“I’ve suffered enough. When does my artwork improve?” Refrigerator magnet
The tortured artist mythology is an ancient and enduring one: The idea that art depends on suffering, and artists need to be suffering with dark emotions, and need their pain to create.
But that is a wrong and destructive idea.
For example, in his appearance as a guest on The Ellen Show, Colin Farrell said he is more creative being sober and happy.
“I ascribed to the notion that to express yourself as an artist, you have to live in perpetual pain. And that’s nonsense.”
Musician Sting also said he bought into this myth for a long time:
We may watch a movie or TV show, read a novel or listen to music, and appreciate that the authors, those identified as artists, are certainly “creative types” – but what about the producers and set designers?
Or the computer engineers at digital animation companies like Pixar?
The MacArthur Foundation has a mission to “support creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world” and acknowledges there are many kinds of creators, awarding its renowned fellowships to a wide range of people: playwrights, novelists, dancers, botanists, economists, chemists, physicians, psychologists and many others.
One of the themes of creativity research, and many psychologists and creativity coaches, is how crucial beliefs and attitudes are in developing our creative abilities.
Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson talks in the audio clip below about the prevalent idea of ‘genius’ for whether someone can be creative – or even aspire to be.
She also writes about focus and creating, and that “to be a successful creative, you need to not only be a good generator, but also a good evaluator. The problem is that in practice, it’s remarkably hard to be both.
“It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.” Steve Jobs
According to some writers and research, some of the “big names” of creativity and innovation share personal qualities with various sorts of “misfits.”
In her Forbes magazine article, writer Erica Swallow refers to the book “The Innovator’s DNA” which lists several “disruptive innovators” including a number of creative and business leaders such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman (eBay) and Sharon Aby (Beyond Ideas).
Even very talented people may experience fraud or impostor feelings, which can lead to insecurity about their abilities, despite their accomplishments.
“I always feel like something of an impostor. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Jodie Foster made that comment in her acceptance speech as recipient of the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award several years ago.
A highly accomplished actor, director and producer, Foster also said, “I suppose that’s my one little secret, the secret of my success.”
From my article: Jodie Foster on impostor feelings and faking it.
Good self-care is taking steps daily, even hourly, to stay replenished with the energy and positive attitude needed to be productively creative.
One way is to slow down or shift our thinking about having “too much to do.”
Entrepreneur coach Molly Gordon writes about this kind of shift:
“The act of making something new makes us vulnerable.”
That is a comment by artist and creative business consultant Lisa Sonora Beam, who writes in her book “The Creative Entrepreneur” about the variety of challenges that creative people face in developing a piece of artwork, a small business, or themselves as a writer or other artist – the central element of a creative endeavor.
She notes people may “experience a kind of mythic divide” between their creative work and business practicalities.
“This split can create tension and even trauma for the creative soul who is blessed with passion and purpose yet cursed by the seemingly mysterious realm of strategies and skills that are necessary to make an idea real.”
She notes that her book “addresses the three main issues that can result in creative business failure: emotional and psychological blockages, faulty thinking about the creative process, and a lack of practical business knowledge.”
One approach she finds very helpful for herself and clients is visual journaling:
“It is one of the most powerful tools I know to gain insight, solve problems, and explore new ideas without the pressure to produce a product… it is an appealing and unique vehicle for entrepreneurial explorations.
“If you have trouble with the word journal, call it a sketchbook or a notebook. Sketches and notes are never confused with the work they ultimately inspire.”
As a child or teenager, we were perhaps more freely creative, but as supposed “grown-ups” we face fears and uncertainties about our talents, or the marketplace value of a particular form of expression, or what our investing in a project means – both for us, and others.
Some forms of creative work may have structures and guidelines to follow, at least during some stages, but at some point the venture is, well, creative. You need to make things up.
There can be many inner threats and challenges to all these aspects of creating.
Author Milli Thornton describes one example: a CPA who kept shutting off his dream to write.
“At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” Actor, writer, director Mike Myers
Many talented and creative people experience impostor feelings and beliefs about themselves, despite their accomplishments.
Valerie Young, Ed.D. is an expert on impostor syndrome and commented in an Entrepreneur magazine article: “Millions of people, from entrepreneurs to celebrities, have a hard time internalizing their accomplishments.”
The article author notes “the impostor syndrome is especially common among people who become successful quickly or early, and among outsiders, such as women in male-dominated industries.”
Dr. Young adds, “They explain away their success as luck or timing. They feel this sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
From Fake It Until You Make It: How to Believe in Yourself When You Don’t Feel Worthy by Nadia Goodman.
One example is actor Emma Watson, who commented about its impact for her:
“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved.
“I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are.”
There are many ideas about being creative: You have to wait for a flash of inspiration; You need to be a “genius”; Artists are crazy (or at least flaky); You should be in pain to create, and many other myths which often get in the way of personal creative work, and business innovation.
In his book “The Myths of Creativity” David Burkus, writes about one of the most enduring myths: that creative inspiration comes from an outside source or entity:
“The ancient Greeks told and retold stories of gods, supernatural creatures, and regular mortals as a way to explain how they thought the world worked…They created the muses, who received and answered the prayers of ancient writers, musicians, and even engineers.
“The muses were the bearers of creativity’s divine spark. They were the source of inspiration. Even thinkers as great as Plato believed that poets drew all of their creativity from the muses, so that any works by the poets were really considered works of the muses.”