Or alternatively: how to avoid compromise, while
protecting the integrity of your work.
If you are setting out to work in the creative industry then the first question you should be asking yourself is, “Why do I feel compelled to work in a creative industry?”. I use the word, “compelled”, because creative people implicitly know that their drive is fuelled by a passion that is uncompromising.
You feel it in your bones. Under your skin. In every jot of ink on every sheet of paper.
So why then do creative people compromise?
The passion to write, paint, draw, film or sing from the rafters is often born from that inexplicable thing that woke you in the middle of the night. Something at the heart of the matter. Something unquenchable. Something that requires the focus of a sniper with tourettes. Creativity is a burning desire.
The great enemy of creativity is compromise. Yet it has infiltrated our everyday lives in our chosen industries. Whether searching for that next great brand idea, developing the next product design or screenplay, the freedom to ‘create’ is often hampered by that stifling cramp at the back of our necks: “What will they think?”
Will my creativity be seen? Heard? Understood? Clicked? Shared? Liked? Will it resonate with the masses or dwindle into obscurity? That need to satiate as many eyes and ears as possible, (and so many of them on social media), has become a heel to creatives. Many creative ideas are smothered by pillows of insecurity. We consider how to homogenise our thoughts before the milk has had time to settle. Creative thoughts – driven like sheep into a pen when they should be herded like eels into a bucket.
So how do we return to a mindset that removes that veil of insecurity? That encourages good old-fashioned originality? How do we embrace risk? Enter Ricky Gervais, stage left. Mr Gervais may well be one of the last popular bastions of creativity in the twenty first century. Because if there is one thing that Gervais has shown us, as artists, it is that you can still succeed on your own terms.
The thing that Gervais has steadfastly refused to do is compromise.
And that should be championed.
Gervais gives zero fucks about the audience. Not ‘his’ audience you understand, but the masses that dictate whether something should be black or white. Instead, he hands them stripes and tells them to deal with it. Gervais creates trends, he does not follow them. And this is where he gets interesting.
His very first show, ‘The Office’ is about as personal a project as we’ve seen from any artist. Raw, original and totally and utterly deemed to be a failure by ‘those in the know’. Yet they were wrong. There was an audience that wanted something new. Anything to cut through the clutter of reality TV shows that mined original content from our screens. His satire on reality TV shows shone a spotlight on why reality bites. With The Office, his risk paid off… and you would have thought that we learned a lesson from it.
But we haven’t. For every Nolan, there are a thousand Kardashians.
Great artists of the renaissance were singular voices. Individuals who threw paint on canvas with reckless abandon. Just like Gervais. They created masterpieces.
I would love to see a bold subject added to the national art curriculum: study ‘The Gervais Way’. A course designed for young creatives who aspire to be mavericks in an industry that rewards bravery. (Often after the brave have proven themselves on the battlefield without assistance or support mind you.)
Challenge every brief thrown your way. Ask “Why not?” when the others ask you “Why?” Stand up for your vision and batten down the hatches. It is what defines you as an artist.
I speak from a place of bruising experience. A few years ago we took a creative risk and created our most important project to date. An anti-bullying book titled ‘Dandelion’. An important message, with whimsical text, beautiful illustrations… and children with no faces. Yes, we made a children’s book that would ask the kids to look beyond the page when it came to character visualisation. You see, we trusted that our audience was there. We were prepared to fail in order to present our vision in its truest form… without compromise.
Yet in order to attain a publisher, we were asked to give the children faces. The one thing that made our project completely unique was the one thing that made it risky. But we refused to compromise and for better or worse we found our audience. Now, with the sequel to the book being developed, we face the same problem. We will be asked the same question. “Why can’t you give them faces?”
This time our tenacity to preserve our vision has paid off before we even began.
Our unique vision. Our beautiful, dark, creative, challenging vision, garnered the interest of an oscar-winning actress who agreed to provide her voice to the story. (For fear of losing a perfect segue, an oscar-winning actress who took a big risk in Mr Gervais’ acclaimed ‘extras’ series – “purple headed womb ferret”, anyone?). She saw the characters, blank faces and all, and thought they were “beautiful”.
Yet publishers will still struggle to see the beauty within the risk. “Can you put a face on them?” Well, no… they don’t have faces. And for very good reason. The issue of bullying can strip the victim of their identity… the victims ‘feel’ faceless. Dandelion’s illustrative device allows the readers to see themselves in the character. A powerful tool for the reader. The ability to place themselves in the shoes of the protagonist. The ability to see how they themselves could change their lives. It speaks to ‘our’ audience, to the audience the story was made for. It should be of the utmost importance for us to preserve that integrity and respect the heart of the story. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Ironically, our most vocal fans of the work send us messages that echo our sentiments. “This is my favourite book. I wish I had read this as a child. I could see myself in Benjamin’s shoes. I could see that somebody else understood what I was going through.” Just one of the beautiful emails we received from parents that were bullied and now have children who are facing the same challenges.
Had we compromised, our duty as creatives would have eluded us. We would have never affected ‘our’ audience the way that we had hoped. We would have never received those words in exchange.
And so we champion ‘The Gervais Way‘. That is to say, that as creatives we should look inside ourselves and be true to the vision that we are passionate about. Do not waver. Do not fold.
Do not compromise.
Trust us… you won’t lose face.