The Arena

A Miley Cyrus song came on the radio today and ushered in a train of thought which moved from observation to opinion to tirade, ultimately challenging me into a new way of thinking.  Thanks, Miley; I know that's probably not what you were going for when you recorded "Party in the USA," but it happened. As a person over the age of fifteen eleven, it's easy to listen to Miley Cyrus and be - shall we say - less than impressed.  It's easy to be a critic.

It's easy to look at Britney Spears circa 2007 and throw around words like "raving lunatic."  It's easy to look at LeBron James's "decision" and call him an egotistical traitor.  It's easy to slam Stephenie Meyer for writing something less than an enduring literary classic, but let me ask you,

What have you written lately?

What were you doing when you were fifteen years old?

Probably not recording quadruple platinum singles or being scouted for the NBA.

You were probably doing the same things I was:  procrastinating on your history paper and waiting for your mom to pick you up from the mall.

But just for the sake of discussion, let's say you can sing better than Miley, handle fame better than Britney, or turn a phrase better than Stephenie (no way can you ball better than LeBron):  the point is this - you didn't.

Creating something is much more difficult than criticizing something - not necessarily because of the skill required, but because of the bravery.

I think it completely senseless when a person walks into an art museum, looks at Piet Mondriaan's "Red, Yellow, and Blue" for example, and says, "I could do that."

Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue


Of course you could - now.  But Mondriaan's real genius wasn't in placing the lines - it was in believing it to be beautiful.  He thought of it, pioneered it, created it, stood by it, promoted it.  Of course you could copy it; but he did the real work of creation.  Neither copying nor criticizing assume any of the risk:  that lies with the creator alone.  This is what Charles Brower was getting at when he wrote,

"A new idea is delicate.  It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man's brow."

What's more, I've found that creatives don't often criticize other creatives - they support them.  A seasoned risk-taker recognizes the gumption in a creative rookie - they sense a kinship, a sameness.  They recognize that they're all on the same team; all working to affect the world - to make it more beautiful.  Both John Mayer and Ingrid Michaleson tweeted their support of Miley's music; Mayer stating that "The Climb" was one of the most honest songs he'd heard in a long time and an example of what songwriting should be, and Michaelson saying that she "opened her heart" to Miley's music and wanted to protect and support her.

In my life - my sphere - it's easy to criticize a writer, a mommy-blogger, a brander.  It's easy to think, "I could do it better."  It's harder, however, to put something out there.  To do the tedious work, to scrap together the courage to self-promote and stand by your work.  To sleep less, censor less, endure criticism, and create, create, create.

Today Miley Cyrus reminded me how desperately I want to stay on the creative team.  I want to recognize creative courage, even when it's a little rough around the edges.  I am terribly rough around the edges.

"A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic."  [Jean Sibelius]

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."   [Theodore Roosevelt, emphasis mine]

More from Kate on creativity here.