Damon Stapleton: Creativity. The Banshees of Ed Sheeran.
A blog by Damon Stapleton, chief creative officer, The Monkeys New Zealand.
“Is it really possible to tell someone else what one feels?” – Leo Tolstoy
When I was about 9 years old I lived on the island of Mauritius for a bit. I lived in a large hotel because my dad was the manager. I could pretty much go anywhere in the hotel, it was like a sophisticated and endless playground. One night, I saw the hotel was having a film night. The film they were showing was Apocalypse Now. I distinctly remember being surrounded by generously proportioned couples in leisure attire. A strange mix of French elegance and South African practicality. I can still picture Brando’s gold face appearing out of the shadows. And, I also remember a man humming and conducting quite loudly to The Ride of the Valkyries as the Vietnamese village is napalmed. A very strange evening for an island holiday resort. But, if you have spent any time in hotels, it isn’t. It’s just what the activities board says we have to to do on a Thursday.
It was for adults only which of course meant I had to get in. Fortunately, I knew a few secret passages through the kitchen and sneaked into the back.
It was the first time I remember seeing something and knowing that even though I had understood the story there was more to it. There was stuff I didn’t understand. Somehow, it had something to do with me. I was being asked questions as a nine year old I couldn’t answer. But, it made me think. I wondered where the edges were. I sort of just felt that there was more.
It is a feeling I got again when I first saw the ending of Space Odyssey 2001. You understand but you don’t understand. It makes you think. It makes you ask questions. Questions you have never asked.
Recently, while having Covid for the second time, I watched The Banshees of Inisherin. It did the same thing. It made me feel the same way I did when I was nine years old. There is something beyond the horizon. I understood but I didn’t. And the questions came.
So, why does this matter?
Picasso once said the problem with computers is they only give you answers. You could argue these days creativity is being looked at in the same way. The value of creativity is often seen as an answer or solution. But that is only half of its value. The problem is we don’t want a mess or a process and we want a neat and tidy finish. We don’t want to think. We want it to be easy. We just want creativity to be an answer. We don’t want to think about how to get there. And it has become an obsession.
Actually, the obsession has become about the production of creativity rather than creativity itself. How many answers? How original? How quickly? Many seem to think more answers means more creativity. It actually just means more curation. And of course this all comes down to money.
Putting my rant to one side it would seem that there are two types of creativity that are very valuable. Take an Ed Sheeran song. (Yes I have to use him to make the headline work). The artist has done all the work for us. We just have to enjoy it. He has poured out his heart. He has the incredible ability and skill to turn that into a song. A song that might make you feel good, happy or perhaps even sad. A song that tells you exactly how to feel and gives you great comfort. This type of creativity gives you an answer.
Occasionally, however, a piece of art comes along and it reminds us of what creativity has as a unique superpower. This creativity asks you a question. And a question, you could never have asked by yourself.
It makes you ask questions that you didn’t know existed.
The true value of creativity is not just the answers it provides but the questions it gives you.
Questions that make the world bigger.