“Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.”
While I’m happy to reference one of the great movies any darn time I can, the above quote could easily be adjusted to say something similar about the equation for creativity… or, likewise, a dearth of creative output. I’m a creative person; I would use that word to describe my interests, my thought-processes, and my intentions, and I think most who know me would agree with my use of that descriptor. As an extension of that creative mindset, I would also consider myself an artist. After almost 34 years on the planet, though, how much actual tangible evidence for my artistic creativity exists in the world?
Very little, sadly.
As has been the case for a long time, I still find myself in a bit of a quandary when it comes to the absence of my works of art on the figurative walls of the world. If I am so creative, why have I created so little? What stops me? Years ago I created a simple little digital painting, Clockwork Heart, and I think it turned out really nicely; the art, itself, is technically up to the standard I envisioned when I concocted the idea, and it says a little something, which elevates it to a higher level in my book than simple fluff. There are only a handful of items in my DeviantArt gallery, and that is probably the one I’m proudest of — really, only one of two there that I think are actually worthy of sharing publicly.
While this is a notion that has been brewing for some time, of course, this actual post finds its inspiration in the events of the prior week or so. While in a screenwriting course at a community college seven years ago, I wrote a short screenplay which eventually ended up finally being produced at the same school (though by a completely different set of students) just a few years ago. The end result of this film-student project was really abysmal, and last year I decided to rewrite the tale in short-story form, allowing it to expand and breathe a little from the original page-limit the screenplay was created under. What ended up flowing out of this recreation is something that I’m really proud of. It’s still not a happy tale, but I think it offers something important within its sad misery. This screenplay adaptation is a little long for regular short-story submissions, at 10,000+ words, but I sent it out to a couple of places. While it never made it into anyone’s publications, I still think it’s a dandy little piece of storytelling and set my aim on releasing it as a digital book. Of course, rarely content to let a vision be shared half-heartedly, I also would like to draw a nice cover and add a few illustrations to the file, as well (it’s not a children’s book, but illustrating it almost as if it were fits well within the narrative). This is what I found myself looking into last week — the most ideal formats and platforms to use for publication, programs to use, how best to create my images — and then I ended up in a whirlwind of creative stagnation, again, producing nothing. Yet.
Why is my portfolio so void, though? I’ve asked myself this question for a decade (likely more), but the reason is not always singular and has not remained a constant over all of this time. Still, there are several hindrances that seem to peek out most often:
I can be honest here, quite often I simply don’t put forth the effort. I suppose I could just as easily name this option “Priority,” as it’s simply the case that I would regularly be doing something other than creating art. Perhaps I skip working on my art to instead relax by watching a movie or playing a game. Other times I’m out with friends or exercising. In this scope, none of these activities are done in avoidance of artistic expression, they’re merely things I would rather be doing. Still though, the ideas and aspiration continue to pile up in my head and in my heart, respectively, and I am doing very little to let this creativity thrive and breathe as much as it wants to.
The attempt to create perfectly what I saw and felt inside, without allowing myself the necessary path of multiple failures and struggles which leads to such “perfection,” has certainly been the greatest issue I’ve struggled with over the years. It was entrenched in my mindset from a very early age, and since art means so much to me, it was very trying to let myself produce something that wasn’t as grand as I
hoped wanted needed it to be. As I approached and entered my 30’s, I really started making great leaps and bounds in moving beyond this perfectionist mindset, though, but while it doesn’t rule me as it once did (or DOES it??), I am still longing for the day when I can say that I have left it behind me completely, as I’m not quite there yet.
In my non-artistic life, I sometimes wander out of the fog of a depressed state and jump into the intense ambition of a manic one — letting a million ideas flood my mind, making up for the lack of energy during the depressed time with a surge of go-go-GO excitement. If you know, or are, someone who is a true Bipolar (manic-depressive), you’re fully aware of what I mean, though I wouldn’t consider myself in the same vein of condition. Still though, it’s like going from 0-6,000 in 1.5 seconds, but then the engine catches on fire and explodes because of course it can’t really sustain that level of power. Creatively, I have a similar problem. It’s not necessarily that I find myself with too many ideas (though, that is also the case), but rather that I am often stuck without enough information on where to begin. Case in point, the aforementioned eBook I wanted to start putting together last week. Writing the story was simply an issue of putting my nose to the grindstone and getting it done, but this new task involves a number of variables that I’m unfamiliar with. To combat this, I try to tackle small chunks and open myself up to the possibility of making mistakes — these issues I’m listing all interconnect — but it can still be hard to handle sometimes, this barrage of information, and it wears me out so much that I end up not actually creating anything.
Here we are at the issue that’s plagued me the most lately, and the one which I have the least understanding of. The word “apathy” may not be the most accurate word to use, so let me explain a bit more here than I did regarding the prior two issues.
I feel that art is pretty useless without an audience. To be clearer, it is pretty useless without an audience outside of the artist himself. I really adore my weekly comic, Out of the Box, and while I often joke that I am its biggest fan, if in the 5+ years that it’s been running it had never garnered a single comment or vote of approval from someone who is NOT myself, I’m unsure whether or not it would still be running. The same could be said for my blog, as well. I know of some regular readers that I do have (it’s less than 4), and that really does mean a lot to me because it’s a validation that I’m not just figuratively screaming into the wind. This idea of validation can be a tricky line to shuffle across, especially in conversation as in reality it tends to come about more naturally, because it’s not that I create art for attention but rather that I aim to create something which elicits a response — and how is one to know that one’s art is “working” as intended if one never hears from their audience? The other night one of these regular blog-readers of mine mentioned how sad last week’s panel of Out of the Box was (it was a positive comment, though), and while I’m not necessarily looking to make people sad as my ultimate creative goal, that she actually felt something emotional due to my creative work really meant a great deal to me.
It meant that my art works. Sometimes, at least.
So, why the apathy? If I’m gaining at least some appreciation for my work, is that not enough? Well, a deeper level of the issue is that occasionally I struggle to see the value in the end-result of my artistic efforts. The other night, 50 people needlessly lost their lives in a Florida nightclub, and some might take the gravity of events in the world around us as a reason to second-guess the efforts put forth to draw a silly image (or even question why one would bother worrying about something so inconsequential), but I think that art’s greatest strengths are to offer an emotional connection and to provide a fun escape… and these seem like pretty valuable things in light of sad news. What I instead mean by this struggle-to-find-value, is that I am unimpressed by my own efforts. Perhaps I’m simply not giving myself enough credit, or even the chance to improve, but with most forms of my art I have a hard time caring about its existence. The short story I mentioned above has been written. It’s complete. Now what? Will people read it? Perhaps. Will it matter? Therein lies the question that tends to halt my efforts so regularly now.
To be fair, I tend to have a harder time with my visual art in this regard, especially since I’m not creating anything that someone could hang on their wall and at least use it as a semi-practical decoration. I somewhat enjoy drawing and painting, but I have a struggle to find the value in spending hours and hours working on a heavily detailed piece that is simply going to then sit there and maybe look a little interesting. Even with my preferred medium, writing, I can give myself a hard time about putting in the effort to complete something others can access. My thoughts swirl around a concept of uselessness, in that, “Well, okay… so I created a short story. So what? What does it do, now? It just sits there. It’s not THAT great, why bother reading it?” It doesn’t help that I tend to skew towards the sad and tragic in my story-creation. I have plenty of ideas that end on happy notes, but even many of those really take the characters through some dire times. I’m not a miserable person, really, it’s just where my creative mind goes a lot of the time. But who wants to read sad stories?
As I write this all out, and learn more about my own thoughts in the process, I’m struck by the idea that perhaps I simply don’t value art enough. This can’t be true, though, as just the other night, when the topic of conversation among a group of friends steered onto Mad Max: Fury Road and Godzilla, I found my giddiness surging. It’s also no secret that I cherish the great emotional impact of art, personally, so this can’t simply be a case of my not valuing art.
Perhaps, then, it’s even more personal. Perhaps I don’t value myself.
Woah, woah, woah, where the heck did that come from? Well, fine… I wasn’t expecting things to get to THIS level, but so long as this conversation has led us to the deep end I’m going to just dive right in anyways and see what’s down there. As I feel that writing is my greatest artistic strength (and I’m confident others would agree), let me use it as example, here. I’ve loved the art of storytelling in written form since I was a little kid. In 3rd grade, my teacher praised the tarnation out of the stories I wrote for class, and commented both on at least one of my papers and to my mom directly that I would be an author one day. Throughout the rest of my years in school, my teachers consistently had similar praise when it came to the creative-writing assignments I turned in. I have, on several occasions, been commended/jokingly-scorned for bringing friends to tears simply through the use of my words on an emotional blog post or an encouraging message. I feel strange about my own response to these reactions, as on one hand I understand it and agree that I have a decent command of language and am capable of stirring up emotional responses… and on the other hand I also don’t fully believe it.
What does this have to do with not valuing myself? I may be using too heavy-handed a term, but it’s similar to a few months ago when I went out on a first, then second, then third date with a gal and the single strangest feeling for me regarding the entire situation was that she was actually really interested in me. I know too many folks who are far too down on themselves, and I do think that I’m a splendid enough fella, but life-experience has not offered me enough situations to leave that feeling of being liked by a member of the opposite sex anything but novel and foreign, so it was really very strange. It was, in a lot of ways, hard for me to accept — not at an intellectual level, but at an emotional one.
So then, maybe it is the same for my art. My lack of priority and my perfectionism has kept me from creating much, and what little I have created generally hasn’t impressed me very much, so I don’t exactly have a collection of well-loved material that inspires me to create more and more. One of my few regular blog-readers is actually fairly new, but knowing that I have another appreciate audience member only spurs me on to create more and kicks the aforementioned issue of laziness to the curb. Knowing, by way of conversation or comment (validation) that my work is appreciated and enjoyed sets it at a much higher priority level, and I want to be able to provide more. This creative apathy, then, may not quite be the conundrum I thought it was. On the surface, it might just very well be the classic/cliche artist’s struggle of wanting to know that someone “gets” my work. At its most basic level, though, perhaps it is simply the result of my having not given myself enough of a chance to even let my art impact others in the way that others’ art has impacted me. Some time ago I realized that if I were to ever meet someone whose creative work has meant a great deal to me, i.e. Christopher Nolan, I would forego the desire for a signature or photographic evidence of our run-in and simply offer a handshake and a truly sincere, “Thank you very much for making movies.”
If what little art I’ve offered to the world has found at least a slight appreciation and made the occasional emotional connection, then I suppose I should probably offer more. If writing is my greatest artistic gift (and, admittedly, the one I enjoy the most), perhaps I should stop refraining from putting these many stories in my head to the page. Perhaps I should offer the world a chance to enjoy what I have to offer, creatively, instead of letting my minimal efforts of the past dictate my future… even if it never ends up being more than a couple of people.
And, perhaps, I should begin by finally starting real work on a story that’s actually happy and pleasant — a sweet little love story, titled The Tale of Stan and Ellen, that’s been rattling around in my head for years. Perhaps I already have.
Because, really, my artistic intention is about more than wanting to make people cry and creating sad things… I’ve done enough of that for a little while, I think ;).