Most creative folks think a lot about empty surfaces. The potential. It can be hard to think about creation in terms other than medium, vessel, form. And it can be easy to find that potential either intoxicating or overwhelming.
Write in an empty journal to create ideas where there were none; paint across a blank canvas to express emotion; dance to move your audience.
There are only the most delicate lines between expression, creation, manifestation, and self-assertion. Cultures focus a lot on the physical expression of power. Politics, crime, war. But ever physical action starts with an idea, and ideas are only expressed by creative means. So to express ideas successfully is as close as we come to divinity.
Talking about it doesn’t count, and playing the piano will only count when it leads to a performance or a recording. On this point I feel merciless: doodle as much as you like, journal quietly, hum in the shower. Process creates the work. But it is not the work.
The work is having the fucking guts to draw it, build it, put it on YouTube.
I have been startled many times by the power of my written words. Startled, not because they were misinterpreted, but because they carried much more weight than what I say verbally does. One could argue it’s simple evolution: writing lasts much longer and can be distributed more widely than the spoken word, therefore, it is considered more powerful.
Maybe it is that respect for the power of a word carved in stone – or printed on paper – that gives “pure” creativity such allure. I’m referring to creativity considered in the vacuum of a white sheet of paper. That is creating from scratch. From brain to medium. The “artist’s ego” is usually a drive to be free from any constraints other than those in one’s own head, to create in the freedom of that vacuum. The wild abstract oils of an unknown ingenue, the first Beat poem, the decision to animate a singing mouse – our paradigm changes every time someone creates something that is both compelling and entirely original.
In spite of that, there is another form of creativity that, as I get older, becomes more and more appealing. It is the creativity of recording, respect, and wrinkles. It is interviewing an elderly relative to preserve her anecdotes on disc. It is empowering friends and loved ones to create, by giving them paints and brushes or setting them up with a website. It is photographing the decaying brick wall of an old factory. It is portraits, biography, and tutorials. It is blogging about your life.
It is taking a real thing that already exists and explaining to the world why it is art.
This form of creativity is seen as lesser because it is not “from scratch.” The biographer, the translator, the blogger, the portrait artist, the photojournalist, the documentarian are seen as less creative, less artistic, than the painter or the writer who creates things purely out of their own head.
I see this distinction as Victorian and boring.
Let’s think about this another way: let’s think about vision rather than source material. All artists work from observation and memory of real experiences. All art is based on something real. The question is whether it is the obfuscation of reality that makes something art, or the way in which we present it. How much must we alter and obscure reality, and how much can we allow ourselves to honor it? How much is art about the subject, and how much is it about our way of looking at the subject?
If we agree that the nuance and force of an artist’s perspective determines the quality of their art, why judge what that perspective is of?
In my opinion, a biography is art if it is beautifully written, the timeline carefully presented, the details and events chosen for their ability to evoke the spirit of the person. A new design is art if it blends form with function in a new way, based not on the designer’s ego, but on necessity. A cartoon is art if it transcends an audience of children, if it is lyrical, metaphorical, visually memorable.
Every life is art if it brings joy to those around it, but the beauty of art is that it can turn the most unlovable life into art. The meaning is in the telling. And yes, this applies to your actual life and your actual sense of self: even if you feel like crap right now, you can turn your life into a hero’s story.
If you start telling your story, if you make it a good one, if you find the meaning. This is all that the “powers that be” do in our society. All judges, priests and therapists do is take your jumbled memories and impressions and turn them into a story: he is a criminal, she is unfaithful, they are uneducated. These are just well-meaning individuals we pay to fabricate a narrative from their own points of view and the disciplines they were trained in. This is how institutionalized racism and sexism happen: a group of random folks telling everyone else’s stories. They have nothing to do with you, really, except that culturally we don’t yet trust ourselves to write our own stories.
What if you told it yourself? What would you say?
We live in a Golden Age of self-expression. If anything at all on this Earth stirs you, consider sharing it. Your emotion about certain things contributes to the fabric of our culture. You’re already putting this energy into the world, influencing how you interact with others, what you spend your money on, what you do for a living, who you love. Your passions, enthusiasms, loves, and dislikes are more than idiosyncrasies. They are the contribution you make to this life.
Help us out. Turn it from mud to marble. Find a form, let it out, learn your craft, have fun, but please, share it.