Have you ever considered this weird paradox of human nature? The urge to make and build things at once defines us and makes us human, while also being the most discouraged activity on both social and individual levels. We like to think of a past golden age when we all, or at least most of us, were creative people. However, it’s more likely that even in some cave in the prehistoric world, the creature painting the walls in earthy colours was just as ridiculed, derided and discouraged for wasting their time and betraying the tribe, rather than doing something useful and poking at the embers with a stick like all the other responsible and well-adjusted members of society.
This general nay-saying does make creativity of any sort a socially, materially and emotionally challenging prospect, even in the best of circumstances. As a maker and builder of things, a creative person, you need a better understanding and appreciation of the finer points of how the world functions. If you don’t have that and don’t try to grow yourself in that way, you’re just one of the rest of them. This human obstacle course to creativity involves three distinct kinds of people or motivations, and you would do well to know and recognise the three kinds of idiots who will get in your way, and in your face, no matter what you try to make.
“Graphic Design? That’s something to do with computers right? … You should go to the US. A lot of scope there!“
I’ve heard this more times, from more seemingly educated people and in more circumstances than I care to remember. Isn’t it wonderful how people who can’t even describe what you do, know how you could do it better? Of course they should know. They have a very respectable and well paying position in an anonymous large company as Vice President of poking at the embers and checking Facebook diligently during office hours. And no, that is not as much of an exaggeration as I used to think.
The majority of human beings are mere consumers. This largely featureless position in life is now more encouraged and coveted than ever before. With this social coveting comes a false bravado and a self-fulfilling importance which can, not only be de-motivating, but also extremely detrimental to real work being done and progress being made. Ignorance is a requirement of blind consumption and since consumers are the new golden geese of our world, ignorance is even more encouraged.
Even “knowledge” is now commodified, even “free thinking” is now packaged in small intellectual parcels to be consumed by masses of over-literate idiots who couldn’t think for themselves unless Apple or Samsung released an app for it.
The ignorant are so ignorant at times that they don’t know that they don’t know, and since we’ve made them believe they are important because they buy things, they will defend their ignorance at the cost of all else, and especially at the cost your sanity and your work, if you’re trying to do anything but be a respectable consumer.
Last year I was contracted to work on developing a corporate website. Part of the reason we won the pitch is that we promised a modern responsive layout that would adapt itself to a good mobile browsing experience. Later I sent over a test site to the client for feedback on my initial work on the layout. The comments I got back were as follows:
“You know that menu on top? It’s showing up as a button on my small laptop/notebook screen (that is the point of responsive design, for those who don’t know). That’s wrong. Get rid of it.”
“And the site looks different on my mobile. That’s bad. Look at these sites (sends me 4 links to sites which are not responsive at all). They look exactly right on my mobile and laptop and they are so responsive. Make our site more responsive too.”
These, ladies and gentlemen, are the ignorant. Do the best work you can under the circumstances, but don’t let them dictate your good work and what you feel about it. Don’t let them get to you, and make sure all that you do doesn’t pander to their whims.
“I am also very artistic.”
“My son/husband/wife/daughter/neighbour/distant relative/pet is into photography too. We just got him/her/them/it the first camera last night.”
“It’s nice that you spent two weeks building this robot that can do a handstand, only out of toothpicks, clearly inspired by running into me on the street the other day, but do you know how terrible my life is as a yoga instructor!”
Well, OK, so I haven’t heard that last one exactly like that, but it’s made convoluted only to obscure the many real examples of similar leaps of self-serving illogic I have been treated to.
Insecurity is another very human trait. It comes with the territory when you learn to ask questions of yourself. You could even argue that our very creativity stems from us as a species trying to circumvent our insecurities. That’s very likely true but think about what a glorious way to stem insecurity it is, creating. Most of humanity however, expresses its insecurities in entirely more negative ways.
Consumers will always try to pull you down to their level. This happens either by trying to prove how what you do is common or not very valuable, or it happens by them making your work or the results of your solitary work all about themselves. It sounds bizarre, and it is when you recognise it happening, but it does happen often.
It would seem the average human with no creative drive in their body — I like to think it is due to laziness and fear rather than a lack of urges — can be very ‘creative’ at one thing, and that is taking their wretched little ember poking twig and using it to ruin your work, belittle your effort and scratch their name on that cave wall you spent days on, all at the same time.
“That’s really not how the horses looked when I was watching someone else hunting them,” they’ll say. “And what is this? God! My hair looks so scraggly here. I am cursed! The Gods of thunder have punished me! … You really shouldn’t hurt people’s feelings like this. Here, take a stick.”
“Oh! It’s only made of paper. You should make it more colourful.”
The insecure are desperate creatures. Like crabs in a basket, they grasp at the straws of their limited imagination and confidence, and rejoice in pulling all down with them. The insecure person’s greatest pleasure is not in making themselves feel better, as you might think, but in making you feel worse.
Don’t let them pull you down. Be secure in your own work, know its flaws and strengths and you will continue to create, because creative people know it is an ongoing process and not a rat race. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, don’t get pulled into the trap of making the insecure ones feel better about themselves; Those are their claws. Leave them be, feeling however it is they choose to feel. The unfortunate thing is that they will choose to feel that way no matter how nice you are about it. Don’t be their unwitting company.
“Yes, but what’s your real job?”
“You are a danger to society!”
“That’s not how it works here.”
Granted, the person was slightly drunk for that second one, but I did actually hear it. In the web of human inertia, it’s possible that incredulity and disbelief in the value of change and innovation is more of an emergent characteristic through ignorance and insecurity, but so strong can this disbelief in all things creative or different get, that it becomes its own independent, self-sustaining creature. One you should be aware of.
The incredulous will be the ones who will tell you to “focus”, to struggle and suffer a little, to let the client take you for granted in the hope of future work, to do work for them for free. They have no belief in the value of what you do while paradoxically needing it, so they will try their best to make you believe as little of yourself as they do. They are the ones who want you to take on cheap work which will take you a month and pay you a pittance without knowing enough arithmetic to figure out that a dozen pittances still don’t make a living.
The incredulous are also the ones who will bring up the moral value of suffering, either by short-selling yourself in your creative field or by settling for whatever lucrative, dead-end thing they convince themselves they had no choice but to get into. The incredulous are the ones who will most convince themselves that their profession is noble and that they are saving the world with their martyrdom at the hands of the 9-to-5, while informing you of how selfish and irresponsible you are for actually taking responsibility for your own work, and life, and trying to build things no one has done quite like this before.
The incredulous will try to give you all the worthless solution the ignorant will foist upon you, along with the down-trodden convictions of the insecure, all for personal benefit, or often for no benefit at all, other than to convince themselves they are not humanly bankrupt or that all is well with the world as they mask it.
Moral superiority can only really be fought with a silent moral superiority of your own. The incredulous need to be handled like children you don’t care about. Nod and agree with all their wisdoms and try to engage with their self-placating rhetoric as little as possible. They will be happy looking up at a patch of sky they can see from their deep hole and you’ll be sure to not fall in with them into their muck. Don’t try to pat their heads. They bite.
The Evil ‘I’s
And there you have it. The ignorant, the insecure, and the incredulous, three dangerous types of idiots you must learn to identify, avoid, and if necessary deflect, if you are to continue unmolested down any creative path in life. They could be anyone, strangers, acquaintances, family members, loved ones, friends, lovers and advisers. The closer they are to you, the more likely they will succeed in breaking your resolve at whatever you might be attempting, but unless you grow a very thick skin, the strangers can affect you the most for the sheer randomness of their attacks.
Here’s the worst fact, these malicious human creatures can be you. Individually or in combination, you very well might be the ignorant, the insecure or the incredulous force in your own creative quest, or in someone else’s. That can get very insidious. I’m no stranger to many people in what we consider to be creative pursuits, exhibiting all the behaviours I’ve described. Because you see, it is in the nature of the consumer culture beast that creativity itself has now been commodified. A ten step plan and a list of lifestyle elements to devour, or worse yet, purchase. People now buy into “creativity”, tokens of what they imagine creative people must do. It’s a glamorous view, involving attitude and philosophies, and quoted platitudes and approved products, but very little effort, even less persistence, and a negligible need to solve anything.
Ultimately, you must remember that all creativity, all making, all building must solve something, even if that something is largely aesthetic. Even the aesthetic has consequences, but decoration does not.
Don’t let the idiots win and above all, make sure you are not being one of them, to other creative people or yourself. Somewhere in history, primitive hands making the first flint tools will thank you for carrying on their work, while near them others poking at embers will whine about them not just using a large rock to smash things like all the sensible people.