Creativity is not a Competition

When considering talent I remember a scene from Clint Eastwood’s amazing motion picture, “Bird.” Any jazz fan will immediately recognize “Bird” as the famous jazz musician, Charlie Parker. In one particular sequence a young musician has just heard Parker play at a local club. After hearing the brilliant Parker, the stunned young saxophonist heads out of the club and walks to a nearby bridge. Arriving at the center, he angrily flings his instrument  into the river. The despondent musician knows that no matter how hard he struggles as a artist he’ll never approach the artistry of Parker. The lofty level already reached by the incredible “Bird”is totally beyond him.

Now, I’m not about to toss my pencils, brushes and paints into the river. I’m not even going to fling my Cintiq Tablet into the drink just because I’ll never be a great artist. In my old age I’ve come to realize there will always be exceptional talent that will continue to blow my mind and I’ve made peace with that. And, while I continue to learn and grow as an artist and storyteller, I know there will always be those who are simply incredible talents. Gifted stars that no one can touch. That’s life. That’s simply the way it is.

Some years ago, I wandered into the office of a young story artist and studied his inspired sketches filling the storyboard. Upon his return I confronted the young artist and couldn’t help but speak my mind. “I hate you.” I blurted out. “You’re not only talented, you’re young as well. You’ve a great future in this business and I predict you’re going to do well. The young guy was flattered and laughed it off. He was indeed young and this was his first assignment. I think he was simply happy to have a job. However, my prediction was sound, because the young man (now a slightly older man) is writing, directing and currently at the top of his game. Of course, I mean it when I say, there’s no one happier about the outcome than myself.

I’ve never regarded creativity as a competition, and I’ve never had a need to be the best. I still regard music as the thing that kept me balanced. I began playing musical instruments not because I wanted to be a virtuoso but because I enjoyed it. Naturally, there were always those with exceptional talent. Young musicians with a “good ear,” technical skill and the like. Knowing I was not in the same league, I struggled to keep up. Yet, I never had any resentment for those gifted individuals who could easily blow me away. And, so it goes. During my career I’ve had the opportunity to work with exceptional talents and I value the time spent with them. Naturally, I’ve learned from them and that includes both young and old. It’s been a marvelous way to keep ones ego in check. After all, you can never get too full of yourself when you realize there’s someone out there who is so much better.