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Creative Focus

When you're in the studio painting, there are a lot of people in there with you. Your teachers, friends, painters from history, critics...and one by one, if you're really painting, they walk out. And if you're really painting,
you walk out.
~ from a talk with Philip Guston

I sat in on several interesting lectures at Stanford University recently for Parents Weekend - a generous welcome into the academic richness that Stanford offers, like many great schools, to parents of students. An opportunity to dip a toe in the deep waters our children swim in intellectually. I learned about physics research in the search for the nature of deep matter, the inability of our brains to genuinely multitask efficiently and what that means in a distracted-attention world of technology versus face to face interaction, and the importance of making information on healthy living part of learning about global community ecosystems.

Most remarkable of all I had the unforgettable experience, with a handful of other parents in a small acoustic studio, of hearing the Hagia Sofia given virtual voice after a hundred years of silence through the collaboration of Capella Romana, the ancient choral music chant group, with the Stanford Art and Art History Department, and the Stanford CCRMA (Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics) facility. This project captured and replicated the unique, extended, reverberating wave patterns of pure sound possible only in the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, the largest stone and marble structure of its kind even today. Early monastic chant music, sung by Cappella Romana, was recorded through advanced technical audio patterns, defined and matched to that of the Hagia Sofia. Listening to this collaboration of history, human voice, and audio science, was to experience the recreation of the visceral unearthly beauty that once filled an ancient Byzantine mosque. The soul of the Basilica of Holy Wisdom, long silenced, filled space like light itself.

How does this link to "creative focus"? Simply. I listened to my son and his friends speak with engaging passion about their studies, of the intimate questions of their lives, and the linkage of these experiences to the Great Questions of our times. It became clear getting from "interested to expert" is a journey of FOCUS. Focus, in balance with the many polycentric obligations of life. We cannot delve into one thing to the exclusion of other commitments. Nor can we attend only to a universe of opportunities and truly experience anything deeply. A balance point is key. What is truly important is learning where balance lies within.

The quote above from Philip Guston, on painting, reflects the natural progression of social learning to personal expression. We move from the intellectual to the creative, from repetition to inspiration, from without to within, and from the known to the unique. We begin in knowledge of our greater culture and its gifts. We then learn through the able mentoring of others. We practice in the structure of training. We take flight in the space that is our own. This weekend was a deep reminder of the importance of focus in creative, and vice versa.

I recommend the recordings of Cappella Romana for inspiration. I wish I had been there earlier this month for the recreation of the Hagia Sofia recordings as part of the inauguration of the new acoustic wonder that is Bing Concert Hall at Stanford. But it pleases me nonetheless to know that great beauty is out there, everywhere. All the time.
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