On Creativity

I was reading this article on Salon.com and I have to say . . . Isn't it interesting that creatives cannot make a living at their work? If you are not a big-name writer or director or what-have-you, if you are not a member of that elite, then it is unlikely you scrape together many pennies doing what you (I assume) love to do. (And for the purposes of this write-up, I'm talking about people who are artists and/or creative for a living.)

Even the "big" screenwriters will turn up at conferences if it means free food. The creative pool is growing steadily smaller, even as more and more people are trying to jump in. Thing is, as studios get increasingly risk averse, they fish for only the biggest writers, directors, actors. (There are more actors that make big money than, say, writers, but there are still many struggling actors out there in the world, too. These have my sympathy.) What this means is, even screenwriters who once could get steady gigs . . . can't. So they supplement their incomes with appearances.

And there are more and more of these conferences every year, too. The industry is creating its own market. People want to "break in" so they go to conferences. But fewer people are able to break in. So there are more conferences . . . And still fewer results.

You see it with film festivals, too. Every tiny town on the map has a festival now. And with competitions. How many of those are there now? Only a few really mean anything in the industry, but as more and more independents make movies and write scripts and hit walls in Hollywood, more and more towns and . . . whoever the fuck comes up with competitions . . . will take up the slack by luring these hopefuls toward their limelights, rather like will-o-the-wisps leading unsuspecting travelers into a bog.

The Salon article talks about the literature that has sprung up around creativity, books like Imagine by Lehrer (which I have read), and how so many of the books use the same handful of anecdotes to illustrate big creative breakthroughs. The Post-it Note story for one. The Swiffer for another. And is it any different in the writing world (or directing, or other creative endeavors)? The story of the guy who wrote the one big script or novel and sold it for a million? You hear it over and over again, but does it prove anything? Except that it happened once? How about the one in which Stephen King's wife rescues his manuscript from the trash. Okay, but . . . So?

Is creativity valued? Not really. People want more of the same, more of what they already like. Make it a little different, not a lot. And studios and publishers want more of what they can sell, which is predicated on what they've already sold. So more of that, please, for them. (Television is sometimes more willing to take a chance, but that is because they also have more ability to kill a project and cut losses if it starts to go south.)

The only time creativity gets applause is if and when it succeeds. Then it becomes another anecdote for the oft-repeated list. But that's only on the rare occasions creativity is given the opportunity to succeed. Because few people want to take a chance on a book or movie that is truly out of the ordinary. Most really creative work doesn't see much daylight. If the book gets published (even self-published), if the movie gets made by a group of friends working together on weekends, even still the chances anyone will read it or see it are slim. And God help us every time a creative piece fails. Because then the studios and publishers are all the less likely to take a chance on the next screenplay or manuscript that shows originality.

So if there's a class of creatives, we're pretty low in the hierarchy.

Even if you look at people who problem solve creatively . . . Companies get antsy when it's suggested they do something differently. And the more radical the suggestion, the more antsy the company gets. So, no. I don't think creativity is all that valued. Anywhere.

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. The ideas people eschew today may be seen as invaluable tomorrow. Alas, we can only live in the here and now.

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