Apollo and Dionysus – Creative Pairs

A while back I wrote about The Lego Movie and its assertion that creativity required both structure and imagination. I’ve written about how my best Halloween costumes were made when I had the structure of a theme to work with. And now comes an article in the July/August 2014 issue of The Atlantic about creative pairs, especially John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles.

Apparently, John Lennon was rude, unorganized, impatient, and defiant. Paul McCartney was polite, neat, organized, and conventional. And it was exactly the fact that they were so opposite that made them such a brilliant pair of songwriters. They needed each other – Paul needed someone to break open his control, and John needed someone to reign in his lack of control. In fact, John could be rude because Paul was so polite – he knew there was someone to take the edge off and make the reporters comfortable.

“Paul and John seemed to be almost archetypal embodiments of order and disorder. The ancient Greeks gave form to these two sides of human nature in Apollo, who stood for the rational and the self-disciplined, and Dionysus, who represented the spontaneous and the emotional. Friedrich Nietzsche proposed that the interaction of the Apollonian and the Dionysian was the foundation of creative work, and modern creativity research has confirmed this insight, revealing the key relationship between breaking and making, challenging and refining, disrupting and organizing.” p79

I find this fascinating. There is a big value placed on individual creativity. In fact, a lot of artists do work in isolation, writing or painting or practicing alone for hours. And yet, finding one’s opposite can spark more creativity.

I think it’s not just the blending of structure and chaos that’s so important to creativity. I think that having other people to bounce ideas off is vitally important. I often find myself explaining something I didn’t realize I knew or thought or felt when I talk to someone else. This comes out in LEGO® Serious Play® too – people build information they didn’t realize they had in their heads. But it’s hard to do this in isolation. It takes being in a group to make the insights flow. It takes other people, and their ideas, and their listening to our ideas, and the new ideas that sprout from the intersection. The ideas become more robust when they’re torn apart and rebuilt, iterated until they fit, redrawn until they resonate with everyone. When models are put together with everyone’s viewpoints incorporated and not done until everyone feels it’s right.

For some things, fewer people are better. Songwriting by committee tends to be uninspired. Having just two people with such tension between them can make immensely better songs. Some things need more people, especially projects that will affect a large number of people. There is so much knowledge and ability locked away inside people’s heads, just waiting for the creative spark to let it out! And people who experience this creative connection find it immensely satisfying.

The LEGO® Movie

As you can imagine, I was very excited when The LEGO® Movie came out. Since I play with LEGO® bricks all the time, and I know they can be used in very interesting ways, I was curious what they would do. I’ve seen it twice, and I think there is a very important message there that I’d like to talk about. It is about creativity.

In the movie, the master builders (and there really are master builders in real life, although none of them are Batman, as far as I know) keep asking Emmett to build something. But all he knows how to do is follow the rules, follow the directions, do what’s been done. He feels inadequate because he doesn’t feel creative. The creative people, however, can’t figure out how to work together. They can each make things individually, but they can’t collaborate. Batman only builds in black, and some very dark shades of grey. Princess Uni-Kitty needs everything to be rainbow. When they build a submarine together, it leaks. It takes someone like Emmett, who follows directions, to give the builders enough structure to work together.

The most creative people are often the most structured in some ways. They need to nurture their creativity. If they play music they need to practice every day to have the structure in place so deeply they don’t have to think about it any more. Artists draw or paint regularly. Wood workers work wood. (How much wood would a wood worker work if a wood worker could work wood? Something every day, I’d say.) There need to be some rules, some structure, to make it all work.

Emmett learns he can be more creative. So does the dad in the movie. It feels like a very big humanizing step for the dad to be able to play with his son rather than keeping all his LEGO® buildings permanently fixed in place. And, the son used a lot of the structure his dad built in order to play in it. The world wouldn’t have been as appealing to play in if it hadn’t been so meticulously rendered and so completely filled in. It took both, structure and creativity, following directions and making things up, to turn the basement world of LEGO® into such a great playground.

I think the benefit of creativity is something that came across pretty well in the movie. But I didn’t want the benefit of structure to be lost. Go practice! Learn the rules. Then learn which ones you can break. Play well!