Daily Thoughts 117: Celebrate Creativity, and the Myth of Universality

Author's SelfieI’ve been thinking a lot recently about creativity and the ways that creativity gets judged and considered by others. I’ve written about having fun first and about allowing others to be bad (whatever that means to you). It’s a theme that I keep coming back to because people tend to have trouble with the idea. I thought I’d tackle a few of those myths because we are often more critical of ourselves than others. We can be very unkind to ourselves. Here are five myths and ways to dispell them and celebrate creativity.

Myth of Universality

This view holds artistic efforts up to an idealized view of what is universally good. It’s the sense that there is some sort of rubric that can be applied to any work and determine if it is good or bad. It may stem from scientific fields in which something may be more pure or measured with increasing degrees of accuracy. When Cavendish measured the density of the planet, he set a new benchmark for future measurements.

By this myth you could picture a software program that could analyze a novel, painting, or a piece of music, and measure the degree of ‘goodness’ in that work. It may not exist, but we act as if it does exist in our heads.

I see this in the library during conversations about books. Someone might say that James Patterson’s work is terrible. I have to laugh. Patterson and his co-authors have created a genre around his name. Like many other genres, it includes many subgenres of thrillers, mysteries, teen fiction, etc. Readers picking up one of these books anticipate an experience that they associate with the Patterson genre. Each reader will determine for themselves whether or not they are satisfied with the experience provided. Someone else may hate Patterson’s writing, his popularity, his method of working with other writers, the way he laughs, or anything else about him. If someone loves a Patterson book, the person who can’t stand him may look down on that person because Patterson’s work doesn’t meet their idea of ‘good.’

The fact is (like it or not) many people like books (and movies, comics, etc.) that you don’t. Writers can turn bitter, wondering why their work doesn’t get whatever they think it deserves while works they consider inferior achieve success and acclaim.

Nothing—not even Patterson—is universally loved, obviously. Yet a writer may publish a book and despair when it doesn’t meet dreamed of success or recognition. Or the writer may find themselves depressed over negative reviews, discounting positive response. The truth is, neither matters.

It comes down to a question of extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards. A novel, or a story, or a poem, is an internal meditation shared with others. Or not. It doesn’t matter. If it is shared, whether anyone likes or dislikes it has nothing to do with the writer’s experience of creating the work. This is true of all art.

Some works of art achieve wider acclaim, providing greater external rewards to their creators, than others. The lack of that sort of response, or a negative response, should not retroactively change the experience the creator had while creating their art. Imagine watching a movie of a joyful solitary child playing in a sunny field. Do you feel the need to criticize how the child plays? To comment on their technique? To point out flaws? To explain how you would do it if you were playing? Maybe their game doesn’t appeal to you. That’s fine. Move on. Find a game you enjoy and simply appreciate the diversity of our creativity.

You’ll Float Too

Because, you know, let the good times roll.