It seems like an obvious statement in some cases. When an artist goes outside the box without knowing what the reaction will be from the audience they've come to know, it takes a decent amount of intestinal fortitude. Bob Dylan going electric took guts, I'm sure. Miley Cyrus twerking and getting creative with a large styrofoam hand on national television was...er...well I'm certainly not brave enough to do it for all the money in the world.1 Obviously some examples are more compelling than others and not all end with a disgruntled or repulsed audience. The composition 4' 33" by John Cage comes to mind as my all-time favorite example of courageous creativity... as hilarious as it might be. 4 minutes and 33 seconds of sitting at an instrument without playing a single note and calling it a composition takes some amount of bravery that I don't have. Perhaps, it's because I'm afraid everyone in my audience would either fall asleep or punch me in the face for that kind of performance. 2
Luckily, I don't think I need that kind of bravery to be creative. To be honest, I find myself in a relatively fortunate position as an artist. I'm part of a community that shares a love for this odd three or four string instrument known as a dulcimer. I've been part of an ongoing project called Patreon to help fund the creation of music I play on the dulcimer. Frankly, I think I've been insanely lucky to have the support that I've had. Therefore, it takes a bit more work to believe that an artist like me with a platform like Patreon, that has friends, fans, and patrons saying and showing, "We support the arts and we will kindly support whatever music you create," requires any amount of courage for the sake of creativity. Having said that, it takes every ounce of courage I can muster to record and post music on Patreon for some of my closest friends and supporters...every single time.
Before I go any further, I'm inclined to say, I am grateful beyond words for this amazing platform. Patreon has been awesome for me and without it, there's a good bit of music I never would have made in the last year. I am super-excited about the plans I have for future creations and I'm super stoked to work on all of them. Somehow, that doesn't stop every new piece of music I post from being anything short of a roller coaster of emotions.
The rollercoaster usually starts with me climbing into a mental vault filled with boxes of ideas. [I hope you're into metaphors within metaphors] Some have been in there a while and collected a fair amount of dust. Others were stashed in there just the other day and are looking pretty fresh.
I have the tendency to look inside the newer boxes sitting right by the door first. If I'm just not feeling it, I migrate back to the older boxes covered with dust. These are the ones that I've been holding onto for a long time and haven't quite been ready to throw out or share with anyone outside the vault. They acquired dust and age as a result of waiting for the perfect time to show the world. Expectations are sky high that when these ideas are ready to share, they would be the best to ever come out of the vault. The more dust that builds up, the higher the expectations are.
"...even if you don't come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they're having a piss.”
- Banksy (on graffiti art)
Expectations are just as dangerous to creative productivity as they are to relationships. There's some psychology around the idea that some of us are inclined not to give our ambitions 100% of our effort for fear that we will fall short of our expectations. Admittedly, I've been guilty of this on a few occasions. After the Aaron O'Rourke Trio album, "Syzygy," came up way short of my highly unrealistic expectations, it stung quite a bit. I think everything I wrote in the months following the CD's release was all a pretty half-assed attempt at creating something that would flush the memory of that project out of my head.
However, with every project and every new piece of music, I find myself becoming more aware of what was previously happening on a subconscious level. The self-defense mechanism that has prevented my best efforts for the sake of keeping my ego intact has diminished.
When I climb into the vault, I still have fears that the ideas in the old dusty boxes won't live up to my expectations. I don't believe that fear prevents taking action and effort to the same extent that it once did. This has been the real value of Patreon for me. The simple act of someone saying and showing, "I support whatever music you create...now I'm waiting for you to do it every month," has had awesome consequences. Without my friends and patrons on Patreon, I'd likely be content to let these ideas continue to collect dust with the mistaken belief that magically, there will be a "perfect time" for them to see the light of day. As a result of Patreon, I'm going through the vault at a pretty rapid pace. There's still plenty to go through though.
More importantly, the new boxes don't sit around and collect dust for as long as they used to.
“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” - Sylvia Plath
1. I don't really know how much money there is in the world. There's a chance I could be convinced...
2. Just a fun fact, as a professional dulcimer player who used to play in a punk band, I know what it's like to be hit in the face by someone in the audience and I also know what it feels like to have someone from the audience fall asleep. The latter feels awfully similar to the former.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!