It’s the year of the dog. Last time the dog year came around I was young and puppy-like – I barked at everything that went past. At the end of the year lots of barking had taken place but not very much had happened. It was along the lines of “Arf arf, right then, barked them, now what? Oh look, over there, arf, arf, arf!” And off I’d go again. It sort of felt good at the time, but when I stopped barking and the echoes died away nothing of any real value had changed. And I just felt tired. Barked out, I guess.
The dog year before that I spent my time in much the same way – barking and not achieving much. This dog year I realised what had happened in the past and I’ve been much more careful about what I bark at. It’s paid off. I have achieved more and I’m feeling more satisfied about that. I am tired, but it’s the tired from creation, and not the hollow, sickening defeat of being barked out.
I’ve come to realise that people tend to spend their time in one of at least three distinct phases – I’m calling them a (for audience), b (for barkers), and c (for creatives). There may be more phases, I’ll keep you informed. So, which phase are you in? A, B, or C?
We need A audience people. Without them the C creative class would be working for themselves even moreso. A people stand on the sidelines and they yay the goodies and boo the baddies. They watch endless miles of video tape scroll past on their tv screens. They read millions of dollars worth of pre-chewed magazines, they have an opinion based on whatever they’ve seen or read and they pretty much create a canvas – a platform – on which creatives can present their work. They’re consumers, not creators. They’re often more identifiable from the rear than the front, where the wars of the junk food industry shows the full impact of a massive attack.
B barker people – at best – prevent us from drinking our own bath water. At worst, they can be B for bastard or bitch – baseless critics whose whining contributes nothing other than diminishing the creative act, not by keeping the information to themselves, but by trying to convince the audience to not participate. Or worse, by making the audience feel diminished for enjoying some creative work. You might’ve enjoyed a movie or music that the barkers have said (authoritatively), ‘It’s not their best work. It’s crap. It’s weak or feeble or derivative.’ I’ve enjoyed many a movie panned by the critics. My diverse taste in music borders on the legendary. If I want to read a book, I will. I do not need a barker to tell me if it is good or otherwise. I prefer to trust my own judgment. Thank you for barking at everything. Please don’t be offended when I ignore you.
Barking is, I think you should be aware, unproductive as far as I’m concerned unless the barker has some equivalent experience. When a C creative person comments on my work I am more inclined to think this is saving me from drinking my own bathwater – for doing stuff I think is ok, when it’s not as good as I could do it. This is trying to avoid the Emperor’s new clothes. I feel I can bark at art exhibitions because I’ve been there and done that. I feel I can bark at food because I’ve made food, lots of food, before today. I think people who bark without any practical experience of the activity (other than being a barker) really have no grounds to bark at all.
Earlier this year I gave a number of barkers an opportunity to yelp when I put together Blog Hui, New Zealand’s first international weblog conference. All kinds of barkers paused in the sniffing of each other’s arses, and barked, and barked, and barked. The end result was … the conference went ahead and was a huge success. So, so much for the barking.
What made the conference so good? The A audience was composed of C creatives. A group of like-minded c-people got together to commune, shared, learn, laugh, and applaud the work of their peers. One of the guest speakers, Trevor Romain, and I were talking about being creative, creativity, and the nature of being creative. Trevor commented about how he gets peeved when people whine, ‘Oh you’re so creative’ in a way that simultaneously puts him down, and excuses themselves from being anything other than an A. I’ve been wrestling with creativity and what it means to be creative all my life. I was very grateful for Trevor’s insights and experience, and I’ve been ‘Oh, but you’re so creative’-d myself.
Recently I’ve been reading Twyla Tharp’s ‘The Creative Habit’. This book has provided me with much joy on so many levels. It’s a beautifully designed book – the subtle stuff has been carefully thought through and implemented. The paper has a great feel to it, and is of sufficient weight that the ink doesn’t grey through. The colours are sensitively and consistently used. The real joy is the type. I can’t see any credits for the type and design, but it is a beautiful work. The lines of type on each page end in the bottom righthand corner. That does not happen by accident, that happens by excellence.
I am reminded each time I dip into the book of T E Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Lawrence set the type himself to achieve the similar elegant result, although he took it to the next level where the last character in the bottom righthand corner is full stop. Designers should get Tharp’s book just for the type and use of space on the pages. Beautiful. Tharp is a choreographer. It should come as no surprise that her book makes full and sophisticated use of the page – after all this is what dance is all about – the creation of form and pattern while making the best usage of the stage.
The content itself is also a delight. Tharp’s observation of life and, in particular, the creative process is very discerning. I guess I can say that because she has managed to articulate ideas and illuminations that I also have come to understand, but haven’t been able to put into such succinct words. I particularly like how Tharp believes you have to be creative – to work – every day. For a year before I went to design school I deliberately designed something – anything – every day. Some new type. A chair. A cup. Anything. Everything. When I returned, broken, I threw it away. I wish I hadn’t. But now I understand, as Tharp points out about finding the creative spark, it’s about finding one’s niche. I’m not a graphic designer. Never was. Never will be. I can do it, but it’s not my flow. Same with painting. Drawing. Photography. Printing. Book binding. Pottery. Jewellry. I’d so like to be comfortable with these things, and turn out great work. I can do these things, but I have to force it. My work’s not that good. Wish it was, but it isn’t. Love music, can’t make it. Love food, too lazy to have a restaurant.
Through Tharp’s book I’ve come to realise that there is something I can do and it just flows. I’ve only realised it in the last few days, so you’ll have to excuse the sense of dawning-ness on me. After my Balinese massage this afternoon I smell slightly like a new born baby, I am the puppy, this is the creeping realisation the slow sunrise, that my real area of creativity is in writing. It is in writing where the flow happens for me. And I’ve suddenly remembered that at school I could write longer essays and stories than my peers. I can recall being dragged in front of the entire school for having 32 spelling mistakes in my essay whereas my mate had just four. I can also recall the essay in question sprawled over 16 pages, whilst my mate managed a page and a half. The Audience was appalled at my errors, because they’d been told to be. The Barkers were offended at my errors. They’d never written themselves, of course, but they knew all about spelling. The Creative knew the truth, but closed down for the next four decades.
Nice try, barkers, I’m back.
Now, about you. What’s your flow? You don’t know? I suggest Tharp, and thinking, and then a little doing, a little experimentation won’t go astray. Relax. Have a go. Find what fits. Go with that. Enjoy. Put a leash on the barkers, and try to curb them. Thank you.