Disposable Heroes of Mediocrity


Disposable creativity produces mediocre art.

The statement above was prompted by two unrelated blog posts. One was by a friend, Deane Patterson, (@ReceiverITW – check out his ambient electronica) a creative friend, and an article from an educational website: What Schools Can Learn from Digital Photography.

Two lines of thinking came out of these posts:

  1. why should I create when EVERYONE can do it, and,
  2. the digital age is a great way for students (and people) to experiment and fail (and thereby learn).

One aspect Deane was talking about was the proliferation of photography; every person who owns a mobile phone has access to a camera. Photography is considered “easy” or “simple” or “anyone can take a picture.” Whack a filter on it and hey presto, pro photographer.

The digital revolution has changed the ease by which we can be creative. In “What Schools Can Learn From Digital Photography,” the premise is the ease at which students can learn quickly in a digital medium. Take a multitude of images and delete what you don’t want. The fear of failure is lessened.

I think this attitude is a disservice to pro photographers who have laboured to develop their understanding of the craft and endeavour to produce excellent photographs. In this digital age, the need for learning and refinement is lost because mistakes are easy to make and easy to delete.

In the same way writers are faced with the same problem. It is now easy to produce a book in a digital format. However, it is easier (in most cases) to tell the amateur from the professional in terms of structural aspects, typos, punctuation errors etc. However, essentially the problem is the same: it is “easy” to publish a book.

Why should I create when everyone else is doing it? How can I tell the difference between amateur and professional?

I see this as a problem.

Digital now means disposable.

It’s easy to learn in the digital age.

It’s easy to fail in the digital age.

If you don’t like it, delete it.

I believe everyone can and should be creative.

I don’t believe creativity should be considered disposable. Everyone should be encouraged to be creative, to try and fail. But they must be prepared to learn from their mistakes.

What is not asked is “How do I learn from my mistakes?”

Disposable creativity lessens the importance of the process and threatens to cheapen the quality of the finished creative work.

In the digital realm:

Lesser risk = lesser risk of failure = lesser learning experience

Creativity and great art should be considered as:

Greater risk = greater chance of failure = greater learning experience

Disposable art is mediocre art.

Great art requires investment in terms of time, commitment, learning and fiance. Great art also requires refinement; for a writer it’s the process of drafting, editing, rewriting, polishing.

In terms of finance (the support of artistic endeavours through patronage or the purchase of creative works: painting, books, music etc) the commodification of creativity is not under debate here, but the impetus to create is. And it is an impetus to create great books, plays, movies, music, paintings and sculpture et al.

Great art is developed when the composer takes great risks, knowing that if they fail, there is a substantial lesson to be learned. There is a great need for creative people to take risks, but it must be at a cost, not the simple act of deleting, disposing or throwing away.

There is a place for acts of throwaway creativity. But creativity, and great art,  should also be about deeper learning.

We owe it to ourselves and to our audience to create great works of art, lest we become a generation of creatives who are disposable heroes of mediocrity.



8 responses to “Disposable Heroes of Mediocrity

  1. There is a difference between the amateur and the artist. The amateur will create what is disposable, the artist will work to create what lasts, what connects. I’m not worried about the proliferation of amateurs in any field – though it makes it slightly harder to find the real artists, they can be and will be found and their work (if good) will connect and endure.

    We’ve always had the amateur and the disposable, only now, they are more obvious, the ubiquity that comes with the internet makes everyone seem like a creator, but few really do.

    What we do need is a means for those artists to be seen and heard in forums that insist on the best – traditional publishing no longer holds that key (too busy trying to find what will sell versus what will last, some genuine mediocrity), galleries aren’t much different. Creatives use social media to find those like them and create their own communities. They are worth looking out for. Those serious enough about wanting to create to the very best of their ability, to move beyond the amateur, form collectives that support one another through these very trying times. Our failing economies make support for the arts the low man on the totem, but look at projects on Kickstarter, for example, and you’ll find some amazing creatives with books, films, music and art projects that are worthy of attention (and funding).

    What has made access to the world easier (the digital) is not something to be deplored. Yes, there is a good deal of ‘stuff’ (mediocre and otherwise) out there we have to wade through to find what we connect with, but if we are seeking to connect, we know where to look and how to look. The truth, of course, is that, more than ever before, the digital has made art ‘survivable’ – instead of losing that one and only manuscript in a fire (or the dog ate), instead of that painting going off to live in someone’s basement, never to be seen again, we have our digital copies, our ability to replicate what we hold precious.

    There’s as much to be grateful for as not, but there is also the hope that the ‘amateur’ will use the medium to learn, to grow and to express what he/she never knew existed. With schools falling behind in arts education, the Internet is sometimes the only schooling some people ever get. They will be exposed to the mediocre, but the amazing, too. We shouldn’t be so hard on them. We all start somewhere.

    • I love the world of the digital and the ubiquity of connection that allows for creatives to connect and find community. What I see in some of my students is a lack of depth in their creative thinking; it’s too “easy” or they are more impressed by how a final product looks rather than its content. We need the artist and the creative to school the amateur, to show them what is amazing, and to show them how to find it, and how to create it. I want the amateur to learn, for each person to find a creative aspect in their life, and to share that with whomever, wherever they see fit.

  2. I actually wrote the post on photography and think you share some great points. Here is one statement I am curious about:

    “Great art requires investment in terms of time, commitment, learning and fiance. Great art also requires refinement; for a writer it’s the process of drafting, editing, rewriting, polishing.”

    Doesn’t blogging create this platform for the writer? Doesn’t digital photography also provide this platform. One of the people commented regarding amateur and professional, but how does an amateur become a professional? It is not simply a card given to someone one day, but it is through the continuous act and practice of that discipline. How many movies display a writer (professional) going through the process on a typewriter and then simply pulling out the paper, taking it, crumpling it up, and throwing it in the garbage? That is the equivalent of “delete” yet who is to say that those ideas had no merit? Maybe there was something on that piece of paper that could have inspired someone else but it will never be shared. I think that we are seeing through digital is that the process is extremely important in learning; not only for the creator, but also the others that get to see that process as well. You rarely get a great piece of art on the first try; because it is digital and visible doesn’t mean the work is less. It does mean that the process of growth is more visible.

    Just my thoughts. Thanks for writing this post!

    • Sincere thanks for dropping in and reading, and leaving a great perspective to think on. I’m also coming from the point of view as an high school English teacher and I see the need for students to depth their work. I agree that writers discard words and ideas with gleeful abandon (most of the time, unless their editor is pushing for the changes) in the initial writing and drafting phase. I am a big fan of the “delete” key.
      I am advocating a deeper learning process, one where ideas can be wilfully discarded but only because the artist knows it’s the wrong idea, and therefore develop a greater understanding of the process and the final piece of work.
      I also like the idea of art and creativity being disposable and discarded, because it does give students access to new ways of learning, and to understand the visible process of growth (as you rightly said). Also, it is the constant practice of discipline that I see students lack to make great art.
      Blogging does require the same platform as for digital photography (and the visible process). I am still a learner, and a teacher, and still trying to make great art.
      Again, thanks for dropping by and commenting. Much appreciated.

  3. I don’t see disposability and the ability to learn from failure as mutually exclusive. I try to write a story, mess it up terribly, chart out how I failed, dispose of the original draft and start fresh. Disposable leading lines, disposable paragraphs – I’d say most of my best short stories were the result of junking and learning. It’s an ease that digital storage affords, and I’m very appreciative of it. That things are easier to produce makes it less costly for us to analyze them; that’s just a toolset that needs to be brought to mind. I even mark up books to study them, a habit that my paper-loving great grandmother would have hated.

    • Digital makes the process easier, and as writers, the ease of disposing words makes the process flexible. What I do see is students who use the digital realm as a very shallow wading pool of thinking, rather than exploring the depths.

  4. I write all of my flash stories by hand and I find that I am much more careful with my initial word choices because I have limited space for corrections. That doesn’t mean I don’t have stories half scribbled out and rewritten in the margins, but it puts me in a different mindset creatively when I know the words can’t be erased. If I could write novels by hand, I would.

    Now, that’s not to say that I don’t love the computer age and the ability to edit a manuscript 15 times without wasting a single sheet of actual paper. There are pros and cons to all technology, but the point is to learn from our mistakes, not simply delete them and pretend they never were.

  5. Pingback: Reflection – Why Did You Stop Being Creative? | A Fullness in Brevity – Adam Byatt

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