Featured From the Archives: Why do you . . . (Insert Creative Verb Here)?

As the 2nd year anniversary of my blogging experiment draws near, I realize I’ve reached the point where many of my followers probably haven’t read the older posts. So periodically, I’m going to feature one of those archived gems (which pretty much means I ran out of time and/or motivation that week) and give you a chance to discover them again. (Or, for the first time, as the case may be.)

Today’s feature is one that hopefully doesn’t offend too many people. But with all the various blog hops going around (like the ones I, myself, have participated in recently), and posts about what it means to be a (insert whatever creative term you were reading about), it seemed like the perfect time to showcase this again. (Plus, I’m feeling a tad under the weather, and my pesky muse decided to high-tail herself out of the plague zone. ) So, to kick off my new/old series, I present: Why Do You . . . (Insert Creative Verb Here)? A snarky, honest post about what we’re all really thinking when you ask us this. (Warning, contains tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and blunt reality. Read with your serious-meter on half.)

Oh! And don’t forget, I still have that fantabulous (yes, that’s a word. Shut it before I hurl this NyQuil bottle at your head) giveaway I’m running in honor of my upcoming blogiversary. I’ve already received over 300 entries, so three lucky people will be receiving the book they chose from the list. And if you’d like to make it four (and to see whether or not what I’m saying is a cold-med induced hallucination) click here!

Back to the post!

Why Do You . . . (Insert Creative Verb Here)?

By Kisa Whipkey

(Originally Posted on 5/11/12)

This is probably the most-asked question of creative people -– sometimes even by other creative people. And it’s one of the more irritating ones, because it’s such a hard thing to quantify. It’s like asking someone why their eyes are blue, or why they were born in the morning. How do you answer that? So, understandably, the answers to why someone’s creative vary wildly depending on the person. You’ll hear things like:

“I’m not sure, I just do.”

“Because it makes me happy.”

“Because it’s therapy for me; it helps me express myself.”

And my personal favorite, “I do it for me.”

Now, the truth is, all of these answers are sugar-coated, watered-down replies meant to make the artist look more artsy; to make the listener think, “ooo, aren’t they cool? They’re so mysterious and vague.” Personal satisfaction is great, but you go to the gym for personal satisfaction, you don’t pour weeks, months, years, heart and soul into a project just for personal satisfaction. I mean, don’t answers like that just seem so full of themselves? Why narcissism is encouraged within the arts is beyond me, but the more self-involved the answer, the more prestige points an artist receives. And the more frequently you’ll hear responses like the above.

Personally, I view every one of those answers as a cop-out. Because ultimately, statements like that are rarely true. And before you get up on your high horse and scream “controversy!” while flooding my comment box with all the reasons I’m wrong, hear me out. If creativity is such a personal thing (which I’m actually not arguing, because it is), why would anyone share its products? All those artists, authors, and musicians that claim they only create for themselves are lying. The proof is in the sheer fact that they made said creation available for public consumption. If it was truly just for them, it would be stashed in a vault somewhere, guarded by large, vicious dogs, and fiercely protected until its location was lost in the afterlife. Not put on public display for all to judge. But that’s not the case, is it? Because they shared their work with the world.

(The only exception may be personal diaries and journals, which are never truly intended to be shared, but in reality, are almost always found and read anyway.)

When I’m asked this question of why I (insert creative verb here), I have a generalized, self-important, prosaic answer that I’ll give. (Who doesn’t want to earn some prestige points?) I simply say that the reason I (chosen creative verb of the moment) is that I never realized not (doing said creative verb) was an option. And this is partly true. Creativity just came naturally. Like breathing. But just like the answers I listed above, that lovely little sound-bite, while somewhat accurate, is not the real motivator behind my masterpieces. (See? Don’t I just automatically sound more brilliant because I called them that?)

The brutal, honest truth is something none of us “Artistes” like to admit, because it makes us seem desperate and needy, and those two adjectives are a far cry from cool and mysterious. We don’t want to be put in the same category as your psycho ex that Facebook stalks you. But the reason all those artists, authors, and musicians refuse to admit, is that we create because we want validation. Public approval. Fame, glory, and all that jazz. Just like when we were little kids and we ran to Mommy looking for approval on our latest blob of mismatched crayon wax we were certain looked like the cat, we offer up the fruits of our labor to the public eye. With the sole intent of being lavished in praise for our awesomeness.

When you think about it, it’s not really that hard to see why this is the real motivator behind creativity. It’s the same reason we post status updates several times a day and then check back obsessively, waiting for those little thumbs-up signs to appear that means someone likes us, someone agreed. We’re cool. It’s human nature to seek praise from those around us; it makes us feel good, worthwhile, valued. Does that mean all artists are shallow, attention-seeking ho-bags? No. Do we all secretly want to preen while you sing our praises and tell us how awesome we are, so we can humbly pretend we didn’t already know that? You betcha.

Ultimately, though, it’s receiving feedback of any kind (although preferably of the worship-my-brilliance variety) that motivates us to hit that upload button, to submit that manuscript, or to step out on that stage. It’s often said that creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And I 100% agree. Without that input from others, your creative side will shrivel and die like a thirsty plant locked in a closet. Which is why, whenever someone answers with the angelically selfish response of , “I (whatever) for me,” I find myself annoyed. Why is it OK to feed your narcissistic ego by pretending that success means nothing to you and you don’t care what anyone else thinks, but not OK to admit the truth? You did it for the same reason I do –- to feel good when others tell you your creation is something wonderful.

And for those out there that feel this question, this “Why do you . . . (insert creative verb here)?” is a perfectly legitimate conversation starter, it’s really not. You’re just going to be lied to. Few of us will man up and admit, “I did it to be rich and famous. Duh.” You’re much better off asking questions that actually have quantifiable answers. Ask why we do things a certain way, or what did we mean with X, instead of something as innocuous as why do you create?

Hey, nobody said honesty always had to be pretty. And I did warn you that snarky rants were a definite possibility. But let the barrage of offended comments commence anyway. ;)