by Matías Tarnopolsky
Many years ago, while visiting the United States with my family (we then lived in the UK), I attended an exhibition called Creativity: The Human Resource at the California Academy of Sciences. I was perhaps 12 years old at the time, but this particular visit left a lasting impression, and I am forever grateful to my parents—not only for taking me to the exhibit, but also for buying me the commemorative poster that depicted a tree with roots growing deep into the earth and a trunk and branches reaching far into a clear blue sky. Except—and this is what captured my attention—the tree was also a human hand, the branches were fingers, and if memory serves, the leaves were all kinds of man-made inventions, things like pocket calculators and digital watches.
We often misunderstand the human resource that is creativity, treating it as something that does or does not exist, that is either “on” or “off.” We might say, “He is very creative,” or “I’m not very creative at all.” But it is wiser to think of creativity as something that is alive and growing (that tree in the poster), something that must be nurtured, tended to, fed, and encouraged to grow.
The brilliant filmmaker, director, and writer Anthony Minghella once told me that writing, for him, was like a muscle that needed to be exercised. Creativity is just the same. I believe that, we should avoid measuring creativity solely by the final product—that the journey is as important as the destination. So, the act of writing a piece of music or a novel, for instance, is as important, and can be as transformative, as the end result.
Creativity is about challenging ourselves to think in new ways, and to be willing to explore places and spaces we think we already know well, or those we have never before visited. Just as important, creativity is also about basic things like developing good work habits, perseverance, and the absolute—fearless, in fact—willingness to try, and to try again. Most importantly, all of this must be grounded in ethics and values (remember the roots in that poster?).
What powers this drive? I think it is passion. The great cellist and world musical citizen Yo-Yo Ma has said that “Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.” Notice what comes first, and what follows. Passion is the fuel that drives the motor. Creativity is the journey that follows (whether it reaches a destination or not, or even strikes out boldly in unexpected directions).
So when asking yourself where you can be more creative, I suggest asking questions like: What do I love to do more than anything? When do I feel most alive? What part of my life can I least imagine having to give up? Somewhere in there, you will find your passion.
It is easy to feel defined by constraints and limitations—they can exert a kind of gravitational pull. However, magic happens when we allow ourselves—when we truly challenge ourselves—to consider previously unexplored options; to ask “Why?” before we ask “How?” To trust in the roots of that tree, and to consider more deeply what fuels that fire within.
Matias Tarnopolsky is the executive and artistic director of Cal Performances.