More thoughts on "How To Be Creative":
15. The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not.
Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Know this and plan accordingly.
Recently I heard Chris Ware, currently one of the top 2 or 3 most critically acclaimed cartoonists on the planet, describe his profession as “unrewarding”.
When the guy at the top of the ladder you’re climbing describes the view from the top as “unrewarding”, be concerned. Heh.
I knew Chris back in college, at The University of Texas. Later, in the early 1990’s I knew him hanging around Wicker Park in Chicago, that famous arty neighbourhood, while he was getting his Masters from The School of The Art Institute, and I was working as a junior copywriter at Leo Burnett. We weren’t that close, but we had mutual friends. He’s a nice guy. Smart as hell.
So I’ve watched him over the years go from talented undergraduate to famous rockstar comic strip guy. Nice to see, certainly- it’s encouraging when people you know get deservedly famous. But also it was really helpful for me to see first-hand the realities of being a professional cartoonist, both good and bad. It’s nice to get a snapshot of reality.
His example really clarified a lot for me about 5-10 years ago when I got to the point where my cartoons got good enough to where I could actually consider doing it professionally. I looked at the market, saw the kind of life Chris and others like him had, saw the people in the business calling the shots, saw the kind of deluded planet most cartoon publishers were living on, and went “Naaaah.”
Thinking about it some more, I think one of the main reasons I stayed in advertising is simply because hearing “change that ad” pisses me off a lot less than “change that cartoon”. Though the compromises one has to make writing ads can often be tremendous, there’s only so much you have to take personally. It’s their product, it’s their money, so it’s easier to maintain healthy boundaries. With cartooning, I invariably found this impossible.
The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not. It is this red line that demarcates your sovereignty; that defines your own private creative domain. What shit you are willing to take, and what shit you’re not. What you are willing to relinquish control over, and what you aren’t. What price you are willing to pay, and what price you aren’t. Everybody is different; everybody has their own red line. Everybody has their own “Sex & Cash Theory”.
When I see somebody “suffering for their art”, it’s usually a case of them not knowing where that red line is, not knowing where the sovereignty lies.
Somehow he thought that sleazy producer wouldn’t make him butcher his film with pointless rewrites, but Alas! Somehow he thought that gallery owner would turn out to be a competent businessman, but Alas! Somehow he thought that publisher would promote his new novel properly, but Alas! Somehow he thought that Venture Capitalist would be less of an asshole about the start-up’s cash flow, but Alas! Somehow he thought that CEO would support his new marketing initiative, but Alas!
Knowing where to draw the red line is like knowing yourself, like knowing who your real friends are. Some are better at it than others. Life is unfair.Posted by hugh macleod at August 14, 2004 2:40 PM | TrackBack