Freya Hill



Creative Compulsion

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It was a quintessential Kiwi moment. We’d turned up at the gig venue in plenty of time, only to find ourselves in a very suburban little street, in front of a very relaxed looking old house with a path that wound down to an old wooden shed. Exchanging glances, we walked along the path. Once past the wooden tree swing and various sleep-outs, we found ourselves the first ones to arrive for the gig – to be held in the large old former fruit packing shed. The band were busily plating up scones, rum balls, and platters of fruit, amidst sound checks and cups of tea. So my sister and I sat front row, on some comfy old couches, as the rest of the audience drifted in, with wine and smartphones and knitting needles.

We were treated to a night of three talented New Zealand singer song-writers, Lydia Cole, Luke Thompson and Anika Moa, who did a hilarious stand up act with guitar. Billy T would have been proud.
I felt privileged to be part of a night of creativity and art, and humbled that these performers had chosen to pursue their creative talents as a full time occupation. Luke Thompson encouraged us to download his new album from his website, quipping ‘It’s free – a fair price, I feel.’ Thompson confirmed what we all know – that the road to earning money from your creativity, especially in NZ, is a hard one: filled with gigs in sheds out West, many cups of tea, and giving your work away.

I write because I can. Sometimes I write to cheer myself up, or to chronicle a story that I’ve been telling around the modern campfire (email, over coffee at cafes), or sometimes just to put the words in my head to bed. Once on the paper, they exist beyond me and make room for new warblings in my head. I was chatting to a friend about my blog recently and she asked if it had increased in readership much. I replied that it hadn’t really, but that I didn’t really mind. Sad by true, I’m just chuffed every time someone who isn’t, well me, reads what I’ve written. When my sister shared my blog with her then-new boyfriend and he replied ‘Oh, it’s actually quite good’, I knew she must have found a keeper – he had either good taste or great tact. Equally, when I read an email from a stranger that she’d enjoyed my writing, I sat at work grinning like a little ginger Cheshire cat for a good 10 minutes.

Despite enjoying praise for my creative efforts, any compliment is tempered by an internal nagging sense of ‘Really? But doesn’t everyone do this? Write and think like this?’ It is the voice that whispers of being a fraud and a phoney. I loved reading this blog post on creativity in a commercial context by former ad man, Lindsey Redding, who wrote:
It is a universal truth that all artists think they are frauds and charlatans, and live in constant fear of being exposed. We believe by working harder than anyone else we can evade detection.

Redding also wrote of those who earn money from their creative talents:
We tend to set ourselves impossibly high standards, and are invariably our own toughest critics. Satisfying our own lofty demands is usually a lot harder than appeasing any client, who in my experience tend to have disappointingly low expectations. Most artists and designers I know would rather work all night than turn in a sub-standard job.

He convincingly argued that the creative industry exploits the drive and compulsion to create of the artists (be they copy-writers, designers, or musicians) for commercial gain. Most are probably bemused that someone would pay real money for what they are driven to produce, as they struggled to objectively see the value of what comes naturally. Perhaps this exploitation is like the argument used for racing grey hounds- inherently they love doing it , the thrill of the chase and reward of the win – what’s the harm if we earn a little cash from them in the process? A sad thought.

Anika Moa sings for her creative supper in the beautiful shed in Avondale

Over lunch at work last week, I chatted with a colleague about how she came to be an accountant. She explained she’d loved and excelled in art at high school, and toyed with doing a fine arts degree. The daughter of Malaysian emigrants, she’d decided to study commerce for its job security, and ‘After all, I’m not very good [at art].’ I said I thought otherwise, even though I hadn’t seen her art. ‘I’m sure you’re actually very good.’ I said this because I’d seen the fear of being detected as a fraud flicker across her face. And so we talked about painting and watercolours and I explained that I was quite untalented on that front. (I recently sent a sketch done in Paint to another department at work, and my boss suggested, politely, that it was so horrifically bad that perhaps we should keep such works within the Marketing Department so that the rest of the company didn’t begin to worry. My design for the company Christmas e-card however was a triumph. It will rock your world).

As the gig in the shed was ending, Anika Moa explained to the audience that her whole life is about making music and that that was all she’d ever wanted to do. ‘And look where it’s got me, to a shed in Avondale.’ Cue a chorus of laughing agreement from the audience. Sure, it was a shed, but as sheds go, a very nice shed filled with people who wanted to be there and support the artists who were creating. My little sister had a (very fantastic) radio show on student radio this year. She said that sometimes she wasn’t sure if there was anyone else listening but myself in Auckland, Dad in Cambridge and her co-host’s brother in Hungary, but hey. It didn’t take away from the show’s quality or the experience she got from hosting it. Perhaps that’s what creativity comes down to – you create because you can, because you want to, and because you’re driven to. The process and the end product are what matter, and its reception is irrelevant (at least until you want to eat and pay the rent ) But I know a good shed in Avondale….

freya • December 2, 2012

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  1. mark houlahan December 29, 2012 - 5:35 pm Reply

    nice blog freya. so many stories of other people’s negativiity crushing the creative urge. the wbe presents so many possibilities though. noy so much for making a lot of money but of finding somewhere on the planet somebody who clicks with your message. that’s the essential thing. and the entry level cost for writing or making music now is very low. we all can do it. keep posting!

  2. Liz Ramsay December 10, 2012 - 10:58 pm Reply

    What a thoughtful piece. This idea of creative terror set me thinking. I spent years thinking I was total fraud at garden design until I realised clients rather liked using my gardens once they were built, and besides, I knew more Latin flower names than anyone else! I also supect that it something that women are more prone to than men, and perhaps why fewer women break through the glass ceiling on their career path. They don’t ‘own’ their achievements in the way men do.

  3. Freya December 3, 2012 - 7:50 pm Reply

    I know, I know. I picture it being a little Penguin Collectables size too in orange. Don’t worry, the year it gets published the whole whanau will find a copy under their Christmas tree (and maybe for several years after that…) xx

  4. Sophie December 3, 2012 - 8:33 am Reply

    A keeper indeed but I think anyone would argue that your writing is extremely good, I’m just waiting for a compendium book version of these short essays

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