Wylie Dufresne (Image: Food & Wine Magazine)
You have to allocate time to be creative.
You can’t decide to be creative; you have to be ready when it happens.
~ Wylie Dufresne (1970 – )
American chef and a leading proponent of molecular gastronomy
Musings and Impressions
Can you buy creativity? Where and how can you soak it all up?
As a writing teacher, I’m expected to deliver lessons in creative writing to my students. Most times, they expect creativity to resemble what they are being taught at school, which tends to boil down to this one big requirement: they must get the kind of lines and phrases every other kid is being fed with at this tuition center or that other one—those very places that ring up loud and proud ka-chings in their register, thanks to the happy, eager troops of creativity-seeking birds who flock to them.
I don’t, for a moment, believe that creativity, in writing or any other pursuit, is as simple as merely digesting some motif or maneuver and then spitting it out as it is, verbatim as it were, without rendering some thought or effort at adapting it, or giving it a personal touch.
There’s something farcical about revering lines like this: the boy’s heart was beating like an African congo drum, even more farcical—tragic, even—when a kid, or a parent, raves at its sheer beauty, just because some Judge of Creativity deems it to be so wonderful, so delightful, and just perfect! Can’t we all just feel this poor boy’s anxiety? What an apt imagery, the drum going ka-boom, ka-boom, ka-tom-tom-tom—a drum, I must confess, whose sound or timbre or look I can only half-guess at because I’ve never had a chance to touch it or feel it or play it.
But I digress. Let’s get back to Chef Wylie. The point he’s trying to make is that creativity is not something we can merely summon at the snap of a finger. You can’t just “decide to be creative,” which is why when you hear a teacher at school urge the kids to “Be creative!” they’re really only delivering a cool-sounding tip that rings hollow. No student can truly be creative, as far as writing goes, if they do the memorize-and-regurgitate thing.
Chef Wylie’s quote was shared in an On the Table episode, hosted by Michelin-star chef, Eric Ripert, who asked him three questions:
When are you creative?
Do you dedicate time to be creative?
Do you work in collaboration with your team?
Fast forward to 15”15’ on your play bar, and you’ll find both chefs talking about their lightbulb moments, those grand moments when creativity greets them with a surprise hello.
Such glorious moments come because we feed and nourish our minds with ideas, and we open our eyes and minds to fresh, new things, or even simple, day-to-day things with wider, more alert eyes.
So when the majority of our kids are being taught from a menu of prescribed lines, phrases, scenarios, clichés, a menu enriched from age and proven efficacy and our devoted worship, our poor kids really aren’t walking down the path of creativity. They’re just endearing themselves to the path most-travelled, a path I’m not sure their IQs would wholly appreciate.
I think my IQ has been questionable all my life, until I learned to laugh a little and accept our education system for what it is. Earnest, no-nonsense, wholesome, and just delightful!
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