When it Comes to Creativity, Whose Opinion Matters?

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Welcome to Good Enough Creative, a podcast for creative people.

Hi again, welcome back. I’m your host, Marie Greene, and today we’re talking about opinions. Whose opinion matters most when it comes to putting yourself – and your art – out into the world?

Have you ever worried about what other people will think of your ideas? Or struggled to figure out how to make something that other people will want or approve of? What if the point of creativity is just to DO it, regardless of what other people think?

In the book Art & Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland say this: “Making art means working in the face of uncertainty. It means living with doubt and contradiction. Doing something no one much cares if you do and which there may be neither audience, nor reward.”

My son and I have this conversation all the time. His generation has grown up seeing the “instant fame” of Youtubers (not instant, but that’s how it appears to him) and thinking that the point of making art is for the audience. And I get his point – if no one ever sees what you make, or cares that you make it, was it for nothing?

There is a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from sharing your ideas and sharing what you’ve created. Having an audience validates your work.

But what if you don’t have an audience? What’s the point of art if no one ever sees it?

I think the answer here is what lies in our WHY.

Why do you take up your favorite art in the first place? Fiber arts are a great example to use in this conversation, because most people I know who fall in love with spinning, weaving, knitting, crochet, sewing, embroidery and so many more – they do it for the process. There’s something soothing and rewarding about the movements of your hands and the feeling of the fiber and the experience of watching something grow from a single thread to a whole fabric.

According to Gillian Morriss-Kay from Oxford University in her article, The Evolution of Human Artistic Creativity, she says “Art, in its many forms, is practised by almost all human cultures and can be regarded as one of the defining characteristics of the human species.”

If art is a defining characteristic of being human then surely it exists for far more than just the value of its interpretation by others.

Think of your favorite creative experiences – what made them great? What brings you back to your chosen form of art again and again? Would you keep showing up even if no one else ever saw what you made? Or if those who did see it, didn’t like it?

This reminds me of a time that my husband and I went to MoMA in NYC. There were several exhibits that unnerved me. They weren’t just unpleasant – they were kind of repulsive. And yet here they were, taking up a significant amount of space at one of the most renowned modern art museums in the world. A few of those exhibits still bother me. When I think of art, I think of something that’s visually appealing or delightful or, at least, thought-provoking. Does repulsive count? I guess it does.

But what I realized when I saw the art that offended me is that the artist made it, probably knowing it wasn’t lovely or inspiring or beautiful. They knew it was offensive or off-putting, but they still made it. I would venture to guess that most of us will never create anything so unappealing in our entire lives.

One of my sisters loves to paint and a few years ago I helped her get settled in her new house. In helping to organize her art room I realized that she had hundreds – literally hundreds – of painted canvases with every kind of color and brush stroke you could imagine. They were stacked in the attic and in corners and behind the door. They were everywhere. She paints to get the ideas out of her head, and then once the idea is on the canvas, she moves to the next one. She doesn’t display them or sell them or even really seem to care about them once they’re finished.

Some of us show up to art and creativity because it’s inside of us and has to come out – it’s how we express what we feel, what we care about, and who we are. And you know, now that I think about it – some of the ways I’m creative are to express myself, but others are how I process what I’m working through in my life – it’s keeping my hands busy so that what’s in my head can percolate. Sometimes knitting is like a fidget spinner – it just keeps your hands busy while your thoughts are busy somewhere else.  

From one day to the next, from one kind of art to the next, even from one hour to the next, what brings us to art and creativity changes almost as often as the wind shifts.

And if that’s the case, then couldn’t we also say that what happens after it comes out of us and into the world is allowed to vary, too?

Sometimes you might create something and it’s well received.

Other times it might be ignored. A friend of mine designed and knit an incredible wedding shawl for a family member, agonizing over the project to make sure it was finished in time for the wedding. And the bride didn’t wear it. That would be really hard to accept – knowing you put so much work and love and time into something, only to have the recipient seem indifferent or uninterested.

But I think we’ve all had moments similar to this one, where we put a lot of ourselves into something and didn’t get the response we had hoped for. It’s disappointing, it is. But we have to go back to the knowledge that what brings us to art and creativity is not the outcome. It’s not about the finish line or the reception it gets from the outside world. It’s about what that process meant to us and for us when we did it.

When I was in high school I loved to study poetry and literature and I remember a teacher grading us on our interpretation of a poem. I don’t remember the poem or what I got wrong about it, but my interpretation was definitely not the one that the teacher was looking for. And I remember thinking, “How do you know what the poet meant when she wrote this? How do you know?” And to this day, I disagree that anyone else can tell us what our art means, and I think that’s why I took such an issue with that experience and still remember it to this day. Other people can interpret what we create, and decide what they think it means or if they think it has value, but the opinion that matters most is our own.

My challenge to you is to remember that why you show up to creativity changes from one moment to the next; sometimes you show up because it’s how you cope with what you’re going through. What comes out of that, whatever you finish or create, is less about how the end result looks and more about what it meant to you to be able to lean on your creativity to get you through it. Sometimes you’ll make art with the intention of someone else seeing it, and of course you want it to be well-received. But let me ask you this: would you make it anyway? In most cases, I think we would. Not everything you make or create will be loved by someone else, but if you loved making it, that’s what matters.  

Until next time, my friend – you’ve got this.

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