Channeling Creative Forces: The Reasons Why We Should Make Art

A few years ago, Neil Gaiman, delivering a commencement speech to graduating university students, implored everyone to do one thing: make good art. Make good art regardless of the circumstances. Make good art in the face of adversity, or happiness, and all the emotions in between. It’s an inspiring statement that can fuel our drive to do something creative, regardless of what kind of art it is, whether written, visual, or aural.

Still, what we don’t really talk about is the vast number of reasons why we should make art – whether it’s good or bad (it really depends on who’s evaluating the piece of art, anyway). In this post, I’ll talk about a few things I saw on the Internet about making art – primarily through the visual and the written media – and why we should make art. And the reasons go beyond just wanting to pen a single story that encompasses a certain experience, or to make some thoughts known through verse.

One of the more immediate ways that art is made is through the written word. Writing is a highly accessible activity that doesn’t have to take up much of one’s time – unless one is inclined to, of course. It could be quick, like a line or two that you think is particularly brilliant that you want to write down just in case you might need it later. It might be a longer, more arduous process, such as the writing, trimming, and perfecting of a poem, or the writing of a novel. It is also pretty much everywhere, and not necessarily confined to creative or literary pursuits, although we are here to talk about art.

Another is, of course, the visual medium. And as far as hobbies can go, it may also be as inexpensive as writing. Just a pen, some paper, and imagination, and you’re good to go. Of course, visual art is such a broad term, and encompasses a lot of things from paintings to sketches to sculpture, maybe even advertisements and photographs.

We’re familiar with so many forms of art, but again, I’ll lead you back to the question of why we should make art in the first place. Artists in their respective fields have weighed in on the issue already, as the post “Why We Make Art” by Jeremy Adam Smith, published on the Greater Good Science Center website, proves. Smith asked some artists to answer the question why, and the responses are diverse. Gina Gibney, the artistic director for the Gina Gibney Dance Company, for instance, shares this:

I make art for a few reasons. In life, we experience so much fragmentation of thought and feeling. For me, creating art brings things back together.

Harrell Fletcher, who started the website Learning To Love You More with Miranda July, responded thus:

In my case, the projects that I do allow me to meet people I wouldn’t ordinarily meet, travel to places I wouldn’t normally go to, learn about subjects that I didn’t know I would be interested in, and sometimes even help people out in small ways that make me feel good. I like to say that what I’m after is to have an interesting life, and doing the work that I do as an artist helps me achieve that.

For Fletcher, making art appears to open the world to him – a wonderful reason, certainly, to make art. Then there is James Sturm, who responds to the question thus:

Perhaps the only insight I’ve gained is the knowledge that I have no idea and, secondly, the reasons are unimportant.

The view that the reasons for making art are unimportant is interesting, certainly, and not the kind of perspective you’d come across everyday. Or at least, perhaps something that people won’t admit to. In a way, however, Sturm’s response can be related to the idea that art serves so many purposes and cannot be boxed into a single. Make art – the reasons, whether you have them or not, are not that important. What is important is that you make them. In any case, art can have various meanings, besides, to anyone who’s beholding it, or reading it, or listening to it.

“Why make art” is not a question that can only be answered by supplying personal reasons, however. In Sean Kane’s article for Tech Insider, 7 science-backed reasons you should make art, even if you’re bad at it,” tells readers exactly that: scientific reasons that answer the question of why you should make art. In the article, Kane says:

Painting, sculpting, dancing, making music, and all the other artistic pursuits have benefits that go far beyond pure enjoyment or cultural creation — these activities can also strengthen your brain and improve your mood. Here are seven reasons to give yourself time to make art, even if you think you’re bad at it.

The science-backed reasons may surprise you. Mindless sketching (under certain circumstances), for instance, actually helps you focus. Writing about your problems can help you cope with them. Making art can basically act as one huge stress reliever. And in this day and age, we need all the stress relief we can get. But the benefits of making art are there, and should be reason enough for you to make art, if in case you’re someone who has no gigantic literary or artistic ambition that you’re itching to fulfill.

I’m sure there are a million and one more reasons why we should make art, and I doubt I’ve been able to cover them all in one post. However, it’s safe to say that the general, big vision, the big picture, that we want to put into view is this: we should make art because making art heals, fulfills, and communicates. Making art allows us to talk about certain subjects and deal with certain things. It helps us to share or articulate our experiences and thoughts with others. It allows us to touch others’ lives. With these ideas in mind, we can safely say that whoever you are, you should make art. Even if it’s just one doodle, or one line, or one note at a time.

Interesting Links:

I’ve rounded up a few links related to the topic. Check them out!

Do you know any articles or reasons – personal, scientific, or otherwise – why we should make art? Do you have art to share? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us at @creativwriters!

Read More

The Power of Influence: How One’s Creativity Can Influence Others

We always talk about inspiring and influencing through creativity and creative works, but although it’s something we know instinctively, it always pays to have some great, concrete examples of how creative works have influenced others. It pays to acknowledge the fact that, of course, being influenced is inevitable. Once, one of my professors overheard a creative writing student claiming that they’re adamantly avoiding reading anything because it will affect their writing. My professor scoffed at this, and I would have, too. Attempting to deny others’ influence – so long as it’s good influence, the kind that makes you productive – may very well equate to denying your own work any relevance in any genre, in any aspect of life. It denies acknowledging your own roots – how you’ve come to fall in love with art and creativity, in the first place, or how you’ve come to think and act in certain ways. Influence is important, in other words, and it pays to always know what your influences are, for your own work to spring from them.

In this post, I’ll run through a few works and articles in which famous writers and artists acknowledge how existing works have already influenced them, whether the influence is on a specific work or on their entire creative oeuvre.

The Ecstacy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem

  • Speculative fiction writer Jonathan Lethem released this collection of essays that, as the title suggests, largely discusses what has influenced him in various points in his life. Lethem talks about his relationship with the works of various writers and artists, from Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard, to Marvel works. It’s an interesting collection because you’ll be able to see how Lethem reacts to the figures that have shaped his life and form his interests – even as he speaks in his own voice and talks about his personal experiences.
  • Dwight Garner wrote about Lethem’s book in the New York Times. Read it here.

Turning Point: 1997-2008 by Hayao Miyazaki

  • Turning Point: 1997-2008 is a collection of essays, notes, interviews, poems, and illustrations by – or conducted with – Hayao Miyazaki, the ever-famous director of such films as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, and is just about synonymous with the Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli*. This is just a half of the series of books revolving around such a collection of material from Miyazaki, but 1997-1998 talks primarily about three of his most famous films – Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. You’ll read in the notes and interviews about Miyazaki’s influences – and it’s not the kind of influence on which Miyazaki was compelled to build on, if that makes sense. Miyazaki shows that influence is not always following a certain tradition or style set by certain artists. He talks about Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, which he saw was a misrepresentation of certain aspects of Japanese history. He in turn attempted to amend this in Princess Mononoke. He talks about how Osamu Tezuka has influenced him – but only through certain works, and not Astro Boy. It’s an interesting read, certainly, as Miyazaki gives a lot of great insight on his work, and on what foundations he built them on.

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

  • Manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s  A Drifting Life is one huge book. Using manga as the medium to deliver his memoir, Tatsumi shows what the sights and sounds of his childhood were, what kind of world he was growing up in, and the effects of it all on his work. He was, like Miyazaki, inspired by Osamu Tezuka – but his was a glowing, wide-eyed, absolute admiration towards the Astro Boy creator, whom he managed to meet during his childhood. The book shows not just Tatsumi’s admiration for Tezuka, but also the other factors that influenced his manga style – films (the techniques used in which he incorporated in his work), existing four-panel manga (which he tried to distance himself from when he wanted to innovate), and the people around him. It just goes to show that influence isn’t just from one writer, or from something absolutely positive – influence goes in bits and pieces. How to craft everything was left to Tatsumi himself.

These are just a few works that show how others have managed to influence artists and their creative works. I repeat – it pays to acknowledge others’ influence. If you don’t particularly like how you’re being influenced, attempt to subvert it, or try to make something new out of it. If you like how the influence has come across to you, then by all means work with it. Creative works and creativity pulse with life — not just yours, but also others who have come before you, and who have lived and done their work before you. Consume a lot of material, and use them to your advantage. Let influence make you grow. The good work will certainly follow.

Read More

Out of the Box: The Wonderfully Reckless World of Creativity

All good creative work is, in one way or another, a response to other creative works. They may deviate or follow a certain creative trend, but there will always be a way to position each creative work in the larger body. Take all the -isms we’re familiar with, for instance. Posthumanism is in a way a response to humanist thought. Post-structuralism is a response to structuralism. Postmodernism, though broad and rather difficult to define, is in a way a response to modernism. And so on and so forth. Works of art are reactions to something, derived from individual thought, personal reactions towards something, and the need to position one’s ideas in a larger conversation. But what if it seems as if everything’s been said and done, all stories have been told, all ideas appear to have been pinned down on paper and written or drawn or composed? What then?

That’s where your creative juices come in. Like I said, any piece of creative work is a reaction to something – so think of what’s already been written, and react to it. What did you like about it? What do you think doesn’t work? What could be done better? Take all these questions and try to answer them in your own work, and try to make things fresh and new. All easier said and done, certainly. Be assured that you’ll spend a lot of time, a lot of sleepless nights attempting to make a new creative work that you’d be even just a little satisfied with. It always pays, however, to think outside the box. How can you make familiar things strange? How can you tweak certain everyday situations for you to be able to view them in a new angle, a new perspective? Throw in crazy ideas and make them work. Do anything you need to do to make your brain flow, and initiate brainstorming sessions. Walk around, for example. Or read a lot and write a lot. Engage in free writing, engage in conversation, watch people or animals or events around you, and most of all, think about what makes up these people or these events. Definitely don’t give up trying to be creative — even if it will take you ages to come up with something great.

That said, here are a few quotes that might help inspire you and get you in the creative zone.

  1. “Creativity itself doesn’t care at all about results – the only thing it craves is the process. Learn to love the process and let whatever happens next happen, without fussing too much about it. Work like a monk, or a mule, or some other representative metaphor for diligence. Love the work. Destiny will do what it wants with you, regardless.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
  2. “Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” – Ray Bradbury
  3. “Sometimes I think that creativity is a matter of seeing, or stumbling over, unobvious similarities between things – like composing a fresh metaphor, but on a more complex scale.” –  David Mitchell

Creativity is risking and being reckless, giving your head some space to be irrational but also making sure you can string all these together. So go ahead – defy expectations and write something people don’t usually see, talk about, or want to talk about. As Sylvia Plath said, “everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

Believe you can think out of the box and write something new and fresh — what may come out will surprise you.

Read More

Quotes to Help Overcome Creative Frustration

Some of the most frustrating things that people experience stem from creative projects. Artists of all kinds, especially, are never truly satisfied with what they produce. I’ve been told once that a work of art is never finished – just abandoned. And sometimes, it doesn’t matter which of the two you do. Whether you return to the piece or abandon it, you’re throwing yourself off a cliff – endless frustration from the former, and haunting from the latter. Meanwhile, you spend copious amounts of time on your piece, while others watch on and think you’re wasting your time.

These ideas, though, are formed under the impression that creative projects are not worth doing. Not to sound like I’m excluding certain kinds of people, but sometimes we find it true when we say that artists understand each other better than most people.

It is inevitable to feel frustrated, though, and so I step in armed with a few quotes from artists themselves, in the hopes of inspiring.

Here is one from Dilbert creator Scott Adams:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

Another, this time from American poet Langston Hughes:

An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.

Japanese author, Haruki Murakami:

For me, writing a novel is like having a dream. Writing a novel lets me intentionally dream while I’m still awake. I can continue yesterday’s dream today, something you can’t normally do in everyday life.

And finally, from English author, Michael Morpurgo:

Encouraging young people to believe in themselves and find their own voice whether it’s through writing, drama or art is so important in giving young people a sense of self-worth.

Going through the quotes, we can get a general idea: art is an expression of the self, filled with mistakes and pitfalls, fueled by passion and pushing yourself further. So, like what the Adams quote says, being creative means making mistakes. Your creative output will be a mistake, not to everyone, certainly, but there will be people who will look at what you’ve done and say that they don’t get it. That they don’t see the value in it. It bears repeating, though, that creative ideas stem from the self, and end with the self, and creative frustration stems from – among other things – attempting to meet your own expectations while attempting to meet the projected expectations of others. Whatever you do, you will get mad, you will arrive at a point where you wouldn’t want to continue. But that’s part of life, and that’s part of the creative process.

It’s an idea that this site has repeated over and over again, in several posts, over the past several weeks, but constant reminder is a wonderful thing. Creative projects exist because you feel that they have to. Creative projects must be done because you have envisioned them. The idea is brilliant, it’s in your head – it’s in the translation that the work becomes arduous, the hours long.

Finally, keep in mind that it’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to feel like you want to give up, it’s okay to look at what you’ve written, and say, “I don’t like it.” But always keep the quotes in mind: that you have a choice in your creative output, you have the final say, it is your sandbox, it is your dream. It is the ocean for you, the one that only you can explore – sometimes, you just get stranded in the middle, sometimes you just feel hopeless because you’ve been sailing for hours but cannot see the land.

So feel frustrated, but also work hard to overcome that frustration. Besides, your story won’t write itself.

Read More

Wired and Dangerous: Creativity and the Video Game

Video games have been around for a few decades, and the hobby of playing games has been around since time immemorial. Video games, in particular, have gone a long way. Perhaps everyone has a basic knowledge of what Pong and Space Invaders are as video games. Even those outside the gaming sphere know who Mario and Pac-Man are. Video games have transcended the interactive medium, bleeding into other forms of media, from films (see: Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy) to print (Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Halo are just some of the names that have their own fiction books). Video games are art forms in their own right, as important as literature and film, though this argument has been done over and over again, and may be a topic for another day.

It is interesting to look at the video game as a creative medium, one that is a brilliant, patchwork quilt being the product of different disciplines and a hundred or so creative minds. It’s inspiring to see how ideas take root and grow during the game development process (and gaming press affords the public a peek into the development process on occasion, through feature articles and developer interviews). However, seeing as the end product – the video game itself – is in itself an already finished product that’s ready to be consumed by the gaming public, is there room for the gamer to grow creatively, when what he or she is playing is a neatly-designed, completely packaged piece of interactive fiction?

The short (and cop-out) answer is yes. This is coming from a person who plays video games (whenever there’s free time, of course).

It’s probably easy to think of video games as simply-structured, goal-oriented pieces: do A to get to B, fight X number of goons to advance to the next stage, find X number of keys to unlock door Y, level up several times in order to become powerful enough to defeat the boss blocking the door. So and so. Similar objectives are present in just about every game, with one goal in mind: to win the game. This probably negates the room for creative growth for the one who is playing the game, since he or she is subjected to the limits that the developer has imposed on him as a semi-involved spectator.

But, think of video games as an art form. Think of the video game as a text. This can’t apply to all games, true, but a lot of video games in the market – and a lot of the good ones – don’t just have excellent gameplay mechanics, breath-taking graphics, and wonderful music – they also have a good narrative going on for them. If we’re going on with book analogies, the developer/s is/are the author/s, and the player is the reader. If the reader is able to extract his or her own understanding of a text and make something out of it, similarly, the player can also make something out of his or her “limited” experience from engaging in a video game.

The point is this: creativity does not manifest itself in the video game solely through the objectives, the narrative, and the pieces that the developers have put in the game. Creativity also manifests itself through the choices that the player makes, and through how the player negotiates with the obstacles and the narrative set in the game. Think of the player as the co-author of the video game, in that the video game cannot exist if it is not played, precisely because its purpose is to be played.

What do we take from this? Quick answer: if you have the means to, play video games. Play a lot of good video games. Get something from the stories, the set designs, how the world is built and perceived by the player, how the characters within the game exist within their virtual environment. Understand the video game, understand the piece of interactive fiction that another person created, and from there let the game fuel your own imagination and inspire and motivate you to do the same. Video games, no matter how limiting they seem – especially if they are linear – give enough freedom for the player to own them.

This has been a post that encourages playing games as much as it encourages being creative. Part of the point I’m trying to drive home, though, is to not let anyone’s creative work limit you from making something of your own out of that. Get inspired, instead.

As for interpreting texts, I’m pretty sure there are literary theories that talk about that, though I have a shaky background in literary theory, and it’s a discussion reserved for another day.

For now, last word: play your games.

P.S. I realized that I didn’t actually list down video games which I think help in the creative process. Some other time, perhaps.

Play With These Links, Too:

The following aren’t exactly interactive links, though if you’re interested in video games, the idea of video games as art, or which video games can be considered art, these are great to look at.

The Art of Video Games / Video Games Can Never Be Art, by (the late) Roger Ebert / Video Games That Approach Art

Read More

On Pieces of Advice

There are, no doubt, hundreds – if not thousands, maybe millions – of inspirational quotes scattered all over the Internet. This kind of advice is, of course, on just about any topic imaginable – love, friendship, school, work, what have you. Advice-giving is a sketchy thing, though. I’d assume the advice being given has worked for the advice giver, but there is never any guarantee that the same good thing will come out of anyone else following the advice given to them. Advice is useful, but it is never guaranteed. That’s why disclaimers exist.

The interesting thing is, I believe there is one piece of advice that will always, always work, even if other pieces of advice, and even if other suggestions, have failed and have dragged you down and made you miserable. And that piece of advice comes from one of the most brilliant writers of the century, the veritable rock star of literature – Neil Gaiman.

A brief introduction: Neil Gaiman is the creator of Sandman. He has written the following: Coraline, Stardust, American Gods, Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame), and the short story collections Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things. He also, I believe, does not need an introduction past that, given that his track record is already very much impressive.

Neil Gaiman gave a speech to the graduating class of The University of the Arts back in 2012, and while the speech itself is well worth the read for the invaluable advice Neil Gaiman gives to artists of all persuasions, the entire message can be distilled into three profoundly moving words: make good art.

I am not here to elaborate on Neil Gaiman’s speech, or to parrot his words and make them appear as if I am the one giving you such valuable advice. Instead, I’m here to connect what I said earlier – that there is one piece of advice that will always work – to Neil Gaiman’s advice.

The thing is, “make good art” is useful precisely because it can act out its persuasiveness by pushing you to do something about anything bad that’s happened. That something is art, of course – art being anything written, drawn, or generally made by the self. Fall down the stairs? Write a poem. Failed a class? Paint something. Got turned down? Write a song.

I believe that “make good art” is not, in itself, a solution to any of the problems one is facing, but is instead a coping mechanism, something to channel all negative energy present in the system and turn it into something beautiful instead. If you’re the scientific type, think of it as something similar to the Law of Conservation of Energy.

It’s not solely for coping, even. Anything good happening in life demands some sort of documentation, and while pictures and diary entries are legitimate pieces of documentation (diary entries, especially, and most especially when they are revisited years later), great events can serve as fuel for good art. Especially if you’re happy. I’m not entirely sure about the science behind it, but – in vague terms – hormones or bodily chemicals, I believe, release adrenaline or endorphins, when something great happens. That’s a lot of energy that can be channelled right there, and what better way to transfer that than to make good art?

“Make good art” is my personal motto in life, simply because it’s the best non-religious piece of advice I know. And simply because, in my experience, it always works. I’ve made art – whether good or not remains to be seen – every time I felt down, wrote poems every time I felt anxious or incredibly happy about something, wrote stories every time something inspired me.

Now, my piece of advice to you – and it goes without saying that you should not rely on it too much – is to follow Neil Gaiman’s piece of advice. But “make good art” is such an excellent, all-encompassing piece of advice that negates the suspicious, uncertain nature of my piece of advice. Follow Neil Gaiman’s piece of advice.

Isn’t that quite paradoxical, though?


Some Possibly Useful Links:

As a university student and aspiring professor, I should not be linking you to Wikipedia pages, but one half of this list of links is a Wikipedia page. I apologize. (In my defense, it is about a scientific concept, and science is not my area – not that I’m saying I know absolutely nothing about science…)

The Law of Conservation of Energy / Neil Gaiman’s Keynote Address to the University of the Arts Class of 2012

Read More