In Edgar Wright’s outstanding film The Sparks Brothers, Stephen Morris, the drummer in Joy Division, says they were listening to two records on repeat when they recorded “Love Will Tear Us Apart”: an LP of Frank Sinatra’s greatest hits and Sparks’ No. 1 in Heaven.
Your output depends on your input, but a lot of your input is random: you’re interested in lots of different things, and those things, occasionally, will talk to each other in your work.
Lately I’ve been thinking about being more intentional with input. Thinking about input as collage. Taking the principle of juxtaposition (1+1=3) and using that to guide your input: what weird, seemingly disparate things can you feed your brain that will come out later in a new mix?
The input collage can be subject or genre based and even better if it’s multi-media. (For example, reading art books and physics books at the same time, or watching a lot of westerns and kung fu movies at the same time or looking at paintings in a museum while reading physics papers while watching kung fu movies, etc.)
There’s a balance here between feeding your brain intentionally and then backing off and letting your brain do the subconscious work of mixing your inputs together.
In Art & Physics, the writer and surgeon Leonard Shlain wrote about his interesting method of “self-education” in the books’ subject matters:
Serendipitously, I discovered a way to heighten my creativity. My habit was to read a popular physics book late at night until the snooze gremlin nudged me with the signal that it was time to call it a day. Prior to falling asleep the following night, my mind relatively empty, I leafed through art books. The next morning, I would often connect images I had seen the night before with concepts in physics contained in my previous night’s reading. Something mysterious happens in the creative process during dreamtime, and I am an avid proponent of the school that advocates, “sleeping on it.”
It’s been pointed out before that dreams and collage work in the same kind of holistic, non-logical, non-linear manner. I love the idea of our brains gluing together the bits while we slumber…