July 27th, 2008
Last night, on the way home from a movie, The Rock and I mused about creativity. A Matchbox 20 song played on the radio, and The Rock called it “formulaic,” and I responded that all of their songs are that way, even if I do enjoy them. He semi agreed, but said that 10 years ago, Matchbox’s songs sounded more unique, leading us both to wonder if youth naturally makes you “edgier” creativity-wise, if going commercial screws you in the end or if it’s a combination of both or neither (ah, PMS).
The Rock thought creativity reached its zenith in our early years, and that youth, with all its angst and yearning and searching, gives rise to more stand-out art. I arguscussed this point, because I don’t believe youth is the only factor contributing to higher creativity. I do think youth is a time of lowered inhibitions, boundaries, and propriety, so the tendency to care about stuff that sells, to play to the masses, etc. is devalued. Also, youth starts the process of finding yourself, which surely yields a burning intensity that fuels masterpieces, but overall, if you can put yourself in the place of writing for you, of creating for the sake of it, you’ll retain your unique voice and vaccinate yourself against losing your vision to someone else’s.
Regardless of age, I truly believe that when songwriters, screenwriters, authors, bloggers, begin to pay more attention to the forces outside themselves, and ignore the inner voice, their work suffers. Art takes on the veneer of these external voices and sheds its uniqueness. But as we age, I think our worlds tend to become smaller. Our influences and inspirations may shrink. As youths, our worlds beckon. We want to see everything! Feel everything! Be open to everything! Our minds and souls are fed constantly, informing and stimulating the creative process. As we grow older, raise families, and take jobs, being “responsible” makes it easier to remain stationary — in mind, soul and body. So I don’t think great art comes solely from a place of youthful suffering and angst, but I can understand why youth opens us, where age might figuratively and literally shut us in, make us more scared to say our truth and less inclined to shout it from the rooftops. But we learn again don’t we? Advancing age leads us down the path of worrying less what others think, and more about what fills us.
I’m fascinated by the creative process, and voices, and greatness. Youth certainly propels creativity for all the reasons The Rock pointed out, but creativity isn’t limited to youth (though he didn’t say that exactly, he said the majority of it was…). Some of the best stuff I’ve read is from people who are comfortable in their skin, who know who they are, and who don’t care if you like it or not. That kind of sureness comes at any age. Also, creativity evolves, adapts, matures as we do. The process doesn’t die with youth. Rather, we kill it or it’s killed by how we regard the process and what we do with it.
Anyway, our conversation soon segued to personal blogging, and returned to our question of how commercialization impacts creativity. I commented that I’d noticed some blogs losing their honesty, their connection with readers. I again wondered if when you “go big,” or “go commercial,” you just naturally sacrifice compelling content. Are these blogs just evolving with the author? Or did the author lost it somewhere along the way? Of course it goes back to the truth. Allowing your voice to bubble to the surface, and to write for the sake of creation lends writing a resonance and vibration that links you to readers. It’s real. But when the writing comes from a place of “ad revenues,” and “big britches,” and “ego,” nothing resonates. Outside the context of commercialization, writing/creativity are similarly affected by fear of what someone will say, hesitancy to show your real self, and a myriad of other factors.
All in all, it’s about overthinking. And it happens to all of us. Put anything through the filter enough times and creativity is stripped. If we find our voices stilted as I often do, it’s most likely a flow issue. What’s stopping us up? For some, maybe it’s the opinions of advertisers, editors, or producers. For others, something else has become bigger than the urge to create; perhaps “making it” shifted our priorities, or we worry what family will think. It’s not age at all, other than youth tends to prohibit automatically thinking yourself into stagnation or fear than at any other time of our lives. The art/songs/books/blogs that strike a chord with me are those that smack of the freedom to be themselves, that willfully put aside the urge to cater, or reflect any other voice but their own.
And 15 or 50, that’s hard to do. But when it happens, our creations sing.
At least that’s what I want to believe.
Edited to add: Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll step off my self-important soapbox of blither blather and just go have my period already.