What We Bring To The Table

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-09-01 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

A good 'un from my fine fellow Steve:

Only You Goes Both Ways - Steven Savage

Your reading or viewing experience is just as unique as anything you create. You will have insights no one else has, and find inspiration unique to your own creativity. You will find flaws no one else saw, and take away lessons no one else will learn. However you consume an artistic experience, that experience is yours and what you take from it is yours.

A key thing for reading as a writer is learning how to produce takeaways from what you encounter. This is not to say that you can never just relax and have a good trashy time at the movies, but that you get the best results with your own work when you learn how to take lessons from other work. Learning to do this also teaches you about what you have to bring to your own table as a creator.

One common thing I run into with new creators is how they feel, on some level, they don't have enough of themselves to bring to what's going on. They feel inexperienced, inadequate, tiny. Sometimes it goes entirely the opposite way: they are bursting with confidence for what they have to bring, but don't realize it's all mimicry and borrowing, and not mixed with or enhanced by anything truly personal. And for good reason: "What are you?" is the hardest question for most any of us to answer, second only to "What do you really want?" They haven't yet done the work needed to differentiate their inner life, and one does that in part by both creating and appreciating other creations.

When I was younger I was more directly engaged with the generation of online media critics, mostly younger folks. Over time the best ones developed sophistications about how they saw things that were highly personalized. They started off aping the other critics they knew, but over time stepped away from that and found ways to talk about things that were theirs. This wasn't something that had to express itself in absolutely every line they wrote, but it came through across the body of their work. Some went on to actual careers in the industry, not just as critics but creators, although I am willing to believe that was due at least as much to them knowing how to navigate the industry and speak to the right people at the right time as it was about their training as a critic teaching them how to produce something that didn't fall into any obvious traps.

One of the things that you often seen in pop-culture crit circles are folks who look at popular media through a specific lens — feminism, gender dynamics, historical contexts, etc. Then you have all the folks who sneer at this kind of work, or actively try to wreck it, because they feel threatened by it, I guess. It's the mistaken idea that interpretation and analysis are zero-sum games, that there's only one right way to talk about something and only one correct conclusion to draw from it. The folks who have critiques of this show or that movie from a certain perspective aren't saying that everyone else should feel bad for having a different opinion, only that their view exists for a reason and that reason deserves some airing. But for some folks, asking even this is too much I suppose.

Anyway, the main dynamic I see there is coming into one's own, something doubly important if you're making stuff and not just talking about other peoples' stuff. (Although that is itself making stuff of a kind.) One way you come into your own is by differentiating your tastes about things — not just that you like or dislike what other people did, or even that you like or dislike things other people don't, but that you can grasp what it is about them that motivates you so, and articulate that. When I got into Japanese culture, I didn't have a lot of people around me to share my interest with — okay, I had pretty much nobody — and so I had to figure out for myself what really drove my interests. I didn't want my curiosity to be mere xenophilia plus groupthink. The end result of that was a couple of books that were directly influenced by Japanese culture, and then after that others that applied the larger, more general lessons I'd picked up.

Tags: Steven Savage Dialogues creativity criticism