Being eccentric and creative
“I hope I’m becoming more eccentric. More room in the brain.”
Musician Tom Waits
Being eccentric – choosing not to be more safely mundane – can help our creative thinking and courage.
As psychologist Robert Ornstein, PhD has noted, “If you spend too much time being like everybody else, you decrease your chances of coming up with something different.”
Karl Lagerfeld, the prominent fashion designer, photographer and publisher, and artistic director of Chanel, has eclectic and unusual tastes in clothing – so I would consider him one example of an eccentric.
A profile article notes that in his home there is “a narrow room lined with shelves. On the top of a bureau were perhaps two hundred pairs of fingerless gloves, arranged in neat piles according to color (he explained that he chose the gray pair he’s wearing because of the overcast sky).
“There are also dozens of pairs of jeans, and belts laid out by the hundred. Next door was a windowless room containing a dozen garment racks on wheels, each one stuffed with suits—perhaps five hundred in all—in black or gray hues.”
Lagerfeld admits, “I have suits here I’ve never worn. To normal people it may look sick, huh?” He shrugged. “I don’t know what ‘normal’ means, anyway.”
[From In the Now - Where Karl Lagerfeld lives. By John Colapinto, New Yorker, March 19, 2007.]
Probably a number of people, including perhaps mental health professionals, would consider some of this behavior “sick” or neurotic.
Some of what he said reminds me of the A&E TV program Hoarders, which “looks inside the lives whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis.”
Another example of a creative leader is mentioned by historian Daniel J. Boorstin, who says Beethoven’s apartments numbered more than 60, as he kept moving on to a new one. That item is from Boorstin’s book Creators – a History of Heroes of the Imagination – and quoted in my article Eccentricity and Creativity.
British neuropsychologist David Weeks studied and interviewed a wide range of such “daring and different” people for his book Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness, and concluded “One of the principal reasons eccentrics continually challenge the established order is because they want to experiment, to try out new ways of doing things.”
And that may be one of the key benefits of being eccentric (which, of course, is often “in the eye of the beholder”) – that it can open up your thinking to try out new and different approaches to creative challenges.
His films are almost always satisfying and exciting to me on multiple levels. What are some of the aspects of Tim Burton’s life and way of working that help him be so creative?
Costume designer Colleen Atwood also admires Burton as an artist, and explains: “He is able to open himself up to the world, through his own world, which is very unusual. His work has a very separate and personal voice and it comes from a very true place. At the same time it’s incredibly entertaining.”
Burton has commented on the importance of inner drive: “The tricky thing about being in the entertainment industry is that basically no matter how much money is involved, how good the life is, the thing that still compels you is that thing inside.”
[From much longer section in the book. Photos added for this site - not included in book.]