Ethan Hawke Explains How to Give Yourself Permission to Be Creative

The most cre­ative peo­ple, you’ll notice, throw them­selves into what they do with absurd, even reck­less aban­don. They com­mit, no mat­ter their doubts about their tal­ents, edu­ca­tion, finances, etc. They have to. They are gen­er­al­ly fight­ing not only their own mis­giv­ings, but also those of friends, fam­i­ly, crit­ics, financiers, and land­lords. Artists who work to real­ize their own vision, rather than some­one else’s, face a with­er­ing­ly high prob­a­bil­i­ty of fail­ure, or the kind of suc­cess that comes with few mate­r­i­al rewards. One must be will­ing to take the odds, and to renounce, says Ethan Hawke in the short TED talk above, the need for val­i­da­tion or approval.

This is hard news for peo­ple pleasers and seek­ers after fame and rep­u­ta­tion, but in order to over­come the inevitable social obsta­cles, artists must be will­ing, says Hawke, to play the fool. He takes as his exam­ple Allen Gins­berg, who appeared on William F. Buckley’s Fir­ing Line in May of 1968 and, rather than answer Buckley’s charge that his polit­i­cal posi­tions were “naive,” pulled out a har­mo­ni­um and pro­ceed­ed to sing the Hare Krish­na chant (“the most unhar­ried Krish­na I’ve ever heard,” Buck­ley remarked). Upon arriv­ing home to New York, says Hawke, Gins­berg was met by peo­ple who were aghast at what he’d done, feel­ing that he made him­self a clown for mid­dle Amer­i­ca.

Gins­berg was unboth­ered. He was will­ing to be “America’s holy fool,” as Vivian Gor­nick called him, if it meant inter­rupt­ing the con­stant stream of adver­tis­ing and pro­pa­gan­da and mak­ing Amer­i­cans stop to won­der “who is this stu­pid poet?”

Who is this per­son so will­ing to chant at William F. Buck­ley for “the preser­va­tion of the uni­verse, instead of its destruc­tion”? What might he have to say to my secret wish­es? This is what artists do, says Hawke, take risks to express emo­tions, by what­ev­er means are at hand. It is the essence of Ginsberg’s view of cre­ativ­i­ty, to let go of judg­ment, as he once told a writ­ing stu­dent:

Judge it lat­er. You’ll have plen­ty of time to judge it. You have all your life to judge it and revise it! You don’t have to judge it on the spot there. What ris­es, respect it. Respect what ris­es….

Judge your own work lat­er, if you must, but what­ev­er you do, Hawke advis­es above, don’t stake your worth on the judg­ments of oth­ers. The cre­ative life requires com­mit­ting instead to the val­ue of human cre­ativ­i­ty for its own sake, with a child­like inten­si­ty that doesn’t apol­o­gize for itself or ask per­mis­sion to come to the sur­face.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Allen Gins­berg Talks About Com­ing Out to His Fam­i­ly & Fel­low Poets on 1978 Radio Show (NSFW)

The Long Game of Cre­ativ­i­ty: If You Haven’t Cre­at­ed a Mas­ter­piece at 30, You’re Not a Fail­ure

David Lynch Explains How Sim­ple Dai­ly Habits Enhance His Cre­ativ­i­ty

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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