Equipment vs. Creativity

This post expands on, and hopefully throws a little more light on, my earlier jab at the subject of equipment vs. creativity: Stop Upgrading and Start Creating.

Way back in the mid 70s, just after I had started at a well-known music school in Boston (major: composition & arrangement, principle instrument: guitar), I was wandering around the halls of my dorm, checking out my new home for the next couple of years, when I came across another freshman who was sitting on the stairs and playing the heck out of a junky old guitar. The guy was good. I started a conversation, we chatted a bit, and then as I started to wander off I said something like “see you in guitar class.” His response: “you won’t see me in any guitar classes, I’m a drum major.” That was my first hint that I’d be up against some serious competition from some very talented, hard-working people.

The lesson here is that for some people (and this can be you … or me), talent and tireless dedication come together to drive them to levels of brilliance that shine through no matter what equipment they use. They are not held back by a cheap beat-up guitar, a dilapidated old camera, or any other tool in any condition, as long as it is functional. They continue to work and practice, and then when better equipment comes along they apply the skills they have learned to making the most out of their upgraded tools. The equipment doesn’t make them better, they have already worked to gain impressive skills, but they do acquire new capabilities to explore and grow through.

So yes, equipment is important, but only if you’re ready for it. New technology and features don’t make better art, only acquired skill and creativity applied to new technology and features can do that. Of course, we’re talking about creativity and control here. If you just want a camera that automatically takes decent photos of whatever you point it at, buy a better smartphone. But if you have some sort of artistic vision that you want to realize while exercising total control over every nuance and detail, then you are more important than the equipment you use. This is a key concept that bears repeating: You are more important than the equipment you use. Upgrade yourself first, including your understanding of what you need in order to realize your vision, then you’re ready for equipment that can deliver the goods under your direction. But at that point you will probably also realize that you can achieve much more than you previously thought was possible with the equipment you already have.

I only wish I’d been smart enough to tell myself this and understand it 30 or 40 years ago. Or that some wise mentor had explained it to me (of course I say that knowing full well that many probably tried but were thwarted by an immovable wall of know-it-all youth). Ah, the joys of aging and realizing how much our progress has been delayed by foolishness. Better late than never, I suppose.

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