Creative Mornings: Ugly

Yesterday morning I attended Creative Mornings Dublin and was treated to an absorbing talk by none other than comedian Tommy Tiernan. This was pretty special as usually the speakers at design/tech meetups would not be as well known as Mr. Tiernan. Creative Mornings is a breakfast lecture series aimed at the creative community. It started in New York and now has chapters in cities all over the world. The theme this month was “UGLY”.

Tommy had recently finished a European tour of entirely improvised sets. No written material. He had been listening to Keith Jarrett, a jazz pianist who performs full-length improvised concerts and wondered if you could do the same with stand-up. Tommy described what Jarrett’s performances were like. How he’d start playing, looking for a motif. When he got something that interested him he’d come at it from every direction, playing with it. He poke and prod it, explore it. Eventually the piece would come to a point of chaos where it seemed he had lost it. The music was jarring and wild, Jarrett physical and animated. Eventually he comes back to that original motif as things calm down. Tommy, discussing with a friend, said he thought Jarrett’s music was about losing the motif and trying to find it again. His friend responded saying he had it wrong, that Jarrett was trying to find the chaos.

Tommy’s main thesis was that we think things are beautiful because they adhere to a pattern we’re comfortable with, which I think is an astute observation. He said that ugliness contains real creativity because you can’t understand the pattern in it. Tommy’s own performance echoed this idea where like Jarrett he started exploring an idea, taking it down paths that sometimes came to a dead end. But he kept going, building to a crescendo of frenetic energy where, it seemed, he was most at home.

I left mulling over why we think some things are beautiful, the creativity in ugliness and how taking risks can lead you to being your most creative.