Talent and Execution, Part I

“All you have is your fire,
And the place you need to reach.
Don’t you ever tame your demons,
But always keep ’em on a leash.”
Arsonist’s Lullaby, Hozier

I know a lot of hugely talented people. And in all honesty, some of them intimidate the hell out of me. I try to maintain some level of objectivity as I witness the genius unfold in their work. I try to remember that art is inherently derivative. Even that which is considered innovative is born of some wildly explosive idea that has been expressed in generally accepted media: paint, photographs, stories, films, performance. It’s all, down to canvas on which it is applied, an executed idea. And that is where the rubber meets the road (if you’ll pardon the overused adage).

Without execution, creative ideas die on the vine.

The great irony is that people who are highly creative tend to be brooding, self-critical, and often depressed. There are a number of studies that prove it. In an article for the Stanford Journal of Neuroscience, Adrienne Sussman writes:

“Thus far, we have seen that manic depressive disorder and schizophrenia are both significantly more prevalent in artists than in the rest of the population, that neurologically they share similarities with the biology of creative thinking – in short, that these altered mental states could indeed contribute to creativity and artistic production. Knowing that this connection is scientifically supported, how are we to ethically treat these illnesses?”

Two experiences this past week, on the opposite end of this spectrum, really solidified a quandary in my mind. Why are some hugely talented people commensurately successful, and others miserably struggling?

The first experience was painfully watching a friend decompensate publicly on Facebook. There were a number of factors involved in the meltdown, but it created for me a mix of emotions. The first was helplessness that my friend was in pain. After that, several emotions passed through me, but the final and most powerful was anger. I was ANGRY that someone so full of talent had so functionally disabled himself. I considered his history of depression, then I considered my own, and then I considered the commensurate level of talent. There is brilliant and dysfunctional, and then there is pretty damn good and excellent at coping. There is a lot of variation in between. Which brings me to the second experience…

I shot a film festival for my sister and some friends, this past weekend. I was actually in a sea of creative people as writers, directors, actors and producers milled around waiting to have their picture taken in front of the TBUFF (Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival) step-and-repeat. Among them was someone that is part of a family so talented that it should be criminal (I kid. I covet their genes.) But their obvious creative talent (name one, they’ve got them all) isn’t the most impressive part. No, that lies in their amazing execution of that talent. I think about this often when I can’t get my hands around an image I want to create or a story I want to write because I’m still learning how to execute what I see and hear in my head. It is that demon: one whose neck I can reach, but cannot quite grasp. Saturday night, I was downright phrenetic as I tried to absorb the energy surrounding me.  I got a creative buzz so voluptuous that when I finally got home at 2am, I couldn’t sleep.

If my new acquaintance happens to be reading this, then I hope he accepts my apology for trying to monopolize his attention. But hey, it was entirely his fault for exuding that effusive energy on which we “creatives” thrive.

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