First off, I like a lot of Jonah Lehrer’s writing — I quoted him in Steal, after all — but if you’ve been following me on Twitter, you probably know how I’m feeling these days about neuroscience/art writing:
BREAKING NEWS: after stuffing 100 college students into an MRI machine, neuroscience has proven yet another piece of ancient folk wisdom!
Need credibility? Put some neuroscience on it!™
The assumption of this book is that neuroscience is shedding new light on how we’re creative:
For the first time we can see the source of imagination…For the first time in human history it’s possible to learn how the imagination really works. Instead of relying on myth and superstition, we can think about dopamine and dissent, the right hemisphere and social networks…
I don’t disagree with Lehrer’s prescriptions (take a walk, drink a beer instead of a coffee, etc.), but really, is thinking about dopamine and the right hemisphere going to make me more creative? Is any of this neuroscience telling us anything new, or is it just supporting the stories of the creators featured in the book? This isn’t to say neuroscience isn’t valuable (I particularly like the way Lynda Barry uses her science reading as a way to reflect on her art) but it’s a very young field, whereas creativity is an ancient endeavor, with a wealth of thinkers and material to draw from. It’s like saying, “You know all that wisdom artists and thinkers have been dishing out for thousands of years? TURNS OUT science says it’s true! It’s in your brain, man!”
I’m pretty sure that Bob Dylan, Milton Glaser, Shakespeare, and most of the other creators in this book didn’t need a neuroscience book in order to be creative. I’d love to cut all the science from this book and just let Lehrer tell the stories of these folks and how they made their work, because those stories are the parts of this book I really loved, the parts I really learned from, and the parts I’d recommend reading.
A nice message from Austin reminding me to refocus.