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The Death of Creativity by Chrissie Wellor

As we’re re-emerging from the summer hiatus, we thought we’d publish a couple of thought provoking old blogs on the site. This one was written last year by Chrissie Wellor and drew a lot of comments from you all. Is it still relevant? I think so. See what you think.

Everyone knows the old cliché of the starving, penniless artist. He might be living in a bed sit and selling his drawings on the street, but he loves what he does; never faltering in his ambition and raw passion for his beloved craft. But he’s a naive creature. God forbid anyone ever offers him a full-time job where his talent will be milked by an unscrupulous employer; who offers him a reasonable, regular wage in return for his soul and some financial security. Because, chances are he will take it – and slowly but surely, thanks to the confines of his dull job description, he’ll stop showing the world what he’s really capable of. He might not even remember what he’s capable of, his creative free-will having become so numbed by a life of psychological slavery.

This might all seem a little melodramatic. We creative types do have a habit of over-playing the misery in life. But anyone who has ever compromised their creativity in order to make ends meet, or more depressingly, attempted to carve out a satisfying career by agreeing to be a ‘corporate creative donor’; will understand exactly where I’m coming from.

I was lamenting my chores as a copywriter to another copywriting colleague – a clever man with a sharp wit and a fabulous sense of irony (two requirements you’ll rarely see in a job spec for copywriting; unless of course you’re applying to pen quirky strap lines for Saatchi & Saatchi.) Equally disillusioned was he with the world of corporate communications, that he has almost given up on his true creative self –

“I made the mistake of reading a column I once wrote a few months ago. It was good. I felt bad. I couldn’t write that now.” He advised me to avoid the trap at all costs – “Finding the opportunity to be creative in the time you can steal from doing other things, is your challenge in order to preserve your sanity!”

But mustering the energy for that, when you spend nine ’til five of every day excavating every crevice of your brain for inspiration on things you’re less than remotely inspired about; quickly becomes a recipe for exhaustion and complete resentment. You ask yourself questions like, who did I used to be? What did I used to care about? Did I really do that brilliant work all those years ago? And most worryingly – what’s happened to me?!

Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a gradual process either, it’s not. It’s frighteningly quick. The moment you begin the daily grind of using your creativity to force out work that isn’t what you want to be doing, that, being brutally honest, you don’t really give a hoot about – your mind seems to go blank.

Why aren’t creative people with discernible talent, taken on in roles that maximise not just their capabilities, but their interests? Why do they apply for everything suitable and fitting, only to be rejected for those positions and taken on as nothing more than an android?

Jen Mason is a very talented photographer from Nottingham. Her day job is unrelated to her craft, which is undoubtedly a blessing – because she doesn’t yet move in the circles of Mario Testino. However, to make a quick buck, she used to photograph family portraits and weddings. Until that is, the monotony of people sat in the same old formations, against the same backdrop and grinning inanely at the camera, drove her slowly insane. Yes, there is a way to be creative about everything you do, but rarely is that either wanted or appreciated. Instead, your ideas are likely to be pooh-poohed and written off as some kind of eccentric attempt at being a self-indulgent, arty-fart.

As a writer myself (at the risk of sounding indulgent of my woes) I suspect that writers suffer more in this respect, than other creatives taken on to do a day job. That incredible ‘autopilot mode’ that many rely on to get a dull job done, would for us rely on having two brains.

I spoke to a graphic designer in Nottingham who prefers to remain anonymous:

“Working in an agency, we’re often given projects that are mundane, or boring. It’s these jobs that require the least amount of creative input, but ultimately pay our salaries. From cut-outs, where it’s so second nature you can have a whole different thing going on in your head as you switch to autopilot to get the job done; to the repetition of email signatures and business cards – these are the ‘bread and butter’ projects. Small, time-intensive but little creativity.”

Not so harmful to one’s sanity perhaps, because escapism can still reign. But there is no escape when it takes every fibre of your conscious brain to understand and re-word a complex concept, that five minutes ago, was totally alien to you. You can’t plough through a complex, jargon jungle in an attempt to form readable industry copy, with half of your mind on what you’ll be doing when you clock off. It’s just not possible. You have to be fully immersed.

Copywriters are forced to become experts on all manner of subjects, at short notice. They’re expected to speak with a CEO’s level of authority, on a subject they probably didn’t even know existed a day before. Believe me, that’s exhausting. And when it’s also dull, it’s simply excruciating. I frequently wonder about the sanity of long term copywriters, particularly the unfortunate ones that never manage to work on anything fun and juicy, something that allows them true creative licence. Their brains must be pickled.

Sadly, the creative compromise always comes down to money. The author Matt Haig, wrote a painfully truthful blog recently, about the relationship between writing and the evil green stuff. As a writer myself, I agree with his sentiments; I imagine they are echoed by many types of creatives that end up in the hamster wheel of financial security:

“Writing – good writing – comes from a deep place. It comes from somewhere far inside us. It is a passion, and the etymological root of passion is to suffer. We head into the dark and mine our minds for jewels we never knew were there. Money belongs to the opposite space. It belongs to the material world, the world of surfaces, the unpoetic world of brash that surrounds us.”

Quite. One where the clinical façade of corporations presides and swallows up all manner of creative geniuses, sanitises their individuality and spits them back out into the world, a confused and frustrated mess; with only the memory of their former brilliance to torment them.

Alan Boyden runs a Marketing Agency in Nottingham and has spent his entire career managing creative people:

“I have laughed with them, cried with them and even been held up by the throat against the studio wall by one of them! Passions run high and no matter what the task, creatives want to put their individual mark on their work. Corporate Guidelines can often be restrictive to creative thought but without them global brands would not be as powerful as they are.”

It’s the whole, ‘respect those who pay your wages’, scenario. But try telling that to someone who works on the checkouts in Tesco all day, barely a human being as far as the droves of customers passing through are concerned. Resentment can understandably be directed at the very source of your bread and butter – sometimes, biting the hand that feeds you is simply a reasonable, knee-jerk reaction. After all, who wants to be thrown their food under the table, where no-one can see you choke on it?

Alan Boyden goes on to say

“If you accept the hypothesis that in fact we’re all creative, just to a lesser or greater extent, then we’re all unfulfilled if working to commercial parameters. To be truly creative and totally innovative, perhaps you do have to be free of commercial realities. The ‘true to themselves’ bohemian artist?”

And so we’re back to him again. The ragged and skint man that sells his treasured work on the street – work that’s from the heart, untouched by an unsympathetic, meddling hand or the ‘constructive’ opinion of a million, misinformed colleagues. Surely it’s better to have a tiny audience that appreciates the work you do and can personally congratulate you for it; than a sea of indifferent consumers, who attribute your work only to a commercial entity – an entity who don’t give a rat’s ass who creates it, as long as it gets done and makes them a load of money?

Christina Wellor is a writer. She has written Sex & Relationships columns for GQ, contributed features to the Erotic Review and regularly contributes to several eZines and blogs. She is a proud inhabitant of Nottingham. You can follow her and her blog on Twitter – @ChristinaWellor

You can read the rest of Matt Haig’s blog ‘The Writer and Money’ here