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It’s not meant to be ‘nice’: Inefficiency and beauty

April 14, 2012

In my last blog I mentioned Jonah Lehrer’s suggestion that feeling stuck, low and unhappy may be an essential part of the creative process. This morning on the UK BBC Radio 4 there was the most beautiful illlustration of this – an interview by James Naughtie with the extraordinary musician,   Polish-Hungarian pianist  Piotr Andreszchewski, who famously once walked off the stage at the Leeds Piano Competition because he was unhappy with his performance. Andreszchewski, who is a supreme interpreter of Schumann, talked about how you have to accept how and who you are at the moment, even if that moment is one of bad feelings.

Talking about the lonlieness of the performer, struggling to practice alone at home, he said – ‘It’s not nice – but I’m not trying to make it nice’. For him too, feeling bad sometimes may be an essential part of work, life and creativity.

He said that Schumann was his composer because he never seemed to get to a point where he ‘got’ the piece – there was always something else there, intriguing (and presumably also frustrating and annoying) him. He loved Schumann for his ‘inefficiency’ .. and for the beauty that arose from that inefficiency. 

The two sabbaticals I have had in the last 25 years where I planned to immerse myself in a new research direction both felt inefficient and unproductive while I was on them. At the end of each sabbatical, I felt a sense of gnawing frustration that I had somehow wasted an opportunity. But looking back, I now realise that both times, in the year following the sabbatical, my work took a major new turn and some quite good research arose out of these apparently fallow periods. I enjoyed the sabbaticals, but maybe if I had understood that inefficiency and frustration are part of life’s creative problem solving process, I might have got even more out of them. 

Maybe we all need to take a leaf from Andreszchewski’s book and start to embrace the bad times and their inefficiencies and not always be trying to make things ‘nice’. Image



One Comment leave one →
  1. April 19, 2012 2:56 pm

    Yes, once again thanks for this. I think many of us have “felt inefficient and unproductive” during a ‘set apart’ period of time but it in the long term it bears fruit. If there is a course entitled “inefficient and unproductive and yet productive 101” let me know 😉 Thanks.

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