Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Genius Industry

Danielle Krysa (with paintings by Martha Rich), Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk, and Other Truths About Being Creative

I don’t know if Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way was really first in the current creativity books boom. I certainly noticed it first. Books, and to a lesser degree video and audio recordings, encouraging aspiring artists to quit being their own worst enemies have become a major hustle for the publishing industry. Most, like this one, are pretty good. Yet I can’t help noticing: books for aspiring artists seem to be growing faster than the general art market.

Danielle Krysa, collage artist, painter, and prolific blogger, has written two previous books on working artists and their creative process. Both focused heavily on interviewing working artists and getting their views on how the creation process works internally. This one includes some interviews and dialog, but has a more personal, you-centered focus. Krysa apparently wants to reprogram your internal monolog away from self-sabotage, a habit common in creative aspirants everywhere.

Between the interviews she’s conducted with professional artists, and the responses her first two books received from readers, Krysa noticed certain prevailing patterns in how people think about creativity. She distills these patterns into ten aphorisms we would-be creative types can apply to our own process. These include, but are not limited to, “Excuses Are the Enemy” (how true), “Failure Leads to Genius” (certainly my experience), and “Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk.”

This sort of internal reprogramming matters for anybody who’d like to create. Not just full-time professionals, either; hobby painters, early morning novelists, and weekend woodworkers, of which I’m all three, need reminders that our fear of failure, our self-destructive criticism, and our facile self-justifications are our biggest weakness. We need to expunge these influences from our thinking if we aspire to create, even for our own mental well-being.

Danielle Krysa
Consider why people don’t create. In my teaching days, students’ most-cited reason for not writing more was that they believed they couldn’t, that they feared trying something and getting proven wrong. This negative self-talk, which Krysa notes children writing doggerel or gluing macaroni to construction paper don’t practice, generally come from well-meaning but misguided teachers, peers, or sadly parents, who mistake fault-finding for constructive criticism. No wonder many artists can’t create something meaningful until their parents are dead.

So far, so good. I wish Krysa’s personal exhortations included more action-oriented exercises; she has some, but not many, and not in every chapter. As scholarly writer Patricia Goodson noted recently, the leading block stopping academic writers (or other creative professionals) from actually creating, is that they don’t think of themselves as writers. And the surest way to overcome that block is to write (paint, sing, build) until you change your own mind.

Fine, that’s a personal opinion. Perhaps some people do better with self-talk before plunging in headlong. I don’t pretend to understand the varieties of psychology enough to dispute Krysa in this regard. And if creative people coordinate their actual creating with the kind of emotionally uplifting self-talk Krysa, and others, espouse, I have no problem believing they’ll increase their output quantity, and with it their output quality. Creating more is key to creating better, but we must first create.

Put another way, notwithstanding my nitpicking, I appreciate Krysa’s sentiments, and will likely incorporate reading several pages of this book into my daily creative regimen. But books similar to this one flood the market relentlessly. My favorite bookstore has more shelf space dedicated to such moral exhortations for creative professionals than to philosophy or world history, and almost as much as science or current events. Books for creators, especially writers, are a boom market.

It’s tempting to say something about the boom market in creativity books while pipelines for creative marketing are drying up. Admittedly, as I write this, both the New York Times and the Washington Post are experiencing subscription booms and expanding their newsrooms for the first time in years. And the explosion of basic cable TV networks have created unprecedented new markets for actors and directors. Perhaps the creative market is undergoing a transition, not a contraction.

But that still feels unsatisfying.

Much as I appreciate Krysa’s book, and feel grateful for having read it, it’ll probably vanish into a crowded pool of similar creativity manifestoes. I’ve received several similar review books that went through one printing and disappeared; only Martha Rich’s interesting, borderless paintings encouraged me to accept this book. Krysa does nothing wrong, but also nothing to stand above the crowd. Krysa’s principles deserve better. But frustrated creative aspirants are already at saturation marketing levels.

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