Creative Myths #6
“If You Did It Once, You Can Do It Every Time”
Here’s the truth: if it was easy to consistently be great, we all would do it.
In creative endeavors there are no magic formulas for greatness. This is the one big thing that most people misunderstand about the lives and careers of artists. In fact, an industry uses the myth every day to sell magazines, newspapers and get page hits on the web. I’m talking about the professional “critic”… people actually get paid to criticize other people’s work. Don’t get me started. That’s another post.
How many times have you read a review of a CD or movie and seen something like “… isn’t (their) best work…”or “… slump…”??? The seasoned artist, actor and musician will always be compared to their highest plateau. In fact, in the critic’s world, you stand a much better chance of getting a good review on your first “trip to the plate.”
With your first project, or first few, there will probably be a “honeymoon” with reviewers and the public. And just like relationships, the cute little quirks about your art can become “irritating” and “so last year” as you repeat them on later projects. Ever heard of the sophomore slump? It’s the phenomenon of an artist, under pressure having to create something better than their first project. Here’s the problem: your first project(s) are actually the highlight reel of your creative life up to that point. The “new” artist is rarely a NEW artist. They have just been given a bigger, more influential platform.
Remember: if it was easy to consistently be great, we all would do it.
This is nothing new. Even with famous painters, every individual piece is not a masterpiece. Not all of Monet’s paintings are as valuable as others. Why is it that out of a lifetime of work, a master artist will only be remembered for one or two paintings? There are peaks and valleys in every artist’s career. Consider yourself fortunate if something that you’ve created is remembered.
Bringing it into our world, let’s use U2 as an example. Out of a three-decade career, there are arguably two or three peaks. I think most who have followed for any length of time would agree that the “Joshua Tree”, “Unforgettable Fire”, “Rattle and Hum” era reigns as the high peak in their career. They have created great art since then, but it all is being compared to their artistic pinnacle. It doesn’t change the fact that they can still sell out stadiums around the world. Don’t you think if they could top “Joshua Tree” every time that they would have done it every time?
U2 is far from in a slump, but every offering they bring will be compared with their greatest effort to date. They haven’t lost anything. They haven’t forgotten how. They are the same people that created the former peak. It’s just that some artistic works have greater impact than others, even from the same creative minds.
Ebbs and flows are a part of every creative career. Be slow to label an artist as a “sell-out” or a “has-been.” Be just as slow with yourself. I’m smart enough to know that every song I write isn’t great, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still write great songs. One of the joys of being a seasoned artist is being able to take pleasure in presenting your best work and keeping the rest to yourself.
After all… if it was easy to consistently be great, we all would do it.