One of my favourite ways to procrastinate is – somewhat ironically – to read about other people’s models for productivity and achievement; and It’s Nice That alum Emily Gosling’s new book, Great Minds Don’t Think Alike, provides ample opportunity for taking time out to learn about how some of our great creative minds get their creative juices going.
From Henri Matisse and Frida Kahlo, to Wes Anderson, Zaha Hadid, Bjork, Agatha Christie and Milton Glaser; the book considers the methods and madness of creative geniuses, detailing the various patterns of control and chaos, and how they maintain a balance between art and life – it’d also make for brilliant fodder for working out a “dream dinner party” guest list.
Below is a pick of just a few of the profiles that feature in the book – and as Emily writes in her introduction, “as you read this… you’ll be encouraged to ponder your own methodical quirks and peccadilloes”.
Wes Anderson is known for creating intricate worlds in his films, characterised by striking colour palettes and meticulously orchestrated wide-angled shots. Every last element of the set – whether in or out of shot – corresponding to the director’s precise vision. Such vivid cinematic universes are crafted through a mix of research, script and character development, and planning. Google Earth was used to initially scout locations for Moonrise Kingdom, slowly narrowing in on the perfect places, which then, in turn, inspired the details. In preparation for The Darjeeling Limited – a film about three brothers quarrelling their way through a pilgrimage across India – Anderson toured Rajasthan by train, essentially pre-enacting the brothers’ journey with co-writers Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola. The experiences and references discovered through research are all brought into play in the creation of each film.
While Georgia O’Keeffe’s work depicts the wonders of the natural world, documenting its expansive plains and mountains or its exquisite flora, her process of painting was born from a meticulous way of harnessing inspiration. She spent much of her time outdoors creating photographs and drawings, or collecting artefacts like rocks, bones, and flowers to take home. She would place them together in various configurations and draw or paint them over and over again, moving from literal depictions to more abstracted forms that took on a whole new life. A shell or piece of shingle, for instance, could morph into representational dark and light shapes or spaces.
The boldness and originality of her designs are the product of hardline creative purpose, driven by the pursuit of newness. In Kawakubo’s creative manifesto, published in 2013, she talks about how traditional sources of inspiration are in fact limiting because they offer only things we have seen before. Where many would look to museums, galleries, films, peers, “silly magazines,” or people on the street, the designer instead waits “for the chance for something completely new to be born within myself.”
The process of engendering this new thing is one of strictly enforced creative limitations, whether that might be creating garments out of only one square of fabric, the specificity of the abstract image or concept she begins from, or taking an old pattern piece and using it in an unexpected way. “I think about a world of only the tiniest narrowest possibilities,” she says, “nothing new can come from a situation that involves being free or that doesn’t involve suffering.”
Designer Milton Glaser is behind some of the most recognizable logos, identities, and graphics of the past 50 years. Clearly, he’s had some great ideas, and he firmly believes that creative block fundamentally doesn’t exist. To be a great designer involves skill – he’s a huge advocate for designers honing the craft of drawing – and sharpening your powers of observation to ensure that as a creative you are always truly “seeing” the world.
Idea-generation is all about making connections, constructive play, and working hard until something forms on the paper or the screen that works for that particular project. However, he concedes that the best ideas don’t always happen when you’re trying to force them into being. When he was creating his I Love New York logo (better recognised as “I [Heart] NY”), the idea came to him in the back of a cab. How? Because he is “always in a receptive state,” as he puts it, “I don’t have an idea that there’s an ‘appropriate’ time for work.” Very often, he says, an idea for a project he was working on yesterday, or intends to work on tomorrow, will come to him when he’s doing something totally unrelated.
Great Minds Don’t Think Alike by Emily Gosling is published by Ilex, with illustrations by Modern Activity
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