Why creative individuals seldom share

16 Oct

I’ve put some thought into answering the question why it is so hard to find anything on-line about how someone created a work of art. Yes, there are more than enough tutorials, but that is not what I mean. A true break-down of the creative process of a particular work of art is very rarely shared. What we do find is an amalgamation of the process, mixed in with romantic viewpoints to make it more palatable for the non-creative audience.

In general we get to see the artwork when it’s done, and perhaps short thereafter some explanation is given about how the artwork was made, to give art critics something to write about, and the general public something to connect with. We all like a good story, even though it has nothing to do with what really happened. We like to have some notion what went on in the artist’s mind when the artwork was being made.

So why the secrecy during the creation process? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but having some brief experience with the creative process myself, I can say this about it.

Having an edge on other artists

Creating new ideas is hard. You make something where there was nothing before. Well, that is the romantic view. In reality, you observe the world and other artists to get snippets of ideas, and combine them into new ideas. Verily unique insights are few and far between. And consider your audience. If something is so new that it isn’t obvious, your audience (and more importantly, your paying customers) might not appreciate that.

What most people crave is something new, but not that new that it alienates them from what they’re accustomed to. Just enough newness to tickle their imagination. That means the margin between what is considered boring or cliché and what is a fresh and exciting experience is slither-thin. A successful artist therefore has a brief opportunity to get an audience. Once other artists pick up the idea, and use it in their own works, the innovation becomes commonplace and not as exciting anymore.

A good enough reason not to share what’s cooking on your stove, I’d say.

The creative process

Good artists, no, “original” artists (i.e. artist who are considered to be original), know how to create ideas. They have often more ideas than they could ever use for their projects. Still, if they’re any good as a professional, they write those ideas down for later use. It enables them to come up with ideas quickly, simply by going through their archive.

The archive should also include facsimile or original art of other artists. That isn’t meant for plagiarism, but for reference. In an artistic sense copying should be seen as a form of flattery, but in the litigious world of today, copies of other artist’s work should only be for personal use, as a tool for self-education. You shouldn’t trace or wholesale copy someone else’s work (this wasn’t always so, but it is nowadays).

The artist’s archive should therefore be for his or her eyes only, and can never be shared with the general public.

But there is more. Not all ideas are publishable. An artwork comprises many ideas, and those ideas should fit, like pieces in a puzzle. Arranging and composing ideas into a whole is an important part of previsualization, as is discarding ideas. When all ideas seem to fit, the artist can start making things, which might lead to discarding some ideas and reconsidering ideas that were discarded earlier. At any rate, there will always be ideas that are thrown out, not because those ideas are bad, but because they don’t advance the project to its completion.

All this leaves the artist with loose unused ideas. Of course, those go into the archive, for possible later use. The ill-fitting ideas can’t be used for publication –an idea is not the same as a finished work– but are still useful. They just didn’t stick to the wall this time around.

So, unlike computer software, it seems that self-expression (what art really is) isn’t something what could be open sourced, where all the source material is publicly available. Some ideas pose a legal problem, other ideas aren’t ready for sharing with the world.


One other reason I can think of is client work. Many clients want to control the public relations aspect of their project. This means that you can’t talk about the project until the client says you can. I believe it is assumed that if you work for someone else, either as an employee or as an independent creator hired for a project as a consultant, you do not talk about the work itself.

That is all.

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