The important thing is to keep producing. All artists have that quality. You have to be tenacious. –Mary Frank
Emotional Pitfalls of a Creative Life – Keys to Mastery. Part III
Complacency: In childhood, the world seemed like an enchanted place. Everything that we encountered had an intensity to it, and sparked feelings of wonder. Now, from our mature viewpoint, we see this wonderment as naive, a quaint quality we have outgrown with our sophistication and vast experience of the real world. Such words as “enchantment” or “wonder” cause us to snicker. Unknown to ourselves, the mind slowly narrows and tightens as complacency creeps into the soul, we stifle our own creativity and never get it back. Fight this downhill tendency as much as you can by upholding the value of active wonder. Constantly remind yourself of how little you truly know, and of how mysterious the world remains.
Conservatism: Creativity is by its nature an act of boldness and rebellion. You are not accepting the status quo or conventional wisdom. You are playing with the very rules you have learned, experimenting and testing the boundaries. The world is dying for bolder ideas, for people who are not afraid to speculate and investigate. Creeping conservatism will narrow your searches, tether you to comfortable ideas, and create a downward spiral—as the creative spark leaves you, you will find yourself clutching even more forcefully to dead ideas, past successes, and the need to maintain your status. Make creativity rather than comfort your goal.
Dependency: You must work hard to develop internal standards and the capacity to see your own work with some distance; What you want in the end is to internalize the voice of your teachers/influences so that you become both teacher and pupil. If you fail to do so you will have no internal gauge as to the value of your work, and you will be blown here and there by the opinions of others, never to find yourself.
Impatience: This is perhaps the single greatest pitfall of them all. This quality continually haunts you, no matter how disciplined you might think you are. You will convince yourself that your work is essentially over and well done, when really it is your impatience speaking and coloring your judgment. The creative process requires continual intensity and vigor. Each exercise or problem or project is different. Hurrying to the end or warming up old ideas will ensure a mediocre result.
Leonardo da Vinci understood the dangers of such impatience. He adopted as his motto the expression ostinato rigore, which translates as “stubborn rigor” or “tenacious application.” For every project he involved himself in—and by the end of his life they numbered in the thousands—he repeated this to himself, so he would attack each one with the same vigor and tenacity. The best way to neutralize our natural impatience is to cultivate a kind of pleasure in pain—like an athlete, you come to enjoy rigorous practice, pushing past your limits, and resisting the easy way out.
Grandiosity: Sometimes greater danger comes from success and praise than from criticism. If we learn to handle criticism well, it can strengthen us and help us become aware of flaws in our work. Praise generally does harm. Ever so slowly, the emphasis shifts from the joy of the creative process to the love of attention and to our ever-inflating ego. Without realizing it, we alter and shape our work to attract the praise that we crave. We must have some perspective. There are always greater geniuses out there than yourself. What must ultimately motivate you is the work itself and the process.
Inflexibility. Being creative involves certain paradoxes. You must know your field inside and out, and yet be able to question its most entrenched assumptions. You must be somewhat naive to entertain certain questions, and optimistic that you will solve the problem at hand; at the same time, you must regularly doubt that you have achieved your goal and subject your work to intensive self-criticism. All of this requires a great deal of flexibility. Flexibility is not an easy or natural quality to develop. Once you spend a period of time being excited and hopeful about an idea, you will find it hard to shift to a more critical position. Once you look at your work with intensity and doubt, you will lose your optimism and your love of what you do. Avoiding these problems takes practice and often some experience—when you have pushed past the doubt before, you will find it easier the next time. In any event, you must avoid emotional extremes and find a way to feel optimism and doubt at the same time—a difficult sensation to describe in words, but something all Creatives have experienced.
Although it involves much pain, the pleasure that comes from the overall process of creativity is of an intensity that makes us want to repeat it. That is why creative people return again and again to such endeavors, despite all of the anxiety and doubt they stir up. We are all in search of feeling more connected to reality – to other people, the times we live in, the natural world, our character, and our own uniqueness. Our culture increasingly tends to separate us from these realities in various ways. One of the most most satisfying and powerful ways to feel this connected is through creative activity. Engaged in the creative process we feel more alive than ever, because we are making something and not merely consuming, Masters of the small reality we create. In doing this work, we are in fact creating ourselves.
Try again. Fail again. Fail better. –Samuel Beckett
What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Host and executive producer of the National Public Radio show, This American Life.
If It Doesn't Ship, It's Not Art. –Seth Godin
The Gift Received
Art always involves a collision with a marketplace, an interaction with a recipient, a gift given and a gift received.
You can plan and sketch and curse the system all day, but if you don’t ship, you haven't done your work, because the work involves connection and the generosity behind it. It’s entirely possible that one day your insight will be discovered and that it will touch someone or make a difference. But if you hide your contribution from us, you can’t be considered an artist, because it’s not art until a human connection is made.
We’re not waiting for you to tell us about your notebook filled with ideas. Tell us about the connections you have enabled and the impact you have made instead.
The Icarus Deception