Undiscovered Territory

“Everything has been written.” “Everything has been discussed.” “I have nothing new to add to the subject of money vs. pure creative freedom.”

Are these true statements? Or is this an example of the base level insecurity that, for some of us, comes at the beginning of any new creative endeavor?

Creativity implies exploration, and exploration is a voyage into unknown territory. Humans are notoriously afraid of the unknown. We’re afraid of the dark. We like predictability. Habit. There is safety in habituation. We like to move without having to think. We tend toward stasis.

Creativity is the antithesis of habit. Creativity is engagement, it is relationship, it is intimacy. Intimacy, in its broadest sense, is a deep personal interest and communication with the world around oneself. Putting not just your hands, but your mind and heart, into an activity, it is a conversation, asking question after question, “What are you? What do you want to be?” Creativity grants permission. It allows the world around you to be beautiful and alive and teaches it engagement, at the same time allowing you to grow and participate by being engaged. The basis for creativity is practice.

Pure creativity goes beyond the human participants. And in fact, all the junk the human carries can preclude creativity. Every human, no matter how closed and spiritually unfed they may appear, has moments of creative lucidity. Cultivating these moments is what we call practice. We learn how to paint or write or cook or teach or garden or write code or arrange flowers or tell jokes or push a broom or machine parts or sew or whatever activity we put our focus and energy into — engagement — again and again, and each time we do so we are asking the questions, “What are you? What do you want to be?” Over time and endless persistence, we learn how to ask these questions in just the right way so that the answer opens for us. We ask for permission to see, to truly see, and keeping with it, staying the course over a long period of time, permission is granted. This is the essence of practice.

Creativity; practice; money. Some of us feel a deep and abiding need to be creative. Engagement in the mundane world, the tedium of making a living, may feel troublesome and frustrating. Why can’t I just spend my time creating beautiful things, practicing my craft, honing my skills, so that I can make the world a better, more beautiful place? For many people, creating something, and then selling it for money, feels icky and antithetical to all the stuff that allowed creativity to happen in the first place. Unless the object of your creativity is an obviously marketable product. But there is, or can be, a balance.  Between the pursuit of money and the pursuit of creative engagement. We are not taught any of these skills. We do not know, intuitively, how to be creative and to create a product and to sell it, and to do it again, and again, and to retain our sense of self. Some people seem to have the skills born into them. Others of us fight against the commercialization of our creative ideas with every step into the marketplace. It fucks us up, makes us feel deeply soiled. But we want the freedom to create. We want the time. And the best way to have time and freedom is to sell products that we’ve made. But every day we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we have to deal with the person looking back, and lying, hypocrisy, being false and not genuine, these are some of the ugliest personal traits we know.

But what does this even mean? Why does it feel bad to play to the market and sell your art? What is it about money that makes money seem so bad for creativity? There are so many good questions inside this.  Hold them up to the light, and spend some time looking.