celebrate sponging, the fluffer of creativity.

I recently read a quote from Renoir:

‘Your imagination will only supply you with a few leaves; but nature offers you millions, all on the same tree. No two leaves are exactly the same. The artist who paints only what is in his mind must very soon repeat himself’.

It’s very interesting and very true.

When Tarantino wrote Pulp Fiction in Amsterdam he filled up the movie with references to what he was seeing for the first time:

He also had Travolta smoke roll-ups made with Drum, a Dutch tobacco.

And it doesn’t have to be as direct as that. Dan O’Bannon was writing Alien when he found himself stricken with writer’s block. He wasn’t sure how to make the aliens different to what moviegoers had already seen so many times. So he went and did some research on insects, where he found the idea of corrosive blood.

Those are a couple of pro examples, but from the time I started working in advertising the idea of ‘sponging’, that is soaking up influences to improve your own creativity, was mentioned on a regular basis. Going out to see exhibitions or movies, travelling to new countries, reading books you wouldn’t normally read… these are all ways of putting some good fuel into your imagination.

But the indirect and unpredictable connections from A to B or A to Q or A to Purple can make it seem like sponging is merely an indulgence – after all, it tends to consist of enjoyable things that people do in their ‘leisure’ time, and not things that seem like work. So sloping off for a movie in the middle of a quiet day has the general appearance of bunking off, rather than directly improving productivity. Sitting at your desk reading a book could be interpreted as not taking your job seriously, or having nothing to do, even though the key to answering your current brief might be found on the next page. And you can only chat about movies for so long before you have to stop, and get down to some proper ‘work’ instead.

I’m sure I’ve written before about the way we’re conditioned in childhood to make a virtue of things that obviously seem like school work (filling up lots of blank pieces of paper by spending hours at a desk doing things you’re not that keen on), while the things that seem like ‘play’ are only allowed as some sort of reward for the work, and must be curtailed lest they eat into your work time and make you feel guilty.

Sure, there’s a point where you have to produce the thing you’re being paid for, but why does it matter how you get to it?

Maybe we should build compulsory movie, art and reading time into our jobs instead of trying to squeeze them in outside of office hours.