I came across this interview with Rick Rubin the other day, which prompted me to fall down a rick-rubin-rabbithole. What an interesting guy.
Reading his new book The Creative Act, one of the things that struck me was the idea that when we’re being creative, we’re not conducting — we’re being conducted. Artists are receivers, translators, antennae. There’s a passiveness to it, a calmness. Looking at the world with soft eyes.
How do we pick up on a signal that can neither be heard nor be defined? The answer is not to look for it. Nor do we attempt to predict or analyse our way into it. Instead, we create an open space that allows it.
This strongly reminds me of Ursula Le Guin too. I was listening to an episode of the Crafting with Ursula podcast series the other day and realised that the intro track had an excerpt where she says exactly that:
I see my job as holding doors open or opening windows. Who comes in or out the doors, what you see out the window… how do I know? My responsibility is just to keep the mind open, not close it off. That’s enough right there.
Zadie Smith included something similar in Feel Free too:
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
Edit: I thought the quote above was by Zadie Smith, but someone on Arena tells me it’s from the dancer and choreographer Martha Graham! Not sure where I got it mixed up, but there you go.