Let’s start with a description of the modern creative person… Let’s call him Bubba.
Bubba is inordinately emotional and he never finds the time to work on his projects, though to his friends they are the most prominent thing in his life. They think this because he talks about his creative dreams at all times and to their great annoyance, and every time he goes to bed at night he fancies himself a writer/painter/quilter/taxidermist/etc. and wishes he was more successful at it. Bubba’s life is hollow of creativity. In fact his life is hollow of many things, but every night he dreams a dream that he will someday be a great artist (pronounced “arteest”) and all will be okay. He’ll get over this writers block, he’ll get over his emotional dependency on other peoples opinions, and of course one day he’ll get some confidence and start being amazingly creative.
Unfortunately for Bubba, days pass and they turn into weeks, weeks to months, months to years, and the next time we see him he is old and gray. He did not become a successful writer/painter/quilter/taxedermist/etc. like he so dreamed, instead he worked for a company selling paper. Never again did he pick up a pen.
I’m going to be honest, I got a little depressed even writing that, so now let me explain this story by showing you an image that will reveal the whole moral. Here it is:
The problem with many creative people today is that they literally believe all they produce is to their credit. There are no more room for the Muses, no more room for the Guardian Angel, no more room for the Fairy. To them there is simply no magic anymore; God is dead and there is only the flesh and the fleshy brains underneath that create things, and whatever is created spouts from these brains like vomit. This, in my humble opinion, is nonsense. The philosophy here does nothing for motivation, and it warps all that it produces by making it about the “creator”.
If creative works had nothing to credit but the mouths that spat them, the great poets would have no need to wonder, the psalmist would have no psalms to write, and in a moment of nostalgia, the father would not shed a tear at the sight of his daughter on her wedding day.
Here’s the rub: there is something about this existence we all share that begs us to wonder, that yearns for each of us to muse on it’s delicacy, that invites us all to taste its wines and revel in their mysterious glow. The universe asks, “Did you create the rhythm of the sea, or the pounding of an eagles wings as they beat the air to take flight? No? Then maybe you should pull your head out of the dirt and start appreciatingit.” Elizebeth Gilbert does a whole 20 minute talk on this point, but before I move on I’m going to quote her. When we consider ourselves as the “vessel” or “font” for all the beauty in a created thing, it becomes a “smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile human psyche.” Put even better: “It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun.”
This plays to what I’ve said before about trying to be the most important thing in the universe, but I’m reinforcing this again for our benefit. Bubba and so many people like him are unproductive because they see themselves as this big, almighty thing, and as a result they think that if they create something and it doesn’t turn out divine (i.e. people don’t worship it), they are clearly a failure. This possibility is very depressing to them since they’re so intensely tied to their identities of being “creative”, so they avoid it altogether by not putting anything out there; by avoiding criticism from others. It’s better to say, “I could-a-been,” than to say “I tried and failed.”
But this is madness.
In matters of creativity, trying is always better than not trying because only through trying do you learn to specialize and hone your efforts, right? Creativity is a skill. Metal is tested through fire… And who here is defining what it means to fail, anyway? Is it Hollywood? Are you walking around this earth thinking that the only way to be a success is to become a worldwide sensation?
“But Spencer, shouldn’t I shoot for the moon so I can land at least among the stars?”
Yes, sorta, well… no. I think that’s the wrong way to see things. Don’t shoot yourself up to the moon on a rocket—I read some things and I’m pretty sure you’ll suffocate up there. Maybe take out a camera and shoot with that instead. Share the photos with that subsection of humanity who have forgotten the moon is even there.
“So, how does Bubba achieve his creative goals then?” you ask. “Simply by wondering?”
No, but wonder is where it starts. There will be more I will post on this subject in the future and I really don’t want to rob myself of the material, but I will say this:
Being small in the universe is the first step in having anything to say about it. When we create things, what we’re really doing is collecting things and arranging them in a way that might not have been seen before. We do not create the beauty of reality, we can only point to it through clever words and clever brush strokes. So when you sleep tonight and dream about being a great creative success, maybe instead tune your mind to the things in this universe that draw you. In other words…
Try to think more about the object of your creativity, and think less about you being the creative person behind it. You don’t appreciate Shakespeare by wondering about his life and studying the town he grew up in; you appreciate him by reading his plays.