Any new clever combination of A + B – and there is more access to “A” and “B” than ever – is creative. This is obviously true. Also obvious is the love of creativity in everything; people who never thought of themselves as creative are feelin’ it, and those who are in traditionally creative fields are pressured to be more imaginative.  Isn’t technology wonderful?

Well… to be honest, I’m getting little tired of feeling the pressure to “be creative”. I must be fresh! I must be innovative! I must be … F%$# you, I’ll be who I am – you go and be fresh and new and different, I’m going to concentrate on being a better me. After 36 years in the creative process, I’m just starting to learn what to leave out; what to ignore.

Yes, we were born to be creative; hell, we were born out of a creative act. But here’s the thing, while creativity is the core of human existence, aren’t we all powerfully drawn to virtuosity? Virtuosity is a human excellence of skill, fluency, and style. It’s the heart skipping grandness of human achievement. Artistically, it’s the skilled deliberate use of paint colors, of 7 notes, of a blank canvas, all in the effort to move an emotional state.

Creativity is a common and natural act. Yet, being a virtuoso is the ultimate analog goal requiring sacrifice. Great musicians, fine artists, writers, and even athletes inspire awe in what is possible when a life is devoted to skill honing and potential accomplishment. Success is visceral. Virtuosity moves emotions powerfully without the static of a bad signal.

For example, when we think “virtuoso” our thoughts go to great musicians or fine painters. Mastering an instrument, or a brush and palette isn’t something one can hand off to a machine in order to further increase skill or complexity. It takes a lifetime of devotion and it’s that devotion combined with accomplishment which draws our admiration.

The devotion to a skill that produces useless beauty is not virtuous, it’s just pretty and often boring. Real virtuosity is one part aesthetic aptitude, various parts highly skilled craftsmanship + enough creativity to move emotions. My equation says nothing about being original just to be original. Fresh can be dull, just as innovation can go unfelt through the static of poor execution.

No matter how fresh, mediocrity is the middle state overflowing with human weakness and unevenness. We push for fresh creativity and get the acrobatic dunk in basketball, but Larry Bird in the ’86 NBA Championship game defines virtuosity and he could hardly jump.

Virtuosity demands respect; it’s the complete loss of static in communication, it’s the defeat of flaws in the act of performance with an authentic resonance that sends the human spirit. The virtuoso is a supreme victor in a battle over the average creative mediocrity.

In this TEDx video, Mike Rayburn explores making the decision to chase virtuosity.


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