Joey Phoenix Media
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Salem, MA Portrait and Event Photographer

The Creative Love\Hate Dynamic (And the Compulsion toward Post-Creative Pyromania)

Creativity
Creativity

Muse: Samantha Mandeles 

Being a creative person lends itself to a touch of madness. We have absurd ideas in the middle of the night that haunt us until we make plans to bring them into being. Writers throughout history have spoken of how their characters have come to them in dreams, or they'll have conversations with them in broad daylight, and the character will ask politely (or in some cases, not so politely), "will you write my story?" and the writer has no choice but to say yes.

Poets have heard whispers and rhymes in the sunset, or when they're doing laundry.

Painters see a glimmer around the subjects they wish to paint, or they’ve found their hands moving of their own accord – rising, falling, and slicing the air even without a brush or canvas.

Musicians will discern melodies in the wheels of shopping carts and the whoosh of revolving doors.

And so on.

The creative person sees the world through a different lens, and understands reality in a completely different way. I've come to see this as a form of madness - as madness is any deviation from the norm. It's often manic and eccentric followed by darkness and disillusionment. When the creative process is initiated, we are flung to soaring heights, only to fall victim to ennui when the project is over - because that which we imagine was so much grander than our execution of it.

The Process 

Every artistic manifestation begins with an idea. Often this idea is half-baked or raw like cookie dough, but it's exciting and full of potential. Potential is a funny thing, funny in the strange elusive way, funny like your neighbor who comes outside in a bathrobe and green polkadot slippers. You can't just let potential fester, because like raw cookie dough, it may seem delicious, but it's full of poison.

So what do you do about it.

Making Cookies (Or turning that idea into a something useful)

Once the idea comes into the world, you have to do something about it. The longer you wait, the less its potency, and you'll put it off and put it off and put it off and...

But if an idea makes it past the stage of potential, and you start to do something with it, the effects are magical. Your brain sends signals to the body, good signals...ones that scream: "OH WOW LOOK AT US WE'RE DOING SOMETHING AWESOME!" And all that dopamine makes you feel like you're on top of the world, and you're going to create the best thing, and everyone will love it.

Anybody who's made it to this stage knows that this initial boost of momentum is not enough to carry you through.

The Doldrums

Inevitably, on the path to creating anything you will hit a bump or seven. Things won't go the way you planned, you won't have the materials, you'll book a model only to have her move to India last minute. Stuff happens. Usually, when it does, you'll begin to question everything. Sure, it was a good idea on paper...you'll think, but maybe I can't bring this into the world, maybe if I were meant to make this happen it would be...

easier.

And then you'll procrastinate and never finish what you started. The cookies are in the oven but you didn't wait for it to preheat and no matter how hard you stare at them through the little window in the oven door they just won't cook.

You can fall victim to the doldrums, go "ho hum," and give up now, or you can turn up the heat, roll up your sleeves, and try something else.

Once you make it through the doldrums, and persevere, usually you can finish what you've started. And you will succeed in creating something.

AHA I DID IT! But it was a horrible mistake...

Your idea has become a reality, hooray! Oh wait, but now what? The final product looks much different from what you've imagined and all your efforts have been wasted. You've given birth to your idea and now it's a living breathing entity and you just want to put it back. No one's allowed to see this! What will they think of it? What do I think of it? Quick, let's put in in the closet maybe no one will ever find it...

And there it will sit in the closet for decades, unless you burn it, or eventually fetch it from the closet and show it to the world.

Too many great pieces of art have fallen victim to post-creative pyromania.

Why We Have to Hate Our Work Before We Can Love It

The single reason why our finished products never meet our goals? Ambition. It's a normal part of the creative process. The more art you make, the closer you will get. You have to be a perfectionist, you have to never be satisfied, because if you're not, you'll never get better, and you'll never make more art. If we were happy with what we made (and we ought to rue the day this occurs), then we will be finished.

I could go on at length but read this first:

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. 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, 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 its 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."- Ira Glass

So even if everything you dreamt of falls to pieces and the work you create is rubbish in your eyes, keep doing it anyways. If you're completely mad (like so many artists are), you will be compelled to continue regardless of your better judgment. And every time you do something, it will be a little better than the last time, and the pattern will continue until you've got a following, and when people ask you if you like you work, and you say no, they won't understand. (Even if they themselves hate their own work).

The cycle continues.

So the next time you look at something you've made and feel the need to send it up to the sky in a blazing inferno, restrain yourself. Put it in the closet if you have to, but take it out in a week or two. You'll see it in a new light, and maybe, at this point you'll be far enough removed from the shining "idea" that you might even like it. And then, when the next process starts, you'll be ready for whatever emotions it throws at you.

It won't be easy.

It will require some effort.

But oh my heavens, will it be worth it. You will have created something.

~*~

Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art. - Andy Warhol