The Death of Creativity / Day 39 of 365

Back in 2012, I was a creative super-machine. I finished a 365 project the year prior and had just bought my dream camera. It seemed like every week I was doing something crazy and new. I regularly dragged friends into frozen creeks, through stinging nettles, and into the wild recesses of my world. My camera lived on my shoulder and, like my mind, it was always fully charged.

I vividly remember having a late night conversation with Jake back then. He was one of the first artists that I was close to – and the one who really pushed me to create, no matter what crazy ideas I had. Our conversations usually centered around critiquing art that the other had made.

On this particular night, I was really pushing Jake to start blogging. Beyond consuming my life with photography, I had bloomed into blogging. It was almost October and I was participating in an annual ‘Blogtober’. I’ll never forget what Jake said to me that night;

“There’s so much stuff already out there already – I don’t want to contribute to the noise.”

Jake is about 5 years my senior and, unlike me, had been creating across every medium. I knew him as a photographer, a sculptor, a painter – one of the first interactions I had with him was at a church over-nighter. We went bowling and I spent the night talking with him. As we talked, he took out his sketchbook and drew a charcoal picture of me.

I think that artists typically remember their birth into art. This was the beginning for me.

When Jake said he didn’t want to contribute to the noise anymore, it was although I had woken up even though I was already awake. Suddenly I saw noise everywhere. There was too much information out in the world and I became self-conscious.

That was my death.

A weed was planted that night and I’ve spent the last 5 years pulling them up. “Is what I’m creating worth being put out there?” sprung up from the corner of my beautifully cultivated garden. Soon thereafter, “Am I really contributing or just creating junk?”. I wasn’t quick enough to pull these weeds out. I was in deep trouble when the “Am I bothering people by putting my art in front of their faces?” arrived.

Soon the weeds overtook the garden, and although I plant new flowers occasionally, they’re dwarfed by self-consciousness. At 18 years old, I didn’t have the capacity to understand this. I only saw that I was ‘making noise’. That was my creative death.

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/Ifit6xW8UCY?rel=0

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Why do we Create

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To a person who doesn’t enjoy looking at art, it’s difficult to explain its appeal. Art is another style of communication. We speak, we write, we convey ourselves with our bodies, and we create. Those who don’t express their ideas or emotions through art, struggle to understand why artists throw paint at canvas or draw abstract figures.

Imagine if you couldn’t speak. Think about how unusual it would be to see two people talking. Both figures produce sounds with their mouths. They speak and understand one another.

When artists create, they mold from a less tangible medium. Speech is fantastic for conveying information but occasionally what needs to be said can’t be expressed in words. A bright smudge of orange on a white canvas may carry a certain emotion for you. Internally you say “this is what I feel”.

While speech conveys information with relative ease, art is usually open to interpretation. People may walk up to that smudge of orange and have no understanding of its meaning. However, its purpose isn’t necessarily universal understanding. Often times, people create art because there isn’t a better way to communicate a particular emotion.

Imagine that both of parents died tragically this morning. You are filled with incredible emotion. Words cannot begin to explain the loss you feel. Talking to others doesn’t seem to help. What you say doesn’t match with how you feel inside. Maybe wiping orange paint is the only way to express the emotion.

Over time, I’ve realized that those who appreciate art are often very empathetic. They can look at a piece and feel the emotion without having to exchange words about it. The art community is built on that receptivity.

I’ve also found that those who appreciate art are able to take on multiple perspectives. Perhaps they don’t understand your orange mess but they are willing to try and feel it. They attempt to decipher what it means to the artist and why they created it.

It’s difficult to explain the appeal of art to someone who doesn’t innately appreciate it. Often, a natural affinity for art pairs with empathy and receptivity. Those who like art value it as a separate form of communication. While it isn’t as concrete as speech or writing, it expresses human emotion in a different way. Art, to me, has always been about sharing what words cannot.

In the comments below, tell me what art means to you. Do you create because you like beautiful things or do you try and convey certain emotions? Also, if you don’t mind, tell me what art medium you use and share a link to your work!

Page 2 of 365

Work is Exhausting

There are days where creating is difficult. Where I work, people don’t create. They spend more time ingesting media than they do contributing. This isn’t to say that they are worse off, it’s just a difficult environment to be a content creator in. It isn’t conducive to the lifestyle that I want to have.

Working 45 hours a week drains you and if you’re not highly motivated, you’re probably not creating. When I was going to school, I had time to talk with artists. We could critique each other’s work and talk about our plans. When we had an idea, we could ping it off in conversation. Where I’m at now, I’m too exhausted at the end of the day.

I can’t wait to leave this job in a few years. Go back with the artists and create blogs and vlogs, and paint, and draw, and get back into photography. If I could cut this job in half; make half the money and work half the time – I would. But for now, I’ll keep creating like this because I don’t know what else to do.

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Quality or Quantity

Is it better to have quality content or to have lots of content? Often on YouTube, users that make great videos only have a few of them. While content creators that make mediocre content tend to have an endless amount of videos. For a very long time I thought it was better to have more videos than less high quality videos.

What this means as an artist/content creator is; having high quality work is more valuable than having low quality work. It’s also better to have a larger portfolio than a smaller one. Therefore it’s best to have a large body of work that is high quality. However, it’s extremely difficult to combine the two.

Artist tend to have a problem: we always want better quality work. When we create something that is beautiful and perfect, we want to create something that is more beautiful and more perfect. It doesn’t matter what the previous quality was, as long as the next is better. This drives progress because it forces the creators to motivate themselves to produce better content, thus increasing skill.

However, it often is intermixed with unhappiness and dissatisfaction. We have difficulty accepting our work and being proud of our products. Sometimes we create crap content. Everyone does.

Anyways, for a long time I thought it was better to have more content. More content means that you could explore more areas and find what you like best. It also means that you have a larger portfolio which could cater to a larger group of consumers. By creating a lot of work, you grow significantly.

However, mass production doesn’t always drive improvement. This blogging project is about creating a large body of content. Its purpose is to teach me how to write. By sitting down each night and finding a topic to talk about, I’m learning a skill. At the same time, writing daily doesn’t give me time to edit, or really think about concepts. It’s very much a produce, produce, produce, mindset.

As the last two weeks come about, I’ve been getting this sickened feeling in my stomach. This blogging project took a lot of time. It’s produced 350 blog posts so far and more than 120,000 words. Overall, this is the most I’ve written in my life.

The last days though, I’ve been reflecting. This year has been full of adventures. I’ve recorded some of them in blog posts and others in pictures. The mass quantity has forced me to learn how to write about any situation at any given time. Which is a great skill but I can’t help but feel that it’s also been a poison. Right now I’m rambling. There is purpose to this text but nothing that is worth editing. Mass quantity breeds ignorance of the process.

This work isn’t great. It’s just work. At the end, I don’t know how many posts I will keep up. I learned from it but it’s not something I want to show off. The lesson was learned and I’ve grown from it but this isn’t my portfolio. It’s not a complete version of myself.

A couple years ago, a photographer I loved removed all of her work from Flickr. I was absolutely devastated. Her work was a huge inspiration. The photos she posted were one of the reasons that I started taking photos myself. I didn’t know what to do when I couldn’t look through her work.

I was devastated and vowed that I would never remove my work. I wanted others to be able to see my growth. They could also look through a large body of work. Perhaps they would see that I’m human and they could create too.

As this project halts, I don’t want to display my content. I want to remove it and start fresh. It takes a lot to start from scratch but I don’t like this content. It’s not polished. I can’t share it with everyone. It’s imperfect.

I can’t answer whether having a large body of work is better or worse than having a higher quality of work. That’s something you have to decide. Would you rather put a lot of time into creating one excellent piece or five pieces? When you go online, would you rather see five mediocre videos of your favorite YouTuber or one awesome video? It’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself: quality or quantity?

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Make a list, check it twice

It seems that every successful creative person I’ve met has some way of doing the same thing. They all record their ideas so that they can create them in the future. When I met Brooke Shaden a few years ago, she talked about carry a notepad of ideas. Others have mentioned sketchbooks where they draw photographs they want to take. No matter what the medium, I think artists understand how fleeting ideas can be. Putting them down on paper helps us remember and develop concepts that we want to use.

In my old room, I had a collection of whiteboards hung on the wall. Each of them contained something different – quotes, lists, random thoughts. One of them was entitled “if I could do it…” and it held a bucket list of ideas that I wanted to accomplish. Another one was filled with ideas to blog about. They were invaluable for expressing myself. When I felt creative, I could go to the boards and further develop ideas I previously had.

When I moved in September, the whiteboards ended into my closet. This period also coincided with an incredibly uninspired phase. For the last month I’ve been creating less content, been less focused, and I’ve been less involved with my life. I’ve come to the realization that having blank space to fill is incredibly helpful for motivation and organization of thoughts.

Every artist finds a different way to do it but I think it’s something we all have in common. Recording our ideas helps us manage how we see the world and how we express ourselves. By having a notepad/whiteboard/sketchbook we are able to capture our fleeting ideas for future use.

See, blank space is interesting. Find a notebook and start filling it with your thoughts or doodles. What you do with blank space is what makes you who you are. If you find yourself doodling, maybe you can focus on that and create something more. If you write about your life, maybe you should expand on it. Figure out how you fill space and work from there.

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14/31 Blogtober

Foreign Emotions like Foreign Languages

You know how they say that blind people dream don’t dream in images, they dream through their other senses? If a blind person dreamed of an image, would they know how to interpret it?  When you hear a foreign language, you can’t understand it because you haven’t learned how to interpret it. When a painter walks up to the canvas, they are translating from a blind man’s dream. The feeling they possess is intangible and they bring it from gibberish to something that is hopefully comprehensible. An artist simply wants to evoke or express that unintelligible thought.

The difficulty is that many artists don’t understand that they are trying to translate something that doesn’t have a set way of being expressed. There isn’t a correct way to express happiness or love or confusion. Essentially an artist tries to replicate a feeling but cannot perfectly match it. They leave their personality and interpretation instead. It’s like a child trying to forge their parent’s signature, perhaps it looks generally the same but it’s noticeably imperfect.

However, if you learn many languages, you can understand a new language faster and more efficiently. If a painter learns how to draw, play guitar, sculpt, and dance, he will be better able to translate his emotions. Sometimes a feeling can be best expressed with a certain type of art. If I know how to write, maybe my emotion would be best expressed through words. Only knowing how to write would severely limit my expression.

On the other side, inspiration comes in a myriad of ways. As I’ve branched away from photography I’ve realized that art is very fluid. Paintings express memories in a different way than a photograph does. A song from a particular time in my life can hold more emotion than a photograph.

Why is it that we, as artists, always crave inspiration? Is it because we aren’t able to express things we don’t understand? We have these emotions but we don’t know how to show them to other people. It’s as though someone is yelling at us in a foreign language and we’re desperately trying to understand what they’re saying. We want to reply or do what they’re asking but we simply don’t understand.

Lately I feel like I’ve started learning new languages. The emotions I go through can be understood better even if I don’t know that language. I can somewhat make out what I’m feeling inside and how to transcribe it into something to share with others.

The point of this post is to say that don’t try to force inspiration. It will come and go through your life and in different ways. I don’t paint or draw but I feel emotions that could only be felt through painting. There are days when words feel like the best way to express myself. Just learn to be receptive to the world and you’ll see the elephant in the middle of the room: everything in life is inspiration and everything is an emotion. You just have to be receptive enough to take that feeling in.

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P.S. The layout is changing again, so please be patient with me as everything settles down!