The Million Faces of Creativity

By Shlomo Maital

 The New York Times has a regular‘style’ magazine, called “T”  (  — which I generally dislike.  It usually features fashion models wearing expensive clothes that look, well, super-pretentious and usually ugly. 

   But the April 23, 2022, issue is very special.  Edited by Hanya Yanagihara, it features short pieces by 32 or so creative artists – designers, musicians, artists, writers – who distill their creative process and describe it.  And give advice.

   As a lifelong student of creativity, I have peddled the idea that brainstorming (defined as random chaotic ideation) is ineffective.  You need some sort of structure to control the wild tiger of creativity.  I have helped students build their own “personal creativity machine”, which sounds like an oxymoron…. Creativity machine????    But the idea was simply, build your own process for having ideas, one that is usited to your tastes, personality, skills, and goals.  And each Personal Creativity Machine must be unique and it must fit you, like an expensive jacket or pair of jeans. 

    In this “T” magazine issue, we have 32 such personal creativity machines.  They are each fascinating and each is unique and different.  I especially liked the “Letters to an Artist” segment – 40 creative people, many senior citizens, who share wisdom about “how to be and what to do at the beginning, middle and end of an artistic career”. 

   A few samples:  Bernadette Peters, 74 (Broadway star! Sondheim interpreter!  Remember  Mack and Mabel (1974), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), Song and Dance (1985), Into the Woods (1987), The Goodbye Girl (1993), Annie Get Your Gun (1999), Gypsy (2003), A Little Night Music (2010), Follies (2011), and Hello, Dolly!).   “Never try to copy or sound like anyone else!  But you can admire their work…”.   YoY o Ma 66,  cellist: “”We live in a very hierarchical musical world.  This is the moment not to get paralyzed. Use all your senses and exercise them.  And forge your values!”.   Annette Bening, 83, actor.  “(mother of four)     ….  When you have responsibilities that are outside of yourself, it makes your work better.  And your desire to continue to excavate and express the inexpressible doesn’t leave you.  It might wane, but then it comes back.”

    And the lovely segment (to me, as a senior senior), about later-life creativity…   YoYo Ma again:  “As an older person, you can see what is coming down the pike better…. There’s a sense of clarity.  You know your time is limited. You can differentiate and maybe occasionally have some choice in saying, “I don’t need to do that!  Let me tell you what I really care about.”