Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Creative Habit

I have started reading Twlya Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit. A celebrated choreographer, I am struck by her honesty and candor as she describes her deeply personal commitment to the art of dance while also revealing a very personal side of herself that she often protects from public opinion. 

The book reads like part memoir and part workbook. It’s useful for people who want to jumpstart their creative nature, and for those who are still searching for the activity that sparks their long-buried sense of creativity. Tharp has clearly done her homework on a number of celebrated artists, getting under the hood and finding out what makes them tick.

Tharp is also unafraid to deny some long held public “truths” about creativity. My favorite example is Mozart. While we honor him as a boy genius that basically came out of the womb composing symphonies, Tharp reveals that with his father’s strong guidance Mozart developed his natural talent for music through obsessive study and practice. His dedication to music was at the very least equal to his innate gift. So while we often tell ourselves that we can’t draw, or have two left feet, or can’t read music, in truth our creative ability in a discipline is largely a matter of choice. 

To be sure, we are all inclined toward certain disciplines. Tharp isn’t denying that. What she wants to emphasize is that creative mastery can only become just that through habitual practice and commitment.   

My friend, Dan, recently did some work with Bebe Neuwirth. She is a strong supporter of dance and dancers. In a recent speech, she recounted the many times she’s been approached by fans that have said to her, “I’d give anything to dance like you.” And every time this happens, she thinks, “Actually, dancers do give everything to dance like they do.” Tharp would agree, and she’d encourage all of us to find that creative pursuit that so inspires us that its practice is a welcome habit.   

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