How to Be Creative :: Sections 15/16

MacLeod highlights the value of authenticity and hard work, and reveals the challenges and rewards of being creative.

Read the sections from Mr. MacLeod’s manifesto on how to be creative. Then meditate on what you read and post your own, well crafted reply:
Today’s sentence starter: So, the big idea is…


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 [nonsense] 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 youʼre 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 1990ʼs I knew him hanging around Wicker Park in Chicago, that famous artsy neighborhood, 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 werenʼt that close, but we had mutual friends. Heʼs a nice guy. Smart as hell.

So Iʼve watched him over the years go from talented undergraduate to famous rockstar comic strip guy. Nice to see, certainly—itʼs 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. Itʼs 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, thereʼs only so much you have to take personally. Itʼs their product, itʼs their money, so itʼs 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 [nonsense] you are willing to take, and what [nonsense] youʼre not. What you are willing to relinquish control over, and what you arenʼt. What price you are willing to pay, and what price you arenʼt. Everybody is different; everybody has his or her own red line. Everybody has his or her own Sex and Cash Theory.

When I see somebody “suffering for their art,” itʼs usually a case of them not knowing where that red line is, not knowing where the sovereignty lies.

Somehow he thought that sleazy producer wouldnʼt 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-upʼs 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.

16. The world is changing.

Some people are hip to it, others are not. If you want to be able to afford groceries in 5 years, Iʼd recommend listening closely to the former and avoiding the latter. Just my two cents.

Your job is probably worth 50% what it was in real terms 10 years ago. And who knows? It may very well not exist in 5-10 years.

We all saw the traditional biz model in my industry, advertising, start going down the tubes 10 years or so ago. Our first reaction was “work harder.”

It didnʼt work. People got shafted in the thousands. Itʼs a cold world out there.

We thought being talented would save our [butts]. We thought working late and weekends would save our [butts]. Nope.

We thought the Internet and all that Next Big Thing, new media and new technology stuff would save our [butts]. We thought it would fill in the holes in the ever-more intellectually-bankrupt solutions we were offering our clients. Nope.

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.

Whatever. Regardless of how the world changes, regardless of what new technologies, business models and social architectures are coming down the pike, the one thing “The New Realities” cannot take away from you is trust.

The people you trust and vice versa, this is what will feed you and pay for your kidsʼ college. Nothing else.

This is true if youʼre an artist, writer, doctor, techie, lawyer, banker, or bartender. I.e., stop worrying about technology. Start worrying about people who trust you.

In order to navigate The New Realities you have to be creative—not just within your particular profession, but in EVERYTHING. Your way of looking at the world will need to become ever more fertile and original. And this isnʼt just true for artists, writers, techies, Creative Directors and CEOs; this is true for EVERYBODY. Janitors, receptionists and bus drivers, too. The game has just been ratcheted up a notch.