Creativity: Tom Molloy

In this series of interviews about the creative process, I’ll be talking to artists and people who work in creative fields to discover the common traits of creativity and what, if anything, is different. I’d also like to discover what creative practices could be used by people who don’t consider themselves artists in the traditional sense and how creative thinking is fundamental to growth and creation in all aspects of life.

Tom Molloy is the Director of Public Affairs and Communications at Trinity College Dublin. He is a former journalist with Irish Independent and Bloomberg News and editor of the Kilkenny People. He writes the Social Drinker column in the Sunday Independent.

What about your craft motivates you and what would you say is your forte? What strength do you admire in others? 

I like words and images. I like the challenge of trying to capture a national mood. It is not easy. One often gets it wrong. But making bets on how society is evolving is interesting.

When did you know that you had to use/explore your creativity in some way? Were you encouraged and supported by your family? 

There was never a moment. In fact, I resisted the notion that I had a creative bent for a long time. There is a strong urge in me to be pragmatic. If I like creative endeavours, it is at the practical end of the spectrum – photography, film, stage, music. My family were neutral. They accepted every child’s decision to pursue their own course. I never felt an iota of pressure from them.

How do you maintain your authentic self/voice? Does the constant comparison on and/or influence of social and/or regular media help or stifle this? 

I’m not sure I have such a voice. I don’t really spend much time looking at social media but I do worry about the effects that Pininterest has on creativity. I find that it is important to look outwards – to other countries and cultures for inspiration.

Motherhood can make creativity a challenge. Did fatherhood impact your creativity in a way that you didn’t expect i.e. did you change direction, lose or gain anything, etc.? What differences did you notice before and after?

Yes. I think fatherhood makes one think about money and thinking about money is rarely good when it comes to brave choices.

How do you keep positive if an idea fails or when you get negative feedback?

Swimming in the waves. Cycling the streets.

Have you collaborated within your field and/or in another creative form? Did your work evolve/change in some way after the experience? 

Journalists and editors meet literally thousands of inspiring people. Some of them rub off you. But you rarely collaborate.

Committing to creative work, especially in the beginning given the often-meagre financial rewards, can be a struggle. What advice would you give to someone starting out to help maintain an income? 

My advice would be not to think about money. Find a mentor. Do good stuff. If you need money, work in the evenings in a bar. Unless you want to be a creative bar owner. Then work as an accountant to pay your way.

Has there been any life event or situation that made creativity impossible? How did you overcome that period? 

Plenty of events and situations. Rest or hard work both eventually overcome this problem.

Do you think your national identity influences you and/or gives you a unique perspective on the world stage?  

Absolutely. National identity determines the medium most people excel in. Small, poor countries like Ireland will never have a flourishing film industry. The failure to treat music seriously means we will always struggle to produce composers of orchestral music. On the other hand the ability to write in English and the excessive reverence for poets and the written word in Ireland creates lots of world class poets and writers. Which is wonderful.

How do you view the role of the arts in society: the role of the artist? Do artists have a responsibility?

I think artists should leave responsibility to others; teachers, parents, the gardai. There are enough people in the world who happily step into that (rather easy) role. The challenge is produce something interesting or beautiful or meaningful. To hold a mirror to society and hold society to account.

Given the new situation the world finds itself in—with a virus that does not recognise class, gender or age—what role do you think creativity and/or the arts should play now and after this period has passed?

I don’t accept the premise of the question. The coronavirus clearly responds to class, gender and age. It attacks the poor, men and the elderly. To my way of thinking, the virus is uninteresting. It is simply nature at work. What is fascinating is society’s reaction. There have been countless acts of altruism but also colossal acts of greed. It seems to me that the young have some legitimate questions about the wisdom of our strategy which is protecting the elderly at great cost to the young. The same strategy we adopted after the 2008-12 financial crisis.


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