Mike Gold on Insanity and the Creative Process


Are all creative people insane?

By “creative people,” of course I mean writers, artists, musicians, movie makers, actors of all types… the whole enchilada of people who wake up – sometimes in the morning – and face a blank piece of paper or an empty stage or studio and have tasked themselves with filling that space up in some interesting and maybe entertaining way.

There’s a simple answer to this question: yes, they are.

If you’re not part of the creative enclave, and from time to time most people are, you might think my answer is a bit cruel. Not in the least. That blank slate is the beginning of the creative process. It’s usually starts as a solitary experience, a person with his or her guitar, or script, or computer or drawing board. That artist might have an idea where to start and/or maybe where to finish, but working out the details and polishing the nuances in a way that communicates to the world at large is a draining experience. It is not unlike severe constipation: you’ve got to get it out. Hopefully, the end result isn’t shit.

It’s not unusual for a creative type to be kind of awkward in social settings. They don’t live in the real world; they only visit it when time allows. And many are in a state of arrested development. I like to tell people I’m immature, but I’m immature for a living. As I have aged I have learned how to fake adultness, but it’s only a mask. It’s my inner-eight-year old who pays the rent.

When my daughter was a lot younger, I gave her my sage advice about dating – not that she was obligated in any way to follow it, or even likely to do so. We all need to make our own mistakes and learn from those mistakes. And if we ignore said advice and things work out anyway, we love to indulge in the most basic of human emotions: the urge to turn to the advisor and sing “nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah.”

So I “suggested” there were three types of men she probably shouldn’t date. The first was rock and roll drummers. That guy in the Muppets, Animal, isn’t just based on real life. He is real life and he reflects the impact of the creative process quite effectively. The second was hockey players. That should be self-evident. By the time they’ve left the frozen fiords for the big show, they’ve already taken too many pucks to the head. It’s a living.

The third was comic book artists.

Not for the reason you might think. Yes, some – many – are batshit. That’s not a disqualifying factor: you’ve got to be batshit to face that blank slate every day. No, it’s because comic book artists have no life. They chase deadlines all day long. Their idea of a vacation is to go to a comic book convention, sit behind a table for three days and sketch Scooby-Doo, Batman, and/or costumed characters with ludicrously proportioned body bits.  Yep, it’s a living.

For those creators who have family, there is at best a serious disconnect between their vocation and their parental need to know their child is going to be financially and emotionally secure. In response, many young creators who are approaching their college years get inwardly violent every time they hear the phrase “have a degree to fall back on,” as if their failure as a creator was preordained.

The problem is, the odds are against the creator. For every Buddy Guy or Joan Jett or Eric Clapton out there, there are hundreds of even more skilled guitar players who never get out of the garage. Every young creator knows this. The conflict between the creative compulsion and the need to have a meal and a bed can drive you crazy.

So the next time you see an artist of any stripe in any medium, show some sympathy and some taste. If you don’t understand the nature of their game… just accept it. The world would be impossibly boring without them.