When I work on a creative project, I'm tending to a garden. It's a hobby, I tell myself, and I'll relax and grow something nourishing. But when I look to neighbours and passerby for approval, I worry that I've only created something beautiful so that I can show it off.
I wrote that first paragraph with a tool called Metaphoria, which was built by Katy and introduced to me by them at the Recurse Center. Metaphoria is an algorithmic companion for creating poetry, but what does it mean to be a creative "companion"?
Katy described the research they did with poets who tried the tool, and I was particularly fascinated by how the study participants had felt about ownership of Metaphoria-inspired poems. When some poets wrote a poem with a "good" string of words generated by Metaphoria, they felt that they didn't own the material they had written. The tool was seen as a "co-creator", and so the poet lost a sense of ownership of their work.
When I use a thesaurus, I look among a sea of words for the one that will inspire me to write a satisfying phrase, but I do not consider the thesaurus to be a co-creator of my writing. So what does it mean to create something?
A lot my coding time at the Recurse Center was spent creating synthesized music with a visual programming language called ORCΛ. After I presented a demo of some sounds I had put together, someone complemented me on the song I had written. But I hadn't written a song - it didn't feel like a composition. It felt like entering a few letters on a screen and having some sounds come out. The few sounds I could produce had been decided - all I did was choose which sounds I used, and in what order, and at what speed.
But I had carefully selected which code to write, hadn't I? I had made creative decisions, so why did it feel strange to say I had created a piece of music? Every musical instrument has its limitations, so why did ORCΛ's limitations stop me from feeling like a musician?
I think that we undervalue the creativity involved in selecting content from existing sources of inspiration, mixing them together, and connecting the dots. I want to notice when I find exciting ideas and beautiful words, amidst all the noise, and celebrate the creativity in these moments.