In the final week of the Summer Creativity Challenges, we use Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper to contemplate the dual nature of our own creative habits. Inside every creative is a Grasshopper, who just wants to play, and an Ant, who plans, worries, and works. In this interpretive challenge, I invite you to explore the fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper and contemplate what ideas and experiences you will take with you from the summer to the fall to fuel your creative endeavors.
It is August, but I am already thinking about September. It comes from small cues: the shortening of the daylight; the dry rustle of leaves in the driveway.
As I walk home from work, my head filled with future third quarter work deadlines and thoughts of the encroaching fall semester, I find myself thinking about The Ant and the Grasshopper. In this fable, a live-for-today grasshopper tempts a young ant to put down his work during the summer and play. The ant is kept in-line by the other members of his colony. As the seasons change, the grasshopper finds himself exposed to the elements and starving from his lack of preparation, while the ants feast on their harvest beneath the snow.
There is some inconsistency in my memory. I can’t remember what became of the grasshopper who liked to play. Being a fable with its moral lessons, I think, it can’t be good.
I have a mind for books, with the ability to retain plot lines and details about characters. Television and movies are another matter entirely though, especially anything I watched when I was little. In my head is a jumble of impressions from Donald Duck tormenting Chip and Dale to a man in a full bodysuit illustrated with all his internal organs that I saw one morning after Sesame Street. These images are random, raw and out-of-context; fragments of things that I think my child-mind was not sure how to process. My mental images of The Ant and the Grasshopper fall into this category.
There is something about my incomplete memories of the fable that does not sit well with me. So I take my images of a starving grasshopper in a tattered coat tightening his belt as he walks through the snow; of leaves blowing away on a cold wind; and ants in little lines rolling fruit into their home in a tree stump to YouTube to do some research. It is not long before I find a match in A Walt Disney Silly Symphony entitled “The Grasshopper and the Ants” from 1934. With ants whose facial features foreshadow Mickey Mouse (sans ears), and a grasshopper who sounds like Goofy, I know that this is the odd little version of this fable that has lodged itself in my brain.
Watching the cartoon again brings some resolution. The ants take the grasshopper in from the cold, and the wise queen ant shows him that his “work” is to play his violin at their feast. Through the lens of history, I can see the “Disneyfied” (less grim) interpretation of the fable and the influence of The Great Depression in this Silly Symphony. For me though, it now makes sense as to why this fable comes to mind at this time of year. My inner grasshopper still wants to play, but my inner ant is getting anxious about deadlines and planning for the busyness of the months to come.
These two parts feel like they are in conflict these final weeks of summer. In understanding of the process of creative thinking though, I know they are not. In creating habits to nurture creativity, such as the exercises in these blog posts, I (and you as a reader) have actually been working very hard this summer.
In creativity, through play we take risks, incubate ideas, and expose ourselves to new ideas that refill the well. Like the ant in the fable, we’ve stocked up our thinking supplies, but we did so by letting our inner grasshopper out. In the coming months, I know that my inner ant will reign supreme (which I am looking forward too) but I hope that just like the Queen Ant in the cartoon, that she will be kind, generous and frequently hand the grasshopper his fiddle and ask him to play.
All of this is inspiration for the eighth and final Summer Creativity Challenge: The Ant and the Grasshopper. This challenge is a great opportunity to check in and take an hour with your sketchbook and note what ideas and experiences you’ve generated this summer. Make a list of how you can use them in upcoming projects, or identify new projects to take on this fall and winter. It is also a good challenge in which to meditate about your inner grasshopper and ant. Do you give them equal “floor time”? If you become a very serious Ant in the fall and winter now is a good time to set some goals or plan some time to let your Grasshopper out.
With this as your touchpoint, plan some time to think about The Ant and the Grasshopper and consider what the fable means to you as a creative. Record impressions, inspirations, ideas, and memories in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass.