced with the same challenge when I try to write a song. I want the song to be honest, deep, introspective... I want it to arise out of the creative part of who I am. Yet, if it is all just unrestrained creativity, the song might mean something profound to me, but everyone else is going to think I'm on crack. Creativity without control breeds irrelevance.

I've also tried to write songs from the control end of the spectrum. This is when you sit down with your guitar (or paint brush, or a blank word document, or fill in the blank) and say, "I want to say something about (pick a topic)." While this usually makes the song more relevant and relatable, it also has the tendency to rob it of creativity. Christian musicians in particular run into this problem. The minute a Christian musician sits down to write a song, he/she has to submit their art to a certain set of rules/beliefs. As such, it is difficult to raise ambiguity in the mind of the listener, and any "edge" the song may have had is gone because he/she has written a song about something everybody already agrees with. When you start from the control side of the spectrum, you are limiting yourself to a set of rules which relate to the message you are trying to send, and this in turn stifles genuine creativity.

As I said before, I believe that good artists maintain the tension between creativity and control. A good piece of art arises out of creativity, but is directed enough to still be a powerful, interesting song. What do you think? What's more annoying: lack of creativity? Or lack of control?

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