“The answer is never the answer.” Why creativity is about failure.

“The answer is never the answer. What’s really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you’ll always be seeking. I’ve never seen anybody really find the answer. They think they have, so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.”

-Ken Kesey

For those of you who are unaware of Ken Kesey, he’s the man behind the national best seller One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1962). You know, that movie where Jack Nicholson plays a crazy person to get out of going to jail? Kesey was inspired to write the book in the 1960’s after he participated in an LSD induced trip while in the hands of a CIA study, trippy right?

Oct. 1996, San Francisco, California. Image by Ted Streshinsky

I came to know of Ken Kesey through my uncle Jeff Forester. He was a student of Kesey’s while attending the University of Oregon and later became a life long friend. During that experience he participated in the culmination of Caverns (1989), a collaborative novel written by Kesey and his graduate workshop students under the pseudonym of “O.U. Levon.”

I remember my uncle talking vividly about Kesey, especially his philosophies, viewpoints and how the pressure to produce art can trap the artist. We can all relate to feeling “trapped” as an artist. For me personally the pressure to succeed and to create perfect content paralyzed me in my early years. I didn’t know how to let go and give into the fear, to lean into the mystery and charge into the unknown.

Sometimes the need for the mystery is greater than the need for an answer.”

Kesey’s quote reminds us that the meaning of creation is not about the “answer” its about the “mystery.” I believe this is why so many artists turn to altered states of mind to produce this kind of free thinking that doesn’t come naturally to most. We as humans are taught from a young age that being perfect and smart is that only way to success. But what if its all wrong? What if success is actually in the mistakes, the failure?

Ken Kesey and Jeff Forester

If we never fail will we ever really live to our full potential? I think what Kesey is saying here is to let go of the notion of the end and spend your time in the unknown.

The real questions is what happens when we get to the end or we create that perfect thing? Then what next? The goal is to never stop creating, thinking and failing. That’s what makes great art. So go ahead and plant that garden and see what great mysteries bloom.

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