art for all

49. Nature and Creativity

February 28, 2022 Daniel Gregory and John Muir Laws Season 3 Episode 49
art for all
49. Nature and Creativity
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This week John and Danny discuss the intersection of nature and creativity while talking about natural selection and the creative process, perfectionism, and the dangers of praise. 

From Season 3 of "art for all," the Sketchbook Skool podcast. Join artists/authors, Danny Gregory and John Muir Laws in rich discussions about the creative process.

Get your free ebook and essays at DannysEssays.com


Danny Gregory:

Hello, and welcome to art for all the sketchbook school podcast. I am Danny Gregory and I am the well, I'm not the anything. I'm a founder of sketchbook school. I am an author and an artist and a cohost of this podcast with my good friend Jack laws. Why don't you introduce yourself?

John Muir Laws:

Hi there everybody. I'm Jack laws. I am a wildlife biologist with sketchbook in hand. I am Danny's friend and I'm also love sort of sharing and exploring ways of you know, it was just helping people use a sketchbook as a tool for thinking and connecting and embracing.

Danny Gregory:

That's very nice. That's a nice a mission in life. You say that was your mission in life?

John Muir Laws:

I think it is the well, I think my, my personal mission is also to take that that, that work of helping people connect and fall more deeply in love with the world. And also then to encourage people to take the steps towards then becoming a steward of natural places and spaces to be more intentional and kind in the way that we interact with the other living things on the planet, including human beings but not only human beings to be stewards of nature and wild places as well.

Danny Gregory:

So nature art working in combination. Yes. Why. My wife seems to think something's wrong with me. Why? Nope, I did not see, this is, this is a live podcast. This is what this is live. This is the joy of life. Something terrible had happened, but it didn't. Anyway, as I was saying art and nature and into the intersection or were there,

John Muir Laws:

I think that I am, I try to, to hover somewhere around the, the crossroads of art science. Education stewardship and mindfulness. I know there's a lot of highways coming.

Danny Gregory:

It sounds like one of those Cloverleaf overpasses, right. And you're dwelling in the midst of them. All right.

John Muir Laws:

And sometimes I sort of stray onto one path more than another, but I think that that's the, the, the intersections of those paths is, is where I, I like to play. Fair enough.

Danny Gregory:

So for those of you who, for some ungodly reason have never listened to this podcast before? Let me explain what the concept is. Oh

John Muir Laws:

yeah. And you're in for a treat.

Danny Gregory:

Well, basically what we do is we come up with an idea. Sometimes minutes before the podcast is begins sometimes days beforehand, or sometimes one of us thinks of one and Springs it on the other, and then we try and use it as the basis for a conversation that will last for. We'll see, we'll see how long that lasts, but,

John Muir Laws:

Basically an excuse for us to get together and to bounce ideas off of each other, because we discovered that we really liked doing this. So and so,

Danny Gregory:

so if nobody else is interested in this, we totally understand if you just say to yourself so far, these guys just sound like they're bloviating and I'm out of here. I'm going to go and listen to, I don't know, something better do it, but, but if you're still here, today's topic is, I'm not sure exactly how to frame it, but basically it is about nature and creativity there, intersection and. I'm fairly much. I think I'm okay to call myself an expert on creativity. And I certainly okay with calling Jack an expert on nature, but he's also creative and I'm also, I'm also an animal who lives on the planet. So I kind of, we both have a bit of each, so we're going to talk about, I mean, some of the things I was thinking that we would talk about would be, let's start with creativity in nature is nature creative. As far as you can tell,

John Muir Laws:

The processes embedded in, in nature have resulted in the incredible diversity of. Wonderful plants and animals that we see all around us. You've got well, just this last weekend, I was out in the point Reyes national seashore. And at one point I found myself kind of hunkered down in some mud next to a rock at low tide, looking at the structures of an interesting sponge. And another time there was, there was a river Otter, there was a river Otter kind of goofing around and playing below a bridge and enjoying a Heron. And so there's, there's, there's, there's an incredible diversity of. Of wonderful species out there. And I think that we can look at the process by which things change in nature as also a source of inspiration for us in our own creativity.

Danny Gregory:

Well let me just, before you go down the inspiration part of it, just to understand what you're saying is nature herself. We'll call it her or her. Cause that's what people do. Nature herself is creative in that she's got so many forums and variations and interesting variations. But then also individual creatures in nature can also be creative like the Otter you were describing. So,

John Muir Laws:

I wasn't so much thinking of the Otter as. Well, I'll have to kind of unpack that and think about it. But I, I was, I was thinking more about the, the incredible biodiversity, the amazing biodiversity of life on this planet and all the different paths that life has taken to managing the process of how do you get your little package of DNA to be able to, to, to, to, to replicate successfully. And there are so many amazing ways of doing it. And that's for me, absolutely astounding,

Danny Gregory:

right? I mean, the variations come about from all the different ways of solving problems that nature's lifeforms encounter, right. That, that there's, you know, a change in the environment. Different ways that an animal can respond to that right. There's needs that they have to change the shape of their bills or to change their plumage or their size or various things, they come up with lots of different variations and response. Right. Cause, cause creativity at its core is about problem solving and, and that's what is describing.

John Muir Laws:

Yeah. Well on yes, yes and no. So it's not like there's, there's a a shorebird out there with its beak down in the mud kind of going like, you know, if this was just a little bit longer and maybe had a curve at the tip and maybe a more sensitive tip, this would work better. So like, come on, come on, come on. I'm going to grow bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger that doesn't work. So if, if wishes were horses, we'd all grow longer bills. I, the so you, you can't, you can't change your structure or the structure of your offspring by willing it but there are, but w when we look around there is there is this amazing diversity. So where does that come from? There's a couple of interesting things that are going on, and those also apply to our, I think that they make a useful analogy to things which we encounter in our own inner creative process. But so, and one of those is making mistakes that a big factor in. The wonderful diversity of species that we see is that mistakes were made. So as things are as we are making copies of our genetic material for all our offspring out there, that process is incredibly complex and usually works very, very well, but sometimes it doesn't, sometimes there's a little goof that gets made in how the genetic code gets passed from one offspring to another. And, and when things go wrong, it usually does not end up well for the offspring, because if you've got a system that's sort of set up to where you're able to survive and then, and then you change that you might, you might die. So a mutation is an air in this case. But, and most mutations, they they're, they're not going to help you or maybe make no D I'd say probably most make no difference at all. Then there's a bunch of that that hurt. But every once in a while, there's something that can help that little critter be a little bit more successful. So it's through the process of making mistakes that you get all the possibilities of what can be. And then there is, there's a process of then of weeding out the ones that really don't work well or work less well than the others. And that is so. If there is, if you have a mutation and it helps you, then you're going to be better, you're going to be more able to reproduce then the next guy and then that,

Danny Gregory:

yeah.

John Muir Laws:

So, so that's so you're, you're selecting what works from all of these different possibilities and you're also discarding what doesn't so that the, although our human creative process is different than mutation and natural selection. What the, the, I think the useful metaphor in that for me is that mistakes in my artwork and my creative process can be the inspiration for change.

Danny Gregory:

So, in other words, you, you come up with a technique or you try something, you try a new pen, you try a new way of drawing something and you don't know how it's going to turn out. And sometimes, you know, it's a disaster, it doesn't turn out at all the way you'd expected. And sometimes it's a happy accident where you've suddenly discovered this new way of doing it. That's really interesting. Right. Is that, is that an analogy that you'd say?

John Muir Laws:

Yeah. So my, my first art teacher was my grandmother, ADI and ADI told me she gave me my first little watercolor set and she said, you know, honey, there are, I said, how do you use this? What do I do? And she said, there aren't any rules, just play with it and see what happens. And she encouraged me just to simply mess around with. And there's nothing in life have so much worth doing is simply messing about with paints to quote an order to quote a rat or to to, to, to hybridize their, their ideas. The so I w if you have a chance just to, to mess around with stuff and to play with stuff, and you keep doing it, you're going to be you're going to be doing all sorts of things, and you'll be doing things in ways that are different. And in that is all sorts of, of, of inspiration.

Danny Gregory:

So improvisation, I mean, I was thinking musical improvisation, take a piece of jazz or comedians who were improvising, throwing out ideas. What about this? What about this? And then you throw out an idea, the other person. Responds to it and takes it into a new direction you build on that idea. It goes in any direction and so forth. I mean, it can happen in a conversation that you and I are having. You could say an idea that sparks an idea and a thought in me and I take it to a different place. So in some ways nature's doing this and I have to say, I was going to say this earlier. I can imagine that a certain percentage of our audience is going to say, well, the answer is God, he's the creator. We're not really going into that area of discussion here. But acknowledged we're acknowledging that yes, people, some people feel that way, but we're going to sort of stick to a system which doesn't entail that right, as a creator,

John Muir Laws:

Or, or doesn't, it doesn't depend for a number of people. You know, that the, the, the you know, for instance, the, the, the, the doctrine of the Catholic church is that yeah, it seems that these processes of, of, of evolution by natural selection, that's how life has changed on this planet. And that is not inconsistent with their understanding of God and their relationship to God.

Danny Gregory:

Yeah, fair enough. But we were interested in the process rather than necessarily in the idea of whether or not there's some force behind it, because the process ultimately is what's going to be useful to us as artists, as creative people is to look at this idea of, of in this case mistakes or unexpected outcomes and how they lead us in new directions. Cause we. Encountering that all the time. I think a lot of times as greeters, particularly when we're beginning to learn, to make stuff, we're really afraid of mistakes because mistakes seem like a failing, but as we can see from nature, we go through a lot of iterations. Most of which don't work to get to one that takes us to a new place. That's a completely natural part of the creative process as it is a part of nature.

John Muir Laws:

Yep. So, yeah, so there's two things. There's, there's the, there's the making mistakes. And then there is selecting out from this smorgasbord, the stuff that works the best. And the, the kind of analogy for that in the natural systems is natural selection. But the, and here I'm intentionally using the word analogy saying that this is w this is not a direct apples to apples comparison to what kind of goes on with our own creative process, but using it as an analogy that if you know, in the, in the process of, of deliberate practice, if I'm, I'm doing something again and again and again, and working on a developing a skill, I want to be looking at that and noticing what's working really well and intentionally doing that again. And what's not working well for me and doing less of that. And so I am selecting out now, this is a different process than, of course what is happening in natural selection. That's why, again, I'm saying this is just an analogy. But you're, you're also selecting out, you know, what works and doing more of that and what, and doing less of what doesn't. So being intentional about that process of there's all these possibilities, but I can move myself towards a goal by being selective. Right.

Danny Gregory:

But you first want to be comfortable with iterations and you want to be comfortable, right? So you want to say I intend to do this, I start doing it. I realize either I'm not really capable of doing the thing I set out to do, or I'm somehow unwittingly moving in another direction. But maybe I like it. Maybe I like this direction, but you also might say to yourself, you know what, I want to try a bunch of different iterations just to see what happens. So you know, for instance, you might sit down to do a piece of writing and you might say, okay, the hardest part of writing often is the first sentence. So there are different ways that you can enter into any given thing that you write. And so you might want to sit down and say, I'm going to write five different opening sentences for this idea. I'm not going to write the second sentence. I'm just going to write that first one and see, because each of them will lead me in a new direction. And so I, so is one of them better than the other? I don't know yet. We'll see. One of them may be a good sentence, but another one may be a slightly less artful or, or, or, or Elegant sentence, but it leads me to a whole bunch of possibilities, more possibilities because it's open. And, you know, I think that is going to take you on interesting adventures, you know, in, in interesting directions. So it's almost like you're throwing out, throwing out a whole bunch of different dice and seeing, you know, what comes up and you, and I think that that is akin to nature right? In, in Kingston that the process of natural selection that, that with every generation there are variations, right? Every, every child that is the offspring of two parents of two genetic sequences, Comes out slightly differently, right? Every kid is even twins are slightly different, so it's always happening that there are variations. And I think that that's what makes the world as rich and interesting as it is. And I think for us as artists, we have to be mindful of that too. You have to remember that, that, that the, the, the, yes, there are opportunities that gives us.

John Muir Laws:

Yeah. Just getting getting the work out there, being a maker, creating stuff on its own, no matter what the aesthetics is a useful process for our own creative processes. It's going to bring you you know, paralysis by, because it's, it's not, it's not perfect. It's not. Right. It takes you takes you nowhere, but

Danny Gregory:

creating something literally. That's right.

John Muir Laws:

So being a maker first and producing something that's that is really valuable. And okay. Here's another again, underscoring. The idea of metaphor with natural selection here is, is the process of natural selection does not make perfect organisms. It is not th th that's like when I, if you ask a kid to a kid to like invent some animal, you'll, you'll get something. With spines, like a porcupine legs, like a cheetah wings, like a Hawk breathes fire. And, you know, it's just got like all these crazy cool features packed into one. And then you'll look out in nature. That organism doesn't exist because nature, the natural selection process is not, it's not about making some perfect version of something it's the threshold is good. Enough is just good enough. It's just that it's, it's, it's creating something, we're creating something that is useful. We're getting something that is useful and useful enough to be able to pass your genes on to the next generation. And if it's good enough, it's not the, you know, the idea of survival of the fittest. That's not Darwin's term. That's not something that. Evolutionary biologist really talk about if anything, it's survival of the fit enough. And if, and if you're fit enough to kind of to, to, to pass on your, your, your genes well will bully for you, you're in the game. And so it's being, being useful and

Danny Gregory:

perfectionism is not natural.

John Muir Laws:

Perfectionism is not natural. Right. But you can then also think of modifying, you know, being able to sort of, you know you know, race, a couple of variations of a gene against each other in time. One comes out ahead of the other. You keep doing this over time. And guess what down the line you've developed. We've, we've got a cheetah on our hands and, but that, that doesn't but the, the time in there and the iterations are also kind of important to think about, and also a useful metaphor for us in our own creative process that this, this takes time and it's messy and there are dead ends and there are things that we pursue for a while. And then we, we kind of change our track a little bit, and then we, we, and then somebody comes up with. An, an innovation and we look at that and go like, oh, whoa, that's awesome. I want to incorporate that into my game. And, and, and, and we do, and we can sort of move in, in jumps. And then sometimes we plateau for a while. You see the same thing in, in nature that, you know, change can, can move. You know, it, it takes time. Sometimes the rate of change can be really fast. But there's also just sort of a lot of time of just kind of plotting along and doing the next thing and doing the next thing. But you got to keep in the game with iterations of your work.

Danny Gregory:

I also think that a perfect solution, if there was. If there was a fittest that is a temporary status because the world is always changing, right? So you might be the perfect tool for this particular job, but the jobs going to change because the weather changes because a new predator moves into your territory because who knows what the world is. So incredibly complicated that anything that's the perfect sort of Swiss watch ideal solution is not going to be that for long. So in a way, imperfection is the best strategy, right? The best strategy. And I think in art making too, because it's so sort of similar to, if you were to do a drawing, that was a photographic likeness. Right. So that would be the perfect drawing. It's a perfect photographic likeness, but then you would say, well, it's not really that useful because I have a photograph you've perfectly duplicated. What was there originally? So perfectionism is a lot less interesting, a lot less useful as a form of communication in art and imperfection, because imperfection is ultimately more expressive of our humanity and our richness as, as beings and all the different aspects of how we communicate then a perfect image would be. So, I mean, it's true in nature as it is in art that we aren't striving for the absolute solution. We're striving for something that is multifaceted enough, that it can reflect lots of different aspects of reality and, and different observers of the solutions. So, anyway so. Another thing I was thinking about in nature is one of my favorite examples is the bowerbird right? So the bow bird is this bird, I think it's in Australia or is it in Southeast Asia? Anyway, it's in that sexual world. And it's these incredible little birds that build these incredibly elaborate nests for, to woo their mates. So the males they go out and they find anything they can, they they'll find berries and little flowers they'll even find the bottle caps anything. And they make these incredibly artful arrangements and they do this outside of these little houses that they make. And then the female comes along and she checks, she sort of like, like a. Tourists did a first night of a gallery opening kind of going from Bauer to Bauer, checking out these different ones. And then she decides based on this visual presentation who she's going to meet with I might be exaggerating simplifying this situation. That's essentially what it is. Right. So, so I'm thinking like that's a creative decision that this animal has made, you know, I'm not sure what his thought process is, but it's definitely making an individual creative decision and you see that in nature that people, that animals you know, we'll come up with the solutions. It's not all entirely random. It's not just a bunch of mistakes that turn into something. It can be deliberate. It can, there is a creative kind of element to them. Yeah.

John Muir Laws:

Yeah. And then you think about that, that kind of a strategy. Spending all this time, all this time, making this elaborate nest structure, how could that be? How could that be

Danny Gregory:

efficient? It doesn't seem efficient.

John Muir Laws:

Or how can that be adaptive? How does that help her pick the right fella? One possibility is that if I have the, so I've, I've got to kind of get enough calories to survive. I have to have enough calories to avoid my, my predators out there, collect my own food. If I am then also able to, to create this, this wonderful thing for you I must be doing pretty well. I guess that's the way I would, I would sort of think

Danny Gregory:

rich guy with like a really nice car, because the part of the indication that he's rich, not that just that he has a nice car

John Muir Laws:

or that yeah. That, that, that is an indication that you have been able to successfully avoid predators and collect resources. And that, that should get your attention. It's true. Especially if they're all blue objects, I think there's, this just loves, loves it. Some blue guys look at all this cool blue stuff I've got,

Danny Gregory:

but it might be true also. I mean, isn't it probably true. Flowers that have really beautiful blooms that they can, that they have enough calories to put into the creation of these flowers or that birds with really elaborate plumage are successful enough that they have the energy to print those things. You know? Well, the,

John Muir Laws:

the, the, the, the goals of those two things are slightly different for the, the flower it is. I'm not showing. So I'm trying to get the bee to come to me so that it will pollinate this flower that come with pollen from another flower on it. It will bring that to me, this flower will win, and I get a, I get, I get pollinated but from the four for a bird, having an elaborate plumage The female can look at that and, and, and say like, oh, wow. Your plumage is really pretty degraded. You must not be sort of nutritionally competent. Also, you know, they're, they're looking at things like the symmetry of the feathers on a barn swallow, if, if it has a long tail feather on one side and a short tail feather on the other side, the females look at that and they go like, you know what guy? Not so much, I don't know. That may be just sort of a bummer that, that got clipped off when you were, you know, perching on the fence, or it could be kind of an indication that you've got something funky going on with your jeans. And I don't want to risk that. So it could be an honest signal of the. Health of that, that bird before the

Danny Gregory:

it majors is so hard ass and unforgiving, isn't it? Give me a break. One of my feathers is shorter. So what

John Muir Laws:

the set by the bird with the one shorter feather, the you know, it was, this was kind of funding for my masters thesis. I was studying these songbirds on a mountain in Montana and they're these beautiful red, white and blue gorgeous songbirds, Leslie buntings and these in order to tell them apart, we could catch them in nets. And then we would put these little colored bands around their legs and. Then release them. And so you could say like, ah, that one is the one with red, over blue, on one leg and silver, over white on the other leg. And that went over there. That's, that's black over green, you know, brown over metal. Right? So they're old. Imagine all these birds with these different color bracelets, all of them. And then the biologists trying to figure out, you know, infant stuff about mate selection and all these sorts of things. Well, there was, there was one bird in this, on this whole mountain who had the good fortune of being. Captured earlier in the study and put onto its legs were red over red. And on the other side red over metal, there's always a metal one on, but so it got red on both sides. And so it was symmetrical and this is a bird already with red in its plumage. And this one bird with all this bonus red on it was the most successful Casanova bird of the entire mountain would have all these different nests going. And we had given it, this is crazy sexual, this the secondary sexual characteristics. It's like the Rolex of birds. This, this bird had crazy bling. So you didn't want to be the meanwhile there's somebody out there with, you know, you know, brown over green, just kind of going like, oh, this is just Christmas, just so not fair. But, but that's always sort of, kind of humbled me sort of thinking about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of, you know, how you, when you observe something, you change the behavior of, of what you observe. So by putting these bans on these birds, we were, we were creating this, this phenomenon. So we could study wild birds and their wild bird behavior, but we were actually studying wild birds with bracelets,

Danny Gregory:

man. He screwed up nature. Thanks a lot,

John Muir Laws:

you know, from the point of, of, of big red, big red big, big red thought. It was great. Oh, we have one other cool thing about big red. So big red. Well this incredibly successful bird, what we found is that for almost all. So the something that's neat about these, these birds is that they, you can identify each one by its own special, unique voiceprint. So if you record the song, you can make a sonogram of it and go like that song goes with this bird. And the year, the second year of this study, all of these young birds, these birds just sort of starting in their first breeding year. They copied note for new. The song of red. They said they saw that bird. And he said, I want to be like that. And they all had these, there were all these red clones,

Danny Gregory:

the butterfly principle at work.

John Muir Laws:

And so we then created this, this, this sort of, this, this cluster of reds of birds who are old and singing the same song. And this went on for a few years. And this is something that is, we had kind of known from the literature. And the research is that this is a species of bird that once it gets its crystallized song, they never changed their song. And that was true. Except for a few years later, the early in the spring, we scientists went up on the mountain, we're listening around and there was there's this strange song. And we recorded it and looked at the legs of the bird. It was red, but red was now singing a completely different song. To kind of ditch the crowd. Oh, perhaps there's no longer the crowd that was copying it song. So, so it's

Danny Gregory:

like the equivalent of like Dylan going electric. Yeah.

John Muir Laws:

Yes.

Danny Gregory:

Everybody's crowded. Yeah. Moving into a new realm. Right. Interesting. So I want to flip it around now and talk about natural cycles in creativity or net, net, natural phenomenon and creatives. Cause I'm going to, I'll try and explain this idea of mine, but it's, it's a little complicated and basically for most of human history, right. We lived in harmony with nature and plucky. You know, we, we, the cycles of nature were the way that we, what our expectations were based around those cycles. Like we understood. You know, you, you harvest in the fall and we understood that in the winter, things are fallow and we understood that you sow seeds in the spring. I think that's right. I don't know I'm a city guy, but that's basically the idea is, is that the cycles of nature or, you know, we're in harmony with them in the last couple hundred years since, since we've started to really live in harmony with capitalism and mechanics and factories and the industrial revolution, the expectation is it will be productive all the time or most of the time. Right. And I think for us as creative people, we have that as a, an expectation we expect that we will produce upon demand to deadlines and so forth, but we've lost sight of these natural rhythms, you know, and I think, I think it's. You know, a lot of times you make something and then you worry that you'll never be able to make something again. Right. You'll have your, you'll never be that good again. Or you feel guilty because you're not actually producing and you feel like you should, or you you know, you have these bursts, like they've been doing these studies recently, like of several artists who had these, like that many really successful artists have bursts of productivity that can last for a year, let's say, but that's where the, really the ch the things that they're known for came about. It's not necessarily that people are consistently productive, consistently innovative, but that there are these sudden eruptions that happen. And. I find in my, in myself that there are times when I regress, you know, and I, and I feel like I just need to hunker down where there are times where I feel like I need to feed myself. I need to feed my views. I need to go out and look at other artist's work, or I need to look at nature, or I need to just be, you know, there, there are these different processes that kind of come about naturally, but yet we sort of don't fully acknowledge them, this, this idea that there are seasons to our creativity, that there's a time to plant and there's a time to germinate. And then there's a time when we produce and then you need to retrench and allow your creative. Tools and your strengths to rebuild. You need, you need that. It takes a lot of energy to lay an egg or to you know, give birth and that you need time to retrench. And that, that is a natural part of the process. And you need to be able to recognize that in yourself and see, okay, this is what I need to do now. Now I need to stop. It's not a flat line. Well, that's probably the wrong thing to say. It's not a consistent, we're not consistent in our creativity, but that it has ups and downs because there's a process that we don't fully understand and recognize in ourselves, which is that we need to. Absorb things influences. We need to allow problems to sit in our subconscious and emerge and you can see it even in a day. Right? You can see that you can work on something and then you go to sleep and then you wake up with an idea wasn't there the night before, right? Because your brain is considering continuing, or part of your brain is continuing to operate while you're asleep. That we need to look after our bodies and our brains, the way that we eat, the way that we rest, all these kinds of things that we have to acknowledge this part of who we are. And the world kind of doesn't allow for it that much. You know, we kind of feel like we need to be out there all the time. I mean, I see it so much now with social media, I see. With YouTube. I see with podcasts, you know, you need to be posting regularly. You need to always be out there. You know, authors, there's so many authors who write a book a year. There are so many people who feel like they need to always be producing. But it's not, I mean, maybe a book, maybe a book a year is a good analogy. Maybe that is more who's it is it Isabella yen day. She would always start and sit down on, I think September 9th of each year, she would sit down and start writing her next book. You know, the, maybe we need to acknowledge these, these patterns and also acknowledge these patterns over the course of our lifetime. When are the times that we're the most productive in our age? You know, is it, is it that when we're young, we're particularly innovative or is it that when, as we mature our world work becomes richer or I think. That whole thing. I just, I haven't seen that much discussion of this, of this idea of, of natural cycles in an artists per productivity. What do you think?

John Muir Laws:

I think this is, is, is fun and what I, what I like, there's the idea of the process of productivity, of, of, of creativity and there parts of that process that are productive and there are parts where things are fermenting, right? And that you are only rewarded for the productive part. And sometimes the, your boss or your own expectation is that you're going to stay in that productive part the whole time. But if it, if that is just one PO one season in that process and you don't give yourself a chance to, to recharge and find other inspiration, let things ferment to go for the walk in the woods. You are not you, you are breaking the cycle and that will stop the flow. You're that's, you're going to burn out. You try to just, or, or you end up in a non-creative rut and you're just because you have to produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce. You're not having the time to. To reflect and to, to, to rest in, in lots of

Danny Gregory:

like chicken and a factory farm or something, you know, living your whole life in a cage, pumping out eggs or something. Yeah.

John Muir Laws:

That is you don't want to be that chicken. You want to be that

Danny Gregory:

chicken. You don't want to eat those eggs. They may not be that. Great.

John Muir Laws:

And if you think about the also sort of, let's say in, in engineering there are these there's, there's a couple of ways of thinking about how to create something and the one that people sometimes have to do, but it doesn't work as well as when you get to do the other. And sometimes you, you have to figure out the whole problem, invent it, build it, and then launch yourself with that. But. If you have the ability to design something, make a prototype, test it, evaluate iterating, it's called iterating it. So if you can use that sort of iteration process, and then you get the, you evaluate it and then you you modify it based on that. You know, there are parts, you can look at that, that cycle in the same way. There are parts when you are not producing something, but you are in a process that allows you to produce something that is much better. But if you just looked at that part of it, where you're going to design and build something, and that's the goal, you are missing the whole feedback loop. And with, with ideas, if you are sitting there at you're trying to force an a solution. Sometimes, you know, you need to take a bath and to sit in the tub to get your inspiration about, you know, how do you figure out how much gold is in the crowd? Or you go for a walk in nature and stare out at the water and, and get your brain out of you. You've, you've spent some time upfront really thinking about this. You've spent some time getting the basics into your head. You've spent some time laying a foundation or a scaffolding for ideas to cling to, but then you want to let yourself kind of go for that walk or go for a swim, a very often exercise. And contact with nature are things that also kind of can help us get out of ruts and sort of into a a more productive creative.

Danny Gregory:

Yeah, I mean, I remember in all my years in advertising, advertising is sort of an interesting situation because you are brought into a room at the beginning of the process and you were presented with a problem. You get a briefing where they say, okay, here's the situation we need to solve this problem. Here's the background on it. And then we want to see work by such and such a date and kind of what you do in between is sort of up to you, but it takes a while to get used to that as a thing, because you basically have to come up with ideas and, and there's a whole process that I would go through where the first thing is you say, There's no way I can come up with that. I have no, there's no way that I'm solving that problem. That's insane. And then I would go to the movies at two o'clock in the afternoon. In fact, one of the big agencies that I worked at, there was a movie theater in the building downstairs. I would go to the movies. Other times you'd sit around until midnight at your desk. You'd go for walks. You, you know, you talk to other people generally, you know, a lot of times, or you sort of throw out lots of ideas. I mean, there's a whole art to create a partnership, you know, who can you work with? That's going to make you allow you to be vulnerable because that's a large part of. Can I trust you to, for me to just spew out ideas, some of which are going to be embarrassingly bad, but I trust you. But also you're are, are you going to give me, is there going to be enough grit in our partnership that it's going to spark new stuff because it can't be that you go the great love that. Oh, that's awesome. That's great. Huh? That doesn't help either. But if you have somebody who's too harsh, then they kill the thing. As soon as it emerges from your, you know, half formed, it gets killed. But if it, if there isn't some some, some tension or, or some resistance, then it's not going to force it to become stronger too. There's a whole balance in that process, but you have to then come up with the ideas. You have to be ready on the day that the ideas, or do you have to have those ideas. You know, now it's possible that if you kept working on ideas, they would be better. It's even more possible. If you kept working on ideas, they would be worse. I found in all my years of doing this and I was pretty successful at it. I'll an awful lot of times, the best idea was the very first one that I had. It may need refining, but a lot of times that thing would just burst forth. And I was like, that's pretty good. Let's keep going. And nothing was ever quite as good as that again, but other times, no, I had to beat it up until it got to a good place. Again, these things remind me of the process of nature, right? There are times that a new solution is perfect and there are times where it needs to be road tested to death to suddenly come up with the best possible solution.

John Muir Laws:

It's yeah. Th the sort of an analogy there is sort of thinking about the, this, the speed of evolutionary processes. Evolutionary biologists like to try to figure out is that, you know, are things like, are you slowly changing over time or are things kind of flatlining and then there are big environmental changes and there are dramatic changes in the species that you're seeing at those moments as well. So gradualism versus punctuated equilibrium, are there ways of talking about that? But I was like, thinking about this, like the people that you're working with, you're talking about, I was sort of imagining the yes, man, who you don't want to work with and the madman who you don't want to work with and the

Danny Gregory:

authenticity ego there's, there's a lot of factors.

John Muir Laws:

And so that's, that's true in the, if, if you can get yourself into a peer group of people, Positively supportive supportively kind of can interact and engage with each other to push you all are going to push each other further in any creative process. The dynamics of that community are really important. And I think of the impressionists sort of having like just a critical mass of people who kind of get together in coffee shops and they all collectively pushed the work that they were creative, creating much further than any would have done on their own. But you also have that same relationship with yourself and your own inner critic. You want to be pushing yourself, but you need to be able to find out how can I push myself in a way that inspires me and moves me forward. Instead of tears me down and tells me that I can't do this, how can I get that inner critic to be not that that I need to be able to be vulnerable in order to create. And if my inner critic is attacking me at every turn, that's not going to happen. That's not going to, that's not going to work.

Danny Gregory:

That happened in nature, though. If, if an iteration happens that could be successful, but the conditions are so extreme that it can't survive.

John Muir Laws:

Oh, oh yeah. Well, any adaptation, any adaptation is specific to the environment that you're talking about. So you can't say this is a positive attitude. Well, it has to be a part of positive adaptation for specific conditions. There are times that having a heavier thicker beak are good. There are times that having the heavier, you know, it's going to allow you to crack open those hard shells. If however, environmental conditions change and you have fewer of those hard shells, and there's just now you have to be able to get the little seeds out of the tiny spaces that big bill is now a liability. So something is, is, is good, but only in reference to whatever conditions you're you're you're talking about. Right?

Danny Gregory:

Yeah. I was also thinking. There's no shortage of feedback in the world we live in now, right? There's we have so many opportunities to put our work out there and have likes and followers and fans. I mean, it's just, it's endless. The question is how do we take that and does that actually help us to make our work better? I think it helps. I think it helps to have an audience that, you know, understands your motivation, you know, is coming at it from where you're coming at it from. But a general audience may be of no use to your creativity at all. In other words, being famous doesn't necessarily make you a better artist. In fact, it probably doesn't because the LA the larger, the audience that you're trying to please, the more likely your work is going to become generic and inauthentic. So

John Muir Laws:

that you also can get performance anxiety of I've. I've got this reputation, I've got to follow it up with something good. And so then it's hard for me to, to, to do whatever I need to do whatever next steps.

Danny Gregory:

Yeah, I mean, that's, that's what they call in, in like in rock and roll. They call this like the sophomore album, the problem with the sophomore album, you have a band that's been playing together since he was 16, right. They're 22, 23 years old. They finally get a big record contract. They put out an album, it's a huge hit. Great. What's your next album? Got it. So here you have that sophomore Elm, because you have these, you have these guys who, you know, they spent six, seven years together writing material and road, testing it and playing it over and over and over again. And then that material became their first album. Now they have nine months to put out the next album and meanwhile, their conditions have changed suddenly their big stars, suddenly their egos are coming out. Suddenly they have maybe more money than they ever had before. They're different people. They're different, they're different animals or their environment it's completely changed. So what's their adaptation going to be. And of course the critical the, you know, the criticism is much more withering now because it's like, okay, great. Can you do it again? And you know, a lot of cases they can't, and it's true in just about every art form, you know, The first time novelist fails to bring in a second novel or the first time movie director just does never is able to do it that well again because the situation has completely changed or that you just have this fear of expectations. Whereas when you first did it, who nobody knew who you were, nobody cared, but now suddenly, you know, you feel like a fraud and yeah, you're in a different situation you're being.

John Muir Laws:

Yep. So then we, we want to try to with, with thinking about not just any feedback, but the kind of feedback that is going to push us creatively

Danny Gregory:

it's going to push us to grow, not just to edit,

John Muir Laws:

if we can kind of come up with some, what might be some aspects. Of that feedback. So it's first, it ought to be a balance of pushing you outside of your comfort zone a little bit, but not so much that you get flooded with cortisol and panic. Right. You'd want a feedback system.

Danny Gregory:

Well, Mike, this might, might this be it an analogy which is domesticating an animal, right? So domesticating, when you domesticate animal, you're kind of accelerating the process of refining its attributes, right? So if you, you know, if a dog evolve into a certain thing over millions of years, a breeder might in a hundred years, turn that dog and make it much stronger or make it much cuter or make it much something or other. So in a way it's pushing it in a new direction, but it's accelerating it because it's, it's, it's paying attention to. It's the unique qualities and it's honing them and refining them in a more efficient way. Is that, is that an allergy or is that does grotesque?

John Muir Laws:

I think we could probably work with that. Yeah, it I guess I'm, I'm thinking about that with, with different kinds of, you know, selective breeding. You're going to get anything from the Chihuahua to the great Dane. If we're using the selective breeding, then as an analogy for the feedback loop, right? What kind of feedback you're going to respond to? What, what you're going to plug back into to get, get more of that feedback. You have to pay attention to what feedback you want to really respect and follow because each of those systems of feedback are going to push you in different directions, right? And there's going to be some forms of feedback that might make you feel good, but don't help you creatively. There are some forms of feedback that would make you feel awful, make you want to quit. There are some forms of feedback that are going to push you to look like, have your work look like something else that doesn't inspire you. And there are forms of feedback that are going to be respect for. What inspires and motivates you and brings out that best part of yourself. So you've talked before about authenticity. I wonder about being selective of the feedback sources that we tune into and what holds us towards both from the perspective of let, let, let's say, you're trying to, to, to kind of create your own community to push you forward. What kind of feedback are you looking for to help you? People sort of pull themselves towards their sort of greater potential, staying true to something that is authentic to themselves. I don't think that likes are probably what is going to get you to the right place.

Danny Gregory:

Yeah, that's a good point. I mean, I think, I think the analogy is that if you're trying to survive in nature and you're having adaptations that are based on the authentic situation you're in, right, you generally need to respond to what kinds of seeds are available in your environment, but a breeder could come along and turn that same bird into anything. They want it right now. And that bird may not at all be equipped to survive in its natural environment, though, that bird got out, it wouldn't have necessarily have anything to eat. So the Breeder's intentions are not the same as the animals intentions, that's

John Muir Laws:

their motivations. The unintended consequences of you know, you might follow some. You, you follow some feedback path or sort of breeding towards, towards one intention. There can be side effects of that that are surprising. But for instance, with foxes people who breed foxes for, for, for they they wanted to breed a Fox that was more mellow because Fox is, you know, they, they, they, you get a bunch of foxes together. They, they, they don't like being in their little cages. They don't like the, and appropriately. So they don't like the people who are kind of handling them and managing the for plants. So they, they, people who are breeding foxes, they selected them for the mellowest most sort of chilled out foxes and would breed those ones. And what happened is the entire morphology of the fog they got at the end, they got Fox Fox that were chill that were mellow foxes, but they also had all these sort of strange characteristics. They had droopy ears like doggies. They got all these sort of cute features, too. They

Danny Gregory:

were becoming dogs.

John Muir Laws:

They sort of, they, they changed by, by selecting for the mellow more manageable Fox. We turned them into this other strange creature that no longer acted Foxy or even really looked Foxy,

Danny Gregory:

but you could still skin it and make it into a cheap jacket.

John Muir Laws:

That's right. Which I don't recommend the.

Danny Gregory:

Yeah, but it's also, it's like chicken. Like when they have chickens that are like huge chest, huge breast meat, you know, that are bred for breastfeeding and they can't stand up, you know? So there's all kinds of grotesque things that we can do. But I think he did bring it back to our, our analogy. It's kind of like if the critique that you're getting isn't on board with your goals, it's not, it's not consistent with your goals. So the, the bird in nature it's goals are to survive and to respond to its environment. But if it's distorted by a breeder who has different agenda, then you get the wrong results. But similarly, if you hear an audience who doesn't really pay very much attention, but it's like perfectly happy to click and give you a thumbs up again, there, they have nothing in, they have no skin in the game. They don't really care and they're going to. Or they might give you really hostile comments because they have some other issue going on that has nothing to do with you. Similarly, though, with your inner critic, understanding the motivation of your inner critic is really important because your inner critic may critique you in a perfectly valid and useful way that helps you to do better. Right? A lot of times though, it has another agenda and a different agenda than you have. And its agenda is, you know, based in, in the amygdala, it's based in, you know, preserving you in a state of nature. That's no longer relevant. It's trying to protect you from stuff that you don't need protecting from anymore. It's, it's incredibly risk averse. It's terrified of new things. It doesn't want you to do stuff that might endanger you in some other environment, not really the environment that you're in at all. So if you don't understand that and you just respond to. This thing, it can turn you into a distortion. It can turn you into the friendly Fox. Rather than somebody who's actually well adapted and who's work as well adapted to make the most of the environment that you're in or the situation that you're in or the problems that you actually need to solve.

John Muir Laws:

Yes. Yes. So, and so this then makes me think of another characteristic I want in the people in the community around me, who I'm going to cultivate as my creative community. I'm going to look for people who have a growth mindset who can help push me in ways that help me take risks. In the, and, and to, to, to, to trust in the process and to be vulnerable and to keep going I'm going to avoid people who give feedback that is along the lines of oh, you're just, you're just so good. You're so good. That's, that's, that's amazing. You're just such a good artist. Cause that just kind of gets me kind of locked into the thinking of like, okay, I've got this, this, this characteristic of, oh, I'm a good artist. That means I, I have to go create good art instead of people who are kind of helping me focus on my process. There's just amazing research with looking at kids when you tell them like, oh, you are so good at. You're so good at math. And we think like that's positive reinforcement. That's getting encouraged the kid, that's the kind of, you know, feedback that they need. But when you give a kid that feedback, they become terrified of taking risks because

Danny Gregory:

they deviate from the thing that gave them that reward.

John Muir Laws:

That's right. And they don't want to disappoint you the adult. And so if you just take a bunch of kids, you put them in a room, you have a test that's in two parts, they do part number one, you then pretend you're analyzing the tests. And then you randomly go up to half of those kids and you go like, you know, Sally, I was looking at your your, your, your study there, the, the, the, the, the tests that you're doing, you are, you are an amazing mathematician. You are so good at math. That's fantastic, Sally. I just wanted to say. Great work. And then you go over to Lynn and you say, Lynn, I was looking at what you were doing. And I was noticing that you were, you know, th these are bunch of challenging things, but you were trying things in different ways and you were kind of keeping at you're keeping at it, even when it was difficult, you know, that's really good perseverance. So you look, you kind of relate to their process rather than a characteristic of who they are. And then you say to them right now, Lyndon, Sally, for this, for second part of your test here you can, there's two I've got two piles of tests you can pick up. Whichever one, you want the ones in pile a here in this pile here, they're just like the kind of problems that you're doing before this other one here. They're more challenging. But there's some interesting stuff in there that you might like to play with. You can pick up either one and let's do the second. So Sally picks up pile a because she knows that she can handle that and she doesn't want to disappoint you and she doesn't want to disappoint herself. And Lynn is going to go grab that other one. So you want people in your community who can help? No, no. That for all of us, no, like nobody, there's nobody out there that just has, I have a growth mindset, right? We're all a combination of all these things. And that, that inner critic sometimes comes at us with a fixed mindset voice, and sometimes it's a growth mindset voice. And so what I need to do is I also want to look for my community to be people who, when my inner critic is going fixed mindset can help get me back on track, realizing that my brain grows and changes with the work that I put in and I can do this. And it's a process. And let's let's have at that process.

Danny Gregory:

Fascinating. Well, I think let's stop. Let's stop. I think this is interesting. I mean, I had no idea where we were going to go. I feel like, I feel like there are a lot of, there are a lot of interesting thoughts that it'll be interesting to hear what people say, think about it. Cause I think this was an iteration.

John Muir Laws:

This is,

Danny Gregory:

I think so. Yeah, but I think at the end, what I would like to take away from this though is the creativity is a creativity. Isn't a gift. It's a process that is inherent in us, that we all have this ability that we can manage it and master it and you know, feed it as well as possible. And, and we can, we can try out different things. It's not. It's not it's not a specialized task. It is, it is a skill that we all have because we've all had to have it because we've all had to adapt. And our ancestors have too. So that's why it is an essential quality for us. But I think we can learn a lot about it. It's not just something it's a, it's a S a really complex mechanism, and we can learn a lot more about how to feed it, how to work with it, what to expect from it. And nature is a really interesting guide for this looking at natural processes and really recognizing it in ourselves. So I haven't seen a lot about this. I haven't seen, I mean, I've, I've studied the creative process quite a lot. I haven't seen this kind of tie to a natural process as a, as a way of understanding it. If you have any read any thing about it that you'd like to share with us, that would be interesting to hear too. So, cool. Good. Any final thoughts?

John Muir Laws:

I just love your thinking about how part of the creative process. It, doesn't always just sort of being aware and accepting that it doesn't always look like that process of actively making something kind of, I want to kind of keep in the maker game, but also sort of knowing that there are times of rest and what is going on inside those, our brains in those times of rest that that, that are, that are really important for that process. So to give yourself the room to. To go exercise, to go for a hike, to get out into the woods, to let your ideas gel and percolate, and then to come back and iterate some more and then to go give it some time for rest and go do something. Again, I, I, I tend to lean more towards, to be as active. There's a lot of evidence of that, that sort of what, how that really kind of helps our, our, our, our brain, but also to do so in the presence of nature. Very, very powerful sources of inspiration. We never even touched on the whole idea of biomimicry, which. Looking directly to nature for solutions to, to, to, to, to problems. But

Danny Gregory:

well maybe, maybe this is a topic we can talk about again, because I realized there was another thing I want to talk to you about, which was rewilding. And rewild on answer as a process, but we front, I have time for today, but maybe, maybe let's see, let's see if people like this conversation. If they do, maybe we'll do it again. Or if they don't screw them, we might do it anyway. Anyway, it could happen. We don't know.

John Muir Laws:

And I think we also yeah lots of other Lots of other wonderful areas that we can explore it, Danny. I really enjoyed talking to you today, so thank you for your time.

Danny Gregory:

It was really nice. And I will see you next week until then.

Intro
Is nature creative?
Natural selection and the creative process
Mistakes and creativity
Perfectionism is not natural
The rich guy's car
Bird bracelets
The natural process of creation
Fermenting
Advertising ideation process
Sophomore album
Domesticating animals as feedback
The dangers of praise
Final thoughts