The story that we all live [is] the cycle of creation and destruction, of control and letting go, of picking up the pieces and making something new.— Julie Burstein.
In 2000, Julie Burstein, created Public Radio International’s show Studio 360 to explore pop culture and the arts. Hosted by novelist Kurt Andersen and produced at WNYC, the show is a guide to what’s interesting now—and asks deep questions about the drive behind creative work.
Now, Burstein has written Spark: How Creativity Works filled with stories about artists, writers and musicians (like Chuck Close, Isabell Allende, Patti Lupone).
Raku is a wonderful metaphor for the process of creativity. I find in so many things that tension between what I can control and what I have to let go happens all the time, whether I’m creating a new radio showor just at home negotiating with my teenage son
When I sat down to write a book about creativity, I realized that the steps were reversed. I had to let go at the very beginning, and I had to immerse myself in the stories of hundreds of artists and writers and musicians and filmmakers, and as I listened to these stories, I realized that creativity grows out of everyday experiences more often than you might think, including letting go.
Artists also speak about how some of their most powerful work comes out of the parts of life that are most difficult.The novelist Richard Ford speaks about a childhood challenge that continues to be something he wrestles with today. He’s severely dyslexic.
Artists also speak about how pushing up against the limits of what they can do, sometimes pushing into what they can’t do, helps them focus on finding their own voice. The sculptor Richard Serra talks about how, as a young artist, he thought he was a painter, and he lived in Florence after graduate school. While he was there, he traveled to Madrid, where he went to the Prado to see this picture by the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez.
Richard Serra had to let go of painting in order to embark on this playful exploration that led him to the work that he’s known for today: huge curves of steel that require our time and motion to experience. In sculpture, Richard Serra is able to do what he couldn’t do in painting. He makes us the subject of his art. So experience and challenge and limitations are all things we need to embrace for creativity to flourish.
There’s a fourth embrace, and it’s the hardest. It’s the embrace of loss, the oldest and most constant of human experiences. In order to create, we have to stand in that space between what we see in the world and what we hope for, looking squarely at rejection, at heartbreak, at war, at death. That’s a tough space to stand in. The educator Parker Palmer calls it “the tragic gap,” tragic not because it’s sad but because it’s inevitable, and my friend Dick Nodel likes to say, “You can hold that tension like a violin string and make something beautiful.”