A place to me to dive a little deeper about computers, science, math, art, music, or whatever else I want.

Creative Dysphoria

When your taste and your skill are malaligned

by Aaron Tagliaboschi
29 November 2020

I got an email recently from someone who read my post about the Urge to create (which you should definitely read) and asked about a reference I made to some saying that creating is like breathing. This got me thinking about things that were already swimming in the back of my mind and I got a little sidetracked with my response.

For a bit of background, I’ve recently decided to take visual art, and more specifically watercolor and drawing, more seriously, and I decided that there was no time to start like Inktober, an online tradition where an artist makes a drawing (originally specific to ink, but the community has been pretty lax) everyday in October and posts it, generally online. Although the guy that started it has kept a hold of the brand, there’s not much more to it than that. No signup or competition or rules, just make some art, And I found the process very rewarding in ways I will probably write about later. One of the most interesting aspects for me is the semi-official prompt list, but I’ll get back to that in a second.

Sidenote: Everything from this point forward is opinion. I say it here because putting “For me” or “Personally” or “I think that…” in front of everything that might be construed as fact would add another hundred or so words and neither of us have time for that nonsense.

Enough stalling, here’s the email:

…Back to the topic at hand, I’m personally not a huge fan of the sentiment of comparing art to breathing. Partly there’s a visceral reaction that I recognize is my own bias for people who say a lot of these kinds of things to make themselves seem more deep or passionate than they truly are. This is just my past bad experiences coloring my perception, not any judgement of you of any attempt to invalidate your experiences…

But I also think it emphasises the improvisation/creation stage over the refinement stage. I’ve been participating in Inktober these past few weeks (where you draw a piece everyday in October and post it online; you can find my instagram on my homepage if you feel so inclined, linking it here feels even more self indulgent than writing out this much of an email) and it’s rough to see all of this incredible art people are seeing every day when you occupy my end of the curve (that is to say, the back half). You don’t see the amount of time it took to plan out and think and create the piece, and more importantly you don’t see the amount of time and practice and hard work and passion it took to get to the point where you could make a piece like that.

I say all of that to say that I personally don’t like seeing artists make the comparison because (to me) art is created for one or both of two reasons: to express, and to be seen. Expression is extremely important, enough so that holding it in can and will backfile in bad ways, in ways that I am personally feeling on a very painful level. But people hear these incredible artists say these sorts of things and then they see the amazing art they’re producing and think that that’s that was breathed out, and squares on a three column grid on a phone screen don’t have that context…

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot on a personal theory for the creative process, and I’ve had a chance to examine it somewhat closely because of Inktober. Going from a one word prompt to a “finished project” in one day has shown me plenty of things that worked and plenty that don’t. It’s shown me the difference between knowledge and wisdom, and the distance between learning and experience. Most importantly, seeing the ends of a lot of journeys doesn’t tell you about the middle of any of them.

There’s this feeling that can creep in, where you feel like you’re at one end of a spectrum and everything you see is at the other and you have no idea how, or even if, you can get from here to there. And I’m not just talking about technical skill, but a cohesive style and creativity. When trying to think of a good way to describe it, the phrase “creative dysphoria” came to mind, which I think is apt.

I think anyone who’s been creative knows the toxic feedback loop of seeing people so much better than you it’s hard to imagine. You’ll see people say “This makes me want to give up.” and some people do. It’s really important to give yourself a break and know that there’s no stopping point. Much like infinite stretching off into the distance, there is no end, and barely any beginning. Only middle.

To wrap back around, the reason there’s a prompt list is because the idea is to see all of the different responses so many different people can have to the same piece. There’s so many different styles and techniques and interpretations, it’s almost like a shortcut to growing your artistic toolbox. Each day on the “official” instagram hashtag for that prompt there’s around 5000 posts. It’s both amazing and humbling, but trolling around only staring at what floats to the top can be…problematic, so watch out.

Maybe try sorting by new?