“Us, creatives”: An Argument Against Picking Mediums
“Sluggish, lazy, stupid, and unconcerned” — the exact words Frank Ocean’s mom would’ve used to describe a fellow creative who hadn’t declared their preferred medium yet.
Somewhere along the line, I stopped drawing. Like video production before it, and countless other creative outlets since, the drop-off didn’t really come as a surprise or shock and to be quite honest it didn’t really change much for me. I’ve always been more of a “rather know a little about a lot, than a lot about a little” type person, and my creative journey has never been any different.
In my eyes, modular growth is, to some extent, about being okay with the imperfections. This doesn’t mean I don’t try hard to improve, or that I’m not willing to put in more hours in than the next guy or girl (and my track record will prove this)— it just means that I’m okay with the fact that some person out there, in some far, far, far away place is probably better (subjectively) than me at one particular thing. But it also means that I realize I’m probably better (again, subjectively) at a bunch of things that they’ve never even attempted to grasp, and to me this is a give-and-take that certainly won’t keep me up at night.
Let’s unpack this though, from the POV of a professional creative:
You see, the almighty self-proclaimed over-glorified under-appreciated (always-this-sad) creatives, herein to be known as “us, creatives”, hate the so-called real world. We hate the real world and everything that the societies within this real world aim to teach us, which is that there is some sort of singular correct path in a strictly binary world. In this scheme you have 2 options that seemingly allow for very little variance; you either:
Go to college, pick a job-field, begin a career, get married, buy a house, lose some hair, gain some weight, buy a lake house, pop out 2 brats, and finally survive off of your dwindling retirement funds until aforementioned brats run you dry and put your old ass in the retirement home to die under hospice care. (This is the good option — possibly exaggerated, but not sure in which direction)
Choose your own path, maybe skip out on a traditional post-secondary education, be self-employed, run out of money by 26, turn to drugs, watch your life funnel down the shitter, & probably die in a prison-yard fight by 34. (This is the not quite as good option — again, possibly exaggerated. Idk).
But us, creatives — we don’t like this ultimatum very much. We don’t like to be put in binary boxes… and rightfully so! All hyperbole aside, what rational sense does it make to feel like there always only going to be one right way to do things? To quote the possibly over-quoted late & great Steve Jobs, “everything around you, called ‘life’, was made up by people that we’re no smarter than you”, which basically means that somewhere else along the line a select few decided to go against the grain, do something new, and would end up radically changing the world (for good, or bad), but also dictate how we still currently live our lives in many ways. Hell, things that were learned in the 1930’s during the Hawthorne studies still dictate everyday office life (see: Scientific Management). So, as creatives we often forego many of the luxuries afforded in option 1 (i.e. the retirement plans, the early home-ownership, and the lake-front cottages even though we can’t swim), to forge along a third path that is focused not only on systemic improvement, but also general self-fulfillment. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” eventually becomes “So what do you want to make next?!”, and it’s an exciting - often frivolous but certainly exciting — rewarding, and a sometimes even lucrative lifestyle at that. Dandy! Right?
So what’s the problem then?
Within our own society, us, creatives claim to hate bland binaries BUT are outwardly as anti-modularity as our generic counterparts. Our equivalents of “So, what do you do?” or “What degree did you graduate with?” are “So, what do you make?” and “What’s you medium?”; As pathetic as “well,I’m a creative” sounds to the rest of the world, “well, I don’t really have a medium I just make whatever” sounds just as lame to all of us, creatives. If you create, there is some sort of expectation that at some point you’ll be notable enough in your preferred medium that you’ve effectively ‘made it’. If you shoot photos but don’t have x number of Instagram followers, you’re not a photographer, you’re a hobbyist. If you publish writing, but you don’t have x amount of notable bylines, you’re not a writer, you’re just another asshole with a free blog. If you write poetry, but don’t get at least 2 minute finger-snap ovation (I made this one up, admittedly I haven’t been to a slam poetry event yet but I imagine it’s something like this), you’re not a poet, you’re just an angsty post-teen. Sounds familiar, right? (See: “Ah, so you’ve been working at the company for 10 years, but you aren’t a manger yet? Maybe you should focus on your career a little more”). Even in popular music, not until recently did we start to see vocalists begin to hone their production and instrumental skills en masse. Besides the obvious drawbacks, what this type of destructive ideology does is effectively box many of us in. Creatives who decide to branch out across many mediums, perhaps limiting the focus of any particular area, give off the perception of less success, focus, and purpose in their respective fields.
As a (reluctantly) self-proclaimed multi-disciplinary creative I find myself hard-pressed to ever call myself anything more than a ‘writer’ when asked. In turn, I feel shitty about being the writer that doesn’t write that much. So then, I try to force out shitty fake-enlightened pieces on my blog (YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO: HospeyHowTo.com ← All the not-that-shitty, kinda enlightened pieces that made the cut, that your sweet little hearts can handle), and when I can’t think of anything I claim ‘writers block’ and hermit for a few weeks while attempting to rediscover myself. It sucks. And how do I beat it every single time? By going and making something else. I’m blessed to be in a spot where my freelancing duties (you’re lucky, I won’t even shamelessly plug my business link here) allow me to create on many different platforms on a frequent basis. This means that one week I might get to create some story content in After Effects, maybe a logo in Illustrator the next week, and then finish the month off doing art direction for a video shoot.
[I am, however, new on Medium! Any and all love & feedback appreciated!]
I’m very comfortable in saying that the skills I’ve taught myself across multiple mediums have not only made me extremely self-sufficient while developing my creative brain overall, but also that my personal brand success has flourished specifically because of this. What I learned from being a YouTube creator early on and building an audience for my content, I was able to transfer to my stretch as a visual artist. The stuff I learned about colors and palates from drawing for fun helped me greatly when I built my blog from scratch and launched a merchandise line with my business partner. The writing skills that I gained from running my music blog for 2 and a half years are tools that still I use every day, both in my personal and now professional career as well. Somewhere along the line I also taught myself how to take half-decent photos with a film camera, design cover art in Illustrator, and even make a pretty spiffy looking newsletter in InDesign, amongst other medium-random skills. As simple as a few of these things may seem to some mono-medium creatives, once again, I can assure you that these things have all helped develop each other, and will continue to. Plus, on the most shallow side of it all, it’s even helped my following — Hospey the writer had a few fans, which helped me become Hospey the intern (to Chance the Rapper) who gained quite a few more fans and contacts. Now when I want to share something new that I’ve been working on I can easily change hats and become Hospey the photographer on Instagram, or Hospey the writer on my personal blog, even Hospey the entrepreneur when I meet new clients because of my Twitter following. My job titles changes every week, but at 22-years old I can’t say I’d trade the fluidity for anything. (If you need another testimonial on this school of thought, my friend Lexi over at Pretty Decent wrote this awesome piece about the benefits of being “niche-free”)
Long story long (get used to it), a lot of us don’t like the way the world works — or at least used to work. At one point or another it was assumed that if you didn’t stay at the same company for 40 years until retirement you were lazy, you lacked focus, and you were simply lost. (Arguably, to some extent this ideology has shifted). Sometime after that, a few of us, creatives, started changing the rules on what our life plans were going to look like, specifically professionally. Helplessly burdened by the entrenched values deep within us, we still often seek that stability that comes with honing in on one thing at a time. I’m just here to say that maybe, even for us, that doesn’t always have to be the way it is. So next time you get writers block, or photographers block, or painters block, or whatever, make the conscious effort to try something new; you might just change everything for us — creatives.