Fascinating Fact #1: Cognitive neuroscience has uncovered four types of creativity, yet many still act like there is only one type and you either possess it or you don’t.
Fascinating Fact #2: The way we think about the creative process and the role of the artist in the West is vastly different than the way our friends think about and approach it in the East.
Fascinating Fact #3: Most of us are trying to live linear lives in a nonlinear world.
So what’s all this about?
It’s about you and me, as creative beings.
We tend to be seekers. And, therefore, never truly settled in our own skin. Plus, a lot of us are introverts and do our best work through the lives and voices of others.
The problem is that many well-meaning artists, writers and bloggers are out there offering (or selling) advice based solely on their limited, personal understanding of the creative process. And they ignore the myriad of alternative creative processes and lives that exist.
Which means a lot of creatives feel defeated in their pursuit of some sort of a creative life.
And this breaks my heart.
So here’s my offering…
There are gardens, farms and factories. And we benefit, in some ways more than others, from each of these.
Artists who tend gardens (metaphorically speaking), do it because they love gardening. It’s a labor of love. It’s even spiritual. They enjoy growing different things at different times and they love having the freedom and flexibility to plant whatever they want, whenever they want.
Artists who farm, do it to feed their family. It can still be a labor of love, but it comes with a cost. You have to plant what will sell. And you have to maximize produce while minimizing overhead.
Artists who run factories, do it to feed many people. It, too, can be a labor of love, but the art lies in getting people to want more of what you sell or making more of what people want.
Gardeners share what they grow with family and friends. Like little gifts. If it’s good, folks ask for more. But it tends to stay local.
I tend to think of Gary Snyder and David Bottoms, two of my favorite poets, as gardeners.
Farmers have to sell nearly everything they produce to the highest buyer(s). With limited supply and demand, it’s a real estate and negotiator’s game.
I tend to think of the author, Seth Godin, as a farmer. He keeps quality high and, since there is just one of him, he can earn a premium when selling his services.
Industrialists pump out product after product and sell the hell out everything they can to maximize profit.
James Patterson and Stephen King are two names that pop in my head as writers who churn out work like factories.
So which type of artist are you? And which artists do you look to as models?
It’s possible—as has been the case with me—that your goals, approach and sources of joy are different than the artists you admire. Maybe you are a gardener at heart, but you’ve been taking advice from artists who approach their work like factories.
Said another way, there are over a thousand flavors of ice cream. Why not become an irresistible version of the flavor you already are?
“So,” you may wonder, “which one are you, Keith”—a gardener, farmer or factory?
My wife and I love the V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena, California. It’s not big and famous. You can’t buy their wines at any supermarket or Costco.
You have to visit the winery. And experience it firsthand.
They offer winemaking tours, tasting rooms and the typical gift shop experiences. But what sets it apart, at least to us, is its cheese shop, deli and picnic grounds.
We love visiting the winery and having a lunch date outside.
V. Sattui approaches winemaking like a farmer—it produces a mix of in-demand wines and unique, premium wines. It has to in order to be sustainable. But it practices winemaking like a gardener—offering only the very best quality.
That’s the kind of artist I work to be.
See? We don’t have to accept that gardens, farms and factories are the only three options. I just threw them out as starting points for your thinking.
You are a creative. Which means you are only limited by what you can create.
If you’re wondering about the four types of creativity, or the East vs. West approaches, we’ll cover those another day.
My sole goal today was to give you some seeds.
Now go till your plot.
From May 2012 to July 2013, I wrote a weekly series of intimate essays for writers and artists seeking a deeper connection with their identity and place as modern creatives. I called this series Root Notes. This was an essay in that series. It was originally published on May 19, 2013.