8.12.2010

What It's Like To Be (A) Creative

I get asked periodically what it's like to be creative. No seriously, I do, and I'm not making that up just to justify a blog post. Seriously. It just happened this past weekend, in fact, which is why I'm just now getting to writing this on a Thursday.

Anyway, I am going to answer that question by way of not answering it at all and instead bringing up music.

I have this favorite thing ever, and it's anything Nina Simone sings. On the top of the pile o' Simone sits her cover of The Animals's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." The reasons why are more than what's evident in this video:

Can't see the video? Click here



It's because Nina, throughout her entire life, was misunderstood. She was a jazz singer who was very outspoken about the disparity in race equality during her lifetime. She'd sit there and watch as white men filled the clubs she sang at, who would then applaud her performances and praise her talent, then spit on her and deny her service at the counters of the local restaurants the next day.

Can you imagine? And yet, she found her soul and let it shine for us to see. She knew herself, even if no one in the rest of the world did. And that's what being creative, or a creative, is like. Not to belittle her time or her efforts by comparing pouty artsy tantrums with racism and inequality, but it's true.

Daily frustration. No matter what you say or do, it's being twisted one way or another. Someone hears your idea for a screenplay and has a better take on it, despite the fact that their only experience in the field is being a fan of M*A*S*H back in the 80s.

You demo a new website you've labored over for months to a client - one that's not only standards-compliant but also makes great use of newer User Experience conventions, and they want the menu bar to be purple - which will completely destroy the visual layout you've created by establishing purple as a click / action color.

They think your songs would be better with electric guitar instead of acoustic.

They tell you that the entire campaign you've created for a visual identity the past two months is going to be scrapped because the president of the company saw the t-shirt test print and decided it didn't "pop enough." Pop. Enough. He must have gone to art school to learn that phrase, because it certainly doesn't happen in the practical field.

Your book would be better if the main character had a beard. A fucking BEARD. Seriously?

It's frustrating. You know deep in your heart that you've put forward a product or look or sound or identity that will absolutely resonate with the audience, and it must be changed because the second you hand it over, the committee mindset takes over and everyone has to be heard. This is both in corporate environments and in personal life, by the way -- quitting your job to be an artist won't release you from the prison of other peoples' opinions. It just changes how much you lose if you flip them off and say "Fuck you" and take your ball and go home.

And that's certainly a temptation. I'd be lying if I told you I didn't ever once do this. Hell, I'd be lying if I told you I didn't do this more than ten times. But ultimately, you do yourself a disservice when this happens. You lock yourself into your own prison - the one where you're right and they're wrong; the one where you're alone at the end of the day and it gets dark and you don't understand why the hell you're there in the first place. THEY put you there. THEY don't get it. THEY don't value your judgement or time or talent.

They don't. They're not you. They HIRED you. Or asked you to do it, or agreed when you asked them to pass judgement.

Welcome to creativity.

To be truly creative is to be misunderstood, judged, passed-over, ignored, corrected and otherwise completely wrong to everyone you're being creative in front of, because creativity is the act of bringing into the world something new. Maybe not something completely original, but definitely new. A new perspective on things; a new take on how something is done or said or told or sounds. And new scares people.

Embrace that, if you can. Because it's really the only reward you'll get. And if you are able to keep your idea intact and alive through the volley of other peoples' wads of shit they throw like monkeys, you'll see that once it is in place and makes it, the reaction will be one of "Well of course that worked, it was a great idea, etc." And they'll hop right on the bandwagon.

All the while, you'll be preparing to swerve that wagon around the next curve just a little too fast for them to hang on, and they'll fly off and curse your name for not taking it easy and coasting.

And it's ultimately the only way to live, because if you're not being cursed and chastised and derided, you're doing it wrong.

Go be wrong. Create something awesome.