Throughout the last year I’ve written often about my practice of artmaking, with a focus on implications of the creative process in everyday life. The writing led to inquiries into the creative practice of others and these inquires brought new opportunities to learn more about the impact of their process in their daily lives.
Exploring and expressing creativity does not come with an instruction manual. It is not one-size-fits-all. The very thing that stimulates one person’s curiosity and creative mojo might not have the same impact upon another. No doubt this is one of the many reasons evidence of creativity manifests itself in remarkably diverse ways. Just as our fingerprints are uniquely our own, so too is each of our creative practice.
Such diversity of practice reflects what is original and unique among individuals. And yet, as the dialogue around creative practice grows, in increasingly larger circles, certain universal outcomes are becoming more readily apparent. The more we consider and value these universal outcomes—the countless lessons learned as a result of having a personal creative practice—the greater our desire will likely be to cultivate them more broadly in our communities.
Near the end of 2011 I began to make my informal inquiries with more regularity. Recently I asked Jon Mueller a few questions on the subject. Much to my delight, Jon was enthusiastic about participating in the dialogue and candid with his responses. Within those responses he describes the fundamentals of his practice, and, in doing so, Jon reveals the act of listening to be particularly vital.
An accomplished musician, Jon speaks of his process in this way:
“It starts with listening, which is a process. I hear, see, and understand a variety of things that strike me in a profound way. I listen to the way those things resonate with me and my existing ideas and values that are fundamentally important to me. Then I build things based on these new intersections. Sometimes only more ideas get built. These might get realized in different forms at a later time. Or, sometimes the process moves quickly and is revealed almost as a call to action. The key element to these actions though, is that they must reflect my personal fundamentals.”
Reading his description, I began to recall elements of the Knowledge System model referred to by Hilary Austen in her book, Artistry Unleashed.
The Knowledge System model is comprised of three parts:
Directional Knowledge, Conceptual Knowledge and Experiential Knowledge.
In Austen’s framework, Directional Knowledge is data that influences individuals’ unique choices. Directional Knowledge reflects identity and motivation; it is the aspect of the framework in which individual preferences, ideals and orientations are revealed.
When asked how his professional practice is informed by his creative practice Jon replied:
“I have focused strongly on removing a divide between the two. I think it’s less about existing in two separate situations and more about being me as a person – how I think, what I can contribute, what solutions come from my experience and ideas. This philosophy applies whether I’m writing music for solo percussion, analyzing yearly costs for a company, or deciding what food to serve at a party. The aim is to provide quality decisions that contain some sense of my character, which contain traces of the fundamental interests referred to in the previous question.”
In the three examples above, Jon’s emphasis on honoring personal conviction demonstrates how this concept of Directional Knowledge is brought to bear in various contexts. When I inquired a bit further about this working style, Jon offered the following illustrative example:
“Costs always need to be analyzed, and often, the areas where to reduce them can be obvious. But sometimes those aren’t necessarily the best choices, or the only choices. In some cases, the root of where the concern for reducing lies needs to be dug into deeper. Finding that can involve the creative process. For instance, are employees failing, or is management? If management, what about the system they exist within can better facilitate success? Are the material costs too high or is advertising overworking when the quality of the material already sells itself? Business can be an endless conundrum, and without tapping into one’s own creative process for bringing out the most positive and interesting elements in any situation, it can be disastrous.
Also, wherever a reduction is made, this often creates an opportunity to create additional value. Taking away might improve the health of a business, but what replaces that cost or effort can also have a profound effect, and this definitely involves the creative process. For instance, if 20 people are laid off, what can be invested in those who remain to make their effort and time more fulfilling and successful? If planned activities are canceled due to costs, what else might occur that costs less, but have similar results?
These types of questions exist in many disciplines besides business. What are the reasons for not doing something, and what are the reasons for doing something else? Often, these answers are rooted in one’s own ideas for what can make something interesting, and what is interesting can involve a variety of things, from people, material and sound to thoughts, actions, design, and more.”
Jon’s description of cost analysis, and the need to “dig deeper” reflects his original statement regarding the value of listening. As a result of his creative process, and his commitment to listening, tasks that lie outside his artistic pursuits are enhanced. This impulse to dig deeper and listen might also be regarded as a dedication to quality; anyone dedicated to creative outcomes will very likely find themselves striving for quality during the process.
In a recent interview, John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design, remarked,
“Once people are exposed to quality, they recognize it right away and they appreciate it”.
In what ways are you dedicated to, or striving for, quality? How is this evident in your own creative practice?
Jon Mueller is the General Manager of 800ceoread, a company that connects people and ideas. They host the sites ChangeThis.com, Knowledge-Blocks.com and a variety of other resources for people looking to gather or spread good ideas.
He has given talks about creativity and new business approaches at places such as The Music Forum: Loyola University (NOLA), WMSE’s Radio Summercamp (Milwaukee, WI), Viva! Festival (Montreal), Weslyan University (Middleton, CT), PRSA (Milwaukee, WI), and MARN (Milwaukee, WI).
As a drummer and percussionist, he has performed throughout North America, Japan, and Europe, and has released recordings on labels such as Table of the Elements, Polyvinyl Records, Type Recordings, Jagjaguwar, Hometapes, Important Records, and many others.
Over the past 25 years, he has increasingly focused on recognizing the dialog between sound and the situation it’s presented in, often bypassing standard approaches to percussion and considering acoustics and concepts surrounding the work in order to create a larger experience for those listening.
More info can be found at www.rhythmplex.com
© 2012 Kira Campo