There are two mutually exclusive categories of history that apply to creative work too. One is the Heroic Theory in which great people come along, do pretty amazing things and change the course of history forever. These geniuses are usually described as challenging conventional thinking, mould-breaking and “before their time” or alternatively derided, abused and made to sit in some sort of metaphorical corner until the rest of the world catches up. In other words they have a flash of inspiration and become overnight successes in their field or plunge themselves into personal humiliation. Eureka! they say and, if they’re lucky, immediately start chiselling their names into the stones of history and ordering gold-plated codpieces.
Eureka! they say and, if they’re lucky, immediately start chiselling their names into the stones of history and ordering gold-plated codpieces.
The opposing theory is the Multiple Discoveries Theory in which the world aligns towards an inevitable discovery that many people make at the same time but only one of whom gets the credit, the Nobel prize and the codpiece, perhaps with fur trim. Darwin would be an example of this, only releasing his theoretical tome ‘On the Origin of Species…’ when he learned that another scholar was about to do the same thing. This either/or approach is a little low resolution for my taste though. What about the rest of us that make either of these approaches possible?
The Harry Potter books are mediocre at best
Let me explain: There is no doubting the success of Harry Potter but to attribute it solely to the genius of it’s author would be short-sighted to say the least. Countless artists, designers, promoters, film-makers, PR professionals, publishing personnel, media outlets, retail stores and social media folk have made that series what it is, let alone the fan-base who have taken it upon themselves to give it a life that’s totally independent of the origins. The books themselves are mediocre at best when you take the long view. Thoroughly over-written, poorly edited in places, meandering, derivative to the point of out-right theft and there’s barely a single revelation that wouldn’t be significantly improved with the words “coincidentally”, “fortunately” or “miraculously” at the end. They’re also very very enjoyable. They reignited a stale fantasy and YA field and spawned a cultural phenomenon. You can NOT take that away from the creator. It just wasn’t all her achievement alone.
It’s too easy to see yourself as the lone-wolf creator, locked away, developing your craft, honing your skills to lemon-juice-eye-injection sharpness
It’s too easy to see yourself as the lone-wolf creator, locked away, developing your craft, honing your skills to lemon-juice-eye-injection sharpness before releasing it into a world that waits with bated breath. Or not releasing it at all when the doubt catches up with you.
I once met the director Eugenio Barba, founder of Odin Teatret and collaborator with the great Jerzy Grotowski. He asked us all to consider our artist family tree; those that had come before us to inspire us, to parent our creative selves. You owe these people your very artistic birth. Now look around you. These people are your siblings, whom you fight with, steal from and argue about length of time in the bathroom with, but also that can guide you, advise you, protect you and introduce you to new friendship groups. Now what about your creative children? Anyone that you inspire, even in some small way becomes attached to you forever. Give time to foster them, care for them and celebrate their every tiny success. As an educator I’ve had messages from people that I taught years previously that have made me blush, weep and feel incredibly proud.
Look in 360 degrees at the web of family that is around you from years in the past, from right in front of your face, from tomorrow during that chance meeting. There’s a Hindu myth about the net of the god Indra. At every intersection in the net that covers the entire universe is a gem and in that gem you can see reflected every other gem at every other intersection. Gaze into your own creative net and see your artistic family.