The Canned Creativity plague…

red fabric origami cranes

The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life; and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.

Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

I don’t use prompts (writing nor drawing) often, because I have quite a long list of things I know I want to do, all ready…

But sometimes there are so many ideas that it’s hard to decide what to start on first, or which ones to include and which to leave out. Sometimes I need a wild card, a random way of decision-making that will, paradoxically, introduce restrictions and parameters to my ideas. So I did a couple of drawings in my visual journal, using words scribbled on pieces of paper and pulled out of a sandwich bag to get me started.

I’m going to call this an exercise in imagination and self-reliance. I’m a big fan of self reliance.


Creativity, as the word is being thrown about these days, is overrated. Creativity is a busy bustling-about, just making piles of stuff. It’s throwing together fancy papers, glossy magazine cut-outs, decorative clip art, rubber stamps and decal sheets that you bought, conveniently, at a shop specialising in the paraphernalia of today’s scrapbooking and mixed-media hysteria. It’s fooling yourself into thinking you make ‘art’ without having to do any of the drawing, come up with any of the images, make any of the mistakes, or face up to—and deal with—any of your own limitations as an artist. It’s following step-by-step articles on “How to make art” in magazines like Cloth, Paper, and $70-worth of Gimcracks (whatever!)

It’s raping and pillaging the past for beautiful things that you can use, not caring how they came to be, nor why, nor having any sort of personal connection to that beauty. It’s writing a post about a bento box of kawaii food, shaped to look like Hello Kitty and her telephone—with pink and yellow marzipan hairbows—and saying “OMG, that’s so wabi-sabi…so, like, zen and shit!” Junichiro Tanizaki just howled in his grave.

It’s pushing everything in the world—indiscriminately and ignorantly—through the filter of eye-candy.

The internet is plagued by this consumeristic, utterly soulless “creativity”…slap someone’s vintage photograph (you neither know nor care who the person was) on top of some paint daubs, edge it with bits of lace, fake ‘ephemeral’ ticket stubs and postage stamps, throw in some handwritten French for fuck’s sake, Japanese masking tape with cherries, some cheap Made-in-China embellishments painted to look like brass, rubberstamp a blackbird here, a flowering branch there, and then take everything to new depths of mawkishness by gluing a big word on (N.B. remember to choose the word for it’s color-coordination and not because it relates to the rest of the work!) that says either “Dream,” “Sing,” “Love,” “Create,” or “Paris.” Ubiquitous, banal words that have been stripped of their significance by this trivializing and indifferent “creativity”.

And everyone should imitate everybody else, so that one person’s work could pass for another’s, because the ideas all came from the same magazines and websites, the materials were purchased at the same shops. A horrible, beige-colored, homogeneous mass.

There. I said it. *evil chuckle* “Jee-sus, Nat, that was a bit harsh!”

My blog, my opinions. *laughing* I’ve gone right off the rails with this one, haven’t I? Heh heh. That’s okay, scares away the riff-raff…if anyone’s still reading this, I’ll be posting a polite—I promise!—piece about drawing exercises in day or two, over on my other blog. 😀


Rather than reply to comments individually (and end up copy/pasting from one to the next), I’ll just tack this on here, where it can serve double-duty as a refinement.

You’re right, Carl, (see comments, please) and I’m not actually saying that there aren’t any creative people, bloggers or otherwise, out there. I’m really attacking that insidious consumer product, “Creativity”, with a capital C , that everyone is sort of being pushed towards, and that many embrace because it’s easier to do, after all, and less frightening than finding yourself alone in a room, facing the blank canvas. Everyone is creative. But it is an inner resource, you must reach into yourself and draw it out. You cannot buy it, and there is no need to look outside of yourself for it, because it’s not out there, it’s within you.

I am also attacking, on the consumer’s end of things, status anxiety. Often the kind of creativity-in-a-bottle that I write about, here, isn’t about the making of art, at all. It’s about wanting others to like us, it’s surrendering our personal growth in exchange for the warm fuzzy feeling of acceptance. It’s the pressure to make likeable art—safe, inoffensive, lighthearted— and maintain that “we’re all friends here” atmosphere. A lot of blogger art communities resemble, unnervingly, support groups or Sunday socials.

Status anxiety is the need to belong and be welcomed by a group; it’s the force that encourages a person to make things that will be popular and familiar to others, so that they will welcome you with open arms and call you one of their own. Nothing wrong with nurturing your community, but I am going to stick to my guns here and insist that making friends and making art are two different things…so know which one you really want and then, by all means, go for it! But if you set about making art that aims to please others and make yourself likeable, you will be enriching your social contacts at the expense of your growth as an artist, at the expense of your art.

Doris Stricher —whose work, please note, I neither understand nor feel drawn to, but whom I respect because it is so obviously her own fierce and uncompromising vision (This is important: Your work does not have to be liked by others, for you to be an artist…it’s not about being liked, it’s about being an individual, and it’s about integrity)—puts it succinctly:

“A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist.”

As for platitudes about not criticizing anything, my fave is : “I don’t think you’re a very good friend if you’re always being supportive. You also have to add criticism.” Jason Kottke (1973 – )

So I mean well, but it may not be what you want to hear, and that’s okay, because I need to say things, more than I need to be liked.


11 thoughts on “The Canned Creativity plague…

  1. You have made some valid and utterly real and true points but there is more to it than just making a sweeping statement that boils down to “most of the current stuff out there is a pile of boring garbage made by people who need to be accepted.”

    Some of us, and I include myself here, are not artistic at all. But we have a yearning desire to ‘create’ something. I think that is a basic, deep-seated human need.

    For me, my definition of ‘creativity’ is making something, that pleases me, where there was previously nothing. So, even if it is an eclectic, meaningless mess of mass-produced, cheap, commercial bits and bobs it makes me happy and fulfills that need.

    We cannot all be great artists and I don’t think we all aspire to be, neither do I believe we (the bloggy people like me who all make the same type of thing) fool ourselves into thinking that what we produce is true art. Well OK maybe some people do, but then they are a little bit self-delusional. So what?

    This current, so-called ‘mixed media collage’ stuff is certainly a trend and it most certainly will pass and some other arty farty fashion will eventually emerge. But, for now, these little bursts of (non) creativity might well be all we are capable of and as such, they are good enough for us – even though we will never be the next Gustav Klimt or Picasso or Jackson Pollock – and even if it annoys the really artistic, truly creative types.

    As for status anxiety. Yes. I believe you are 100% on the money. But isn’t that simply normal human behaviour? There are very few truly free-spirited individuals – most of us desire to conform and be accepted.

    That was a jolly good piece of writing – better than most of the non-feather-ruffling blog posts out there. Excellent stuff.


    1. Hey, Wendz, Thanks for your comment. Was one of those issues that I had been thinking about for a long time (two years, can you believe?) but never intended to write a blog post about, and then, bam, its there, and I publish knowing full well that in two hours time I will be cringing and knocking my forehead against the door jamb, wishing I had kept my mouth shut. 🙂 But it had been on my mind a while, and I wrote it, and there it sits, like a foot. In my mouth.
      Shouldn’t write sweeping statements, it’s incredibly arrogant and harsh, but then, can’t really write about something like this that takes everything, every little ‘however’, ‘that does not mean to say’, ‘on the one hand’ and ‘on the other hand,’ into account, without bloating the post up into a 30 page vague blob that, in the end, doesn’t commit to saying anything at all. So I’ll be the devil’s advocate and make the regrettably sweeping statement, which my readers’ comments (ever so much nicer and better people than I am, no I am not being sarcastic), will push and pull and kick into a gentler, more diplomatic, and more charitable whole.


  2. I’m struggling to put into words how I feel about your post. Mostly I just want to say thank you for articulating what I’ve been feeling for so long. We all struggle to be the artist that we know is somewhere inside of us and to find our voice. Along the way we may fall into the artistic fashion of the day, or something that will sell, or something to blog about and the magazines and shops egg us on. In the end, we do try to be true to ourselves. We give our head a shake, head outside with our sketchbook and take a moment to breath (oooo, that would be nice on a mixed media background).

    In the end we’ll find what we were looking for. And we’ll find others who feel the same way. Thanks so much for being you and posting on both your amazing blogs. And for making us wake up a little bit.


  3. Thank you! What a relief. Mr. D’Agostino makes a good point. Of course there is marvelous, original work to be found on the net, while the publishing world is rife with agendas and politics. However, at the same time you can see “trends” on the net. And I would agree that a lot of “creative work” looks very similar to a lot of other “creative work,” kind of a group phenomenon.
    I think I’m going to quote you on an art quilt about conformity! You put your finger on a problem: our need to conform, even (as can be seen on the internet) in creativity.
    You made my day! nadia


  4. If someone who never thought they could dream sees something in prefabbed art then more power to them. Anything interesting can inspire.There are many types of “art” I would call stupid, childish, an just plain dumb that others see as creative. “Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others”


  5. thank you for saying what i’ve been feeling lately! i’ve been dropping more and more blogs from my feeds cuz they are all the same. not only does the ‘art’ look the same , but they all do it at the same time. i am no artist , but i discovered that i like adding visual aspects to my journalling. i’m 55 yrs. old now and have been keeping some kind of journal since i was a kid. i’m not sure i even have a ‘style’…i just do what pleases me at the time. so sick of being told i should be doing layers and have a word to live by every year, yadda, yadda, yadda. i do what moves me. thanks , again.


  6. I have blogged and subscribed to blogs for only a year now. Creativity? I am absolutely astonished how creative the 100 bloggers I follow are. Their stories, poems, musings, fiction and not fiction, satire and humor and art is far better than most published and renown stuff out there. I do cartoons.Believe me, you have to be pretty creative for that and to keep up production and quality as well. The talent out there has given me some respect and humility. Put me in my place in a positive way.


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