"Good" Means Nothing in Creativity:
Today I want to take a closer look at what it means to call the results of any creative work "good", and how believing in language like that is holding us back from accessing a deeper level of creative expression and courage.
We constantly refer to creative pieces of work as "good" or "bad". Statements like "This is a good song" or "That was a terrible movie" roll off the tongue easily without thinking twice. The problem is that these statements are treated as facts, not as the subjective opinions that they actually are.
I know this sounds obvious, but I'd like to challenge us all to reflect on whether or not we're really operating from this obvious perspective on a day to day basis. What sounds like a nit-picky, semantic argument on the surface can open the door to revealing a powerful and detrimental belief system that is widely held: The belief that art can be good or bad.
I've had enough conversations with creative peers and clients about this to realize that their desire for their work to turn out "good" comes from a deep-seated belief that's causing them a great deal of unnecessary anxiety. This belief stunts growth, prevents progress, and holds people back from reaching the version of success that they envision so vividly during those inspired moments of clarity.
"Good" is a meaningless and lazy word in the world of creativity. I encourage you to never use it again when it comes to describing anybody's work—including, and especially, your own. It takes practice but instead of statically labeling a piece that we're reacting to, we should instead be expressing a description of our reaction to that piece. Something as simple as "I enjoyed that" makes all the difference.
All we really mean when we say that art is "good" is that we were moved by it.
Why don't we just assume that everyone means "that moved me" when they say "that's good" and call it a day? That would be perfectly fine if it weren't for the fact that we react differently to the same piece of work at different times. Being moved or not by something is not a fixed label, while calling something "good" is. Of course we understand that opinions differ between people but what we don't acknowledge as often is that opinions are fluid and constantly shifting—they differ within the same person as well.
How can we suddenly like a band that we thought we decided on hating years ago? How can we enjoy a movie, but when a friend tells us that they thought it was terrible we then realize how bad it really was and we agree with them? How can something seem so fresh and stimulating one moment and so stale and meaningless the next? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the eye of the beholder is not fixed.
Any number of factors can play a role in how our taste shifts moment by moment: time of day, our mood, being hungry, being caffeinated, who we just talked to, how much or how little we know about an artist, etc... Sometimes it’s tolerance or overexposure that makes something that was once exciting start to feel flat (like that hit song on the radio that you're sick of). Other times repeated exposure does the opposite and makes us love an aesthetic that we initially found unpleasant (like experimental jazz).
This includes the way we respond to our own work. Anything you make is similar to a snapshot of who you are in that moment. You might hate it now and love it a month later. You might love it now and hate it a month later. One person might tell you that your work is stupid while on the same day someone else tells you that it's brilliant. Neither of them would be right or wrong.
Imagine the creative freedom, power, and honesty that could come from fully believing and embracing that anything anyone says about your work isn't a truth—including the compliments. Not believing positive feedback and not labeling or negatively judging other people's work are the two secrets to not being phased by criticism and unlocking the courage to boldly and authentically create. Ironically, bold and authentic creations come across to the rest of the world as being "good".
All art is equal and neutral. How we or anyone reacts to it is contextual and constantly shifting. Did it move us? Then it moved us. Tomorrow may be different. Did we feel nothing from it? Then we felt nothing from it. Tomorrow may be different. That’s all there is to it. Those reactions say nothing about the actual value of someone's work or their abilities.
Adopting this belief system is what provides the freedom we need to finish creative pieces of work consistently. Ironically, consistently finishing work is what refines our ability to execute with skill and precision, which comes across to the rest of the world as being "good".
If you adopt this way of thinking you will make amazing progress in your art. And someday someone will look at your work and call it "good".
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