In Praise of the Excessive…
In the zone:
That feeling when you create your art while applying your talents to the full. When you’re totally focused on that camera lens, or entirely engrossed in that conversation with your client, or effortlessly flowing with the energy of the event you’re creating.
When your find your “zone,” don’t you feel as if you’re “somewhere else”? As if you left your body and were pursuing joy with your soul? As if your head was floating in the clouds?
It’s that feeling of complete fulfillment that makes even the air you breath feel differently in your lungs. A feeling of lightheadedness, as if you’ve just had a glass of the finest, sweet wine. The feeling of total openness and complete love that we all seek to capture through our work.
But you know what else it is?
You’re probably used to thinking of excess as something negative, something unwanted and even unnecessary. Excess weight… Excess drama… Excessive spending… Excess sweating… Excess gas (or any gas)… Who wants to deal with that? No one. Gotcha.
But, as with all things in life, there’s another side to excess—and it’s one that’s mostly overlooked.
Take flirting for example. When we’re struck by that little arrow of Eros, we suddenly start behaving excessively. We lean in a little more as we talk at the bar, we lower our voice a little more as we whisper sweet nothings in a stranger’s ear, we bite down our lips a little harder, we brush a hand through our hair a little more slowly and ever so smoothly. Is this “normal” behavior outside the boundaries of “flirting”? Nope! (Slowly brushing your hair over to one side and whispering during video calls with clients, anyone? I think not!) But when we’re flirting, we’re playing at the edge of reason. We’re not being rational. We’re being excessive in our communications and gestures.
And just as with a crash, so it goes with creativity. The Muse needs a little flirting to come out and play. Because creativity lies beyond the boundaries or “normality.”
Creativity lives in the excessive.
The documentary Man on Wire wonderfully encapsulates the role of the excessive in art. (Highly HIGHLY recommended for anyone who hasn’t watched it!) The film tells the crazy dream of Philippe Petit, a French tightrope-artist to walk between the twin towers, back when they were first built. The story is simply amazing, and Philippe’s passion, determination, and charisma will inspire you beyond belief.
But this great feat didn’t “just come to him” because he was talented. The research and planning and networking and ingenuity that went into the organization of this illicit activity from both sides of the Atlantic, at a time when the internet hadn’t even been conceived yet, is just as incredible as the final act itself.
At some point during the commentary, Annie Allix, Philippe’s girlfriend in the 70’s, thinks back to the years (not just days, years) of planning this daring act required, and says of Philippe:
He was so excessive, and so creative, that every day was like a work of art for him.
How French of her! But also how spot on!
Art comes from the excessive. Excessive passion, excessive emotions, excessive imagination. And when you follow that excess to the edge, your every day unfolds like a work of art.
When you dive into your talents, when you try something no one has tried before, when you create something in a way no one has thought of before, when you solve a problem in a way no one has imagined before… you’re being daring and creative. In those precious moments of creation, you’re overstepping the boundaries of normality. You’re being excessive.
It takes guts to be excessive.
But such is art and creativity. A lot of work, and pain, and sweat, and planning, and thinking, for one moment of pure pleasure. And not only your pleasure. But the pleasure of the audience. For the pleasure of sharing something amazing and wondrous with the crowd. For inspiring awe in others through excessive beauty.
Philippe Petit did something amazing. Something unthought of and unheard of. And something so excessive as to be actually illegal. When asked about his arrest, the Frenchman replies that he had just finished doing something magnifique, and all he got from the cops (who were waiting for him to come off the rope) was a very practical and very American “why?”
Why did you do it?
But the beauty of it is that there was no why.
And that is the beauty of all creativity:
There is no why.
Couldn’t you just have done it in the tried and true way? Of course!
Couldn’t you have avoided the risk of failure altogether and stuck to protocol? Of course!
Couldn’t Philippe have performed on the streets of Times Square for a few claps and smiles? Of course!
But none of that would inspire wonder and amazement and awe into the lives of others—into the lives of all of us. There would have been no fulfillment, no connection of the hearts, no exceeding of the boundaries. And we all would have been the poorer for it.
Even all these years after the event, Annie recalls with what excitement people stopped Philippe on the street (even as he was being arrested) just to tell him:
You gave us such a gift. It was beautiful, thank you.
And that immaterial and sincere “thank you” is perhaps the only reason why we create. The ability to give a beautiful and extraordinary gift to the people that fill our world and inspire us to go beyond ourselves, and to be excessive and magnificent.
Because to be creative is to be excessive.
So tell us…
How will you exceed yourself today? How will you bring excess to your art today?