This article might just be nothing more than my line of thought, but I’m one of those people who believe in verbalizing thoughts as one way to overcome a difficult situation, or at least undermine some challenges.
Furthermore, perhaps this article can be helpful for my fellow creative professionals, or those who are younger and want to get into this career field. Or this article can also be shared to apathetic people who couldn’t care less about the process of creative work, LOL…
1. Often taken for granted
This is possibly the challenge that I faced the most, and what my fellow creative professionals also experience.
Take graphic designers for example. I keep hearing people who think that this line of work is easy.
“Please try to edit the photos so that all participants appear wearing a suit and a tie,” when in fact all the participants in the photos were only wearing long-sleeved shirts. Believe it or not, I’ve heard stories like this.
Apart from bosses or clients, there are many other people with the mindset that those who are able to use Photoshop, Corel, Illustrator or InDesign could be classified as graphic designers.
The fact is, being familiar with image manipulation software is only one of the many skills needed to be mastered by people who really deserve the title of graphic designers.
The similar situation also applies to photographers. Did you ever hear a statement that goes like this: “You’re not a photographer. You just own an overpriced camera.” I’m pretty sure writers, like myself, would also experience a similar situation.
Not everyone who takes photographs, who uses image manipulation software, who writes, who plays music, can be considered as a photographer, graphic designer, writer, musician, or many other creative professions.
2. There is no clear benchmark
That first challenge might actually be closely related to this one.
The most obvious benchmark often include numbers. Take business developers for example, revenues they made for a company can evidently be the benchmark that’s widely accepted.
For instance, the person who was able to bring a US$50 million revenue is undoubtedly better than those who brought just US$20 million for the same company. Determining the benchmark for the marketing department is also as easy.
Meanwhile, the result of a creative process is a product that might be too complex to be simplified into numbers.
Allow me to ask you, who is the best writer in the world? The answer to this question might be as difficult as linear algebraic equations since there are so many perspectives that can be treated as benchmarks.
From the perspective of formal education, Shakespeare would be the answer since this is the name which will be mentioned in all literature majors, and because he is one of the most influential authors in history.
However, the truth is, the number of people who read his work isn’t actually that many. The majority of people knew Romeo and Juliet from the movie, not its play script.
From all my friends who were studying literature, I only found one person who really read and studied all Shakespeare’s works.
From the perspective of sales and revenue, J.K Rowling, James Patterson, and Jeff Kinney currently sit at the top three list of highest-paid authors according to Forbes in 2017.
But are they really the greatest in terms of writing techniques? I could name a number of other authors who, in my opinion, are superior from a technical standpoint, such as Paulo Cuelho, Jostein Gaarder, or even John Green.
This is of course about those who can be considered high-profile, whereas the benchmarks for amateur creative professionals like me would seem more ambiguous, haha…
3. Too dependent on subjectivity
I personally have been aware of this thing since many years ago. This third challenge can actually be linked to the absence of standard benchmarks.
I have stopped pushing myself regarding my writing skills, i.e. I know very well that skills are fully determined by who my bosses or clients are. If those clients or bosses are okay with my style, they would no doubt say my skills are good. Whereas if they don’t like how I roll, the project proposal would just pass over.
Subjectivity, even though I no longer believe in pure objectivity in many cases (maybe next time, I will delve deeper into this), the end result of creativity may indeed be more easily weighed up from the aspect of objectivity.
Allow me to give an example from another creative industry, which is music. I personally consider Santana as the greatest guitarist, but I also know that many people would mention other legends such as Yngwie, Petrucci, Stanley Jordan, and many more.
I suppose music, just like other creative industries, is also similar in that the benchmark relies heavily on who the listeners are.
I don’t know, maybe this is just the way my psychological mechanism works, but I personally feel more wholehearted when I can accept the fact that not all people would like what I deliver.
4. Translating ideas and preferences into more concrete forms
The way I see it, this is what defines the work of creative professionals.
The task of translating ideas and preferences isn’t an easy thing to do since ideas and preferences are often too elaborate to be dumbed down into verbal forms, be it images (visual), tune (audio), or words (language).
Take sadness for example. Sadness itself has many variations, sad because tickets to a concert you want to attend to are sold out already, sad because of being dumped, or even sad because of being left by parents.
Truth be told, what’s in our mind, be it a concept, an idea, or a preference, it would never be translated into verbal forms perfectly. This is because verbal forms, whatever the variations are, would never match the number of neurons in our brain.
Especially if those concepts, ideas, and preferences originated in the minds of our clients or bosses, there will be more leakage of ideas and preferences when they are transferred from one brain into another.
For instance, composing a song to attract a girl (like what I did during my high school days, haha…) is way easier than composing an advertisement jingle since that love song came directly from our mind, whereas the jingle is the result of a combination of ideas, concepts, and preferences of the client, with our creative skills and styles.
Thus, the ability to embrace the ideas and preferences that clients have is an important skill to have for a creative professional. The better a person at understanding ideas and preferences, the closer his/her work will get to what the clients expected initially.
This is why I consider creative techniques, like in my first point, are only one of the myriad skills required. Photoshop techniques, sense of pitch, a wide range of diction will still help us deliver better works, but the skills themselves would become useless if we misinterpret our clients’ or bosses’ ideas and preferences.
5. Inconsistency of ideas and preferences
What I mean by inconsistency here can involve many things, but in general, I would divide it into two parts, which is internally and externally.
From an internal point of view, I suppose every one of us has reached the point where we ran out of ideas. This is even worse for creative professionals than those in other fields.
The reason is, a creative profession usually isn’t a profession that’s full of the same routines every day.
Take those high-profile authors for example, not all of their works would get the same achievements. J.K Rowling’s works are not only Harry Potter, but her other works are also not as successful. Jostein Gaarder, the author of Sophie’s World (the book that saved my life), also doesn’t have other books that are as unique as Sophie’s World.
“Dear Hilde, if the human brain was simple enough for us to understand, we would still be so stupid that we couldn’t understand it. Love, Dad.”
— Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World
Obviously, there are many other factors that contribute to the success of a novel, but then again, creative products are hand-made products (or even mind-made) that will not be identical to one another like mass products.
From an external point of view, bosses and clients can also have an impact on the inconsistency of creative professionals.
As an example, a designer has submitted a sleek and elegant visual draft, but since the bosses or clients have um, cheap taste – like what’s shown in the majority of political ads – the end result must be revised to match the clients’ or bosses’ desire.
On the flipside, when the designer has no ideas, but the clients have a minimalist yet an eye-catching concept, the end result could be more remarkable than his/her other works with the other clients.
With all those challenges, what are the most striking difference between a creative professional that has a ton of experience and another who is just starting out, especially when there are inconsistency and subjectivity factors that have a big impact?
To be honest, I could be wrong on this one, but from my experience writing and working closely with graphic designers, an experienced creative professional usually can come up with more unique ideas more quickly than those who are just starting out.
The skills and techniques will also differ much between them since experience is always influential towards all our life skills.
To illustrate, I like to think of a creative professional as a chef. A junior chef might only know that fish could be just cooked by grilling.
Meanwhile, a senior chef knows better that there are many other ways or even dares to try other new cooking methods in order to serve unique dishes that have never existed before.
Lastly, because they have met and worked together with more clients, experienced creative professionals are more likely better in understanding their clients’ requests because they have dealt with various kinds of clients and requests ranging from weird to impossible, to clients that are very fun to work with and able to understand the creative process.
So, for those of you who are just starting out, or would like to start a career as a creative professional, you might probably continue to face these five challenges while working in this field. However, keep sharpening your skills and improving your experience – I believe one day you would undergo a drastic change regarding the way you’d think creatively.
At the end of the day, I know very well that when compared to business or technical professionals, creative professionals oftentimes are the most underestimated as well as underpaid, LOL (which itself can be another challenge), yet I love creative work since there are no other professions that are as dynamic in expressing logic and tastes so harmoniously.
“The object of art is to give life a shape” – Jean Anouilh
Yogyakarta, September 9, 2016
Translated by Glenn Kaonang