The Sin of WRATH

For the first half of my career in advertising, I would often have irrational feelings of anger during a creative briefing. I would resent being given the assignment. Then I would be pissed off that I had to sit in a conference room with loads of other creative people while the strategists took us through the brief.

I simmered with impatience. I would ask critical, acerbic questions. I would strain against the deadline.

The monkey would tell me that the people briefing us were idiots, that their insights were lame or wrong, that I already knew more than they did about the subject, that it was wrong that we creatives had to compete for the assignment, the playing field wasn’t level, that the whole project was a waste of my time, blah blah and blah.

It was pretty crazy — and incomprehensible.

With time, I became sufficiently self-aware to identify this pattern and dampen it. But I can still feel the impulse when it comes time to get creative feedback or in the final days before a big presentation — a frothing resentment with no legitimate cause.

This reaction maybe in the minority but it’s not unique to me, alas. I often hired great creative people who would have explosions of rage at the most inappropriate times.

What is the fear that drives it? Vulnerability at having to show one’s ideas where they might be rejected? Of being misunderstood? Of losing control somehow?

Recently, I read of a study in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology  that examined the effects of anger on creativity — and found that it could actually be helpful to the creative process.

Anger provides two benefits: an energy boost in the form of an adrenaline rush which focuses the mind on the problem at hand. Secondly, anger makes your thinking irrational — which can jolt you out of creative ways of thinking. In a paroxysm of rage, you may spit out some crazy truth that makes a wild and fruitful association.

Another study found that many creative people begin their days with negativity and then shift to positive feelings. By channeling the negative energy into their work, they find sharper focus and productivity. If you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, try channeling your bad mood into energy to solve a creative problem.

But proceed with caution for anger is still a sin. Its benefits dissipate fairly quickly. And once the red mists blow away, you may find you’ve alienated potential partners, wasted time and resources, derailed the process, and damaged your reputation. And if people dislike and fear you, they are a lot less likely to be objective about the merit of your ideas.

Being a genius doesn’t excuse being an asshole.

The last in a series on the seven deadly creative sins.

The Sin of SLOTH

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a whole but, (sigh) I’ve been tired, I’m sooo busy, I feel kinda run down, the World Series was on, I had Halloween candy to eat…

The monkey loves a good excuse for not doing what you really oughta (and wanna) get done. Maybe your small reserve of creative energy is  being tapped only to make those excuses.

There’s no real shortcut to drawing, bestselling, Sgt. Peppering, or making a perfect soufflé.

It’s easy to tell yourself that you just don’t have talent. But the people you admire didn’t get to where they are just through some God-given gift or amazing luck. They worked their asses off. They sweated over their sketchbooks, threw away draft after draft, built their networks, filled their wells of inspiration, and tried, failed, tried, failed, tried, failed until their humps were busted — and only then did they became overnight successes.

When the Beatles played in Hamburg, they did six 90-minute sets a night. Lennon said: “Every song lasted twenty minutes and had twenty solos in it. That’s what improved the playing.”

Before Picasso sent Les Demoiselles D’Avignon to the framer, he made over 700 sketches and studies in preparation.

Gone With the Wind was rejected by 38 publishers. The 39th sold 20 million copies.

And Isaac Asimov wrote five hundred books. And had cool sideburns.

Sowwy. There’s no real shortcut to drawing, bestselling, Sgt. Peppering, or making a perfect soufflé. You gotta break eggs and you gotta scramble.

You have talent. Or maybe you don’t. Whatevs. But don’t let excuses and torpor and depression and sorrow and keep you from where you want to go. The world needs what you will dream up. Your contribution is anticipated and will be valued.

It could seem easier to stay on the couch with a beer in one hand and a remote in the other — until you go to the john and catch sight of yourself in the mirror.

Failure may scare you into not trying. Sloth should scare you more.

Just do it.

Sixth in a series on seven deadly creative sins.

The Sin of LUST

Ironically, the classic bio of my favorite painter is called Lust for Life. But lust is a sin that has sabotaged loads of great artists too. Lust is any intense sort of intense and uncontrolled desire — be it for sex, food, drugs, money, fame, power or freshly-poured, frosty lager. Society loves to depict the artist as a lusty, carnal creature — snorting, boozing, copulating, and then self-destructing at 27.

Uncontrolled. Undisciplined. Lust replaces thoughtfulness with raw impulse. You cave in to self-destructive abandon. Instead of doing the necessary work you are distracted. Instead of drawing the model, you drool on him.

Lust makes you myopic. It distorts your normal perspective and gives you tunnel vision, tuning out everything but the object of your desire. And what you see is not real. It’s a thickly veiled concoction of your fevered mind.

Perhaps you are slender and celibate and sugar-free and believe lust is a sin that doesn’t apply to you…

At the heart of sexual lust is a form of depersonalization. Instead of seeing people as human beings, they become sex symbols. Lust for money isn’t about acquiring the things you need. It’s about the symbolic value of wealth, the illusion that it will provide security and satisfy all your needs. You want gazillions you’d probably never spend.  Lust for power makes you ruthless, disconnected from the effects of your actions, reduces people to symbols, to pawns on your board. Mwahahahah!

Lust turns reality into abstraction, turns people into symbols, replaces authentic needs with insatiable hunger. And an artist who cannot see or feel or connect is lost. An artist who only deals in symbols cannot find her way to truth.

Lust is obsessiveness. Lust is abstraction. Lust is infantile, sacrificing your higher goals to your basest weakness. Lust is lost in the future, a future of quelled desire that may never come, a future you cannot control.

But creativity requires control. Control over your skills, your materials, but most of all over your vision of the world you are creating.

Perhaps you are slender and celibate and sugar-free and believe lust is a sin that doesn’t apply to you. But look deep and honestly within and look for those impulses that cloud your objectivity, that distort your actions, and color your perceptions.

Really, what about you? Do you lust for perfection? For acknowledgement? For a Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Pointed Round #10 watercolor brush with a seamless, cupro-nickel ferrule (list $499.99)?

Fifth in a series on seven deadly creative sins.

The Sin of ENVY

According to Dante’s Purgatorio, if you get sent to hell for the sin of envy, demons will sew your eyelids shut with wire. Ouchy. You get this iron mascara treatment because you spent your days on Earth getting a kick out of seeing others in pain. Now, you just get to see total blackness and writhe around on a spit.

Envy isn’t just garden-variety, green with jealousy. It’s meaner. Envy means you don’t just resent someone else’s good fortune — you want to take it away from them. It’s not enough to wish you’d made that great painting. You have to rip it out of the frame and jump up and down on it. In other words, you need to become a critic.

Envy is another sin born of fear. It begins when you see someone else making something great. Instead of just enjoying it, you feel threatened by it. The monkey whispers in your ear: ‘You could never do that. Ever.’ So you get out your knives.

One response to this fear is to dismiss the accomplishment. The artist was obviously just lucky. Or some sort of con man. She was born into a talented family. He sucked up to the top gallery owners. She has a famous boy friend. He will be forgotten in a year.

When you are envious, you set yourself back. Instead of learning from greatness, you run from it. You swaddle yourself in hostility. You withhold any kind of generosity or support. Your refuse to collaborate. You refuse to learn.

You don’t see how much work it takes to be successful. You don’t see how to acquire skills, connections, vision, happiness, all the things you really want. You are so afraid of losing, of failing, of falling  behind, of being called out, that you lash out and destroy.

You sew your own eyes shut with wire.

And while the biggest victims of envy are the envious themselves, they can also cause loads of collateral damage along the way. Maybe you’ve been a victim of someone else’s envy. See the critic for the scared, myopic monster he is and you’ll be able to understand what his critique really means and defuse its impact.

Fourth in a series on seven deadly creative sins.

The Sin of PRIDE

In the 21st century, it’s more difficult to see “pride” as a sin. We think of LGBT pride, Black pride, national pride, Bono singing “In the Name of Love.” Isn’t that song about Martin Luther King — surely he wasn’t a sinner?

Here’s a different take on pride. Actually let’s call it ‘hubris’ so no one gets confused.

Hubris is about insisting on your own greatness. In fact, that’s why Lucifer fell from heaven and ended up on the dark side. He insisted that he was greater than the rest of the crew.  But, Kanye not withstanding, most creative people seem to have a problem with low self-esteem, not grandiosity.

But whereas they would never say that they are better than others, they insist that their work be. They judge their art too harshly, dismissing what they produce with contempt.They demand a higher standard than is reasonable, possible, necessary. They are absolutely intolerant of anything but perfection. It’s hero or zero. Whatever misses the mark gets binned.

If you can’t accept your own normal human weakness, isn’t that hubris? If you are completely intolerant of your own mistakes, isn’t that vanity? Aren’t you saying you can and should be perfect? If it’s a sin to judge others that way, why doesn’t the same apply to how you look at yourself?

If you are unwilling to be vulnerable, you are limited by fear. Overwhelming fear of any form of weakness, of being irrelevant, of being rebuked by others, of falling even slightly below the mark, can prevent you from taking chances. If you are so wary of falling on your face that you won’t take risks, you will never achieve anything great, no matter how high your standards.

Do great work, please, and be proud of it. But don’t let perfectionist, monkey pride stop you from expressing your real, human self.

Third in a series on seven deadly creative sins. Incidentally, and I say this with all due humility, the original list of seven deadly sins was written by Pope Gregory I. Probably no relation.


Gluttony means consuming way more than you need. And it’s a great way for the monkey to distract you from your creative path.

Walking through a museum and snapping a picture of each painting you pass, then hurrying on to the next. Signing up for classes, then never bothering to show up and do the work. Why start that painting when you and your credit card could while away the afternoon at the art supply store? Easier to amass more drying tubes of paint, teetering piles of empty sketchbooks, basket-loads of supplies for crafts you doesn’t have the time to master — than bypass the monkey and get to work.

Gluttony means valuing quantity over quality. And we live in times of more, more, more, where there’s always a new distraction, a new treat popping upon our phones. Why do they call it a Facebook feed, d’ya think? Because it stuffs our troughs with trivia, 24/7. We consume bytes instead of being in the moment and appreciating the wonder and beauty around us already. We are gluttonous with our time and yet stingy with it too, wasting it rather than investing it in the self-improvement and habits that can bring us the things that will truly satisfy our hungers.

Gluttony is a sin of lost control. Like Lust, it drives out of our minds, to places we don’t recognize in the mirror. We automatically grab for more entertainment, more stimulation, more consumption, faster, longer, all of which distract us from our purpose, our skills, our deepening experience as human beings. We are unable to ignore the buzz in our pockets, the dings on our night stands, we drool and reach and feast.

Creativity is about creating something new, adding to the world of beauty, not just taking and acquiring.

Gluttony stems from fear. We are afraid of exposing ourselves, standing naked as we are. Afraid of being vulnerable. We cloak ourselves in a thick protective layer of shopping bags from Abercrombie & Fitch, Dean & DeLuca or Windsor & Newton. We need distraction from our true selves, from loneliness, from inadequacy, from being who we are.

The solution is to make more, rather than take more. Pull your excess art supplies off the shelf and give them to your local public school. Turn off all electronics a day a week and fill your time with songbirds and wind. Unsubscribe from distraction and sign up for a healthy diet of starving artistry. It won’t kill you, it’ll fill your soul.

Second in a series on seven deadly creative sins.

The Sin of GREED

Creativity, like songbirds, can be bought and sold. But songs sound differently from behind the bars of a gilded cage, when sung for a supper.

Greed makes artists compromise. They follow trends rather than their hearts.  They measure success in sales rather than in the call of their souls. They agree to distort their work to fit corporate agendas and market demands. Greed turns originality into predictability into a worthless tin horn.

Ironically, greed rusts the very things that made an artist’s work valuable in the first place. Greed transforms artists into celebrities, hogging the limelight, addicted to fame, prisoners of their egos, and detached from the pure, original source of their creativity.

Greed distorts and cripples the true purpose of art, turning the fruits of personal expression into a mere commodity. An artist’s heart-felt response to the world shrivels into a rich man’s prized asset, garnering millions at auction, then hidden away, another coveted diamond on a dragon’s hoard.

The opposite of greed is generosity.

Greed prevents artists from sharing their work with the world, afraid it will be poached. Rather than joining a creative community, inspiring others, collaborating, teaching, sharing their insights and lessons, greedy artists hide in their studios, squirreling away their work, waiting for the best offer. They refuse to support causes, to contribute their creativity, to reap the benefits of selflessness.

Greed clouds perspective, skews values, saps generosity.

Greed is a symptom of fear.

When you are afraid of being deprived, you hoard possessions against any possible future famine, no matter how remote. When you are afraid of being passed over and neglected, left to shrivel and die, you hoard attention. Afraid of competition, you crouch on your mountain of toys so no one else and play with them. Afraid of being taken advantage of, you refuse to open the door to others. Afraid of being vulnerable, you amass a pile of any stuff than could be a bulwark or a weapon. You bank your work rather than letting it see the light of day and of possible critique.

Greed blocks your way. Generosity and creativity clear it.

First in a series on seven deadly creative sins.