The Luminous Ones: Ethan Hawke on Nurturing a Creative Spirit

For me, the arts are a necessity, not a luxury, be it art, music, or literature. I can have a forgettable career; I can have very few true friends, I can make do without the trappings of wealth, but my life would be as arid as a desert without the meaning-making struggles of art, music, or poetry. To live without the arts would be like spending all my life in one world, and missing out on many, many other sublime worlds within this one.

Fortunately, I am not alone on this. There are kindred spirits like Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and in modern times, poets like Mary Oliver and Jane Hirschfield and actors like Ethan Hawke who gave a recent TED talk entitled, “Give Yourself Permission to be Creative.” Here is a stirring snippet from his speech.

More excerpts from Ethan Hawke’s TED talk, “Give Yourself Permission to be Creative”

“We know this — the time of our life is so short, and how we spend it — are we spending it doing what’s important to us? Most of us not. I mean, it’s hard. The pull of habit is so huge, and that’s what makes kids so beautifully creative, is that they don’t have any habits, and they don’t care if they’re any good or not, right? They’re not building a sandcastle going, “I think I’m going to be a really good sandcastle builder.” They just throw themselves at whatever project you put in front of them — dancing, doing a painting, building something: any opportunity they have, they try to use it to impress upon you their individuality. It’s so beautiful.

It’s a thing that worries me sometimes whenever you talk about creativity, because it can have this kind of feel that it’s just nice, you know, or it’s warm or it’s something pleasant.

It’s not. It’s vital. It’s the way we heal each other. In singing our song, in telling our story, in inviting you to say, “Hey, listen to me, and I’ll listen to you,” we’re starting a dialogue. And when you do that, this healing happens, and we come out of our corners, and we start to witness each other’s common humanity. We start to assert it. And when we do that, really good things happen.

… You just have to follow your love. There is no path. There’s no path till you walk it, and you have to be willing to play the fool. So don’t read the book that you should read, read the book you want to read. Don’t listen to the music that you used to like. Take some time to listen to some new music. Take some time to talk to somebody that you don’t normally talk to. I guarantee, if you do that, you will feel foolish. That’s the point. Play the fool.”

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