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The Dark Side of the Creative Process

Bailey Kalesti

This blog is all about peeling back the layers. So, I'm gonna be honest...I struggled creatively this week. Art is always a struggle to one degree or another, but every now and then it can be pretty rough. Some people might scoff at the woes of a creative. After all, the job of a creative person can appear to be an easy one. I'll agree that it's not physical labor, but it is exhausting nonetheless. Creating is less like "make-believe" and more like solving a really hard puzzle. A puzzle that you can't even see properly. It's a brain workout.

Unfortunately, inspiration does not flow from a faucet that we can turn on and off whenever we want. That is why the movie, music, and every art industry in the world is inherently volatile. Artists make every effort to increase the odds of new ideas, inspiration and excitement. But that's all we can do. We can only increase the chances of lightning strikes by creating the right conditions for it. I won't get into what those are, because that's a different topic.

Projects can be great fun, but even the best projects suffer from the inevitability of human nature. At least that's my experience. Maybe someone out there has only experienced easy projects, but I doubt it. If you're going to grow, then you need to challenge yourself. And every creative has been bored, exhausted or depressed by a project. It's like the quote by Jill Soloway: "Every project is a race between your enthusiasm and your ability to get it done."

The emotional timeline of a project is a predictable downward slope that pauses at a low, very dark, very serious place before suddenly rising again at the end. This dark place is something every creative has experienced. I'm not kidding when I say that this stage sucks. It's full of self-doubt, apathy and fear. Most of the project is a struggle, but this darkness requires the most energy and confidence to emerge from. It's my thinking that the process of doubt is not a fault of the artist, rather it's just part of the process of doing something new. And a while back I saw a graphic of this, but I modified it based on my own experiences. The original one I saw can be seen here, but here's mine:

You'll notice that it's hard to rise all the way back up to that ideal dream we feel when we first start a project, but we can make something pretty good anyway...if we work hard. And yes, I occupied the lowest point this past week. My enthusiasm was non-existent. But the thing to remember is that every project (especially the long ones) go through this descent and eventual rise. The 3D Printing project was no different last year. There was a time when I had zero interest in it. My inspiration had dwindled and the movie looked like crap. But through considerable effort, I overcame it. We always do, unless we give up or have to stop.

I'm lukewarm on what I've made this month. But it'll come through...enough. That's the other thing. Not everyone will like it. And even worse, there's no guarantee that my art will be liked by my clients. All I want, sincerely, is that I like it. If I like it, then someone else might too. Carrying on to make art for ourselves is the only genuine way to make art.

Creating is hard. I'll admit that I've abandoned a lot of projects to rot in the darkness phase. To be clear, I don't think every project needs to be finished. Sometimes this is perfectly fine because we should be focusing on something else anyway. But if we decide to finishing something, to keep going, to keep marching...know that we can rise to a level that seems impossible from where we are.

Onward and upward!

Bailey