Happy New Year everyone! I hope you’re all ready to attack 2018 like a beautiful big blank canvas. I know I am. Which is why it troubles me when I hear artists, musicians, writers, marketers, entrepreneurs (the artists of the business world) and the like, rationalize the reasons for their lack of creative productivity. Having spent the better part of 48 years as an artist…I can certainly relate. In so many ways, one of the fatal flaws in the human condition related to creativity, is that we often sabotage and sacrifice the more vulnerable parts of our being to protect our fragile psyche. The dilemma of course, is that it’s our vulnerability that typically generates the necessary heat to steam…and eventually erupt…the underground reservoir of thoughts, ideas and talents from our individual creative geyser. Which begs the major question at the beginning of this blog: How do we maintain our creative momentum with the right balance of sensitivity…and the discipline required to keep it flowing? The answer might just be a concept often lost in the romance of the aha creative moment. The concept is called productivity.
I recently saw Jerry Seinfeld on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. In referencing one of Jerry’s new projects, Jerry Before Seinfeld, Fallon showed a picture of a lifetime of Seinfeld’s material, in 8 ½ x 11 notebook form, patch-worked together on a street in New York City.
Commenting on it, Seinfeld made two fascinating remarks. First, he referenced how the photo put into context his productivity over the years as a comedian and creative. Commenting further, that photo only showed the material that actually “worked”, noting that throughout his career, there was probably ten times the amount pictured that didn’t. And second, he said it illustrated how committed you really needed to be if you wanted to be successful as an artist. A concept that is all too often lost in the unfortunate references of creativity as a compartmentalized craft, inconsistent inspiration or wonderful whim…versus a skill that needs to be mastered to really be marketable. The greater point being, that the development of creativity throughout history, is most successful when approached as more habit…than hobby.
Unfortunately for so many artists, professional development comes to a screeching halt after some kind of formal arts training…or puberty. Not to mention the lifelong annoyance of not being viewed as a “serious” profession. Which parenthetically might also be a contributing factor related to why people might arrest or ignore their own creative development. No one, including the artist, bothers to cultivate that passion into a disciplined talent of tremendous value. It’s the difference between telling someone it’s time to put away the crayons, or encouraging them to progress to more impressive medium. For me, over the years the choice has always been simple…but nonetheless difficult at times. I can either let life get in the way of my creativity, or allow it to act as the spark that ignites the fire of a more fulfilling life.
It wasn’t until I flat out rejected the traditional myths and constructs surrounding the creative process, and the stereotype of the starving artist in general, that I truly realized the personal and professional power of sustained creative momentum. Productivity, my friends, is what turns that hobby of yours into something so much more rewarding…and that transforms that intermittent passion into a profession filled with purpose.
2018 is here. Why not make this is your breakout year?! The one that changes the trajectory of your life both professionally and personally…as well as the way you approach your creative contribution to the world. Allow me to share my 6 keys to sustaining creative momentum over my 20 year artistic career…and hopefully for many years to come!
- Create a space or area you can creatively call you own: Throughout my career, I’ve always thrived when I’ve designated a space, large or small, to just experiment, make a mess (both figuratively and literally)…and just create. A place I where I could learn to not fear failure, and play with the tools of my trade. A dorm room, a garage, a bedroom, a table in the corner of a bedroom, a parent’s basement, a basement I owned, and basements I’ve rented. All of these, over the years have been places where my creative efforts have called home. Without a designated creative area in your living space, finding a somewhere you can be consistently creative can be a real challenge. So stop searching for the perfect place to be creative. Just find a spot and start. If you’d like to really fly…you need a nest.
- Consider working on multiple projects or pieces at the same time: Over the years, I’ve learned that you develop a relationship with creative projects. Believe it or not, to me they have personalities, quirks, even a kind of telepathic ebb and flow…and like actual relationships, some are more fulfilling than others…often at different times. More importantly, I learn different things from all of them, especially when I collaborate with them simultaneously. For me, it’s been a great way of working on expanding my productivity in an organic manner, versus the linear approach to creativity, that can lead to the activity feeling like an obligatory task…one project at a time. Cautionary note: For those of you who have a hard time finishing projects…limit yourself to three, and don’t introduce another until you’ve completed at least one.
- Recognize that creative time and free time are very different: If you really want to be successful…you need to live it. Don’t just make time for your creativity….make it a habitual part of your day, and if need be, put in the extra hours without hesitation. If you’re not willing to go in to overtime…then I wish you the best of luck with your hobby. The difference between and artist and a hobbyist is their level of commitment. What’s yours?
- Embrace that real creative development involves massive amounts of failure: Growth as an artist comes from the moments you pushed the limits of your current set of skills, as well as continually testing the relevance and authenticity of your current creative direction. Be fearless in your creative approach, and develop the courage to not only honestly critique yourself, but graciously accept the criticism of others. This was so valuable to me as a young artist…and even today as it relates to client feedback. You might not always like what you hear, but all of it helps you hone and improve your ability to convey and delivery your original artistic perspective. Yes…all of it. Failure is an amazing teacher…but only as effective as your ability to learn from it. Understand the lesson and then let it go…moving on to the next base camp on your courageous creative climb.
- Authenticity makes inspiration easy: When I get stuck creatively, I will often just start by attacking a blank canvas with no specific subject matter or technique in mind. I let my love for the creative activity unclog the opening to the geyser of life’s debris. It’s amazing when you clear your mind, the things that come to the surface. This often helps me connect with my natural passions and leads to a very simple, proven, but often ignored creative formula: Write, draw, paint, sing and create involving the things you know and love. Get out there, gain as many unique experiences as you can…this only adds to the complexity and interest of your creative palette. For those of you who like to live in the comfort zone of perfecting a technique…I have a question. Once you’ve perfected the technical, what do you plan to say or do with it? Don’t lose sight of the fact that your talent is only as good as your ability to connect others with it.
- Not every project needs to be a masterpiece: Reality check: Name your favorite artist. Now do you honestly think EVERYTHING they ever created was amazing? Or do you think that it’s more likely that ones we see are the gems from piles of rocks? I’m going to stick with Seinfeld on this one. There will most likely be ten times as many creative failures than successful outcomes. So, get over yourself Picasso. Like paths to a destination, some projects are simply meant to get you from A to B. Something that over time you’ll understand in greater detail. The key is to start walking down the path making creativity a larger part of your daily routine. Do that, and creative productivity will come naturally…one step at a time.
Skeptical of my keys to creative productivity? That’s fine. Then do it your way. But let me leave you with these words from the master himself…
From our studio to a creative place of your own…Happy New Year!