The concept of Sustainable Creativity is based on my belief that fostering and maintaining a lifelong creative practice has a powerful positive impact on ourselves and the world around us, and that rather than primarily pursuing goals of completion, productivity, financial remuneration, audience approval, etc…, the sustaining of a consistent practice itself should be the main goal.
It’s not an easy thing to do, so I have developed the following set of guidelines to help establish and support a long term practice of Sustainable Creativity.
1) Forge an Army
Community is the most important resource you’ll ever have as a maker. Seek out people who you respect and whose work you are interested in and share best practices, support each other’s work, and commiserate over rejection. Being part of a pack will increase your creative survival rate exponentially.
2) Redefine Virtuosity
Capital “L” Listening (you could also call it Observing or Looking) is the only technique that’s absolutely mandatory for making great work. It’s also the best way to stay engaged with your process for the lifelong haul. Allow Listening to motivate you to shut down your device and immerse yourself in natural chaos (perhaps the single most abundant source of continually renewable inspiration). Pay extra special attention to the Avant-Garde. Openness to the full spectrum of possibility is a Fountain of Youth-type quality for artists.
3) Be Good
Being good and generous with others will nourish and sustain your practice far more than competitiveness, drive for success, or even innate talent. If your ultimate goal is a lifelong practice and not some external reward, it’s meaningless to perceive of and treat other artists, critics or gatekeepers as “opposition.” The ensuing pity spirals, fits of envy, bouts of disbelief, rage, and comparisons that come from that perspective are nothing but roadblocks along your creative path.
4) Ask Not What Others Can Do For Your Work, But What Your Work Can Do For Others
If you’re seeking money and adoration, there are much easier ways to get it than making, crafting, or teaching. If you’re interested in growth, humility, and spiritual development, there’s no more direct or rewarding path. Approaching creativity as a service (rather than something others should reward you for) will provide clear and vitalizing motivations for your ongoing practice.
5) Study Yourself
Through the harrowing and bloody work of plumbing your own psyche, you’ll figure out what you truly need, what you can sacrifice, what your optimal conditions for creating are, while discovering some universal truths along the way that will deepen your work. Acquiring the mental, emotional, and physical tools to make quality work over the course of a lifetime means knowing yourself first.
It’s guaranteed that if you don’t find joy somewhere in the process of making work, it won’t be joyful to experience. Creative work can be tedious and exhausting at times. But finding and maintaining the ecstatic unknowing of invention and discovery will keep you perpetually engaged and rejuvenate your practice. Always at least set aside some part of your practice for unfettered playtime.
7) Join the Slow Art Movement
Make things by hand whenever possible. Instead of texting or emailing, talk or post a letter. Build an audience one person at a time. Be transparent in process and in public. Loaf. Let ideas simmer and finished products “relax.” Log off. Not only will you learn about yourself (see principle 5), but your work will embody a unique, living presence. Patience, pacing, open space, down time, mindfulness, and deliberate actions are crucial components of any long-term endeavor and are practically mandatory for makers.
8) Be the Self-Doubting Narcissist
In order to invent from scratch you have to access Messiah Complex-grade narcissism. In order to turn what you’ve invented into something interesting, you need to find your inner ice-veined, nay-saying critic. These two must never be in the same place at the same time. If there’s also a third, humble civilian in there who returns phones calls and maintains oral hygiene, you’re way ahead of the curve. Fostering balance in this psychological high wire act will not only improve your work, but also enable you to be a decent community member (see principle 1).
9) Detox, Cleanse, Go Natural
Sacrifice and some relative degree of clean living is, fortunately or unfortunately, part of the recipe for creative longevity. Cut dependence on intoxicating chemicals, emotional extremes, impossibly perfect working conditions, and high-ticket items. It can help to think of it as an investment in your future.
10) Write Your Own Rules
The consolidation of creative industries is on its way out, but the new models enabled by radical changes in technology have yet to be fully established. And they never will be. We’re entering an altered landscape where no two creative paths will look remotely the same. This is both nerve-wracking and tremendously liberating. It may be difficult to construct the foundation for your totally unique sustainable practice from scratch, but doing so will reinforce its durability a thousand-fold.
11) Be the Lightning Rod
Structuring your entire life so that you can drop everything and make work if and when inspiration strikes will only become more and more inconvenient, if not impossible at some point. It’s hard for lightning to hit a moving target. Instead, be patient and. most importantly, be consistent, and lightning will come to you again and again. There are more than enough ideas out there to last each of us a thousand lifetimes. Our job is to make time and space to receive them, and listen.