Four Reasons Why Creativity Gets Glamourised

Pictured: Not a realistic depiction of an artist.

Pictured: Not a realistic depiction of an artist.

Although this is an article about things like art, writing, making comics etc.. I’m going to have to start by talking about something slightly different for a couple of paragraphs. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.

This was because this article was prompted by watching a videogame review/discussion show on Youtube. This was one of those shows that involved a group of critics having a laugh and talking informally about games – and it was the kind of show that makes videogame criticism seem like a really awesome thing.

But, rationally, I know that a show like that is probably a lot less fun to make than it looks. After all, there are probably hours of grinding prep work that go into every “informal” video (eg: collecting and editing game footage, planning some of the more comedic dialogue etc..). Likewise, there’s probably a lot of hassle with lighting, cameras, make up, video editing, production schedules etc.. too.

Yet, just looking at the show, it seemed really glamourous. It was the kind of show that makes you want to be a “real” videogame critic on Youtube (rather than, say, occasionally writing rambling game reviews on a blog). But, the reason I mention it is because it is the perfect example of creativity being shown as more glamourous than it actually is.

So, why does this happen? Here are a few of the many reasons:

1) Self-esteem: I’m an artist who makes daily paintings (albeit quite a while in advance of when they’re posted here). Although I really like making art, being an artist can be a boring, mundane, annoying and chore-like thing sometimes. Yes, I get uninspired sometimes (and still try to make art nonetheless). No, I don’t have a large, dedicated studio.

And, no, I’m not some kind of wild bohemian who drinks absinthe every day and goes to all of the cool parties.

Yet, this stylised image of a “cool artist” is something that some artists like to spread because, well, it makes us feel cool. It makes the sometimes mundane and ordinary task of making art seem like something a bit more meaningful or special. It also makes other people think that we’re cool. So, yes, unrealistic depictions of “cool” artists exist just to improve the self-esteem of actual artists. Whose lives are usually a lot more boring than either they or the media might make you think.

Likewise, the myth of the “talented artist” is another thing that makes artists look cool. But, the fact is that artists aren’t usually born with “artistic talent”, they learn it through regular practice over a significant period of time – just like any other skill. Even the most “talented” artists probably have at least a few extremely clumsy early works somewhere. Why? Because every artist is inexperienced when they start making art. Yet, people can be put off from becoming artists because of this silly myth about “talent”.

Likewise, artists who always appear to be inspired either don’t show off the things they make when they aren’t inspired, or they’ve learnt how to take inspiration, or they make lots of notes when they are inspired, or they’re experienced enough that even an “uninspired” painting looks good etc.. No artist is inspired 100% of the time! Any artist who claims to always be inspired is probably just trying to make themselves look good.

2) Creative people create things: Generally, most “glamourous” depictions of creativity can be found in other creative works. Films about writers, comics about videogames, novels about musicians etc… That sort of thing.

If you create things regularly, then creativity is an easy subject to write or draw about. Likewise, there’s probably a certain element of “I wish that the thing I do regularly was even cooler” or “I wish I was making films, videogames etc… instead, so I’ll write about it“, which might also explain why stories, comics etc… about creativity tend to glamourise the subject quite a bit.

Because, well, creativity is all about imagination rather than boring realism.

3) Because cool things are created: Generally speaking, the audience often only gets to see the cool-looking end product of the creative process (eg: the novel, the comic, the painting etc..). As such, it can be easy to assume that the rest of the creative process was equally cool or glamourous.

Although making a highly-inspired creative project can be an amazing experience, it’s rarely (if ever) as glamourous or cool as the actual end product is. Usually, it just involves sitting in front of a computer screen and/or a sketchbook for varying periods of time. In other words, it looks really really boring from the outside. All of the seriously cool stuff tends to happen within the writer’s or the artist’s imagination, rather than in the real world.

Likewise, creative people who have created great things whilst living wild and glamourous lives have usually made those things despite all of the “glamourous” distractions, not because of them. Creating cool things means sitting down and putting the effort into actually making those things.

4) Because it should be: Despite all of my earlier cynicism in this article, I can’t think of anything that is more deserving of glamourisation than creativity. After all, many of the world’s advancements in culture, technology etc.. have been the products of creativity (just look at all of the inventions that have been inspired by “Star Trek”).

All of our imaginations and lives are shaped by the numerous creative works we encounter throughout our lives. Creative works can help us to make sense of the world and to find meaning in life. Creative works can make us feel a gigantic range of emotions, like a real-life Penfield Mood Organ, using just images, sounds, words etc..

I can’t think of anything else more deserving of glamourisation.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Can Creative People Have Rare Works These Days? – A Ramble

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Although I have a vague feeling that I might have written about this subject ages ago, I thought that I’d revisit it since it’s a really interesting topic. I am, of course,talking about rarity (with regard to art, writing, comics etc…) and the internet. But, I’m going to have to talk about music briefly first. Don’t worry, there’s a point to this…

This article was mostly prompted by a random memory of a few bizarre bootleg CDs that I saw in a market stall about a decade ago. Basically, some random person had cobbled together CDs of “rare” songs by various bands (eg: obscure songs only available on vinyl, bonus tracks from Japan etc..). At the time, this seemed like a really fascinating thing and then I remembered that, these days, there’s no such thing as a “rare” song any more.

After all, if you want to hear a super-obscure song by your favourite band, there’s a good chance that an obsessive fan has posted it on Youtube. Or, more likely, at least three of them have. One of the videos probably has “BEST VERSION” written beside it in all-caps too.

In the age of the internet, there’s literally no such thing as rarity any more when it comes to creative works. I mean, the Mona Lisa is an extremely rare painting (there’s only one of it!) – but you can see it right now just by clicking here. So, rarity is something that only seems to reside within physical objects. The Mona Lisa itself is extremely rare, but the actual image of it is extremely common.

In a lot of ways, this is probably a good thing. After all, it ensures that things that would have faded into obscurity have a new and current audience. It still allows collectors to treasure rare physical objects whilst ensuring that the actual creativity itself is still available to everyone. Even media companies are starting to realise this – which is why you occasionally see things like out-of-print books being republished as e-books, obscure “abandonware” games getting a proper commercial re-release on game sites etc..

But, that said, there’s a certain something about rarity. A certain thrill that comes from seeing something that not that many people have seen. And, as silly as it sounds, it can somehow make otherwise mediocre things seem considerably better. I mean, I’ve found one or two out-of-print novels in charity shops over the years and – well- many of them went out of print for a reason.

Yes, having something slightly rare and obscure is really cool, but the actual thing itself is often slightly mediocre when seen on it’s own merits. Often, the “wow” factor comes from the fact that you’ve got something from one of your favourite writers that you wouldn’t normally have read if it wasn’t for sheer luck. It’s like bonus content of some kind or another.

Even so, the idea of “rare works” seems to be a relic of a bygone age. I mean, if I’d somehow travelled back in time and written this collection of cyberpunk-themed Christmas stories in 1986 rather than 2016, then they might have ended up being published as a chapbook or in some magazine or anthology somewhere instead of being posted on this site for everyone to read. Yes, I love the fact that I can post stories online just like that. But, on the other hand, I kind of miss the romanticised idea of it eventually becoming some kind of hyper-obscure rare work.

The closest thing that any modern creative person has to “rare” works are unpublished works. And, these aren’t really the same thing. They’re usually unfinished, low-quality etc.. things that were never really meant for public consumption.

So – as ironic as it sounds – in the age of the internet, rarity is the only rare thing when it comes to creativity. And this is probably a good thing, even if it means that both creative people and their audiences miss out on the cachet of knowing about something that very few people do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Individuality Of Art, Webcomics And Prose Fiction – A Ramble

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One thing that always amuses me is watching videos and reading articles about how Hollywood films portray reality in unrealistic ways. How large numbers of major films can make the same kind of “unrealistic” mistakes as each other, because “it’s what the audience expects”.

Likewise, it always amuses me when I read articles on major sites complaining about “comics” (or enthusing about them) for the simple reason that they’re almost always writing about just one well-publicised genre of comics (eg: American superhero comics). There’s often nothing about manga, webcomics, horror comics, newspaper comics etc… it’s literally like comics are only about superheroes, even if that’s blatantly untrue.

So, why have I mentioned this? Well, it’s to illustrate one of the strengths of art, webcomics and prose fiction. Namely that, since they’re often made by just one or two people, they can often contain a lot more individuality and creativity than things made by larger teams of people do.

Because there’s a much smaller number of people involved in creating these things, then they tend to reflect the imaginations of their creators a lot more vividly.

For example, a webcomic like Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” is set in a slightly surreal version of Canada and it features a strange cast of characters (including a sphinx!) who often like to talk at length about all sorts of introspective and philosophical topics. The comic is both incredibly realistic and incredibly unrealistic in it’s own unique way. There is quite literally nothing else like it in the world.

Likewise, an absolutely amazing writer called Billy Martin (who wrote under the pen name of “Poppy Z. Brite” before retiring) set most of his stories in a “realistic” version of America. But, the locations in his stories are often depicted in an extremely vivid, descriptive way that almost makes them seem like something from a comic or a painting. He’s written gothic fiction, splatterpunk fiction, surrealist stoner cyberpunk beat literature and heartwarming romantic fiction and yet all of these vastly different stories still seem to come from the same unique imagination. Again, there’s nothing else quite like these stories in the world.

Yet, I can’t imagine Hollywood ever adapting anything from these two amazing people. Yes, both of them have had their work adapted (eg: Winston Rowntree wrote and made the art for an animated web series called “People Watching“, and one of Martin’s short stories was adapted for an episode of a TV series called “The Hunger”), but this has often been done by smaller or slightly more independent outlets.

The interesting thing is that this gulf between individual creativity and mass media wasn’t always so wide. I mean, just look at Clive Barker – he makes really unique-looking paintings and writes very imaginative and distinctive horror/fantasy fiction. And, during the 80s and 90s, he got to direct several Hollywood films (eg: Hellraiser, Nightbreed and Lord Of Illusions). Yet, it’s very unlikely that he’d be able to direct a major Hollywood film today without it being reduced to some kind of bland, mass-market, CGI-filled, focus group-designed “PG-13” rubbish that contains at least one superhero.

Ironically though, this historical trend can also be seen in computer games too. Back when “mainstream” games were the only games out there, there was a lot more creativity and innovation. But, thanks to gaming becoming more popular and the internet allowing independent studios to distribute their games cheaply, games seem to have split into two very distinctive “types”.

There are the major large-budget games that seem to require the absolute latest hardware and which seem to focus on both a few simplified types of gameplay and on flashy hyper-realistic graphics. Then, you’ve got lower-budget indie games which sometimes tend to run better on older systems and often display the same level of variety, innovation, complexity, uniqueness and creativity that used to be standard in computer games.

Yet, art, (non-superhero) comics and prose fiction have rarely seen these kinds of changes. And I think that it’s all because of individuality. In all of these formats, there isn’t really a large team involved. Likewise, actually writing a story or making art costs considerably less than, say, making a film or a game does.

So, I guess that the rule here is that the more money and the more people are involved in creating something, the less creative it will be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Reasons Why The Fictional “Worlds” In Art/Novels/Webcomics etc.. Often Seem To Be Slightly Old

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Quite a while ago, I read a fascinating article on TV Tropes which talks about how and why most films and TV shows are basically set in the 1990s, even though they might look modern on the surface.

Although that article explains why this happens in film and television, I’ve noticed it happening to a lesser extent in my own art, comics and fiction. For example, most of my webcomics tend to be more like something from the late 1990s-early/mid ’00s (or possibly the late ’00s at most) even though they were made in the mid-late 2010s and include some modern things like smartphones.

So, I thought that I’d give a few reasons why this sort of thing happens in art, fiction and/or webcomics.

1) Inspirations: Simply put, everything is inspired by things that were made in the past. This is either because writers, artists etc.. discovered their main inspirations during an earlier time in their life, because they happened to discover some amazingly cool old stuff in the present day or because they were eager to find things that are similar to their earlier inspirations.

For example, the main influence on how I depict “futuristic” settings in my art is probably the classic movie “Blade Runner“. Although I watched it on VHS for the first time when I was about fourteen, I only truly began to appreciate this film when I was about 17. When I seriously got into making art during my early-mid 20s, this film had more and more of an influence on any sci-fi art that I made.

Of course, having just one influence is never a good thing so, during the past couple of years, I looked for as many film/TV/shows/games in the cyberpunk genre as I could in order to help me refine my style (and because I loved the genre and wanted to find more of it). These new influences include things like “Ghost In The Shell (1995)”, “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“, “Akira“, “Deus Ex“, Trancers“, “System Shock“, “Technobablyon“, this set of ‘Doom II’ levels, “Robocop 2”, “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” etc…

Many of these things were, of course, either made during the heyday of the cyberpunk genre or were influenced by the classics of the genre. So, even the more modern examples (like “Technobablyon”) are heavily influenced by things from the 1980s and 90s.

When it comes to actually writing science fiction, my main influence was probably William Gibson’s cyberpunk “Sprawl Trilogy” from the 1980s, which I read during my late teens/early twenties. Although I’ve read other types of science fiction, the writing style in this one had a huge influence on me and although I don’t really use too much of a Gibson-like writing style in my more recent cyberpunk fiction, these stories from the 80s certainly played a role in how I write sci-fi.

So, yes, the inspirations and influences that a writer or artist has can be one reason why a lot of stories and art seem to be set in some vaguely modern version of the past.

2) It looks cool: Visually speaking, the past also often seems to have a more distinctive “look” to it than the present day does.

Maybe this is because the present day just seems “ordinary” because we see it every day (and, by comparison, the past looks more unusual)? Maybe this is because mass culture and popular trends used to be a more prominent thing in the pre-internet days? Maybe the benefit of hindsight makes it easier to depict the past in a stylised way? Who knows?

But, regardless, the past can sometimes look cooler than the present day does. Old technology (eg: intriguingly bulky phones, giant CRT monitors etc..) can ironically look more “futuristic” than modern-looking technology does, the fashions of the past can seem more unusual and creative (albeit slightly sillier sometimes), plus things like art deco architecture were more common in the past etc…

3) Scheduling: This probably varies from person to person, but most creative works tend to be prepared and finished some time in advance of publication. For example, I actually wrote this article in late February (and I was also preparing this year’s Christmas comics at the same time). Because of this, it can be hard to include “up to the minute” topical content.

So, if you’re preparing something far in advance and you don’t want it to appear too obviously out of date when it gets published, then it can often be best to make slightly “timeless” things. And, “timeless” can often translate to “basically set in the past in all but name” or “subtly old-fashioned”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How To Make Metafiction Work – A Ramble

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Usually, I’m both mildly cynical about metafiction (eg: stories about stories, movies about movies, songs about music etc..) and yet absolutely fascinated by it at the same time. But, the afternoon before writing this article, I happened to rediscover two things that reminded me of how to use metafiction well.

The surprising thing was that these two things would probably be considered to be as “low brow” as you can get, and yet they are brilliant examples of metafiction. I am, of course talking about “Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back” and NOFX’s “War On Errorism” album.

If you’ve never heard of “Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back”, it’s a “shock value” comedy film from 2001 about two immature stoners who travel to Hollywood in order to stop a movie being made about them.

Although some elements of “Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back” caused controversy (eg: about whether the film promotes or satirises the prejudiced attitudes expressed by several characters), the film’s metafictional jokes about Hollywood work really well. This is because they aren’t affectionate in-jokes that require you to be a member of the film industry. Hollywood isn’t romanticised, but mercilessly ridiculed at every opportunity.

Even if this was a film about the publishing industry, fashion, sports etc… these types of metafictional jokes would still work. The metafictional humour about Hollywood is funny, but it isn’t an integral element of the film and it certainly doesn’t exclude anyone who doesn’t live in Hollywood and/or work in the film industry.

Likewise, if you’ve never heard of it, NOFX’s “War On Errorism” album is a punk album from 2003. Although the album is mostly meant to be a protest album about George W. Bush, there are a few songs about the punk genre and it’s fans. The songs in question are “The Separation Of Church And Skate”, “We Got Two Jealous Agains”, “Mattersville”, “Medio-Core” and “13 Stitches”.

Although I really love a few American punk bands from the 1980s-2000s, a lot of the musical references in these songs went completely over my head when I heard them for the first time. Yet, “We Got Two Jealous Agains” is one of my favourite songs on the album. Why? Because, quite simply, it rocks. The music is loud and fast, and the lyrics are written in a way that flows really well. Even though I initially had to do a bit of research to understand what the song was about, the lyrics [edit: which mostly consist of a list of punk album titles] still accompany the music really well.

Even if the lyrics of “We Got Two Jealous Agains” were replaced with similar-sounding lyrics about, say, trainspotting or chess or something – it would still be an absolutely brilliant song – for the simple reason that it sounds great.

The thing that “The War On Errorism” and “Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back” have in common is that they’re funny and/or energetic things that just happen to include metafiction. Metafiction is a major part of both things, but they also accompany it with humour or energetic music, so that there’s something else for people who don’t get the cultural references.

Both things don’t fall into the trap of worshipping themselves or assuming that the audience have insider knowledge. In “Jay And Silent Bob”, a lot of the commentary about Hollywood is more understandable because the main characters are ‘outsiders’ to the film industry. Likewise, most of the “meta” songs in “The War On Errorism” are about the lead singer’s experience of being a fan of punk music, rather than about the fact that he’s in a punk band.

So, yes, metafiction works best when it doesn’t snobbishly assume that the audience have extensive experience of the film, music, publishing, comics etc.. industry.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Paradoxes Of “Subjective” Fictional Genres – A Ramble

Although this is an article about the horror genre, a lot of what I will be saying here can be applied to quite a few other genres too (the comedy genre springs to mind for starters…).

Anyway, the horror genre is a genre that is designed to provoke a strong emotional response in the audience. It’s a genre that can gain it’s emotional power through imagined situations, characterisation, suspense, subtle implication and/or vivid imagery. It’s also an incredibly subjective genre too – ten people can read the same horror novel and all have wildly different reactions to it. After all, everyone has their own mixture of phobias, anxieties and attitudes towards the horror genre.

Everyone has their own personal ideas about what is and isn’t “scary”. Some people like stories that gradually build up suspense and some people like stories that go from zero to abject terror as quickly as possible. Some people like their horror to be “serious” and some people like horror that includes some dark comedy. Some people focus entirely on certain sub-genres of horror fiction (eg: the zombie genre, the vampire genre etc..) and some people avoid certain sub-genres because they aren’t scary or interesting enough.

Yet, the people writing horror fiction can only write what they personally consider to be creepy, scary, shocking and/or disturbing. If they want to write truly great horror fiction, they not only need to delve into the darkest depths of their unique imaginations, but they also need to know what types of horror fiction really fascinate them. Then they need to write the kind of horror story that they would want to read. They also need to be scared by what they are writing, because how can they expect like-minded members of the audience to be scared if they are not?

If you stop writing a horror story because you are just too damn disturbed by it to continue writing, then this is both an extremely annoying thing and an extremely brilliant thing at the same time. On the one hand, it’s a testament to the power of the written word. On the other hand, it’s annoying because you’ve left a story unfinished. This is perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of the horror genre and the perfect example of how it’s an extremely subjective genre.

In other words, a good horror novel often tends to be something that only that particular author could have written. This is, of course both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the horror genre. When you read a horror story by someone else, you are stepping into the unknown territory of another person’s imagination and you have no clue whether it’s somewhere that you’ll feel at home in or not.

Most of the time, you’ll probably feel “slightly” or “mostly” at home with a horror novel. But, although you might have read the blurb or a few reviews first, there’s no real way to know for certain how you will react before you start reading.

Again, this brings up another paradox. On the one hand, a horror novel by a new author is a fascinatingly unknown thing that could scare you senseless. On the other hand, it might be hilariously cheesy, annoyingly boring or just completely off-putting. Even with a horror novel that sounds like it might be cool, there’s no real way to know for certain before you actually read it.

The horror genre is sometimes derided as being a “cheap” genre. A genre that is below the enlightened perspective of respectable critics. A genre that is often only talked about to other fans of the horror genre. Yet, it’s a genre that most people enjoy in some form at least occasionally. But, some people have a bizarre inherent dislike of the entire genre – sometimes with disdainful overtones. It has historically been seen by some as a genre that is a corrupting or dehumanising influence, and has even suffered censorship in the past as a result.

And, yet, the horror genre relies on humanity in order to “work”. It relies on someone expressing their unique imagination in the best way possible, in the hope that other people will find it an interesting place to inhabit for a few hours. It relies on provoking common instinctive emotions that all humans share in one form or another.

The horror genre is a genre that is about as far from “dehumanised” as it is possible to get! And, yet, this is both it’s greatest strength and it’s greatest weakness. On the one hand, it can contain immense emotional power and the potential for strong emotional catharsis. On other hand, you might find that you just don’t get along well with the unique imagination of a particular writer, director etc…

Likewise, paradoxically, the horror genre cannot “corrupt” people. In order for a horror story to disturb, horrify and/or disgust the audience, the audience must have pre-existing moral standards. After all, would anyone be unsettled by or fearful of something that they personally consider to be “good” or “righteous”? The horror genre relies on the audience having moral standards in order to work properly!

In other words, it’s a subjective genre. A genre that is, paradoxically, as much about the reader as it is about the writer.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Top Ten Articles – October 2017

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First of all, Happy Halloween everyone 🙂 Have a ghoulishly great day 🙂

Anyway, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for me to make my usual list of links to my ten favourite articles about writing fiction, making art and/or making comics that I’ve posted here in the past month (plus a couple of honourable mentions too).

All in all, this month’s articles turned out fairly well – even if I was either busy or uninspired when writing a few of them.

ANyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – October 2017:

– “Three Reasons Why Sketches Are More Useful Artistic References Than Photos When Painting From Life
– “Four Ways To De-Mystify Making Art (If You’re An Absolute Beginner)
– “Things That Splatterpunk Fiction Can Teach Writers (Even If They Don’t Write Horror)
– “Three Reasons Why It’s Foolish To Compare Yourself To Other Artists
– “Three Tips For Writing Subtle Horror (That I Learnt From Playing A Computer Game)
– “Two More Things That Artists Can Learn From Playing Computer And Video Games
– “Three Things That (Visual) Artists Can Learn From Heavy Metal Music
– “Three More Things That (Visual) Artists Can Learn From Heavy Metal Music
– “Three Basic Tips For Making Cyberpunk Art (If You’ve Never Made It Before)
– “How To Draw Literally Anything (Using Two Basic Skills)

Honourable Mentions:

– “Four Benefits Of The Non-Interactive Nature Of Art, Comics And Prose Fiction
– “Four Things To Remember When Watching Time-Lapse Art Videos (If You’re Learning)