Saturday, January 14, 2012

Creators - Paul Johnson

'Creators' by Paul Johnson (Harper Perennial, 287 p) is an insight into the lives of 17 creators chosen by the author. It was a nice quick read and I got a glimpse into some of these creators of which I knew very little. Johnson begins by analysing creative courage - of how everyone can be creative in their chosen field and how it can be brought out to make life more fulfilling. he also talks of how creativity requires enormous courage to be constantly original.

Johnson begins with Chaucer, the English writer who wrote 'Canterbury Tales' sometime in the 14th century. Then we have Durer the painter, Shakespheare the English playwright, Sebastian Bach the musician, Turner from England and Hokusai from Japan, both painters, Jane Austen the novelist, Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc, architects, Victor Hugo, the French writer, Mark Twain the American writer, Tiffany the American glassmaker, T.S. Eliot the poet, Balenciaga and Dior from the fashion world, Picasso the artist and Walt Disney from the movies. They are all extraordinary characters and it is fascinating to see how they worked, created and lived.

Most of the above have a large body of work save a few like Jane Austen who died early, at forty one, having written only six novels. They range from the multi-millionaires such as Picasso, Tiffany, Turner, Hugo and others while the Hokusai's and Bach's were hard up. Some received recognition in their lifetime while some did not. Some chased their fame and coveted it like Hugo, while some remained in the background, happy working and creating. But what comes across strongly is that all of them almost created with a mad frenzy, an enormous amount of work. Be it words, paintings, drawings, sketches, ideas, dresses, designs, movies - all of them worked as if they were possessed. The painters Turner and Hokusai painted almost from an age of three to their death, in their eighties, almost with no break. They were all extremely hardworking, had a great eagerness to learn from multiple disciplines (they met and created with experts from other disciplines as well) and most were also self-taught. They all had a passion to be the best in their business, loved the process of creating and kept at it for hours and hours.

I think there is a point to be taken there - creativity gets honed as we create more and more. As with ideas that we get when we write more and more, so it is with anything, the more we produce the more ideas we get. All these creators support that thought with their huge volume of work, which was their beginning and their end as well. One cannot create or wait for creativity to strike at an opportune moment to produce the great work. To create itself means 'work' - to produce. We must make the mind a fertile place that is favorable for the growth of new ideas, by coming up with ideas and more ideas, by exploring them, bringing them out. If anything Paul Johnson's book emphasised to me that creation is all about that single minded focus on doing what one can do well.

'Creators' also delves into their personal lives, their sexual preferences, their vanity and nobility, their fragility and their strength. Some were noble, some cruel, some generous, some tight fisted. They came from all sorts of backgrounds, some had no education, no training, no money - but they created and spoke through their creations that remain till today. One can read it without much involvement and get a glimpse into the lives of some masters.

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