Creativity and the Real Power of Saying ‘No’

One of the most persuasive kinds of mendacity occurs when a misleading statement is, at face value, true. There’s a reason why it’s not just ‘the truth’ we ask for, but also ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’.

An article I saw a while back (but have now lost*) argued that a key indicator for creative success is the ability to say ‘no’ in order to refuse distractions and focus on work. The particular trigger for this was that a researcher had approached a bunch of creative people to find out what made them tick and had been struck by how many of them either didn’t get back to him or refused on the basis that they were too busy being creative. The implication is that by refusing to get involved with other stuff you maximise your creative time and keep your focus, ergo saying ‘no’ is good for creativity. Well, kinda. You have to have a lot else going on besides saying ‘no’; you need decent ideas, high standards, tenacity and the rest.

Continue reading “Creativity and the Real Power of Saying ‘No’”

Crowdfunding Awkwardness

So… this is tricky.

It’s not often I do any crowdfunding for things I’m working on. But now two crowdfunding drives have come along at once. Oops.

One is for the theatre company I run, Daedalus. We need some funds to move our community storytelling project East online. If you follow me on social media, you’ll know about that because I’ve been posting about quite a lot.

And now there’s Ecostage, an initiative led by a group of theatre designers to foster sustainable practice in the performing arts. I’ll be telling my social media followers more about that over the coming days, and doubtless post something here too.

But for now, I want to say why I think crowdfunding is the right thing to do.

Continue reading “Crowdfunding Awkwardness”

Staging Places: UK Design for Performance

A big part of my life recently has been the Staging Place project.

The Prague Quadrennial (PQ) is the world’s leading exhibition of design for performance. It’s an amazing thing: professional and student displays from all over the globe, talks, discussions, performances, exhibitions… The UK has traditionally done well at it too, frequently winning major prizes, though this is pretty much never reported in the UK press.

It’s also become something of a tradition for us to show the display at the V&A Museum in London after bringing it back from Prague. And sometimes to tour it to other venues in the UK.

The Society of British Theatre Designers takes the lead on this rather complex project. I’m on the SBTD committee but I didn’t want to get too involved as it’s very time consuming.

Reader, I got very involved. Continue reading “Staging Places: UK Design for Performance”

What is Green Criticism?

The last time I was purposefully academic was probably when I sat my finals. Even then, we’d only been educated in the historical contexts of the writers we studied; there was little contemporary theory. Since then, I’ve taught at half a dozen universities at least, but always as a practitioner. Academically cutting edge I am not! But I do want to understand how the work I and my colleagues do in the arts fits with the urgent need, in the face of imminent climate breakdown, to view society as part of an ecological system. The question ‘what is green criticism?’ therefore seems to me to a pressing one. Green thought has provided us with a sophisticated analysis of society and its relationship to planet. How can we apply it to artistic practice?

Around the time I did my English degree, there were some books emerging that used ecology as way to approach literature: Jonathan Bate’s Romantic Ecology springs to mind, and Kim Taplin’s Tongues in Trees; I probably should re-read them. The aim of these books was to understand how writers related to nature: how ‘green’ they were. But that approach is about ecology; it’s not employing ecology as a critical tool. I wrote an extended essay in my third year about depictions of landscape in literature and painting at the time of the first generation Romantics. I was interested in the sublime and the beautiful, not out of any kind of swooning romanticism but because they suggest two ways of modelling our desire for the external. I’d noticed how some writers saw nature as a force that transformed the tiny figures traversing its landscapes, while some saw it as something that framed or provided a kind of extension to/illustration of heroic anthropocentrism. I was somewhat out on a limb, frankly. It probably wasn’t my best work. And it was also mainly ‘about’ the natural world. Yet it made me realise that there are analyses of nature which can – and probably should – be be applied to any kind of discourse.

So what might real green criticism be? Is anyone writing about how ecology could be a useful way to look at culture?  Continue reading “What is Green Criticism?”

Cleansed/Deadpool

A few months ago I saw, in the space of a week, Katie Mitchell’s production of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed and the blockbuster movie Deadpool. The juxtaposition got me thinking. Of these two events, the live one was essentially a fourth wall play (we’ll come back that vexed issue) which uses extreme violence in way that offers a (deliberately) highly problematised take on catharsis. The prerecorded one also challenges us (or thinks it does) with the way it shows violence but is obsessed – paradoxically, I suppose – with breaking the fourth wall.

I have to get something off my chest, sorry. At one point in Deadpool, the eponymous hero addresses us directly, which leads into a story, in which he also addresses us directly. A fourth wall inside a fourth wall: that’s sixteen walls, he calculates. No it isn’t. Why would it be four squared? It’s clearly a concentric construction; four walls within four walls. Eight walls. Continue reading “Cleansed/Deadpool”

Dodgy Analogies, Dodgy Politics

The arts give society a space to think. Without them we are a golem: a figure of clay, subject to its master’s command, and deprived of the imaginative space necessary to relate meaningful to others and function in society.

OK. That’s an analogy with which you may or may not agree. It’s fairly useful as away to explain an idea that I personally find interesting. On the one hand, it’s way too reductive to be truthful in any philosophically helpful sense. It’s only of very limited use in explaining our need for the arts. Continue reading “Dodgy Analogies, Dodgy Politics”