This weekend I had the pleasure of travelling home to NJ for my brother's birthday. On a walk through the woods Sunday morning with my wife, my father and two family friends, (one of whom has become clinically addicted to wood turning) and the topic of creativity came up. Mostly this was a way to get our wood turning friend to shut up about wood turning for just a few minutes. Given my designs as a medical entrepreneur, the creative process is something that I have thought and read on greatly. It appears to me that creativity comes in 4 stages:
1. Copying. Everyone has to start somewhere. We all learn our first skills by copying those around us. It is frowned upon to submit your copied work as original, but copying itself allows us to reverse engineer the creative process. Even though we know the "solution" that we are copying, the manner in which we arrive begins to define a personal style. I started writing by copying sentences painfully out of grammar books. Any great band starts as a cover band.
2. Mixing. Once we have copied enough different people, we begin to put granular elements of their style together. Mixing is a crude form of creation, and the borrowed components are often easy to identify.
3. Amalgamation. The difference between mixing and amalgamation is the easy recognition of the underlying parts. Mixed copied styles are easy to sort out, but amalgamated styles are subtle. It is likely that only experts could tease out the components beneath, but there may not be true creation. It is also here that the line between plagiarism and original work is blurred.
4. Creation. Perhaps a semantic argument, but true creation occurs when the artist develops something new and novel. It is not just a mixing or rearranging of underlying parts, but rather a new form that has not been seen before. Notice that our artist has been producing for quite some time before this phase, and most people fail to create just because they give up to soon. So don't give up.
In the case of our wood turner, he is convinced that he has no talent but just works really hard, I really cannot see the difference.
A fair disclaimer, it is possible that the thoughts within this post are copied, mixed, or amalgamated from others, not actually created. Special thanks to Malcolm Gladwell and Marc Andressen for their writing on the matter that has inspired this piece. And thanks to Alan... when am I getting that pen?
10/23/2010-- The pen arrived, and it is fantastic!