The Intersection of Art and Creativity

The Intersection of Art and Creativity

Fairly recently, I chatted with some friends about this Seth Godin post about “creative” jobs. During the discussion, a good friend asked me if I think there’s a difference between art and creativity.

She believes most of what she does is creative, but not all of it is art. She considers much of what I do creative and worthy of calling art. (That kind of comes with the territory when writing fiction, though.) Her point got me thinking: the weekly podcast I do with a friend is not something I’d consider art. (I’m not even sure if I’d even consider it creative most of the time; it’s informative.) My other podcast, however, is something I consider creative and — I suppose — even worthy of being called art.

But this point made by my friend — that something can be creative and not be art — made me also think about if something can be art…and not particularly creative.

Let’s define creative. To do so, I’ll use a profession many don’t consider creative: programmers.

March of the [Creative] Techies

I work for a large tech company serving the travel industry. Even before working where I am, I’ve always considered many of the developers I’ve known creative. Sure, they may not be creating art in the sense of work that will be appreciated in a museum, but I’d argue that many developers I know are more creative than some artists I know.

An example:

If someone paints a photo-realistic image of a famous photograph of a famous person, you can call it art if you want, but it’s simply replication. I’m sure some creative moments in the artist’s past got them to the point of being able to do what a machine can also do, but replicating something is not very creative. It’s not going to get me to stop and marvel over something seen replicated over and over and over.

But I have stopped and marveled over some apps I’ve seen and used, and I’ve attended enough usability studies for new software products to know that the kind of creativity my friend Tammy talks about is alive and well with designers and developers. Sure, most people using what they create may never appreciate what the designers and developers made in the same way they might appreciate a fine wine, but even software, I believe, can have its own terroir.

The Intersection of Art and Creativity

A couple weeks ago, I got to spend a little time with an old friend. John’s art is not only art-as-we-know-it-art, but it’s also quite creative. Still, his re-imagining of the classic Loteria deck is not completely unlike what I’ve seen software developers do: taking something familiar to a group, putting one’s own spin on it, and introducing it to a new audience.

But we expect the intersection of art and creativity from artists like John. So I give you Lee Perry. Lee’s thoughts about designing video games is not unlike reading about artist and author friends discussing what they do. What many may not consider in looking at work like this is that a pencil in Lee’s hand allows him to pour the contents of a creative mind onto paper…and make a work of art on a screen in the end. He’s studied lighting, shading, perspective, and so many other aspects of traditional art, but he’s also taught himself how to code because, just like me and novels, he wanted to make something entirely on his own.

I’d argue that in doing so, Lee has learned many more things in bringing the art of a video game to life than I do bringing a novel to life.

(Oh yeah: Lee is also a huge fan of story, and adds writing to his long list of creative and artistic skills.)

My Creative Circle

It’s never lost on me how fortunate I am to have many creative friends, all doing different things. I love what my friend Rick Coste is doing with his latest [fiction] podcast, but I also love that I can have lunch with one of my developer buds where I work, Ken Tabor, and  walk away feeling just as excited as I do when I have dinner with my writing bud Deacon or lunch with my podcast partner, Shawn (who also writes).

The Muddy Colors blog inspires me as much as a writer as listening to Brad Listi interview writers on the Otherppl podcast.

What I’m getting at is one loses out on new ways of looking at things if they write off certain professions as not being creative. (Hell, I hear there are even some actual creative marketers out there!)

Doing Great Work

One of my favorite intersections of technology and what many deem traditionally creative in recent years is Robin Sloan’s novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It doesn’t matter if you love technology or think dusty old books have more merit than pixels and chains of 0s and 1s — it’s a wonderful book about the intersection of so many things, including art, creativity, and where technology fits into it all.

I will not spoil it, but there is a bit on the final page of the hardcover about friendship and work done with great care. (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read that final page.) That final page is a work of great art as far as I’m concerned.

It is possible to graduate with an MFA in writing and sound like everyone else in the program (not very creative), and it’s possible to make a utilitarian app that is far more creative than many novels that have seen publication.

In fact, while the Mona Lisa is a work of art that has stood the test of time, I’d argue that it’s not particularly creative. But open DaVinci’s notebooks and you’re looking into one of the more creative minds that ever lived!

Back to the Beginning

I’ll confess that when my friend Tammy asked if I saw a difference in art in creativity that my answer was initially, “Not really.” (Which is not a very creative way of looking at her question.) I can argue that my answer is skewed by writing fiction, but the writing that actually pays the bills is technical writing, and it is not without its days of creative problem solving.

So I like Tammy’s argument that creativity and art can be separate. It’s possible to make a living as a photographer and not be either creative or artistic, but I have been moved by some creative photos as much as any work of art I’ve seen. (I say this as someone who’s made money as a photographer, and that work was seen by almost a million people…but I’d consider none of it creative or artistic. Also, I find it fascinating that many are quick to defend photography as a whole as artistic, when it’s quite technical — much in the same way as creating software applications.)

We benefit from seeing that even work many think as precise and even dry (coding) can not only be creative, but sometimes be more creative than great works of art. (I consider some of my friend Ken’s work more creative than the Mona Lisa, for example.) I think we not only benefit by giving credit where it’s due, but by acknowledging that not everything must be creative works of art.

Sometimes the right choice is creative, and other times the right choice is artistic. And other times the two intersect to create something that moves people to greater things.

I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve work on that level, but it’s a noble aspiration.

Another Social Media Break

Another Social Media Break

It’s that time of the year: time for my annual electronic equivalent of retreating to a cabin in the woods by taking a social media break. I’m not sure if it will be a break from all social sites, or just Facebook, but this afternoon I said, “Time for the annual Facebook break!” I logged out and removed the app from my phone.

I’m not sure about other social sites right now because I can filter Twitter to see only what I want to see. (I do that on Facebook, but Facebook insists on still showing me things I’ve requested be hidden). Google+ and Tumblr are free of drama, politics, and stress for me — places I can visit and leave refreshed. So we’ll see about those other sites as the week moves along.

The Problem with Facebook

I don’t know why it just seems to be Facebook for me, but it seems there’s usually a topic of the week that gets discussed — and it’s often discussed with a certain angst.

  • One week, talk about how depression kills. Then: “Robin Williams was a coward!” [Battles ensue.]
  • Another week, people doing the ice bucket challenge. Then: “This is why you are a dummy-head for doing the ice bucket challenge!” [Battles ensue.]
  • This week, people talking about a bunch of nude photos of female celebrities leaked online and shared. Then: “If they didn’t want the photos out there, they shouldn’t have taken them!” [Battles ensue.]

I know these same arguments are happening on Twitter, Tumblr, and Google Plus, but I only follow publishers, photographers, artists, and other people who tend to talk about positive things and creating work they love.

So I can’t say it’s Facebook’s problem exclusively. But I can say it’s the only network that keeps presenting things in my feed I’ve requested to not see.

“Are You Crazy?”

Most people I know understand why I take these annual breaks, but there are always a few who can’t fathom giving up the social sites they frequent. Those who use social sites to promote their work, and who know I do the same thing, usually ask:

“But doesn’t that affect your numbers?!”

I’m not a huge fan of tracking things; if you know me, you know I just like making the things I like and if people look, read, or listen — great. If not, it’s not the end of the world. For me, the most satisfying part is in the creation. This isn’t to say I don’t like having a following…especially as that following keeps growing.

When I take a break from one or all social sites and don’t say, “New podcast!” “New story,” or “New video,” it’s reflected in fewer downloads. I’m not there to remind people to check out whatever new thing I’ve created, so fewer people check out what I’m doing. When I think back to every year I’ve taken a break, all the way back to the 101-day break that kicked it all off (and what I learned in taking that break), there is an initial fear of losing the following I have. It’s not long, though, before I remember the sense of peace that comes from stepping away.

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of missing out is enough of a thing that we’ve turned FOMO into a buzzword. With each break I’ve taken, someone has asked me if it bothers me that I miss out on what’s going on — as though nothing happens outside of social media.

Even during the breaks from all social sites, I still read and replied to blogs. I still saw people. There was email. Those closest to me knew how to get in touch if there’s an emergency (or if they just wanted to hang out or say hello). So what do I really miss, outside of the rage of the day or week?

[It didn’t even hit me until just now that there is a midterm election coming up, which means all the people who rarely/never spoke with me in high school (but requested to be friends on Facebook because, I assume, they think I share in their view that our current president is a Muslim lizard man who will impose Sharia law on us before 2016), will be out in full force soon. I won’t mind missing that!]

I may miss out on some good news along the way, some funny memes, and other things, but what is gained from these breaks is something that makes me a better writer.

Writing is What It’s Really All About…

For me, Jonathan Franzen’s words about electronic distractions holds weight:

It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

I write best when I disconnect from distractions. I also write more when I disconnect from distractions.

I started the novel I’m working on almost three years ago. With a life, day job, weekly podcast, other writing, and additional things I do, my goal for a solid draft of a new book is every three years. I’m on pace to make my self-imposed deadline if I disconnect and focus.

So that’s what I’m going to do…

No Change in the Weather

No Change in the Weather

The day after the summer solstice, I posted this entry…about how I was waiting for the heat of Texas summer to broil me.

It has yet to happen.

Odds are, it will happen, but this summer rivals one of the better Texas summers I remember.

It was in the lower 70s today. An area 30 miles north of us almost got almost a FOOT of rain this morning (we got two inches of rain).

With mild temperatures and flash flooding — I am not complaining.

In fact, the weather has made me think…

Change in the Weather

In that entry earlier this summer, I posted this:

I know the weather will change. Our drought will continue, and some lakes will dry up completely this year. The sun will be big and bright and offer no quarter as it sears all it touches.

Those days are coming, but for now, the weather is nice.

And…writing and other things I’m doing are also nice, lately.

Do Not [Try to] Predict the Future

It’s easy to say, “I’m usually busy in the summer at my day job; therefore, I will be busy and unable to write…”

It’s easy to say, “It’s hot in the summer; therefore, I will wait for cooler weather to get back to walking…”

It’s easy to look at any pattern and call a near future that may or may not happen…

This is another novel that will not work out as planned…

This is another exercise program that will not work out as planned…

This is another job that will not work out as planned…

I could say those things, but this week, things I didn’t expect to come together with the current novel came together. It’s been a good week for walking and moving my body. My day job isn’t a job I hate. (An improvement from the past.) Things are comfy and good.

The Funny Thing about Predictions

Anyone who knows me knows I think predicting the future is a silly thing, but every day, people tell others what will happen. Worse: many tell themselves what to expect. We often predict futures that never happen…or futures that never happen because we’ve convinced ourselves it’s not worth the effort because things always seem to work out a certain way.

This morning, one of the major interstates in America was cut off because almost a foot of rain fell in a matter of hours. That’s a bit much, but I’ll say this about the summer rains: they are cleansing!

And, just like the summer rains this season, if you allow yourself to just go with the flow, all your preconceived notions about the immediate future may be washed away…revealing something rather wonderful!

The Payoff for Doing What You Love

The Payoff for Doing What You Love

My friend Weldon recently got his perfect job: cataloging and grading comic books and comic art for a large auction house. In recent weeks, he’s held the original artwork for the first appearance of Wolverine and the original art from a page of The Killing Joke (the page where Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon…yes, he got to hold an original Brian Bolland page). He also held the first Batman comic book and Action Comics #1.

Millions of dollars worth of art and comic books have passed through his hands in recent weeks. Some say he’s lucky; others have asked how they can get a job like that.

The answer is simple: by doing what you love, without expectation of anything more than the love of the thing — and creating opportunities for yourself that might one day pay off.

That’s how Weldon got his recent job.

“Lucky” Friends

I’m fortunate to be friends with a lot of “lucky” people. By lucky, I mean the perception that some people have regarding how friends came to illustrate comic books and book covers; how they came to write novels and record the voices for well-known cartoons; how they became people who spend their days doing exactly what they love.

I’ve heard people say those who do what they want for a living are lucky. While luck (or some kind of break) often factors in after years of hard work, if it’s luck — it’s luck they made for themselves.

What many people never saw in these friends are the years of hard work behind the scenes. People staying home on Friday nights in their 20s because they were at an art desk. Using vacation time to work on their thing, instead of going to a beach and relaxing. Taking the lowest job in a creative company and working their way up. The effort of it all can be exhausting. Years of working alongside “nobodies” while others clamored for the attention of those who could help — the hope of a shortcut to fame. Eventually, those “nobodies” bubbled up and connections were made…and a hand of help was extended.

Hey, I’ve been doing art for this publisher — let me put you in touch with them…

Luck has little to do with it.

How Do You Get to Do What You Love All the Time?

I still have a day job, so take this next bit for what it’s worth. It is, however, based on what I’ve seen happen in the lives of more than a few people I know.

How do you get that dream job? By doing what you love with no expectation other than doing the thing you enjoy doing. Do it first and foremost because you love it — not because you want a huge following.

Mel Brooks once said:

I don’t really do anything for the audience ever. I do it for me, and most of the time the audience joins me.

Live by that. Do what you love because you love it — not because you want to be a brand. Do what you love because you love it — not because you want a big audience. Do what you love because you love it — not because you want fame.

If you do what you love because you love doing it, maybe one day what you love will become the bulk of what you do.

But if it doesn’t, you’ve still won.

Back to Weldon

Weldon once made six figures selling software, but Weldon has always been happiest when he’s worked around comic books. From his early days of working in comic books stores to eventually editing and marketing comic books, it’s a field that often didn’t bring in tons of money for him, but it’s always made him happier than selling something solely for a paycheck.

There are decades of struggling for what Weldon loves, in much the same way artists struggle until their love pays off.

So the answer to “How do I get that cool job?” is to do what you love.

Independent travel writers aren’t born overnight. People making a living with their YouTube channels didn’t just build it and watch the audience roll in like the tide. Most successful novelists wrote 1-5 books before ever being published (and then wrote another 1-5 novels before they saw decent money (and even more never even see that)).

What looks like an overnight success rarely is.

There Are No Shortcuts to Great Work

One doesn’t sit down to write fiction for the first time and create a masterpiece. No one has sat with a cello and done something like this from the start. Canvases and brushes don’t guide an artist’s hand; decades of hard work do.

The friends I have who make a living doing what they love didn’t go all in and hope for the best — it was never a gamble because they just did what they loved for no other reason than they loved it and always pushed themselves to get better. There have been times in Weldon’s life that it might have seemed to those who look only at numbers that he was painting himself into a corner.

Clearly, he wasn’t:

Original Alex Ross and Steve Rude art.

Oh, just some original Alex Ross and Steve Rude art on Weldon’s desk…

Original art for the first appearance of Wolverine. (And the first Frank Miller Wolverine sketch.)

Holding the original art for the first appearance of Wolverine. And to make the image cooler? Why not bring in the first Frank Miller Wolvie sketch…from Weldon’s personal collection.

Batman: Killing Joke. Original page - the shooting of Barbara Gordon.

I think it was Weldon who introduced me to Camelot 3000 back in the 80s. So I’m not TOO jealous that he got to hold an original Brian Bolland page…from a great one-shot comic book. (Batman: Killing Joke.)

 

Weldon Adams holding Batman #1 and Action Comics #1.

Just another day at the office: Weldon holding Batman #1 and Action Comics #1.

 

How to Overcome Limitations (And Make the Things You Want to Make)

How to Overcome Limitations (And Make the Things You Want to Make)

My wife and I don’t have a lot of space to create the things we like to make. Living in a one-bedroom apartment means making something often involves moving things around and other inconveniences just to get started. (We do at least have a small study where I write and where my wife stores her art and sewing supplies.)

Moving things around is what it takes to get things done, and I respect that about my wife. (I have it much easier as a writer, although making videos requires a lot of setup.) We’ve made a lot of things we love in the almost 22 years we’ve been together, and looking back…I’m not sure we’ve ever lived somewhere with proper space to do all the things we do.

I Can’t, Until…

I see a lot of people say they can’t start doing something until…

  • Until they get the right writing desk…
  • Until they get the right podcasting gear…
  • Until they get the right studio…
  • Until they get the right computer…
  • Until they get the right camera…

If I waited until things were just perfect to write, podcast, or do other things I enjoy doing, I’d still be waiting.

Making Due (With What’s Available)

I do look forward to a day when limitations aren’t such a big thing in the things we make, but I’ve sold travel articles with photos taken with an old Pentax K1000. My wife and I have pushed affordable computers beyond what they’re supposed to do. A perfect office with a nice desk and view would be great, but I write in what’s a bit of a storage space with no outside view because that’s my reality.

I know a lot of people who do the same.

Why I Like This Photo

Friday evening, my wife took this photo:

Cynthia Griffith's Art Table (with Martini)

And yes, that’s a fireplace behind her table. It was used once last winter because my wife started doing art.

That’s her art space in the living room. In order to do her thing, she has to gather supplies from the study and move a storage footrest she uses as a seat. I like the photo because it’s like a celebration to creating in spite of limitations. While she would love a room of her own and a better desk (and other surfaces) on which to make art (and work on her sewing, which requires even more setup — not that she lets that stop her), she makes due with what she has.

So cheers to all those who don’t let limitations stop them from doing what they love doing. It may be a pain in the ass moving your living room around to do art, sew a historical costume, or work with cheap photography gear, but it beats the alternative of, “I can’t do this until…”

Not Everything Needs to Be Monetized

Not Everything Needs to Be Monetized

My wife makes costumes like this:

cfgriffith.com - Chemise a la Reine

And this:

cfgriffith.com - Wood Elf

And even this:

cfgriffith.com - Badass Elf

More at cfgriffith.com

She does art like this:

cfgriffith.com - King Thror and Carc

And this:

cfgriffith.com - Gloin Locket

More at cfgriffith.deviantart.com

When people see what she does, the first words that often leave their mouths?

“You should do this for money!”

Monetize It!

The Internet is a wonderful thing. My wife and I think it’s so cool that there are people making livings by creating and selling things online. Some make supplemental income; some make more from home than people starting up large companies with their MBAs.

It’s all great, but…the obsession with monetizing everything can get very old, very fast. There often comes with the attitude that everything should be monetized a sense that someone shouldn’t do something solely for the love of creating.

Why not make money doing that thing you love, right? [Putting aside that people are allowed to do what they want to do for their own reasons] because…some people believe there is no better reason to make something than simply because one enjoys creating. For many, there’s more pleasure in the act of just making things than making things and then spending all that extra time turning it into a business.

Not everything that can make money has to make money.

The Downside of Monetizing Things

I blog, podcast, and do other things online. I sometimes attend tech groups and speak at tech groups about making things. The meetups that seem to draw the most attendees are those promising to show others how to monetize what they are doing. I’ll go as far as saying there is a strange obsession with monetizing things online. I’ve seen well-known bloggers come out and say:

“I’m about to embark on the project that means more to me than anything I’ve ever done…this is from my heart!”

Two months later, when it’s not making money, they bail on this thing they claim meant more to them than anything ever before. Maybe I’m wired differently, but if you have a project that means more to you than anything else in your heart — ever — you work on that project whether it makes money or not!

If you don’t, all I can assume is that your whole, “It means more than anything to me!” was a marketing ploy, and you’ve destroyed all trust I had in you and the things you make.

An [Often] Fast Path to Mediocre

I’ve seen great content become soured in a race for more ad revenue or a larger audience. As a podcaster, I often see people talk about how some shows they do get more listens than many of the shows they love doing. Because the thought of money is the driving force behind what’s being done, good shows about topics most dear to the hearts of the creators become like so many other shows that do little more than aggregate content.

Suddenly, we have another run-of-the-mill tech or entertainment podcast with little to no original content. Blogs are written whether there’s something good to write about or not because it’s a numbers game in hope of ad clicks. Over time, what started out as good content often becomes mediocre (at best) because content is created out of a panic to keep money coming in.

Worse than all that, sometimes the people behind the sites can’t get through the line at a grocery store or stand beside you at a urinal in a bathroom without giving you their pitch.

Desperation, frequency, and volume are not endearing traits.

Back to my Wife (and Why She Does Art Only for Herself These Days)

My wife understands that in its own way, “You should do this for money!” is a compliment — people see what she does and they feel it’s worthy of being paid for. It’s strange, though, because the compliments often come with a tone that my wife has never considered making money with her art.

She has…

I won’t go into great detail, but I know many artists whose art jobs become this:

  1. They end up on a contract for something they don’t really want to draw or paint.
  2. They work through the contract, getting approval for all stages of work.
  3. Near the end, someone higher up says, “I want something totally different!”
  4. The artist says, “Pay out on this contract, and I’ll write up a new contract for what your big boss wanted all along, but never mentioned to you.”
  5. Big boss gets wind of this and shouts: “I’m not paying for something I don’t want to use!”
  6. The original contract is either paid out and the work never used or now the artist is spending more time and money trying to collect what’s owed to them than they are creating art.

I know this is not the case for every artist. I have friends who are artists who do their own thing and make very strong livings doing what they love. But for every artist like that, there are more artists I know trying to collect on past due accounts or illustrating licensed content and other things they don’t enjoy creating, solely for the paycheck.

It’s Sew Easy

It’s not unheard of that my wife gets email from strangers asking her to sew them something. My wife passes by on offers to sew things for others, and some people find that perplexing. But why would someone who loves sewing their own things, on their own schedule, drop that to sew 40 of the same bonnets on an in-house assembly line when that is not what they find any pleasure in doing? (Or may not have room to do without turning several rooms into workspaces and be constantly reminded that they are not sewing what they want?)

Just like we have artist friends who live a life of nightmares collecting on accounts, seamstress friends of my wife have been ridiculed when they quote a price for something that’s deemed too high in the mind of the requester who doesn’t understand that the cost of material alone is twice what they are willing to pay — never mind the 60+ hours of labor! If fabric runs $250 for a gown and you’re putting over a week into the project, the last thing you want is to deal with an angry person online, screaming that you wouldn’t do it for $75!

It can be great making a living doing what you love, but it’s not always easy. Worse, it can make the pleasure of something you once loved a thing of the past.

You’re Crazy!

There are things I will only do for myself, solely for the joy it brings me. I once juggled for money, but…never again. I’ve written magazine and newspaper articles that made more in one piece than almost all fiction I’ve written combined. I won’t rule out certain articles in the future, because I’ve enjoyed the pieces I’ve written, but when it comes down to limited time and making guaranteed money with another article or writing another chapter of a novel that may never see publication, I choose the novel. And not just any novel: I write what I want to write, regardless of what happens when it’s done.

A handful of years ago, a friend in a position to pass along my second novel to the kinds of people who can make publication a reality offered to pass along anything I wanted that suited the genre. The book, the first in a series, is something I had fun writing, but there are other things I want to write even more. When some people heard I passed on that offer, the replies were a resounding:

You’re crazy!

I disagree; to have accepted this generous offer would have meant not writing the book I wanted to write more than anything I’d written at that point in my life. (The novel-in-progress now holds that title.) Part of the reason I write is to push myself to write things I wasn’t 100% sure I could pull off. These are the kinds of books that take a longer time to write. The novel I didn’t have passed on to publishers was written over a period of months, mostly during lunch breaks at my day job at the time.

I have different goals than some as a writer.

All This Said, I Understand Monetizing Things

To some, it may sound like I’m against monetizing things.

I’m not!

I have friends who make a living from the things they love online (and offline). These are people who did the thing they love and figured out a way to make that thing work. There was no polling the audience to see what worked best and leaning heavily on those things…they built loyal followings doing their thing and monetized their content.

I think that’s wonderful! I will never shake my head at someone monetizing the thing that’s wholly theirs…that they love making. If I could make a living writing the fiction I love writing, I would. I won’t change to something I don’t want to write as much, just to make a living writing fiction, but my goal has always been to make money with the writing I love doing. But just as there’s nothing wrong with monetizing something you love, there is nothing wrong with not monetizing something you love.

Many people don’t seem to get that…