George Carlin’s advice to veteran artists
There’s a fine line between contentment and complacency.
Both states of mind are rooted is satisfaction and enoughness and feeling pleased with our efforts and achievements.
But from an etymological standpoint, the word complacent differs from the word content insofar as its lack of awareness of some potential danger or defect.
Eyes Full of Dreams, was a mixed media project, including a musical album, concert documentary and full color art book. Its execution required a significant investment of money, time, talent and energy.
And in the eleventh hour, I wasn’t sure if it would actually ship on time, if at all. But now that we’ve finally closed the loop, and now that the project actually lives in the real world and people can watch the film and listen to the record and hold the book in their hands, I’m content.
Because we did it. The final product is something worth pointing to. And the pride and delight of having created, followed and achieved that dream makes all the failures and rejections and delays and derailments and anxiety attacks along the way seem worthwhile.
But within that contentment, I also recognize that this feeling of satisfaction has a limited shelf life. That the high will eventually dissolve. And if I try ride that feeling for the rest of my career, spending my whole life struggling to project or promote this single idea, that’s complacency.
Aristotle coined the often quoted proverb, one swallow does not a summer make.
Meaning, we should never assume that something is true just because we have seen one piece of evidence for it. And so it goes with the creative process. Just because we shipped one great piece of work, doesn’t mean we can sit back and coast for the rest of the year.
Consistency is far better than rare moments of greatness.
Carlin actually had his own mantra for this very issue. He used to say:
Keep kicking them in the nuts, keep putting things on the shelf.
That’s how he protected his work from the fatal slide into complacency. By calling on himself a little more each time he launched something new. George allowed himself to soak up that euphoric sense of contentment upon meeting his artistic goal, but he also honored that dangling sword of obligation, challenging him to keep moving the story forward.
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Do you have an entire mountain of creative gold that you continually mine, or are you still searching for that one nugget and trying to live on it for fifty years?
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