This page on a Brian Eno fan site was re-shared on Hacker News this week. It features text from an email from Eno himself, explaining why, although he’s grateful that people want to discuss his work, he doesn’t want to necessarily see it:
I think the reason I feel uncomfortable about such a thing is that it becomes a sort of weight on my shoulders. I start to feel an obligation to live up to something, instead of just following my nose wherever it wants to go at the moment. Of course success has many nice payoffs, but one of the disadvantages is that you start to be made to feel responsible for other people’s feelings: what I’m always hearing are variations of “why don’t you do more records like – (insert any album title) ” or “why don’t you do more work with – (insert any artist’s name)?”. I don’t know why, these questions are un answerable, why is it so bloody important to you, leave me alone….these are a few of my responses. But the most important reason is “If I’d followed your advice in the first place I’d never have got anywhere”.
Eno goes on to explain that being constantly reminded of your ‘exhaust’, of what you’ve already done isn’t very conducive to future creative work:
I’m afraid to say that admirers can be a tremendous force for conservatism, for consolidation. Of course it’s really wonderful to be acclaimed for things you’ve done – in fact it’s the only serious reward, becasue it makes you think “it worked! I’m not isolated!” or something like that, and irt makes you feel gratefully connected to your own culture. But on the other hand, there’s a tremendously strong pressure to repeat yourself, to do more of that thing we all liked so much. I can’t do that – I don’t have the enthusiasm to push through projects that seem familiar to me ( – this isn’t so much a question of artistic nobility or high ideals: I just get too bloody bored), but at the same time I do feel guilt for ‘deserting my audience’ by not doing the things they apparently wanted. I’d rather not feel this guilt, actually, so I avoid finding out about situations that could cause it.
Finally, Eno explains that, just like everyone else, there are days when he wonders where the creative spark comes from:
The problem is that people nearly always prefer what I was doing a few years earlier – this has always been true. The other problem is that so, often, do I! Discovering things is clumsy and sporadic, and the results don’t at first compare well with the glossy and lauded works of the past. You have to keep reminding yourself that they went through that as well, otherwise they become frighteningly accomplished. That’s another problem with being made to think about your own past – you forget its genesis and start to feel useless awe toward syour earlier self “How did I do it? Wherever did these ideas come from?”. Now, the workaday everyday now, always looks relatively less glamorous than the rose-tinted then (except for those magic mhours when your finger is right on the pulse, and those times only happen when you’ve abandoned the lifeline of your own history).
Being creative comes not from looking back, but looking forward. As the enigmatic Taylor, a character in the TV series Billions states in one episode, we should prize “forward momentum above all things”.