“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning…Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”
What feedback would you offer to improve this class?
I finished my 10-week screenwriting class this week, and I was asked to share feedback about my experience. In terms of education, critiques, and classmate interaction, it was invaluable. But the class had a fatal flaw. My beef? The disrespect for the creative process. Over the last 10 weeks, my work has revolved around a single project—a detailed outline for my movie and the first 10 pages of the screenplay. I shared my project with the class for peer and instructor feedback. Their perceptions, opinions, and advice were much appreciated. But what artist puts their work up for critique before it’s finished?
A feature-length screenplay is a body of work that spans 90-120 pages. I don’t want to share the first or second draft of my first 10 pages when I’ve yet to fully realize the entire story. The same as a musician wouldn’t want to share demos from their album on Spotify, or a painter wouldn’t release their sketches instead of a finished portrait. Learning and practicing craft is one thing. But being forced into critique over unfinished work is like torture.
As an alternative, I suggested the class focus on short film scripts. The same rules apply, and students would have the bandwidth to complete a full body of work before the end of the class. The critiques would be even more useful. But if I get stuck revising a small fraction of my work, especially the beginning, it becomes a crutch or a roadblock to the rest of the story. Something that an institution full of creators should understand.
Creators don’t want unnecessary collaboration before it’s required. We need to expand upon our vision before releasing it to the world. Our art is our baby. Our books, our paintings, our movies, our shows, our songs. To others, our relationship to our creations might seem silly—investing so much time and energy into something that may or may not yield monetary results. But our art is tied to something deeper. And it matters to us that it’s just right, or at least complete, before everyone else chimes in.
To be a creator is to tell the story without compromising.
What does it mean to be creative?
Creators are destined to be eternally dissatisfied, to never be content. Our work can always be better, stronger, tighter, cleaner, faster. That thing you wrote last year, which at the time seemed like your masterpiece, is now something you don’t even want associated with your name. I published my first collection of personal essays last April. I was (and still am) so proud of it but I cringe when I read it now. I feel as though every essay I’ve written this year is better than anything in that book. It’s the creative downward spiral—from crowning achievement to intellectual embarrassment in the blink of an eye.
No one is as harsh a critic of a creative work as the creator himself. Not the New York Times. Not Rotten Tomatoes. Not even the crudest Internet trolls.
Truth first. Money second.
In some respect, art is for the people. Musicians want you to buy or stream their albums. We authors want you to purchase our books. Painters want you to bid on their paintings. Art, even in its most pretentious forms, is made for consumption. But beneath the need to make money is something more self-serving.
Painters, designers, singers, writers, actors…we’re all working to uncover some greater truth about ourselves. Sometimes it’s masked within observations about those around us or about society. But we’re telling truths about ourselves. In these times of geopolitical uncertainty, we artists have a responsibility to unearth truth, be it about us, our friends and families, our celebrities, our politicians. Call us intellectual excavators—it’s our duty to dig things up, solidify them in time, and share them with as many people as we can. Truth first. Money second.
In music, this is evident in Frank Ocean’s body of work. His most recent album, Blonde, sold 276,000 copies in its first week. But there’s nothing even remotely close to a radio single. The album is sparse on big hooks, drums, and mainstream appeal. It’s filled with introspective lyrics of a highly personal degree. But it achieved the kind of commercial success most artists would kill for. Here, we have an artist with his eye on revealing and exploring his truth, but he was also able to make something that was feverishly consumable. This is rare.
Some art is made for no reason other than making money. Any song by The Chainsmokers, Transformers 91, every YA novel about a dystopian society, a vampire, or a love-struck cancer patient. This brand of art is shamelessly derivative. The purpose of chasing profit shines through in everything from the packaging to the execution.
On the other hand, we have art that is made for truth, the creators of which know they probably won’t make a dime from their work. Like Manifesto, a high-concept art film by Julian Rosefedlt featuring Cate Blanchett in 13 different roles. The film solidifies Blanchett’s legacy (and probably makes her a shoe-in for an Oscar nod next year) but as a viewer, the piece is exhausting. It’s so commercially unviable that it was only released in one small theater in New York. And the ad campaign reached for the most marketable element of the film to garner attention (Blanchett’s baker’s dozen of characters). In this kind of art, consumption and truth do not intersect.
As a creator, you’re constantly faced with a sort of existential dilemma. Do you study, develop, and eventually sell, your truth? Or do you make something that sells enough to put dinner on the table?
That’s not art
We are currently living in an age of ‘content’. Content is anything that can be consumed. A Hollywood blockbuster with a $110 million budget, shrunken down and streamed on a smartphone. A meme made on someone’s phone with just seconds of effort. A vlog about a tube of lipstick. These varying types of content are not equal, which probably doesn’t need to be said. But the people who create each have a strong desire to have their work seen.
That being said, ‘content’ is easier to make than art. It’s more readily available than art. It has a different set of standards than art. It requires less skill, polish, and execution than art. For many of the people who create ‘content’, they do so under the guise that they’re creating art. But they are not. ‘Content’ is not art. They are mutually exclusive.
Curating a popular Instagram account is not an act of art. A selfie is not art. Some might beg to differ, but the difference between content and art is their purpose.
To be creative in the age of ‘content’ is to dare to have substance at a time when people crave superficial enjoyment. It’s to linger in an idea when everyone else demands more and more, faster and faster.
This is why Chewbacca Mom can rack up more YouTube views than Janet Jackson. ‘Content’ over art. But one matters much more than the other. Creators are constantly faced with this dilemma. Content or art? Art or content?
“We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.”
-Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
To create is to be in a constant battle with yourself. To be a creator is to be in constant pursuit of self-expression, free of limitations. To have unrelenting curiosity. To experience an emotional high from things that come out of you. To learn more and more about yourself every day. To create is to constantly move forward with the hope, but not the promise, that one day you’ll be fulfilled.
But despite the anxiety it brings and the monstrous shape it takes on within us, there’s nothing like creating.
When all else fails, we create.