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The Tinkered Mind
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August 25th, 2020
What is at the heart of the creative life? What keeps creative people moving forward as though they are drawn by some sort of invisible force? How is it that consumption can be so unsatisfying, so unfulfilling when placed next to a life of creating? Creating is work, consumption is pleasure. Is there not a paradoxical contradiction here?
Starting out in the creative life is fraught with hard goings. Ira Glass put it quite well in an infamous quote where he describes the ‘killer instinct’ that creatives have. They get into the business because they have good taste, and then they try to create something and realize there’s this huge gap between their good taste and their skill. And this, as Ira states, this where most people give up.
The straightforward analysis of this discrepancy is that the feedback loop between skill and taste is too large and unwieldy. A good taste in writing, or painting, or whatever the creative endeavour be is just too far ahead of the skills we possess at the beginning. The instinct for what is good doesn’t really inform the burgeoning creative about how to improve their work, it just crushes it, seeing everything wrong with the work.
As with all instances of learning, the real trick here, is an emotional one. If the young creative can respect their instinct for what is good without being offended by it, by managing those emotions effectively, and just keep at it with the work, the quality of the work does eventually close the gap between what we think is good and what we produce.
But the key to why the creative life is so fulfilling is that the gap between our good taste and our ability to satisfy that good taste is never fully closed. Now with the feedback loop much tighter, the creative work produced starts informing that killer instinct. Our sense of what is good is not a static rubric. It too is a changing, shifting, pivoting entity that is improving, and our own creative output eventually becomes a fuel for its process.
The skill required to satisfy that instinct with your own creative work is always lagging behind. The creative skill sharpens, and further informs the instinct for ‘what’s good’ and in turn that instinct sees the creative work in a sharper light, a more honest and brutal frame. It’s this asymmetry that is at the heart of why the creative life can be so fulfilling. It’s like you’re always chasing the perfection of your own shadow as the sun sets behind you, running into darkness, trying to find this particular thing, this method and process, the experience of execution that lurks in the unknown - that fearful realm that holds everything you don’t yet know. And we race into the unknown, trying always to grasp at that mythic ideal envisioned by instinct, before the light finally goes out.