The best way to learn about anything is through stories, and so I want to tell you a story about work and play and about four aspects of life that we need to embrace in order for our own creativity to flourish. The first embrace is something that we think, “Oh, this is very easy,” but it's actually getting harder, and that's paying attention to the world around us. So many artists speak about needing to be open, to embrace experience, and that's hard to do when you have a lighted rectangle in your pocket that takes all of your focus.
Some of our most powerful work comes out of the parts of our lives that are most difficult.
The fourth embrace is the hardest and is the embrace of the oldest and most constant of human experiences, that of loss, says Burstein:
In order to create, we have to stand in that space between what we see in the world and what we hope for, looking squarely at rejection, at heartbreak, at war, at death. That's a tough space to stand in. The educator Parker Palmer calls it “the tragic gap,” tragic not because it's sad but because it's inevitable, and my friend Dick Nodel likes to say, “You can hold that tension like a violin string and make something beautiful.”
That tension resonates in the work of the photographer Joel Meyerowitz, who at the beginning of his career was known for his street photography, for capturing a moment on the street, and also for his beautiful photographs of landscapes — of Tuscany, of Cape Cod, of light. Joel is a New Yorker, and his studio for many years was in Chelsea, with a straight view downtown to the World Trade Center, and he photographed those buildings in every sort of light. You know where this story goes. On 9/11, Joel wasn't in New York. He was out of town, but he raced back to the city, and raced down to the site of the destruction.
Joel Meyerowitz: And like all the other passersby, I stood outside the chain link fence on Chambers and Greenwich, and all I could see was the smoke and a little bit of rubble, and I raised my camera to take a peek, just to see if there was something to see, and some cop, a lady cop, hit me on my shoulder, and said, “Hey, no pictures!” And it was such a blow that it woke me up, in the way that it was meant to be, I guess. And when I asked her why no pictures, she said, “It's a crime scene. No photographs allowed.” And I asked her, “What would happen if I was a a block was the press corps tied up in a little penned-in area, and I said, "Well, when do they go in?" and she said, “Probably never.” And as I walked away from that, I had this crystallization, probably from the blow, because it was an insult in a way. I thought, “Oh, if there's no pictures, then there'll be no record. We need a record.” And I thought, “I'm gonna make that record. I'll find a way to get in, because I don't want to see this history disappear.”
Meyerowitz got a pass to the World Trade Center site and created beauty even in the midst of tragedy. The elements that lead to creative expression are not just the domain of artists:
We all wrestle with experience and challenge, limits and loss. Creativity is essential to all of us, whether we're scientists or teachers, parents or entrepreneurs.