Creativity, gaps and mastery

As London prepares to welcome Olympic athletes from around the world, some will be mystified by a phrase that’s part of the city’s vernacular. “Mind the gap”, they’ll hear as they brave the London Underground crowds. “Mind the gap”. Introduced in the early 1960s, the warning alerts passengers to the unsafe gap created when straight-edged trains arrive at those stations with curved platforms. It’s become a quirky part of the city’s culture.

“Mind the gap” is wise advice, too, for those on a creative path. In an insightful post about American broadcaster Ira Glass and others, blogger Joe McCarthy explores the challenging pursuit of creative mastery. “(Glass’) insights and experiences about the gaps between ambitions and realisations – and the connections between quantity and quality – relate to wisdom I’ve encountered from masters of the crafts of filmmaking and maintaining motorcycles,” McCarthy says. “I don’t think any of the posts I’ve written … have ever quite closed the gap between my ambitions and my realisations. Blogging gives me a channel through which to work out – or at least work with – the ongoing tension between striving and acceptance.” Persistence, then, can be its own reward.

Mary Jo Bang is known primarily as an award-winning American poet. She has also worked as a commercial photographer, a welfare case worker, a sweatshop garment worker and a teacher. “For me the question has never been about giving up but finding time to take on new things so I would keep growing as a writer,” Bang says. “I think there’s a risk of getting stuck with what brings early success and I never wanted that to happen. Part of the pleasure I take in making art is to try things at which I will very likely fail.”

As well as publishing six books of poetry, Bang has five university degrees, insatiable curiosity, and persistence. “I saw how, if you steadily worked at something, what you don’t know gradually erodes and what you do know slowly grows and at some point you’ve gained a degree of mastery,” she explains. “What you know becomes what you are.”

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