Keep Your Distance

'Keep Your Distance' Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersThe phrase ‘keep your distance’ has generally been used by way of a warning. But there may also be a more positive interpretation…


New Creative Adventures

I was talking with my daughter, the other day. She has recently been writing songs, together with a friend. This is completely new to both of them and has been a very rewarding experience. It has also thrown up some interesting insights into the creative process.

We have discussed, before, the merits of collaborative creativity. We have observed how this can take us to places we would not otherwise go. In turn, we may then meet challenges we would not otherwise encounter.

Differences in Approach

My daughter has, indeed, found this to be the case. She is new to putting words and music together. She has particularly enjoyed the differences in approach between her and her friend.  And both acknowledge that the results have been better than either could have hoped to achieve alone.

But something else struck me about this scenario. And that is the similarity with my own recent creative work. I have been helping my son put together some remote recordings he and his theatre group have made. This is familiar territory for me, whereas my daughter is exploring something quite new. However, there is a connection between our respective experiences.

One Step Removed

That connection lies in the benefit of being one step removed from the emotional content and having an objective view. When we work creatively, we tend to be delving into our personal responses to a given stimulus. This means that we can quickly become very invested in the outcome. Which is – of course – a good thing. But it can also impede our progress.

Because we are close to the subject matter, it may be difficult to see where improvements can be made. If we are very attached to an idea, we can easily confuse our responses to it with the creation itself. Whereas, somebody with a little distance from the emotional content may be able to offer alternative suggestions and a different artistic approach.

Emotional Detachment

So, my daughter and her friend benefit from being able to work creatively in response to one another’s words and/or melodies at a slight remove. They can suggest ideas and improvements for the good of the song, above and beyond any emotional attachment to it. That is not to say they do not want to convey the underlying emotion. But together they can be craftsman-like in their interpretation of it.

I benefit similarly from that emotional detachment when mixing somebody else’s recordings. This is something I find very difficult to do for my own work because I am too close to it. So, I will generally invite an external expert to do this for me. However, I can be more objective when doing this for somebody else. 

Alternative Solutions

When we ask primary children to be ‘good critical friends’, we are echoing these processes. The learning here is two-fold. On the one hand, the child or children being critiqued learn to accept suggestions and criticism. On the other, they are made aware that there are always alternative solutions to any creative task.

Learning that artistic vision and technical application are not contradictory is a valuable lesson. For those of us that create for a living, we need to not be too attached to any one outcome. Through collaboration, we can quickly overcome the limitations of our own creative thinking. And, in collaborating, we need to allow for the fact that each participant will have their own vision.


Whereas, in creative work, it is the emotional impulse that creates the spark, a little personal remove allows us to fan the flames. So, it can sometimes be good to keep your distance. And what could be more heartening in these socially-separated times? 


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