I am destroying my own creative potential, and you can too!
Secret secret: you probably already are. At least a little.
Excuse me while I bury the lede here for a minute.
I believe the Internet and social media have had a lot of positive impacts on the world of art and on creative expression by making these things accessible and approachable in new and unique ways. They give creators a platform and a voice and encourage in people the belief that they too can make and share creative endeavors with the world because they see people just like them doing so. The Internet is a powerful place and social media are powerful tools for creative expression if used appropriately and if your relationship with them is healthy.
Here’s the trap though: social media, blogs, websites – these things can be also be powerfully destructive to our creativity when they provide quick alternatives to more thoughtful expression. We often engage in these activities without realizing the full scope of their impact and quietly, subversively, our creative energy gets frittered away and we are prevented from bringing our own creations into the world.
Art is expression – and whether you’re a musician, a writer, a painter, illustrator, comedian, designer, whatever, your art is usually born out of an instinctive desire to take something in you, some piece of who you are, and bring it out into the world; sometimes so others can better understand you, sometimes so you can better understand yourself. Social media offers a cheap, easy, and often shallow outlet for the same drive for expression.
Some of this is obvious. We hop on Facebook and Twitter and blurble out little status updates and commentary on the world that act as bite-sized bursts of expression. We all see this, we know there’s some value in it, know that – sure – there’s also some time-waste there, know that it’s intrinsically not the deepest or most profound use of our energies but can have meaning nonetheless. We are self-aware enough to see that for what it is and to make our own decisions on how valuable that particular brand of expression is in our life, in the culture, in the world.
Consider the implications of confining your own identity and potential to the boundaries imposed by the identity of others. Are we not more than a collection of other people’s ideas? Why then are we treating ourselves so reductively?
What we often think about less though are the other, subtler, expressions we waste ourselves on. I’m not talking about memes or the phenomenon of gif-only conversations – these are obviously emergent art forms. What I’m getting at here is my real point, the takeaway revelation that changed my relationship with many internet platforms: we spend so much of our creative energies collating, collecting, and curating other people’s expressions that we no longer have the will or compulsion to create our own. Now, an important note: I’m not talking about media-level content or criticism. I have had several websites in which I reviewed comics, film, music and I am proud of that work. What we’re talking about is personal-level, impulsive activities.
Here’s a list of ways I have spent legitimate hours of my life over the years:
– Intricately building amazing playlists, titling them in accordance with my title theme scheme, finding the proper photo or illustration to use as cover art, cataloging them in all the correct places.
– Selecting just the right article or image to share so that my social feed reads as desired and presents me in the way I want it to. Behold my thoughtfulness! My elevated tastes! My non-basicness!
– Obsessively adding and removing entries from my ‘movie, game, book’ likes on Facebook. God forbid you think I still like that one movie that I totally don’t. I totally don’t. I NEVER DID. O.K.?
– Looking for the just the right image to use as my avatar for, you know, whatever random platform I’m messing with at that moment.
– Saving and then laboriously uploading and commenting on dozens upon dozens of humorous images I enjoy to a Tumblr titled “Thanks Internet.”
– Agonizing over how many stars to give a film, over how many stars to give an album, over how many films and albums I still need to give stars to.
– Creating lists of my favorite things and taking them seriously. Collecting all the relevant data on each entry, finding and formatting images of each entry, painstakingly presenting them all.
– Pinterest. Oh, don’t even. Just a taste: for a while I had a board of all my favorite movie scenes with accompanying blurb on why I love them.
Countless, countless – look at me, not counting them – other things.
Are all these awesome? Yes. Really though? NO.
Every minute spent on one of these alternative forms of expression is a minute not spent on something uniquely you. It’s not about wasting time. Lots of things are wastes of time and that’s what it is, it’s fine. Sometimes we need to waste time. What it’s about is wasting our imaginative spirit, our drive to make something, to share something, to create; using this spirit up on these little expressions when we could have done something so much more. It’s about the tragedy of expressing ourselves as accurately as possible through the collection of other peoples’ creations.
Consider the implications of confining your own identity and potential to the boundaries imposed by the identity of others. Are we not more than a collection of other people’s ideas? Why then are we treating ourselves so reductively? Why are we denying ourselves the opportunity for self-discovery that occurs in the actual moment when pen hits paper, when brush hits canvas, when fingers hit strings? Why are we eschewing the chance to inspire others with the special things that only we can create?
None of this is new – people love to collect and display things and have done so for thousands of years – but the Internet can take it to dangerous new extremes if we aren’t careful. So, let’s be careful. Let’s start thinking of our creative energy as, well, that. Energy. A finite resource, precious and valuable, to be utilized with care. Let’s spend that energy on creating the uniquely warm, or hilarious, or horrifying, or thought-provoking, or thrilling, or just plain charming things that only we can make.
Let’s start today – there are so many things inside you ready to be discovered.