Cultivate Unbridled Creative Vision Like Stanley Kubrick
From films like 2001: A Space Odyssey to A Clockwork Orange, director Stanley Kubrick cultivated and fully realized virtually unparalleled creative vision. You can easily apply his techniques to cultivate your own.
Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick.
More significantly, King despised the director’s vision for The Shining, which was based on King’s book. In fact, the two were said to have been at creative war with each other throughout development and production on the film. This is rather curious considering two things: 1) The mediocrity of most films that have used King’s works as source material and 2) The exceptionalism of The Shining.
One of my all-time favorite Stanley Kubrick stories – and at least in my mind, what would have been the toxic climax of his relationship with King – was when one day during production, Kubrick called King and allegedly asked him, “Do you believe in God?” King’s answer was a resounding, “Yes.” As the story goes, Kubrick then responded in a condescending tone with these four words: “That’s what I thought.”
And then he swiftly slammed the phone down on King.
Brutal? Yes. Hilarious? Yes. Necessary? Debatable. While there are many ways to interpret Kubrick’s actions – some might view him as a man-child fighting to get the last word in – I see it as something else entirely.
It’s about a man fighting to protect his vision.
And Stanley Kubrick had creative vision in spades. This is after all the guy who made the brilliantly caustic satire Dr. Strangelove, the audacious and morally ambivalent A Clockwork Orange, and the lean and mean Full Metal Jacket, just to name a few.
So what exactly is creative vision, anyway?
I like to think of it as the vivid, well-thought-out picture you paint in your head for the idea that you want to see come to fruition in real life. It’s as if your little kernel of a great idea took a massive hit of LSD and now it’s got a thousand little acid-trippin’ idea babies spilling out of it and together, they form a whole, cohesive, grand idea.
Or something like that.
Anyway, let’s get into how, like Kubrick, you too can cultivate your creative ideas and creative thinking.
Our lives are so often filled with the mundane tasks associated with work and family that we ourselves become a total bore. We lose our curiosity about the world and as a result, our inner creative engine rusts to a halt. I know… it’s depressing. But the truth is, it’s not difficult to reignite. And the fact is, the more curiosity you possess, the more fuel you’ll have to power your vision.
Just look at the subject matter of Kubrick’s films and you see a man who was intensely curious about the world around him. Space exploration (2001: A Space Odyssey), class warfare in the 18th century (Barry Lyndon), Roman gladiators (Spartacus) and marital infidelity (Eyes Wide Shut) were just some of the things that lit Kubrick’s fire. He was interested in a vast array of subject matter that informed his creative process.
So the next time you come across an article about a new breakthrough lymphoma cure, or have the opportunity to peer through a telescope at the Orion Nebula, or get invited to travel to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, take advantage of the learning opportunity, as it’s an opportunity to stoke your creative thinking.
Get in the Mood
Let’s do a reality check.
Is your imagination firing on all cylinders after a grueling day at the office or heated argument with your significant other? Yeah, neither is mine. In fact, all of the creative ideas I’ve ever had came to me only when I was totally relaxed and open to receiving them. And if your life and mindset are anything like mine (uh, chaotic), you need to actively work to carve out relaxation time. So how did Kubrick do it?
He loved watching cable news. He was addicted to music – classical, pop and jazz – and had it playing in his house all the time. He enjoyed the game of chess. He liked animals and spent copious amounts of time in the company of dogs and cats. And he took a lot of smoke breaks (this is not a recommendation). The point is the guy had a lot of outlets to blow off steam, lower his BP (minus the smoking) and get to that magical place where new ideas could enter his mind and flourish.
These types of outlets for relaxation are absolutely critical to the creative process.
Nurture Your Creative Ideas Over Time
I don’t care whether it’s a novel, painting, sculpture or blog post – there’s nothing worse than a great idea that results in a creative work that’s undercooked. A lot of times, an idea remains a rare piece of meat because you have it, then impulsively act on it without first developing it into a full-fledged vision. You’ve got to take the time to let an idea marinate, to consider all of its possibilities and see all of its pitfalls.
Stanley Kubrick, better than anyone and, especially later in his career, understood the importance of allowing for a creative gestation period. After A Clockwork Orange, he took four years to make his next film, Barry Lyndon. Five years later he made The Shining, seven years later Full Metal Jacket and 12 years later Eyes Wide Shut. Was he working on the script for Eyes Wide Shut for 12 years straight? No. But he was writing it, putting it down for a bit, letting it breathe, working on something else and then coming back to it with a fresh perspective.
While it’s hard to justify taking 12 years to map out your vision for a project (unless you’re Kubrick), do take the time to get it just right. The reward for doing so is well worth the wait.
Boldly Supply Your Own Light (or Darkness)
Kubrick once said:
“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”
Our vision for our ideas about our work and life is a representation of the meaning and purpose we ascribe to them. That meaning and purpose must come from within us, not from anyone else. We have to look deep within ourselves and project whatever is there to the outside world, even if it’s excruciatingly unpleasant. It’s the only way to be authentic.
It’s often been said of Kubrick – evidently based on the vast swath of characters he created – that he didn’t care for people and disliked (maybe even loathed) mankind as a whole. I myself certainly never got the feeling he actually empathized with the characters he created. It was always more of a feeling he was using them as a means to an end. I don’t necessarily think of that as a negative, just a fact.
Ultimately, he was expressing his own authentic, creative vision.
What about you? Who are you really? What place inside you does your creative vision stem from? Do you lack empathy? Do you have a mean streak? Do you hate men? Women? Children? Animals? Or are you bursting at the seams with warmth, hope and love for all of humankind?
Whatever is inside of you, be ready for the positive and/or negative consequences when your creative vision, realized in its public form for all to see, shows the world who you really are. And then, the world decides to react.
Don’t worry, it’s nothing to be alarmed about. People might say negative things about you. And that might take you aback. But at the end of the day, you’re a visionary. And people projecting their negativity and their own insecurities at you comes with the territory.
Ultimately, you’ll know you’ve hit the jackpot of unbridled creative vision when you see what’s invisible to everyone else and you shine a light on it.