When it comes to making something, particularly art, there’s a lot to be said about the inherent value in taking your time, especially if you’re aiming for a finished product that’s as near perfect as possible. But is that really true, or might there be times when doing something rapidly - almost without even thinking too much about it - might yield the best results?
Take Ingmar Bergman’s classic film from 1957, The Seventh Seal. Without going into detail regarding the plot, one of the film’s most famous and recognizable scenes comes in the last few seconds, as viewers are treated to a wide shot showing half a dozen characters partaking in the Dance of Death across a nondescript hillside at the break of dawn. It’s become one of cinema’s most iconic images, and perhaps even the most well-known in the Swedish director’s 50-plus year career . . . and it was improvised ‘off the cuff’ in just a few minutes. Here’s Bergman in his own words recounting that day:
“We’d packed up for the evening and were just about to go home. It was raining. Suddenly I saw a cloud; and Fischer (his cinematographer) swung his camera up. Several of the actors had already gone home. So at a moment’s notice some of the grips had to stand in, and get some costumes on and dance along up there. The whole scene was improvised in about ten minutes flat.”
Even when shooting a motion picture - arguably one of the most carefully pre-planned artistic undertakings of all - sometimes the most haunting shots are seized in a mere flash of inspired creation right there on the spot. Unscripted. Unplanned. Completely in the moment.
As someone who’s done a fair amount of acting in the past, I can recall auditions that went particularly well when I didn’t prepare beforehand at all.
When I’m seated at my art table struggling over how to create the perfect circle or the straightest line, they usually turn out the best when I execute them quickly . . . without thinking so much.
So basically, if you can somehow manage to flip the ‘off’ button inside your head and just go for it without getting all bound up by over thinking about what’s on your plate, that’s when things can really begin to ‘cook’ creatively.
Shutting ‘OFF’ The Internal Dialogue. Knowing When Is The Key
Your internal dialogue is that oh-so clever, deceptive voice inside your mind that’s always putting restrictions on what you can and can’t do. This ‘voice’ is primarily concerned with telling us what the world is like . . . or isn’t like. And of course, whenever we actually stop telling ourselves what the world is like, that very same external world naturally conforms to that illusory viewpoint. And each time the incessant voice begins chattering away again, it merely rekindles whatever flames are still there . . . and the whole circular delusional process starts anew.
As it turns out, when we engage in too much ‘over thinking,’ that’s when any forward action usually comes to a screeching halt. In effect, thinking the action through breaks the task up into multiple parts that may not blend together smoothly. Now if you’re a lawyer preparing a huge court case, then this approach is essential, but if you’re a filmmaker like Bergman fighting to grab a shot before the clouds pass in a matter of seconds, then that’s when this kind of plan can totally back-fire.
Keep in mind though, this isn’t an argument in favor of NEVER THINKING. It’s probably safe to say that I don’t need to run-down the laundry list of times when that could lead to disaster: building a spacecraft, negotiating a peace treaty, driving a car - you get where I'm going. But it is about recognizing that there are times - often involving matters of creativity - when our internal dialogue can cause us to freeze in place and potentially miss out on a golden opportunity to unleash something wonderful and unique by going with the flow of the split-second moment that’s directly in front of us.
“To Think Or Not To Think.” That is the question of the day . . . and it’s up to each of us to decide when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. Just some food for thought . . .
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