Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Creation Motivation and the Artist at Work

hand upOne rule I share with my writing students as a motivation to continue creating strong texts is to never start with a question- which of course leads to a slew of Well, what about here? What about there? How about in this case?

Ah, the artist at work.

Rules are in place to help learn the process, I reply. Once you know what the rules are, then you can break them.

But do they listen?


Well, most of them don't listen. They start with a question.

They preamble with quotes and lines of poetry.

They insist on dropping in exclamation points instead of writing strong scenes.

They neglect to craft manageable paragraphs, vomiting 30 page treatises that resemble Jamaica Kincaid's 'Girl' (a master story of only one paragraph) without ennui, skill, or indentations.

My poor eyes have been worn away by these students...

artist at work
And I love them for it. Rules are made to be broken, and though young wordsmiths will attack the status quo before understanding fully where to launch a spearhead, they take the leap and do it time and time again simply from self-driven motivation.

With conceivably no payoff.

Authors, musicians, painters, sculptors, entrepreneurs all have the pie in the sky daydream - perhaps not to be rich and famous, but to be critically recognized. Most will not- it's still a numbers game. Many manuscripts and projects, limited resources. There is only so much room on a bookstore shelf, and those spaces are reserved for books that might make money.

gutenbergOnce the commercial applications of the printing press were realized and refined by Gutenberg in the 15th century, publishers crafted a profitable business formula- the author writes the book, gives it to the publishing company, and money is made. Granted, most went into the pockets of the publisher. The writer received something, but not much. Writing isn't a process to earn a living for the vast majority of writers, so there must something else.

There's that recognition motivation again.

With technology, the drive to publish has become more attainable- all an artist at work needs to do is format their text a certain way, and upload it to Amazon.

BAM- a writer is now a published author.

And once Mom buys a copy, they have become a professional writer. Next comes a heavy handed, pleading self-driven campaign to please, please, please buy my book. Today it's only .99. But wait, if you wait until tomorrow, I have a limited time offer of FREE.

While some will gain satisfaction from this self publishing opportunity, many will not. They hold a prize in their sights much greater, that an actual commercial publishing house will find value in their book and publish it on the author's behalf.

For artists in the visual realm, it is much the same. Anyone can rent a space and host their own gallery show. But the gallery that asks to display, and then offer sales support... that's the true mark of making it for many creators.

muscian open mic
For musicians, there is always the open mic night. For those who wish to be considered professionals, it's a paid gig - and perhaps, just maybe, the designation of house band. And a publishing deal where an actual musical publishing house provides contracts, copyright protection, studio space, and tour support. It doesn't need to be Sony, or even K-Tel, just as long as it's a for-profit organization that can reproduce audio for mass consumption.

Long shots. An odds game. A return on investment so low in the basement that college loans might well be paid back before a query letter receives a response.

Yet artists at work continue to create.

We continue to seek that recognition, that rush of sharing an idea for the first time. For an audience, even if it is a virtual support group in an online chat room who says simply, I liked it. Great job. Did you read mine yet?

We create because we can, because at the very core of our existence we crave recognition- we crave contact and intimacy and joy and adrenaline. We crave companionship and brotherhood and sisterhood and family. We create to give credence to our 'being there' as proof of why we deserve to be there. Here. In society, in a culture.

artist at work
We create because we want someone to recognize that what we did was in fact done by us. By the artist we are. By the human being who has a need to be recognized. To be remembered after we have died.

We do it because we can, and because we gain something immortal for it.

We are each an artist at work and when we pass along this mortal coil, our voices will remain.

We are legendary.