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On Boredom and Creativity

“Time is relative" said the great Albert Einstein.

And its relativity is never more apparent than in situations like this one -- when there’s an abundance of it. 

It’s been more than half a month since the government put a third of the country on a virtual lockdown. In an effort to slow down a virus for which no medicine exists, offices were ordered to close, school was suspended, shops were shut, movement was restrained.

And now, time is everywhere (or should we say everywhen?). Confronted with spatial confinement and the absence of anything to do, time and space seem to melt together and fill up the days with an emptiness that screams in your ears like the ticking of a giant grandfather clock. 

Creativity, some say, is born out of boredom. But after the last three weeks, I find that this is not so. There are only so many pictures you can paint before running out of colors, only so many poems you can write before running out of words, only so much freedom to wield before you run out of purpose. 

Idleness does not produce artistry. Movement and change are what produce creative work. Routine keeps the engine running and well-oiled enough to function when the task at hand demands the mind to fill emptiness of time and space. Jail cells don’t produce new writers or painters -- novelty does. 

Exposure to the new and the as-yet experienced fills up our creative depot. And if an artist doesn’t have anything in store, nothing is produced -- no matter how much time is available.


And yet one can’t deny that emptiness of time and space leads to a certain desperate motivation to act. Maybe it’s the human tendency to fill in gaps and erase spaces. Doesn’t everyone have that old relative who would crowd their living room with cliché paintings and family portraits until no inch of wall is left unplastered? Maybe this behavior lies within each of us after all. 

Or maybe we’ve evolved and are just hard-wired to expect and adapt to change. It’s the only thing constant in the universe anyway (said another great mind). And so hard-wired are we that we long and effect change in ourselves and our surroundings when it doesn’t come externally. 

And so the question that begs answering is how does one get new stimuli in this situation? Where does the flow of artistic juices flow from not to. Creative slump is a problem solved through the acquisition of stimuli, the search for novelty. We’ve got to locate the well before figuring out what container we’ll put the water in. 

So confront that empty canvass by putting it aside. Drop that brush and drop that pen. Open that book you’ve been wanting to read for a long time. Visit that small corner of the house you barely go to. Get a chair to reach that dusty object on the top shelf you’ve always seen but never actually held. Talk to people you’ve been ignoring for years. Take yoga seriously for once. Try out a new dish. Listen to a different genre. Find your new stimulus. 

And take your time.

It doesn’t seem like we’ll run out of it anytime soon, anyway. 

-- S.K.


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