for creativity’s sake

Creative Projects

When you become at least moderately successful in a creative profession, it’s easy to let all “non-professional” endeavors fall by the wayside. A professional actress may not feel the need to act in something just for the experience, when they have years or decades of experience. While I understand this mindset, I try to guard against it as then you only do projects that have an obvious and often immediate return. Some of the most rewarding projects I’ve done (both financially and creatively) have been things that didn’t have immediate value and were often divergent from my work at the time, but were things I personally wanted to pursue.

The other important aspect is that people generally pay you to do more of the same. In other words, a beauty photographer generally gets paid to shoot beauty. Convincing someone that you have a great eye for gritty sports reportage requires stepping outside of your normal box to prove it. If you’re an actress who does great romantic comedies, you face an uphill battle convincing directors and producers to cast you as the lead in a dramatic piece. This is where “personal” projects are most valuable.

You are constantly refining your vision, and proving your abilities. When you no longer feel the need to do either, you are no longer creating…you are reproducing.

The musician Beck has an ongoing project called Record Club. They get a bunch of musicians together and record a cover of an entire album in one day, then release the tracks one by one online. I like some, I find others interesting exercises that you’d have to pay me to endure. Nonetheless, I love talented and professional people collaborating on a project for the enjoyment of the medium. It doesn’t happen very often, but there are many wonderful examples throughout history of the confluence of creative people.

So enjoy Record Club while you can. And to clarify, I’m not saying that “personal” work always means “unpaid” work, just that I try to constantly create for creativity’s sake. I think it not only makes your work more creative, in the long run it will make it more fulfilling…financially and otherwise.



Can a television commercial teach you character?

I recently was describing this commercial to a friend on the telephone as one of my all-time favorite commercials. Growing up, I had never been exposed to the concept that failure is an inevitable and important ingredient of success…and I didn’t expect my first exposure to come in the form of a Nike commercial.

However, this is a lesson you can easily miss if you don’t participate in organized sports. In math, nobody expects you to get a certain percentage of the problems wrong. In English, no one expects you to incorrectly define a certain percentage of vocabulary. In academia, no one expects you to do anything wrong.

The problem is that life doesn’t work like math class. In class, you read the chapter, learn the lesson, do the practice tests, and then hopefully get 100% on your test. In basketball, you train for years, do drills until you hurt for days, play thousands of hours – and then you’re amazing if you can shoot 50% from the field.

I’m certainly not saying failure is more acceptable in sports. On the contrary, people usually care more about winning in basketball than they do in math class.  I think it has more to do with preparation and the fear of failure. In sports, you risk failure by even being in the game. Yet in academia, you can study hard and prepare well and never come close to failing in your entire academic career. This is great for your transcript, but terrible for later in life…when you are confronted by risks that might reasonably end in failure. Should you start that new business? Well, it might fail. Again. Yet no one suggests you don’t try to hit the game winning shot because you have a 50% chance of failure and you missed once before.

These experiences explain why many successful people have a background in sports – or in skilled games of chance, which teach many of the same lessons.

So next time you take on a project or a career that has a real chance of failure, or embark on a path that has led you astray before…just remember that success and failure are intertwined and it’s hard to capture one consistently without experiencing your fair share of the other.