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<   No. 3215   2012-02-19   >

Comic #3215

1 {photo of a street market displaying artwork for sale}
1 Caption: Sharing art

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Afghan Melons
Bitter melons. (Haha... actually, I had trouble finding a suitable photo for here.)
Advance warning: Today's annotation is a bit ranty. It's something I want to talk about, but I'm not sure I've approached it in the right manner, or in the manner I would use if I had more time to rewrite this. This is more stream of consciousness than I usually write stuff. That said, I hope it gets across the message I want to convey, without being accusative.

Recently I made something. I thought some people might enjoy it. I posted it on the web. One of the comments I received was, "You have way too much spare time."

This is one of the worst things you can say to someone who shares their creativity. For starters, it's wrong. It's not merely wrong, it's incredibly, blatantly wrong. It's so wrong that it breaks the wrongness barrier, emerges into another universe, and is wrong there also. I wish I had too much spare time! Then I might actually achieve half the stuff I have ideas for and want to do. Creative people never have enough spare time.

Secondly, it's dismissive. It smacks of saying, "Well, I could have done that, if I didn't have more important things to do." But you know, I have more important things to do as well. I have a full time job. I have a family to spend time with. I have bills to pay, errands to run, a house to clean. I have multiple regularly published webcomics that readers expect to appear on schedule. That one may not sound so important, but there are hundreds if not thousands of people who are keen to see the latest updates and who would be disappointed (or even complain) if I didn't do my best to keep up to date, and I don't want to disappoint them. I like to stick to my advertised schedule, and to me that's important. I also have to find time to squeeze in grocery shopping, cooking several meals a week, and getting some physical exercise.

Banana almond muffins
Banana almond muffins.
I have extremely little spare time. I am always lamenting how I don't have enough time to do all of the stuff I want to do. What I do have is a creative urge. Ideas. The desire to make things, and do things, and learn things. What I have is a list of ideas for things I want to do, or make, or places I want to go. A big list. A really, really big list. I can't possibly do them all.

What I also have is the burning desire to make sure I damn well do at least some of the things on that list. I can't sit still in front of the TV. I'm always thinking about what cool thing I could be doing instead. So I'll run off in the ad breaks and fiddle with my photos in Photoshop, or write snippets of dialogue for comics, or bake some banana muffins. Despite not having enough spare time, I make the time to create things, because I can't bear the thought of not creating things.

People who think creative people have too much spare time are not cursed with a lack of spare time. They are cursed with a lack of creative energy and drive. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Coming up with things you want to do is not hard. That's the easy part. The hard part is actually doing them.

It reminds me of another trend that the Internet has brought into our homes. The trend to criticise everything. You see it on social media sites, forums, comment threads on blogs, even on newspaper sites these days.

Surfers, Swimmers, Sunbakers
A semi-anonymous online pool.
Here's how it goes: Someone posts something. A bunch of people comment about how lame, or wrong, or stupid it is. Or how someone else did a slightly similar thing already, and so this new thing is derivative (and therefore lame and wrong and stupid). It seems like the vast majority of people out there do nothing but hate what other people have done. I'm not sure why this attitude of generalised hostility has come about, but it's not a good thing. It may be that it's easier to throw disparaging comments into a semi-anonymous online pool than it is to say things like that to someone's face.

I should mention that this mainly happens on sites with wide, relatively anonymous readerships. Smaller, more specialised forums are often more civil. Maybe because the people there know one another a bit better.

Unbridled criticism can discourage people who create things to seek recognition and approval. This is a motive for creativity that used to work somewhat better when feedback wasn't so immediate and negative. I don't know for sure, but I assume there are some creative people out there for whom this is the main driver. The motive is not particularly important; what matters is the creative output. And if the current trend of rampant negativity aimed at creative endeavours has reduced the desire of some people to make new stuff, then that's a loss we have to face.

Thankfully, criticism does little to deter people who really want to make stuff for their own sake. Again, I have no solid statistics, but my experience makes me suspect that most creative people fall into this category. They make stuff not for the recognition, but because it's in their nature to make stuff. They can't not make stuff. They go around with their heads full of ideas, lamenting the fact that they don't have nearly enough spare time to make all the cool things they can imagine.

Seascape #1
My drawing is lousy. That doesn't stop me.
Creative people need to find their medium. I'm a lousy painter. My drawing is laboured and difficult, and turns out beleaguered looking results. But it doesn't stop me trying. Many years ago, it was painting or drawing, or maybe sculpture. That was it. Thankfully these days we have photography, and computer generated imagery, and film, and stop-motion animation, and audio recording, and fashion design, and all sorts of mixed media. People are more likely to find a medium they can work in these days, compared to much of our history. At one point I found oil pastels, and produced a handful of works using those. I found them easier to control than paint, more expressive than pencil, and I liked the bright colours. Some of my friends still have oil pastels made by me, framed and hanging on the walls of their houses. I gave them away because once I was done with them I didn't need them any more, and I thought they'd make nice personalised gifts. The first time I saw one hanging in a friend's new house after she got married was a very strange and pleasant surprise.

I haven't made any pastels for years though, because I've found other media that worked even better for me. Digital photography was a boon. No more did I have to cringe at the thought of spending $500 on film and developing costs for a two-week vacation. Nowadays, I typically take somewhere from 10 to 15 times as many photos when we go on a trip of the same length. Saving $5000 or more on photography expenses sure makes things easier. And I could combine photography with digital editing to make comics, something I tried doing many times when I was younger, with mixed results.

This has been a rambling discussion, so let me finish up with what will hopefully be a few more coherent thoughts.

Murano Glass
Hand blown glass.
  1. If you have a creative itch, scratch it. If you have ideas for stuff you want to make or do, but you typically never do any of them, make some time to give it a go. It doesn't matter how busy you are, if you really want to create something, you'll be able to find the time somewhere. You won't find the time to do everything, but don't let that put you off! If you give up before you've begun... well, then you've just given up.

  2. Share what you've done. These days, it's easier than ever to get your creative efforts to other people. Post them on your blog. Post them on Facebook. Join deviantART. Or Flickr. Or YouTube. Or CafePress or Lulu or any of a host of other sites that let you publish your own stuff.

  3. Don't pay any attention to what people say about your creations. Well, you can bask in praise and take on board genuine constructive criticism, but realise that they will make up maybe 1% to 10% of the feedback and comments you get, if you're lucky. Recognise that this is just the way it is, and ignore the other rubbish. Don't let it be personal. It's not worth it and it'll just make you feel bad. Don't let it.

  4. Experiment. Find your medium. Try it all. Don't just try the stuff you like when you see other people's creations in that medium. You may love painting and music, but suck at making them both (like I do). Try photography. Try woodturning. Try glass blowing if you have to. There's something out there that you'll be better at than anything else, and you should try to find it. And once you think you've found it, keep trying other new stuff. Besides being fun, you might uncover something inside yourself.

  5. When other people share their creations, don't slam them. Do not say they are wasting their time. If they're making the effort to do something about their creative urges, they are not wasting time. They're making the most of their time.
I didn't know where this annotation was going when I started writing it. But I think I'm there now.

People who are going out of their way to find the time to be creative and to make new things do not have "too much spare time" and are certainly not wasting their time. They are taking steps to make something concrete out of the ideas and projects and creative desires locked inside their heads that other people would otherwise never get to see. They are making the most of their time. Go out and make the most of yours.

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Last Modified: Sunday, 16 February 2014; 22:33:04 PST.
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