The creativity of mental playfulness: Calvin and Hobbes’ Bill Watterson speaks to what really matters

(image via Nerd Reactor (c) Bill Watterson / GoComics)


Brain Pickings, a fascinating website run by the supremely-dedicated Maria Popova which she describes as “an inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy, and more”, and Bill Watterson’s masterfully-clever, exuberantly funny and visually imaginative comic strip Calvin and Hobbes are a perfect match.

Even more so is Brain Pickings featuring excerpts from the commencement speech that Watterson, a man of deeply-held principles who eschewed the trappings of fame associated with most modern creative endeavours, delivered at Kenyon College on may 20, 1990 when he dispensed wisdom that both touched on and went far beyond the usual sentiment of these addresses which are meant to sour the graduating classes onto lives closely-examined and well-lived.

One of the things he remarks upon him, among the many amazingly insightful things he says, is that playfulness should be at the centre of creativity, particularly when you’re a one-man band as Watterson was when Calvin and Hobbes, which rang from 1985 to 1995 and everything depends on your capacity for new ideas …

“If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood. I’ve found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.


“At school, new ideas are thrust at you every day. Out in the world, you’ll have to find the inner motivation to search for new ideas on your own. With any luck at all, you’ll never need to take an idea and squeeze a punchline out of it, but as bright, creative people, you’ll be called upon to generate ideas and solutions all your lives. Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.”

There’s a great deal more in this excellent piece, May 20, 1990: Advice on Life and Creative Integrity from Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson, and honestly Popova does a far better job of recapping this inspiring speech so make sure you read the whole thing, and if you feel so inclined, financially support her amazing work.


(cartoon (c) Universal Press Syndicate)

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