If you do any sort of creative work I’m sure you stop and ask yourself why you bother.
No one asks us to create anything new. In fact, more often than not, artists get in trouble for the truths we express. People aren’t comfortable that artists criticise institutions deemed holy, untouchable or unsinkable. I’m thinking of how Madonna and Sinead O’Connor ruffled the Catholic Church’s feathers.
Sometimes even petty personal reasons come into play for hating on artists. The Beatles made fun of a guy seeking spiritual enlightenment in an Ashram in India in their song “The Continuing Saga of Bungalow Bill”.
He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun
In case of accidents he always took his mom
He’s the all American bullet-headed saxon mother’s son.
Not surprisingly, Bungalow Bill’s mum got upset and felt the need to even the score in her life story.
Despite the potential danger of people and institutions coming after us for speaking our truths or simply wanting to tell a powerful story and push a few buttons, why the hell do we do it?
Now I’m no Orhan Pamuk or Elif Shafak, the writers busily rattling the cage that’s modern-day Turkey with their portrayal of the nation’s attitude towards minorities. Though fictional, their portrayals are skewed towards true human nature than the largely believed myths of tolerance and acceptance that teeters on the edge of Neverland.
I’ll say this with certainty. We don’t do it for the notoriety.
We don’t write stories in calculations of international prizes. We don’t think to ourselves “man, everyone hates evil stepmothers, so I’ll write a story that trudges them through the mud. I’ll be sure to gain popularity”. OK, I admit, I used to do it this way. But I hated myself for it. I was analytical and obsessed(!!!) with trying to catch the next trend in storytelling. My mind was shooting me in the heart and that approach crippled my creativity.
If we were politicians we may think in terms of what’s the popular thing to express but we are creators. The balls (or tits) to tell the truth is what’s required of us – not pointless and overly-polished ego-stroking flattery of a world that’s flawed. Like all humans, there’s something about the matrix we’ve weaved that bothers us and the only way for us to address it is to write about it, paint it, draw attention to it in other forms of art in an effort to ask others “have you ever noticed this too? Do you feel this is right?” By posing the question, we risk that no one else knows what we’re talking about. It makes us question our sanity at times. Other people may have never noticed the subtle cruelties we see in everyday life.
Or they may be too scared to call a naked emperor or a dictator naked.
Certainly, in the 40s with World War II sweeping across Europe, Americans weren’t eager to see, hear or speak evil. It was happening so far away and in those days the U.S. wasn’t the meddling police (parsley!) of the world that she’s become since.
I’ve come to idealise those simpler times before Madison Avenue and mass marketing lured people away from the things that truly matter, like keeping their word, becoming a person of character, prioritising family, and coming together for a cause higher than themselves.
In those days people weren’t time-poor either. They weren’t rushing through their days, worried about how to do more, be more and buy more. Sure, they didn’t have clothes and appliances galore but they managed to pull together a tidy appearance and a pleasant home.
You see that photo above? That’s both of set of my grandparents in the 40s.
Materially they may not have had a lot but they had the time to present themselves in a respectful way.
An Impression Fit to Express
A defining story of the 40s that lives on to this day is Casablanca.
What if I told you that despite inspiring the fashion sense of a whole decade, the real stars aren’t Humphry Bogart and Ingrid Bergman?
They wouldn’t have had roles to act out if it weren’t for an English teacher who took time off from work to travel to Vienna to help his Jewish relatives smuggle money out of the country during World War II. The plight of his relatives and the emotions he felt in a Mediterranean cafe frequented by Nazis, French and refuges were the basis of the script Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and his writing partner Joan Alison.
Of course, that script was later bought by Warner Bros to be adapted into the big screen as Casablanca.
If Murray had never empathised and offered to help his Jewish relatives, if he never felt the warmth of a cafe that brought together the oppressors and the victims of the war under one roof, I doubt very much that one of the greatest classics of all time would’ve ever met our eyes.
Like Murray, modern-day life, which is no less tense than war, is leaving an impression on all of us. But are we taking the time to take in what we’re sensing? If we are sensing the tension, how many of us are expressing what we’re seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting?
Creating Has A Ripple Effect
Allowing ourselves more time away from the pressures of doing, being and buying more, we suddenly find the time to observe, reflect, express and create.
Something magical happens when you start to create. You suddenly find that you’re placing yourself in the middle of a life you enjoy living. By expressing your truths and seeking out those who want to express themselves, you find yourself having meaningful conversations and forming deeper relationships with those around you.
Then you may even find that you’re using less emojis like the thumbs up or the OK hands to end conversations. You’re no longer faking joy and happiness. A little nervous but with less fear, you express discontent, resentment, anger and that opens up those around you to further explore themselves as humans with their light and dark sides, insecurities, fears, guilt and admission that they are at times cruel and may be afraid of the tyrant and the weakling within us all. Owning and talking about these human bugs we prevent them from taking over our whole being.
In these conversations with those closest to you whom you never truly knew, you find more inspiration. Then all of these frank conversations you’re having with yourself and those around you become the basis of a diary, not unlike The Diary of Anne Frank. And before you know it, you’ve got a memoir or a story or a painting of pure fantasy that’s at its heart your life’s story.
And if you’re really lucky, whatever you’ve expressed strikes a chord in someone and then who knows?
You may have the next Casablanca in your hands but the greatest joy is that you were never doing it for the fame and fortune. You only set out to explore and expose your humanity and to find something real among all the pretense out in the world.
Over to you…
When was the last time you found yourself in a state of flow, creating and losing yourself in your creation? Have you continued to create art? Why or why not?
Let me know about it by e-mailing me Eda@WritePublishGrow.com