This piece of art hangs behind the couch in my living room. It looks like a painting but is, in fact, something called “tin collage.” What that means is that my mother (the artist) took dozens of those old Christmas cookie tins that people toss out indiscriminately, deconstructed them into slivers of wicked-sharp tin, and turned them into something breathtaking. This is a literal example of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure. It is called “Jazz Quartet” and is one of my most treasured possessions. It will hang in my home as long as I have a home.
Creating this piece of art cost my mother a great deal. Yes, she had to buy the supplies, but the real cost came elsewhere. Time. She spent endless hours bent over her work table piecing it together. Injury. Working with cut tin is not a low-risk proposition. You should see the scars on her hands. Creative energy. It is exhausting to take nothing (i.e. bits of discarded metal) and turn it into something (art). Commitment. She saw it through to the end. Exposure. Once complete, she handed it over for public consumption and critique.
My favorite chair in the house sits directly across from this piece of art so I spend a good deal of time looking at it. And this morning, long before the sun came up, I realized something important: part of why I love this Jazz Quartet so much is because I know the cost involved in creating it. I know the artist, so I am intimately acquainted with her intricate, laborious process. But I am also a person who creates things for a living so I understand, at a basic level, that long before this was a finished piece of art, it was a pile of chaos consuming her studio.
I understand how overwhelming that can be. Every book begins as a pile of chaos inside an author’s mind.
And every author who embraces that chaos and sees it through to the end is an artist.
I forget this sometimes because it so much easier to critique than create. Yes, there is absolutely a place for critique within the arts. And yes, I critique all the time myself. (Never in pubic–I have too much skin in the game and too much respect for authors in general.) But I don’t know that my critique is fair because I will often give up on a book far too early. I am a chronic book-quitter.
But here’s another thing I realized this morning while sipping coffee and enjoying the silence: when I find myself becoming a chronic-quitter who critiques the work of others too easily and too often, it’s always because I haven’t created anything of my own recently. I have forgotten how hard it is to take nothing and turn it into something.
The simple truth is that critique costs us nothing. Creativity, however, is pricey.
My ability to deeply appreciate the work of others is directly related to my own levels of creative output.
So, my challenge to myself, and to you, on this lovely fall day, is to begin paying attention. If you find yourself in a reading slump, I encourage you to make something. It doesn’t have to be a book. Maybe bake a pie. Or knit a shawl. Or start a bullet journal. Allow yourself to feel the frustration of the creative process. My guess is that you’ll be more likely to enjoy the next novel you pick up.
Let me know if you take the challenge! It works for me every time.
Interested in this subject? Try reading CREATIVITY INC by by Ed Catmul
From Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, the Academy Award–winning studio behind Inside Out and Toy Story, comes an incisive book about creativity in business and leadership—sure to appeal to readers of Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, and Chip and Dan Heath. Fast Company raves that Creativity, Inc. “just might be the most thoughtful management book ever.”
Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”
For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, WALL-E, and Inside Out, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.