Why Bother with Anything Creative?
Earlier today someone sent a tweet that basically said “Why bother creating a thing if a more popular version of the thing already exists?”. Now, before we get into this I want to point out that I’ve been having a chronic pain flareup for the past two days. I haven’t been sleeping well. That’s inevitably going to affect my tone in this post, because I find that statement to be an incredibly ignorant derivative of the bandwagon fallacy. I’m not here for it. If you follow that logic, why bother with anything creative?
My wife Katie and I have had long conversations about this. She’s an artist. I’m a writer. We both have a lot of friends in creative fields. At some point we’ve all been hit with some variation of this. Why bother writing a novel if you know it will never be a best seller? You know your restaurant will never be able to compete with McDonald’s. What’s the point in making a movie if you can’t do Avengers-level box office? The lack of critical thinking on display boggles the mind. A rational person should be able to work through those kinds of questions in a few minutes at most. We’re used to the not-so-subtle digs made toward creative types by people who think our work has no value. I know it when I see it.
I want to point out, before we get deeper into this, that while the person’s initial question might have seemed sincere, the followups made it clear that they weren’t. The intention was a bad faith attempt to say “you’re a bunch of losers tilting at windmills, and there is no point to what you’re doing.” I guess it depends on whether you see Don Quixote as a tragic madman or a romantic idealist. For clarity, I’m in the latter camp. Better to try and fail than to blindly accept the status quo.
At this stage of my life I’ve grown too cynical to engage with anything I see as bad faith. It’s pointless. They want to make their point, and they’re unlikely to entertain yours. There are arguments to be made about creative urges, smaller niches, and so on. All valid, but a waste. If I feel an overwhelming need to respond, and can’t talk myself out of it, there is one lucid answer that I will give:
“Not everyone is a fan of [popular thing]. They might avoid because of it. If you try something different, you might create a fan. To be bluntly capitalist about it, the only way to grow a market is to bring in new customers, not continually cater to the existing customer base.”
In other words, not everyone likes Avengers movies, but they can enjoy other sorts of films. Those films might not make as much money, but they employ people and add to the industry’s revenues. Not everyone is interested in Dungeons & Dragons, but they might be willing to try something less complex in a different genre. A great many people don’t find McDonald’s appealing. Better to have some small restaurants to serve them than to have no options at all.
All of which avoids that point that I wish I could make, but know they’d never get: I am driven to create. Sometimes you make the thing you want to make, the way you want to make it, because there is satisfaction in the doing. Not everything has to have a commercial focus. Everything doesn’t have to be a popularity contest. Not everything has to be driven by extrinsic rewards. That’s why we bother.