Low & Slow: Grappling The Creative Process
At best, the grapple with the creative process as a photographer, designer, or writer is manageable – but always present and terrifying in magnitude. This is a guest post from Jonathon Barraball: Gastronaut, dilettante, and stellar writer, on coming to grips with this process as a creative within the food industry juggling history, culture, and the words behind them.
I remembered a theory on creativity from David Galenson, an economist who, in his book Old Masters and Young Geniuses, examines the trajectory of a daunting number of famous artists’ career. In his work, he proposes that the genesis of creativity and innovation takes two forms:
1) The Conceptual Innovator, who have early, decisive breakthroughs and are quick to reach “genius” status
2) The Experimental Innovator, who painstakingly work on a concept, constantly revising and redrafting, until finally, perhaps over the course of an entire lifetime, they produce a work of genius. I am certainly no genius, but I wondered if this theory had any pertinence in my own life.
I had never thought of myself as a particularly creative person. Growing up, I didn’t really paint or draw, except around Mother’s Day and Christmas, when my grandmother would lead me through tremendously structured craft projects. In high school, I was almost kicked out of drama class for not being able to stifle my laughter long enough to finish any of my assigned monologues.
Of all the hobbies I pursued in my life, from unfinished piano lessons to failed assignments in tech class, there were two that seemed to have stuck around long enough for me to really get the hang of: writing and cooking. I had never really thought of these as overtly creative endeavours. I was mainly just writing research papers for classes in my undergrad and trying to feed myself as cheaply as possible.
As the years went on, and I grasped the core concepts of cooking and writing, I grew increasingly bold. The food I cooked became more and more complex, and the papers I wrote tackled larger concepts in progressively unconventional ways.
I realized I was undertaking this crazy pairing. Think wine and cheese, but replace them with term papers and absurdly over-the-top weekday dinners. Kimchi and pork dumplings, the wrappers of which were homemade and hand rolled, paired with an ambitious (and bizarre) paper that attempted to apply Nietzschean dialectics to analyze Euripides’ Bacchae in reconciling the place of the Chorus in Attic Tragedy.
Or stuffed and whole smoked red snapper with fresh avocado pico de gallo, accompanied by a study that sought to historicize sociological theories of mobility and embodiment in the bipedal nature of an eighteenth century Englishman touring through the Scottish Borderlands; Kuching style Laksa, a spicy Malaysian soup with hand stretched rice noodles, alongside a comparison of two Reformation preachers, which argued each had instrumentally used pragmatic and self-contradicting forms of millennialism throughout their career in a way which might now be conceptualized as demagoguery.
Now the task at hand upon me is a daunting one. In attempting to carve out a career in food writing, I am hoping to smash and meld my passions of cooking and writing into something which can one day hopefully bring me meaningful and rewarding work. The realization that there are no recipes to follow, no suggested topics list to choose from, has been both alarming and exciting at once.
My process of creating and innovating is low and slow, something you might want to pop in the crockpot on a chilly Sunday afternoon. This has been an immensely important revelation. I must pick up all the pieces around me, the entirety of moving parts that I have collected through my experiences of undergrad and grad school, serving and bartending, cookbooks and textbooks alike, and push forward into the unknowable ether of employment in the creative field; I need to carry each piece with me while I strive towards higher planes of creativity.