Art is risky business
To truly think 'outside the box' requires taking risks - even if the odds of failure far outweigh those of success
I am acting in a play this weekend. It's called White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, written by Nassim Soleimanpour. On Saturday night at 7.30pm at The Junction, I will be doing what about 1,000 actors before me have done.
I will be walking on stage with no script, no rehearsals, no director and, hopefully, a live audience before me. How does that work, you ask? Well, Nassim Soleimanpour wrote this play in 2010 and, as a rule, no actor can perform this play twice in his or her lifetimes. I won't know what to do until I receive my script on stage and will then perform this play for 75 minutes (did I mention, with no preparation?). This is bit like being a blindfolded fire-eater. It's scary. And yet over 1,000 actors have chosen to sign up to do this worldwide. Why? Because artists are essentially thrill seekers - and art is risky business.
I read a beautiful quote by Seth Godin the other day: "If you are willing to do something that might not work, then you are an artist." Let me explain.
To create art one has to create something that has never been done before - be it a composition of musical notes, the coming together of colours and lines on a canvas, or a particular arrangement of words to create meaningful poetry.
In order to create something new, something honest or fresh, one has to leave behind any ideas about what works. 'What works' is precisely what doesn't work in this situation.
In choosing to abandon that, as an artist or creative person of any sort, you risk being wrong. Very, very wrong. Very, very often. Several times before you think you have created something of meaning - and then you risk being wrong all over again when it is presented to the world.
When I meet actors, artists, musicians, dancers who have practised their craft for many years, I always admire in them the coexistence of two traits - vulnerability and bravery. They can be their most vulnerable selves - declaring their most honest selves to the world - and simultaneously fearless, immune almost, to fear. I think that comes from years of risking it.
Often in corporate boardrooms, school assemblies and large organisations, you hear leaders talking about being creative. "Think outside the box," they say and yet require you to tick every box they lay out. Follow the rules, do as you are asked, don't step outside the line - but of course, think outside the box.
If, as leaders and teachers, we truly want solutions that are 'outside the box', we need creative thinkers. To train creativity is to train taking risks - and that, whether or not we like it, comes with a tremendous chance of failure that far outweighs chances of success. We should be comfortable with the discomfort that that brings. So, perhaps, instead of training for success, we should be training for failure.
On that note, I'm hoping for a successful run of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit this weekend. Ah, the irony of being an artist!