Wednesday, 20 March 2019

What Kills Creativity?

I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but my practice is dying.

Despite its relatively healthy exterior it's something I've suspected for a while and have begun applying various holistic approaches to soothe and calm it  the odd hard-fought personal project here and there, writing personal development funding bids in my head in a dream-like state, staying up all night drawing for ink-fucking-tober. In the last few years I've swung everywhere between thinking I NEED TO QUIT MY JOB IMMEDIATELY AND JOIN THE ROYAL DRAWING SCHOOL and Oh well, it's actually fine, I can draw when I'm old! I'll enjoy that...

Like, I think I most recently started to make peace with the fact it was dying  sad and confused, sure  but accepting, like the final scene of Lord of the Rings as the lads wave Frodo off on his little boat.

Over the last few weeks the urgency of my personal work as part of the #ArtistsMeanBusiness residency I've set up at Impact Hub Birmingham this month has become clear. This is going to take more than a nice bath and some ointment, it's going to require some fundamental diagnosis and probably a bit of surgery. I've been writing trying to make sense of all of this like a person possessed this week so far. Using an exercise from d-school, I am now in the process of assessing the condition of my practice, and what I can do to treat it before it’s too late.

PRE-MORTEMInstead of imagining that the patient has already died (post-mortem), in the pre-mortem you identify everything that might kill the patient. Imagine your creative practice is that patient. Imagine it ultimately failing; there’s no pulse. What caused it to die?

RIP 1 | I have no money to spend on making new products

To make money from my own projects is largely to justify time spent on them, and so as not to create debt, rather than to be for any sort of inflated profit. The cost of production of work can really add up  materials, travel and other costs, not to mention actually taking anything from it for your own labour. Last year I spent a week away from work in residence at Rabbits Road Press in London producing a personal zine project, the total cost of which came to roughly £700 of my own money, covering some basic student accommodation, travel, printing / materials, and food. Printing alone for an edition of my calendars is over £400 and again that doesn’t factor in my time spent designing, promoting, delivering. It’s wild out there, kids, and this is supposed to be the DIY version.

I currently make a couple of grand a year on freelance commissions and that all gets reabsorbed into my practice, costs, developing work and ideas, researching, which also absolutely overlaps with my life and interests and makes my life rich and brilliant. However it means I can’t afford to actually make much myself, and definitely not make some stuff as an experiment or just to try something new or unknown, and basically end up back to square one with no money for the next thing, which is why it gets harder to keep going.

RIP 2 | I give up trying because I work full time anyway (and love it)

Since graduating in 2012 and leaving the experimental land of the university studio, I’ve found drawing and making, something that makes me who I am, often gets put deep into a drawer for another day that never comes, due to making a wide variety of work happen, focusing on making money to move out from my parents house and generally rolling with the meaningful opportunities presented to me. The most interesting work I do falls at the intersections of many things, working across different roles like design, storytelling, producing, writing and strategy, which I love, but my illustration craft is still a defining feature of my approach, perspective, intentions and personality.

With so many project, exhibition or storytelling ideas that have built up that I want to realise in addition to my proper job(s) (lol), it’s never a case of just sitting down and “seeing what happens” when it comes to drawing, even though I know lots of the answers to my questions and frustrations lie at the end of a pencil lead, and that is exactly the process that might actually help me see, understand and solve them. Who has the time though? How do I make time? No really, how does this work? Part of the problem is I haven't managed to naturally incorporate my practice into my life, and make space for it to function alongside the other types of work I love.

RIP 3 | The demand is too much to keep up with

This might sound crazy but I’ve actually been really resistant to be more successful, because I’m scared. I’m overwhelmed by where I’ve got to as it is and worry about taking on more and sinking deep into a pile of anxious wreckage. Some days just going to the post office reduces me to tears. The idea of doing anything consistently on top of other commitments like my job, eating regularly and doing normal functioning stuff sometimes feels totally possible, and I boss the shit out of everything, but there’s also times where it feels difficult.

And this is normal right? We all have ups and downs in our lives. I know I need to feel like I'm making work within an understanding context where people actually care about me in order to be okay too, because it's personal right? I want my work to make people feel joy, curiosity and compassion too — that it was produced with care, not stress, desperation and chaos. I’m really scared of letting people down, and want to resist overwhelming myself by committing to too much or being responsible to stockists and other parties, at least for now.

RIP 4 | I hate what it becomes and quit

Despite needing to take the cost, value and sustainability of my practice seriously, I hate a lack of focus on our humanity in business and don’t want to morph into the consumer and / or brand that capitalism seduces us all with daily, because it would strip my practice of its reasons to exist in the first place and I’d quickly loathe it. If I just directed my work by what people most wanted to buy I’m missing out on so many of the other measures of value, with my creativity at its core really just a vehicle for communication, connection and an exchange of ideas.

Trying to share the different reasons for and facets to my work on popular platforms like instagram feels like playing netball on a hockey pitch, and it’s amazing how much like adverts all of our creative and personal content has shifted in the last few years, something Handsome Frank's co-founder Jon Cockley explained well yesterday up on Lecture in Progress. I’ve sought so much advice around getting better at selling my work, product photography, use of social media etc. thinking I just needed to improve, invest in better camera equipment, post more, but know this isn't really the thing. It's absolutely a delicate balance I’m still trying to get right, because it's pretty counterproductive if something that's supposed to be helping my creative efforts actually makes me feel inadequate and like making less, rather than more, and the last thing I want is to make other people feel rubbish too by just operating better within the rules of the game.

1 | The solution should make money
2 | The solution needs to be “time-small” and regular
3 | The solution fosters community rather than customer base
4 | The solution must hold creativity above commerciality

Looking at the CPR list I feel like setting up something like a patreon could be a much more suitable model to take my "creative business" forward and achieve what I want and need for a living, breathing, thriving practice. This might sound like the most obvious thing in the world, but only by going through things in this way have I come to any kind of clear idea of what to try, beyond so many of the things I've felt I've needed to do. I'm also feeling imaginative around my online presence generally with the registry of a new domain that I want to flesh out, so this feels like a good canvas or playground for a reboot of how things work and fit together.

The main barriers I've outlined can be boiled down to moneytimefulfillmentfear and loathing.

It's easy to think it's just, well, us. If we just tried harder, thought less, had more confidence then it would just work, but I also know fundamentally trying to act differently than how I'm wired or not in accordance with my own drivers, values and passions would ultimately lead to failure anyway, or be completely the wrong kind of victory.

Obviously if you took the messy creative part out you'd have a business which functioned much better. But that's the vital organ. That's the part I'm trying to save. Without it you've got a pile of skin, bones and muscle, but no beating heart. Similarly the heart without the rest of the body's structure has nothing to move and pump, nothing to power. Interested to explore more, but wondering whether the threats to anyone's practice are similar, different, how you approach them and how much the solutions leave you satisfied.

To find out more about #ArtistsMeanBusiness you can go over ~ here ~ for now, and the other artists involved are Baljinder Kaur, Shaheen Kasmani, Daniel Blyden, Kristina Hall & Ted Ryan.

And thanks for visiting me in art hospital; I know the parking can be a nightmare.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you - what a great blog post Louise.... as someone who supports post-emerging and sub-merging artists to shift; I hear the echo of fear of success across a lot of artists I work with... the balances of ethics, finance in an increasingly corporatised and mediated world... is daily work.