The Things They Don’t Tell Creatives

[Part 1 of 2]

1 of 4: You are faculty in a prestigious school. A student from this school has just won an international art competition. You do not hesitate, when an alumnus forwards it to you, to email this news to the whole school, to make it widely known that this prime achiever attended your institution and that he is something to be proud of. You have miraculously and deliberately forgotten the number of times the prefect of his house reported him to you for breaking lights-out, for always being somewhere drawing when he should have been sleeping. You punished him several times. You are not in favor of rule-breaking, and he was fond of breaking too many rules. In fact, and maybe no one ever told you this but… he was so creative that he channeled his dislike for you into satirical comics that featured you as a caricature and showed them to his friends, who all laughed upon seeing them. His creativity was disobedient. Now you praise him. He doesn’t show enough appreciation, though. Isn’t he an ungrateful soul?

2 of 4: There is a writer you used to teach primary school literature to, who just got published. “I taught her English in primary school,” you say to everyone who will listen. You try to ignore the slight pangs of shame that come with remembering how she was one of your worst students; a brilliant writer with so much potential, who, unfortunately, never followed the rules. Can you believe, as you taught your poetry classes, she zoned out on you completely, and instead of listening to you, she began to write her own poetry? The utter disrespect. And you also remember how she scored such low marks on all her essays because they were always too tangential; she rarely answered the question at hand. She didn’t understand, you surmised, that there was a time for creativity and a time for following instructions, and putting one’s writing to good use. You will probably never understand that her creativity was rather autonomous about when it showed up, and those “bad” essays weren’t her fault. She’s made the news now for making a breakthrough, writing the kind of novel that has never been written before. You say to yourself, “Yes, I always knew she was special,” and try to laugh off your cognitive dissonance. It doesn’t make sense that not all writers are good at literature.

3 of 4: There is a new voice on the music scene; he produces all his own stuff and is now an unlikely hit on the radio; unlikely because his music isn’t the kind of mainstream sound known for turning into radio hits. It’s unconventional but it’s fantastic. You used to give him piano lessons when he was a kid, but he was horrible at it. He found sight-reading boring, and was more interested in intuitively creating and recording than reading, or making tiny, perfect crotchet heads fit into blank manuscript staves. You always sent him off after class to practice the classical pieces in his music book, but he never did, always abandoning the attempt to learn Minuet in G in favor of messing with strange-sounding chords and composing his own stuff. He failed the same ABRSM exam twice before he finally convinced his parents to let him quit. You told him he was hopeless at music. He’s on top of international charts now. You listen to his music. It isn’t familiar. You don’t like it. You turn it off. You forget how the classics were not classics when they were alive; just folks crazy enough to make things uniquely enough or consistently enough to have their names be permanently attached to their styles of creation. But how can it be possible, that success is independent of following classical structures?

4 of 4: You run a creative enterprise and you have hired employees whose applications stood out to you because they could be proven to be extremely creative. Now, you have hired her, and she is only doing what she’s been tasked to do half the time. The rest of the time, she’s at the computers, designing logos and illustrations that are not related to work in the least. She always starts with good intentions, opening up a document for that poster you want designed. But then something strange happens, and she gets ideas that don’t fit the current design, and now she has to create a new document and put it there before she forgets; but then idea after idea keeps occurring and they all have to be documented, and she loses track of time, and before any of you know it, two hours have passed, and she’s barely done any of the work you asked for. You hired her because she was creative, but you didn’t want her to be creative like this. But the work needs to be done; people cannot be paid to play.


[Part 2 of 2]

They like to praise creatives, but they don’t like to have any on their hands, or in their families, or in their classrooms.

They don’t like to tell us that we are creatives. We find out anyway. Once we know, they don’t like to tell us how much of a struggle it will be to live life the way we are expected to. We find out sooner or later; we don’t particularly have a choice.

Ideas occur to us at the most random, usually very inopportune times. The world has to stop for us to write down the idea, or write the poem, or find a guitar immediately, or pull out a recording device because we really just need to find out how a certain harmony sounds and it can’t wait; we swear it can’t wait.

We have several problems so ingrained in our makeup that us “solving” them feels like it would kill some part of us. They don’t tell us, though, how often we will come close to destroying our own lives because we just couldn’t help it.

When we wake up in the middle of the night and are too excited about some idea to make our brains and heart rates quiet down enough to sleep, even though we have an appointment early the next morning.

When, the day before an exam, we cannot take ourselves away from a passion project long enough to do any substantial studying.

When we know we are failing a class, don’t understand a bloody thing and should probably listen to our professor’s lecture once – just this once – but we can’t because our fingers are drumming some beat on the wooden table, accompanying a melody that won’t stop playing in our heads, and we are panicking because we know we are sabotaging ourselves and we are freaking out because nothing can stop it.

They don’t like to tell us that “inspiration,” this strange, possibly over-romanticized and possibly misnamed or misunderstood thing, is not convenient at all. When they tell us that “we can draw inspiration from anything,” they forget to add that inspiration, many times, isn’t sought; it isn’t respectful; it assaults; it shows up and disrupts our lives. And they don’t tell us that the ones who told us how inspiration supposedly works will be annoyed when it hits us in their presence. Why, they might want to know, do you have to bend to its every whim, sitting there as they are talking to us as our eyes are glazed over and our ears shut down to their lectures: Why can’t you hold it in, the way you can hold your pee, and then activate it later? In fact, we would like to know the answer to that one as well.

They don’t like to tell us how obsessive we can be about projects that have no purpose and are certainly not necessary. The things that – although no one knows about them, that probably won’t be used for anything, that probably won’t even be usable – we cannot stop thinking about and really feel like we might explode if we don’t immediately create what every bodily cell and thought is commanding us to.

But most importantly, they don’t tell us that sometimes, we can pour out everything, whether intentionally or by irresistible compulsion, that we can suffer in self-sabotage and destruction, that we can spend ages and ages on creating something that wouldn’t leave us alone…they don’t tell us that despite all this, the result, nevertheless, is never even guaranteed to be good.


2 thoughts on “The Things They Don’t Tell Creatives

  1. The successes tend toward being few and far between while the unusable more readily lends itself to the artist so much so that doubting past successes becomes the responsible thing to do because of and in spite of the irresponsibility of artistry, but who would trade in those hot tempered anxiety ridden rude bursts of consciousness for sleep? Breathing is not the same as being alive I think

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