Find new inspiration with these time-tested approaches to creativity
Anthony Brandt is a composer and professor at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. He is also Artistic Director of the contemporary music ensemble Musiqa, winner of two Adventurous Programming Awards from Chamber Music America and ASCAP. Brandt has received a Koussevitzky Commission from the Library of Congress and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet-the-Composer and the Houston Arts Alliance. He has co-authored papers on music cognition published in the journals Frontiers and Brain Connectivity. Brandt has written two chamber operas and works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, dance, theater, film, television, and sound and art installations. He currently lives in Houston with his wife and children.
ANTHONY BRANDT: Human beings have one foot in the familiar and one foot in the novel. And we're actually biologically built to be that way. We don't want to run on autopilot. We don't want to live Groundhog Day doing the same thing, saying the same thing to the same people all the time. On the other hand we don't want doors to have new types of ways you unlock them and gravity is flipping upside down and the English letters all the letters are scrambled every time you open the newspaper. We need some mixture of the two. Some sweet spot between novelty and familiarity. And the search for that sweet spot is not something with a formula. It's a constant experiment. And so in our own lives we're constantly navigating between the things that are the touchstones for us where we feel solidly grounded and the places where we're flying free and there isn't a net under us.
We often think that the most creative people are the ones who leap straight to the right answers and inspiration right from the get go. But actually when you look closely at it inspiration is usually in the proliferation of a diversity of options. And what Picasso is to art, Beethoven is to composing in that behind his works lie an enormous reservoir of sketches that Beethoven left. And what you see when you look at those sketches is in trying out ideas after idea after idea, working the material, never erasing anything, constantly figuring out all sorts of options. And then picking his favorite out of those. And so one thing that I'll tell my composition students is banish the eraser and have lots of paper. Never make it that you are treading over like treating your other ideas like sandcastles that get washed away by the sea, but rather preserve everything so you have the maximum array of choices from which to pull your ultimate decisions.
You try to come up with as many possible solutions as you possibly can. And you constantly challenge yourself. It's not good enough to have one answer. It's not good enough to have three answers. Let me come up with seven possible answers to this. The physicist Richard Feynman said that his whole success as a Nobel prize winning physicist was that he trained himself constantly to come up with different ways of arriving at the right answer. So if he ever hit a roadblock he knew he could just jump to another way of approaching the problem. And that's just a wonderful attitude to have with whatever one is trying to wrestle with creatively. And the second is this concept of scouting the different distances. So you don't want to just stay iterating oh, we'll do a red building and then we'll do the same building green and then we'll do it blue. That's not really pushing the envelope very much. But can you do stuff that is fairly close to the familiar and broaden it all out into the completely whacky and everything in between. And if you set that as a creative challenge – let me come up with as many solutions as possible and let me fill this whole spectrum from the familiar to the whacky. Then you end up with a very healthy creative attitude and you tend to be very stimulated with ideas and constantly coming up with new things.
- Beethoven and Picasso are the perfect examples for mastering the creative process.
- Behind each of their works are countless studies and sketches.
- The lesson? Never erase anything, keep iterating, and find new paths to familiar destinations.
The pandemic reminds us that our higher education system, with all its flaws, remains a key part of our strategic reserve.
- America's higher education system is under great scrutiny as it adapts to a remote-learning world. These criticisms will only make higher ed more innovative.
- While there are flaws in the system and great challenges ahead, higher education has adapted quickly to allow students to continue learning. John Katzman, CEO of online learning organization Noodle Partners, believes this is cause for optimism not negativity.
- Universities are pillars of scientific research on the COVID-19 frontlines, they bring facts in times of uncertainty and fake news, and, in a bad economy, education is a personal floatation device.
A debate is raging inside and outside of churches.
- Over 1,200 pastors in California claim they're opening their churches this week against state orders.
- While church leaders demand independence from governmental oversight, 9,000 Catholic churches have received small business loans.
- A number of re-opened churches shut back down after members and clergy became infected with the novel coronavirus.
An MIT system uses wireless signals to measure in-home appliance usage to better understand health tendencies.
For many of us, our microwaves and dishwashers aren't the first thing that come to mind when trying to glean health information, beyond that we should (maybe) lay off the Hot Pockets and empty the dishes in a timely way.
An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.
- Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
- The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
- The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Online dating has evolved, but at what cost?
- Some dating apps allow individuals to interact and form romantic/sexual connections before meeting face to face with the ability to "swipe" on the screen to either accept or reject another user's profile. Popular swipe-based apps include Tinder, Bumble, and OkCupid.
- Research by Western Sydney University and the University of Sydney has linked the experience of swipe-based dating apps to higher rates of psychological distress and/or depression.
- Not all time spent on these apps is damaging, however. Up to 40 percent of current users say they previously entered a serious relationship with someone they met through one of these apps.