Woody Allen on creativity and keeping distracted


Photo credit: Mark Mann for Esquire

I recently came across a link to this interview with Woody Allen and I loved some of the things he had to say.  While the whole article is worth a read, these two quotes stuck with me.

What people who don’t write don’t understand is that they think you make up the line consciously — but you don’t. It proceeds from your unconscious. So it’s the same surprise to you when it emerges as it is to the audience when the comic says it. I don’t think of the joke and then say it. I say it and then realize what I’ve said. And I laugh at it, because I’m hearing it for the first time myself.

-Woody Allen

I once had an argument with one of my art history professors in college about where art comes from.  Whether the artist makes a series of conscious and informed decisions and result in the finished work or whether the artist’s actions actually stem from the unconscious.  She may have slightly scoffed at me and told me that I had no idea what I was talking about.  And I may have been bitter the rest of the semester.  But I digress.  I really do think Allen has a point.  Or perhaps maybe this is true for only some people.  When i start creating, no matter what it is, I do not have a result in mind.  There really is no rhyme or reason to what my next mark will be and I am often surprised by how things progress.  I’m not sure I can adequately explain it, but I can sort of compare it to that mindless, automatic mode you enter when you drive your daily route.  Looking back, you can’t remember how you got there and often don’t even realize how much time has passed.  When in that zoned out mental state, you no longer actively make decisions, but rather your actions are a series of responses to your environment.  That’s sort of how I think art is.  It becomes a reaction rather than a decision and you never know which way you’ll head until you’re actually in the moment.

The second quote has a bit of a wider application:

It’s just an accident that we happen to be on earth, enjoying our silly little moments, distracting ourselves as often as possible so we don’t have to really face up to the fact that, you know, we’re just temporary people with a very short time in a universe that will eventually be completely gone. And everything that you value, whether it’s Shakespeare, Beethoven, da Vinci, or whatever, will be gone. The earth will be gone. The sun will be gone. There’ll be nothing. The best you can do to get through life is distraction. Love works as a distraction. And work works as a distraction. You can distract yourself a billion different ways. But the key is to distract yourself.

-Woody Allen

 I gravitated towards this quote because it seems to validate each and every one of our decisions.  Whether it is practical or impractical, silly or serious or even when we know it the exact opposite of what we should be doing.  We do have a relatively short time on this earth and in the end, nothing is permanent.  So, all we can do in the meantime is what makes us happy (or distracted as Woody Allen prefers to phrase it.)

Read more: Woody Allen Interview 2013 – Blue Jasmine Director Woody Allen on Movies, Success & Life – Esquire


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