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The artist’s creed

This is all just my subjective advice to artists based on my limited personal experiences.

1. Don’t get excited

OK, you are allowed to get excited. It’s part of human nature. Just be careful that you’re not setting yourself up for later disappointment. Be honest with yourself about why exactly you’re excited. If it’s only your daydreams that are exciting you, recognize that, and make sure they do not become expectations.

The beginning of the creative process is, at least for me, the most exciting part of the creative process. (The second most exciting part is actually finishing something that you feel good about, but that has nothing to do with this rule.) When you get that first seed of an idea, that first inkling of something awesome, it can quickly become an obsession. You daydream about it all night and day. Oh, what wonderful possibilities!

But what is it that’s really exciting? It’s the possibilities. It’s the unknown. The unknown can be very exciting. It’s why movie trailers are exciting: they give just small pieces of info, leading us to wonder what the entire movie will be like. It’s why we wrap presents at Christmas: what could be in there? I can’t wait to find out!

But with the creative process, we work backwards. We daydream the movie trailer moments first, and that gets us all excited. The problem with this is obvious: we have to create the film. We have to fill in the details and make it something absolute instead of just of bunch of vague possibilities.

While the initial excitement can be a great motivator for getting to work, DO NOT mistake that excitement as a judgment of the completed work. You don’t have the completed work yet. You can’t judge it. You can’t even judge its potential. Something that does not yet really exist does not have potential.

I once met someone who was excited about an independent film he was working on, claiming it was bound to make millions … later on, he mentioned he was looking for someone to write the screenplay. Wait a sec. You don’t even have a screenplay?

In a similar manner, don’t get excited about potential success. If someone promises to make you rich, or to buy your work, or to make your screenplay into a film, or whatever, don’t get excited until it’s actually done, until it’s actually set in stone. When there’s a lot of money involved, many things can go wrong, many important people can change their minds. Save yourself from disappointment. Don’t let your expectations be denied by not having high expectations to begin with.

2. Never be satisfied

This rule requires much less description. It’s the age old philosophy of Kaizen. If you find yourself quite pleased with your work, it does not mean you’re a great artist, it means you’re stupid. OK, you can be a little satisfied. I’m not trying to argue you should always be in a state of self-loathing disappointment. But you should always be able to find something to improve upon. No work of art is perfect. Obviously, you must stop working on a project at some point if you ever want to do something else. As they say: “A work of art is never finished, only abandoned.”

3. Don’t be a critic

OK, you can be a critic. In fact, you need to be a critic of some sort to make any sort of creative decisions at all.

What I mean by this rule is: don’t be a critic instead of being creative. As Anton Ego says in Ratatouille: “The bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

Good critiques, even if subjective, serve the creative process. They help artists make choices. Lame critiques (that is, unasked-for critiques from non-creative people) are worthless. Still, they can make non-creative people feel productive and involved. So they’re not going to disappear anytime soon.

As an artist, do not give lame critiques your time. And don’t create them.

If someone asks for your honest opinion, as a creative person might, be honest, informative, and kind. It is better to say “This part of the story doesn’t work for me because I don’t understand this character’s motivations…” rather than “What the heck?! He can’t just do that! That’s stupid! You should die for writing this crap!”

If someone asks for your dishonest opinion, patronize him; that’s what he wants. “Oh, awesome! That’s very neat! Nice work!” If they need people to lie to them to make them feel good, that’s their problem. And maybe they just want to show you their work and don’t really give a crap what you really think. So be polite and don’t tell them. Unless, of course, you are honestly impressed. If the truth doesn’t hurt, it won’t hurt!

If no one asks for your opinion, why are you wasting your time telling them?


Original blog post:

The artist’s creed