Creativity Takes Courage
Do you have unhelpful criticism bringing negativity into your world?
There's a personality trait that most creative people share. It's what enables them to follow their vision, explore new possibilities and break new ground with their art. That trait is courage.
You "could" say that "creativity takes courage", but I think it's more accurate to say that it's "originality" that takes courage. It doesn't take much courage to create a bunch of more-of-the-same types of things, but it takes quite a bit to create something new and unique.
And I say that not because creating things, in and of itself, is a courageous thing, because it kind of isn't ? people create stuff all the time ? but to create new, unique and possibly unusual things puts the artist in the potentially vulnerable position of opening themselves up to the disheartening feedback of anyone who doesn't like what they've produced. Trailblazing artists and composers have to deal with this all the time, and historic tales of criticism of great artists are legendary.
Courage really isn't a tangible thing, though. Just like cold being the absence of heat and dark being the absence of light, courage is the absence of a certain mental filter through which many people see the world: the filter of fear, the fear of the critiques and judgments of other people. It's the courage to create new and original works without concern for any potential negative assessment. Resolute creators love their work more than they fear what others may think about it.
You can't truly allow your creative urges to be fulfilled if you fear the critiques and judgments of others. As a creative person you "will" be judged by others. To judge and to be judged is so pervasive in the human experience that religions offer proverbs admonishing us to maybe not do it quite so much.
Unfortunately, the media landscape, which is a nefariously self-serving system at best, fuels the fires of judgmentalism and criticism at every turn. Why and how it does this is a topic for another time, but needless to say, shows that encourage you to judge others are inescapable. Whether it's a talent show or a fake court case or even just the news, the mainstream media continually encourages us to love and agree with some people and hate and disagree with others.
Now, everyone has their own sense of what they like and dislike, based upon their own tastes and experiences. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. But there are some people, and it's almost always either participants in the artistic community or those who want to be part of it, who need to take it a step farther and inflict their self-righteous , or self-serving, judgments upon others as if those opinions are indeed objective facts to be taken seriously. It never ceases to catch me off guard when I hear a criticizer offering their helpful advice to someone with that thinly veiled condescension so pervasive in the arts community. If you have people in your life who do this, don't fall for it. They're just grinding you into the ground to make themselves feel superior.
“The ability to observe, without evaluating, is the highest form of intelligence.” wrote Jiddu Krishnamurti, to which I would add, "The ability to be entertained without judging is the highest form of compassion for the performer." And I say that because to show true compassion for others and judgment-free acceptance of their work is a high ideal, for sure, but it's an ideal worth pursuing.
I include you, as an artist, in that call for compassion because I oftentimes run across people who really want to achieve some artistic or musical result, but can't because they are emotionally stuck, as if hearing only the voices of criticism and condemnation in their heads.
Invariably, they will project their own pain outward to the works and efforts of others, using criticism of someone else as a proxy for the disappointment they feel within themselves. Hatred of others is very often hatred of self. In this sad transaction, there is no compassion for self, and by extension no compassion for others. They take no joy in a life of authenticity, and find little-to-no entertainment value in any of it.
And that's my point about uncritically partaking in entertainment offerings. Let me tell you a little story about something that happened to me.
Back in the late '80s, I played a show where there was this old dude at the back of the room making some noise. He was really thin and wore the same clothes he'd been wearing all day at his work as a janitor.
There were around 50 or 60 people at the show that night in the local venue, and this old fella, grinning and enjoying a glass of draft, was so happy about the music we were playing that he pulled a set of spoons out of his coat pocket and started crackitty-crack-ing them along with us. At first I didn't know what to make of it. But I could see from the stage how happy he seemed to be, and he was keeping good time, so I just let him continue on.
At the end of the song I asked him his name, he yelled out, "Al" and I got the audience to give a round of applause for Mr. Al on the spoons. They all thought, for the most part, that it was kinda fun and heartwarming. I asked if they minded if Al continued and most of them just shook their heads and applauded some more. So Al got his day in the sun, and the evening went splendidly.
Now, as a musical instrument, the spoons don't fit everyone's tastes or sense of entitlement. After my set some musician friends of mine took me aside and, as was the saying of the time, "reamed me out" for daring to mess with their entertainment experience. They were, as they said, paying good money for drinks and music and felt ripped off by old Al and his wretched percussion device, and they told me in no uncertain terms that I was being thoroughly unprofessional for not insisting that he either stop or leave, saying, "That's what I'd do! I wouldn't let some old drunk mess up MY show!" They had no compassion for Mr. Al, or his musical offering, or for my artistic decision to let him jam on.
The revealing part of all of this relates back to judgement as a proxy for one's own inability to produce their own artistic creations. Those people who admonished me, and the subsequent few more who condescendingly smirked at me on the streets later that week, were then, and still are now, all struggling or have given up as creators and performers, never having actually played many, if any, shows. They are all quite talented, but they are, to this day, heavily self-critical to the point of not doing anything meaningful with their talents, or even their hobbies.
On the other hand, the rest of the audience, for weeks, talked about how much fun they had and how I was a good sport for letting old Al have his night.
And that's the moral of this tale. Courage in the face of my detractors gave me understanding and insight that enabled me to grow as a person and as an artist.
Did that criticism hurt? Hell yeah! They were acquaintances and musical contemporaries. Did I survive the onslaught? Well, of course I did.
I grew up in a far-too-far-right conservative backwater town where every musician friend I had hated most everything I did. I was just a lad, so I took it all to heart because I thought they knew what they were talking about. Turns out, in hindsight, they did not. But still, it made me focus intensely on my craft. Today I'm a happy recording artist with a nice little studio and a small record label, and my critics? One of them recently told me that he is hoping for a slip and fall accident at his workplace so he can get on disability. Criticism hurts, but not nearly as much as falling down an icy, metal staircase.
The sources of harsh words of judgement and criticism must be evaluated for their merit. Critics can only hurt you if you dwell on them and let their questionably motivated analysis consume you. That's the real take-away from these experiences.
Criticism, in the arts community, is almost always unhelpful because it is hardly ever justified. Personal taste masquerading as objective insight is almost always a power play. They want to rob you of your courage and determination so you can feel the same sting of failure that they feel.
You act meaningfully when you create, so why not act meaningfully in all aspects of your life? Encourage others in their long and winding road towards their artistic goals. To en-courage literally means to impart courage to someone. All success in life requires courage. The courage to take chances and break new ground in your works in the face of nay-sayers, and the courage to follow your heart, to follow your dreams and carpe those diems of opportunity that come your way. And when you let your light shine it may attract detractors like moths to a flame, but it can also brighten up the lives of others.
And when other artists, or anyone in your life for that matter, offer you a chance to partake in their works, don't harsh their buzz, be supportive of the path they're on and grateful for their efforts, and grateful they have chosen to share them with you, regardless of whether or not their artistic offering is "your cup of tea" or not.
So, to wrap it up I'll pass on this bit of wisdom my Nana offered me as a lad, "Don't give someone the single finger of judgment, give them the whole hand of encouragement."