The grammy nominations are out today and so begins the season of comparing one artist to another, comparing one person’s creativity to someone else’s. What does that even mean? How do you begin to compare two things that are meant to be different? How do you determine that one is better than the other?
If I get up everyday and work on an idea, take baby steps every time improving my craft, and someday enjoy some modicum of success because people recognize my efforts, acknowledge my accomplishments and reward me for sticking with it, why, then, do I have to be compared with you when really, you’re just doing the same? What’s the real message behind award shows?
I’m reading this awesome book called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
by Elizabeth Gilbert. You know Liz. She wrote Eat Pray Love a few years ago and it topped the NY Times bestseller list and went on to acquire a cult following when it became a movie starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem. That’s when you know you’ve made it – when Julia Roberts plays you in a movie about your life 🙂
In Big Magic, Gilbert talks about the creative process, why it’s an organic thing, something you do to express a talent, a gift, a fire that’s burning inside you. For many such creators, there is no reward except an intrinsic one – the knowledge that you accepted the mantle, that you honored the gift, that you did something with an idea that’s been nagging at you for years. Creativity is its own reward.
It’s an extremely personal thing to write or draw or sing or paint or make a movie, to create in whatever form, something that comes from deep inside you, and put it out there for everyone to see, to listen, to experience, to share, to identify, to critique, to comment, to criticize. Artists and artistes should be celebrated just for being brave enough to share their work. Instead, we find fault, we rip apart and then when they don’t run away from our discouragement fast enough, we pit the survivors against each other so they can destroy each other while we watch.
For the few who survive, the unlikely victors in each round of our society’s Hunger Games, these last brave souls now have to prove that if present them is good enough, future version of themselves will be even better – and not in their eyes but ours.
A few years ago, Adele introduced herself to us with a couple of great albums – Adele 19 and Adele 21. She took some time off to start a family and came back, with bells ringing, with Adele 25. Her aptly named song, Hello, is breaking records everywhere. But do you know the number question everyone asks her? What will you do to top this next time? What! The very idea that you have to top your own success. Yes, okay, get better. But get better for yourself. Not because you want to achieve someone else’s definition of success.
This kind of thinking can be crippling and it’s difficult to create surrounded with that kind of pressure. It’s why To Kill a Mockingbird was Harper Lee’s only published work for over fifty years. The verdict is still out on whether she wanted the prequel Go Tell A Watchman to be published since she kept insisting that she didn’t want anything else she wrote to be compared (unfavorably) to Mockingbird.
Ms. Lee didn’t want to tarnish her legend. She didn’t want to disappoint the people who would be fans if her second book was awesome, and would be naysaying critics if it wasn’t.
Way to quench a creative fire, critics. Way to go!
It’s a very hard thing to create. It’s hard to get up very morning and go punch a clock at a nine-to-five job that you hate. But at the end of the day, the world doesn’t know the highs and lows of your day. If you failed at a work project today, you get to lick your wounds in private and go back and do it better tomorrow, if you choose, on your own terms.
A person who works in the creative arts, whatever their field of expertise, has to delve into the realm of their experiences and produce something magical every single time or be lambasted for it. Nobody can handle that kind of fickle support for too long.
Let’s be a little more understanding and supportive to the artists and creators who entertain us, who immortalize our feelings in song or dance or stories or movies. Let’s celebrate with them instead of criticizing them. Buy their art if you can and focus on enjoying what you can instead of identifying what’s wrong.
Can we just be kinder, period? Can we stop comparing people (and things) who never wanted to be and were never intended to be the same as anyone (or anything) else to begin with?