Further to my last post, I keep thinking about why I struggle with the idea of achieving something, or ‘making it’ in a creative field. I guess it’s two hallmarks of my generation: firstly, that fame is the chief and desirable marker of success, and secondly, being brought up to think that we can be anything we want to be (not saying that was the direct parental message, but more a societal thing). And it’s true, in terms of accessibility to materials and platforms and opportunities, and especially as a woman, I’m part of a generation where the possibilities do seem more abundant than they would have to women of my mum’s generation. I imagine that feeling is even more pronounced for people of the generations that have come after me, as the internet and technology have exploded.
But I think that’s one fo the big lies about our current age. Sure, in theory anyone can do anything, but really the world is going to be made up much more of billions of ordinary people. We forget that as we scroll through our social media feeds and consume endless inspiring success stories. We forget that for the most part, people are just trying to get on with their lives, and it’s not true that everyone but you is an amazing, fulfilled, successful genius. Not everyone is going to be a JK Rowling or an Elon Musk or a Serena Williams. Yes we should encourage each other to excel, to do whatever we want to the best of our abilities, but not assume that we’re all going to Make It Big, right?
Because the danger is with that mindset, we end up celebrating success at any cost, regardless of what the success is actually based on. People talk themselves up, build up a personal brand, become Insta-famous but when you scratch the surface there’s often not much substance there. We find ourselves in this world where the 20-year-old daughter of a reality television family ends up on the cover of Forbes Magazine, feted as a self-made almost-billionaire without acknowledging the incredible privilege she had, or even noting that successfully marketing make up is not exactly the same as producing a heartbreaking work of staggering genius (it’s just more lucrative). You’d either look at that as a young person and think “hey I can do that too!” (which is not true, unless you’re also the daughter of a ridiculously successful reality TV family) or “what’s the point of putting any effort in or making anything?” (because only savvy businesspeople will ever make a fortune).
So how do we, as creative people, navigate these murky waters? I think it takes deliberate action to change our mindsets and motivations. Instead of sticking to the idea that the only way you have achieved anything in a creative field is if you have gained some level of fame or monetary success, if you can try to deliberately approach creativity from the perspective of ‘what joy can I derive from this?’ then it changes the motivation for creating. You can allow yourself to make imperfect art. You can allow yourself to enjoy a finished product, even if you wouldn’t sell it to anyone (I’m thinking about my sewing here). You are released from the bind of “but will it make money?” and you can just get back to the pleasure of creating.
This might all sound incredibly naive, and it’s certainly not a new thought. Artists still have to make a living and have always struggled with how to balance creation with income and not selling out. But I’m tired of monetisation and branding coming so early in the process. I want to celebrate delight and whimsy and beauty and creativity and collaboration and fun. And part of that is sharing the results with the world, not keeping it to yourself. But the difference is you’re not always thinking “who will buy this?” or “how will this further my career?” You’re just trying to bring joy.
And from a Christian perspective, the motivation takes on another nuance. If you believe that you are a child of a God who loves to create and who gave us light and sound and colour and texture and harmony as pleasurable gifts, then maybe your motivation becomes trying to honour him with those gifts. Using them to the best of your ability to reflect something of this creative God back to the world around you. Exploring and learning and influencing for good. Putting something into the world that makes people think, or feel, or go deeper within their own creative selves to find what they can bring out. Bringing even more joy. Helping people see the light and beauty in our dark, crumbling world.
That’s what I want to do.