We torment ourselves. Many creative, imaginative people dream up grandiose, highly ambitious schemes that can never be realised. Either they lack the resources, the time, the energy, the skills or their plan is just too complex and intricate. Perhaps its success is reliant on upsetting too many apple carts and unseating too many entrenched positions. Yet, for all the impracticality of their designs, they have such an enchantment about them that artists remain in their thrall, hopelessly chained to ideal, even Utopian futures that can never happen, seemingly forever.
This rift between imagination and reality can be very draining. The massive distance between what you can see in your mind’s eye and what you gaze upon, in everyday, mundane, banal reality, can be staggering. You may have well-formed, even wholly feasible ideas in your head, but you just don’t seem to be able to manifest them. This is an agony that only creative people know, I think.
The irony of this particular torment is that it is entirely self-inflicted. You can stop the frustration at any point, simply by giving up on those beautiful, enticing ideas or not thinking about these sorts of things at all. Why can’t we stop?
That seems to be the thing about creative people. Artists gain great comfort from seeing a better world, even if only in their imaginations. It’s a survival skill. Being asked to accept the world as it is, with all its terrible imperfections and shortcomings, is unbearable. We imagine to escape. Our comfort zone is living inside our own heads, where the world can be very much closer to being arranged to our liking. This is where the beautiful ideas form. It’s where the messy problems dissolve into shining, benevolent answers. Here, you can become your best self, realising your every ideal, in a friction-less way.
The problem is: it’s just a hallucination. Living inside your head exclusively is not actually possible. You have to exist in the real world. If you actually want to thrive in it, you have to have some agency over it and this is where the struggle lies. The artists’ struggle is in trying to shape the world to become a closer facsimile to their conception of it. It’s a Herculean task, which can and has crushed many a mere mortal, such as artists tend to be.
I have to confess to becoming quite discouraged about the chasm that separates my imaginings and my reality. There are books I would love to complete (or attempt to commence, even), paintings I want to finish, songs I want to record and release, studios I want to establish, aids to musicians and artists being able to have viable careers, which pay, that I want to construct. I have plans for my house and garden that will require huge injections of funds to accomplish. I have inventions and designs, musical instruments and circuits, software and tools that I would love to make, or to cause to come into existence somehow. I just can’t get that to happen.
Your mortality stares you in the face. The older you get, the more distinct is its image, when you look at yourself in the mirror. You’re ageing, losing your youthful vigour and fading away, inexorably. Every day is one day closer to not having the capacity to bring all the wonderful ideas in your head into reality. My father, at the end of his days, lost the capacity to design things in his head. Three dimensional objects no longer made any sense to him. He couldn’t correctly draw a clock face, from memory and working out how to post a letter into a letter box completely defeated him, in his old age. Dementia is a terrible thing.
My father was the consummate creator. He made things. All kinds of things. We lived in a house that he built, more or less by himself, with his own two hands. All of our furniture was designed on pieces of paper, and then constructed, from pieces of timber, in our own workshop. We learnt how to spray on the nitrocellulose finishes by trial and error.
My teenage “happy place” was the workbench in our garage, where I could build guitars, solder musical circuits together, work on making things that didn’t exist before, except in my imagination. Our teenage bands rehearsed in that garage. So many weekends spent learning to make music together. My dad’s band rehearsed there too.
My father constructed our vegetable garden, from the unpromising clay of our back yard, but filled it with rich, fertile, alluvial loam. We shovelled every cubic metre of that soil into the holes we had dug into the unyielding clay, by hand, with our shovels and spades. He and I grew vegetables in it. That’s the nearest thing to getting something for nothing, save your willingness to contribute some sweat and care, to nurture those fragile seedlings into something abundant. Nature’s bounty is nothing if not generous. Those vegetables sustained us and there were always strawberries. If you have never tasted vegetables and fruits, picked freshly from the plant, you really haven’t lived. It should be on everybody’s bucket list.
As much as you bring into existence, there are always more ideas that remain in your head exclusively. I’m sure it’s possible for people to imagine much more than any human life can ever accomplish. That’s the tragedy of it.
Worse than the ideas that never become real are those that do become real, but only because other people thought them up, too and accomplished them. I have a litany of really good ideas I couldn’t persuade employers to believe in, at the time. Those ideas were made by competitors and it caused the companies I was in to fail. I lost my job, too. I felt responsible, because had I been more persuasive or taken more of the initiative, it could have been us and not our competitors that brought the thing into the world. It has been a very painful life lesson, repeated, regrettably, too often.
And still, my head remains full of ideas that haven’t yet been done, but which could have transformed companies I no longer work in. I have some ideas on rewarding and encouraging personal motivation that could make somebody very rich. I believe I know how to make it possible for professional musicians to manage their own careers and product, online, making a decent living from it. There is an idea for a virtual data centre and network so distributed that it exists only in the suburbs. It can work. I know it’s feasible, but it’s too much for me to build alone. The task of persuading enough people to believe in any of these, to secure their support and effort, in a clear, concise and compelling way, is even too big a task for just one man. I’ve incubated some of these ideas for well over a decade.
There are superior ways of making music with computers that I know can work. I even know how to build them and have a track record in making these sorts of things. What I lack is the energy to muster the support and to fight the doubters. I can’t divert my energies to second guessing and end-running the funders, when they try to subvert the exercise. The politics of creating a creative organisation repel me. These distractions are friction; a complete waste of energy that doesn’t advance the process of creating something one little bit and is, if anything, just another obstacle.
Why can’t people understand that bringing something imaginary into reality is hard enough work, without introducing all the peripheral baggage to the exercise? People, who aren’t creative by inclination, fill their days on Earth with concerns over things that, in the process of creation, have no value. They’d rather worry about their position and privilege, or their money, instead of whether or not something magical can be brought into everybody’s reality.
And so, my everyday reality is to live staring into that unbridgeable, yawning chasm between ambition and ability. I don’t know how to resolve it. I suspect this is a common experience to most artists.