DISCUSS THIS STATEMENT AS IT RELATES TO CREATIVE WORK IN THE DIGITAL AGE:
Nothing is good enough. So we end up doing nothing.
YOU WILL BE GRADED.
A recurrence of a long-forgotten grad school nightmare? Or perhaps I’m just toying with you, tickling the paranoid part of your psyche?
From one point of view, it’s a riotously implausible assumption, seeing that one million hours of video gets uploaded to YouTube every day. Technology has democratized filmmaking, and the Internet is similarly transforming distribution and exhibition platforms.
Still, I’ll go out on a limb and guess for every hour of YouTube content that’s getting posted, there are dozens of skilled writers, directors, actors and other craftsmen who aren’t putting it out there. Many creative people don’t create. Or they hesitate, procrastinate or shelve entirely. Some of us are reduced to blogging our complaints and critiques of others’ efforts. (I just finished my own article nagging about acting performances among the Oscar nominees.)
I know too many writers who don’t finish what they start; painters who aren’t painting; photographers who aren’t scrambling among their own visual rocks for a great shot; dancers who could choreograph but don’t; directors who could be directing. I had a teacher who’d constantly say, “Do it now, or the next thing you’ll hear is the sound of the nails going into your coffin.”
Then I recalled a quote I’d often referenced, from Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille:
“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open…
No artist is pleased … There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
Ms. Graham’s most applicable advice? Don’t allow self-evaluation and self-judgment to block your expression. It’s “not your business.”
What if you could spend a week NOT evaluating, not judging your work? Because creating (which, to vastly oversimplify, is a by-product of inspiration, craft, knowledge and persistence) is a full-time job in itself. If you’re really working on creating, it’s more than likely you have little time to “read your reviews.” (A successful theater director once told me that he never reads his reviews; he doesn’t believe the good ones, and he’s always regretted reading the bad ones.)
This is not to suggest that revision is not part of the creative process. But revision is an act of carving specificity from generality. Evaluation is looking at the whole work and attempting to decide whether or not it’s worth the effort. Nor am I suggesting that there are times when procrastination can be a positive part of the creative process: Adam Grant, in the New York Times Sunday Review (January 16, 2016), discusses the value of procrastination. But its value is primarily when an idea or a project is already percolating in your head. There’s apparently no increase in creativity when no prior task has been initiated.
When things get done, it appears to be a by-product of myopia and delusion. Steve Jobs, for example, had his own reality distortion. Andy Hertzfeld, one of the key software engineers who worked closely with Jobs, says, on his folklore site (Folklore.org, February 1981),
“The reality distortion field was a confounding melange of a charismatic rhetorical style, an indomitable will, and an eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand. If one line of argument failed to persuade, he would deftly switch to another. Sometimes, he would throw you off balance by suddenly adopting your position as his own, without acknowledging that he ever thought differently. Amazingly, the reality distortion field seemed to be effective even if you were acutely aware of it, although the effects would fade after Steve departed.”
Before he began to convince others of his vision, he had to first convince himself.
You do have to be a little crazy to actually think it’s going to be seen among the ocean of “content” that’s out there, that you have something “new” to say, that you have something original and worthy of others’ attention.
In so many other cases, it seems to be the disease of giving up—of NOT PERSISTING—not finishing what we start. Nothing is ever finished, only abandoned. It’s said that in the world of digital start-ups, “every project is a prototype for the next one.”
The other demon for creative people, especially in the performing arts today, is distraction. We see a movie about a doctor and we want to become a doctor; we see a TV show about astronauts and we want to do that (or imitate it). To be fully, humanly creative, we need to focus on serving one master for at least the period of time it takes to complete the work. We need to be more monogamous in our artistic expressions. Or, in another often-quoted remark attributed to Goethe (paraphrased here by W.H.Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951),
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself, Providence moves too. All sorts of things then occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
It may not matter whether or not anyone is listening. It doesn’t matter if the audience is big enough. What matters is the doing.
– Rick Pagano