As you get older, there are a lot of questions you need to ask yourself about what you do for a living. Is it legal? Can it support a family? Will you eventually be replaced by a sentient robot, euthanised and your body recycled into the protein-rich slurry that feeds a ruling class of shapeshifting lizards? Keep asking these (sensible) questions and eventually some of you will get down to asking whether your job does enough to satisfy your creative urges. This is a tough one, because if this matters to you and you’ve chosen to remain in Jersey then your chances of finding employment as a conceptual artist or silent film director are somewhat limited. If you want to get paid to be creative, you’ll probably need to be very creative about what that idea means to you.
Your appointment with the crusher of dreams
Of all the teachers I helped hasten towards early retirement I often feel most sorry for the one in charge of careers advice. A good teacher is a wise, thoughtful individual who spends decades fine-tuning a sense of the likely paths that a child might take through life, and ideally guiding them along the ones that will best lead to happiness. The careers advisor meets precocious oddities who dream of making movies and singing songs and must gently suggest that if they want to remain in the island of their birth they should expect to fund these activities with a working life doing something dull behind a desk. Many of these children go off to university, obtain an unusual haircut and never come back, many more return home and bury their creative dreams deep down in the inbox of life, or ferment them into the reservoir of misanthropy I possess instead of a personality. Each year the careers advisor must preside over a funeral of creative dreams, his soul gradually hardening like the leather patches on the elbows of his cardigan.
That’s what it is, for most creative people. A dream. The reality is that unless you’re super talented, very lucky, or just rich, you’ll end up being grateful that you even have the opportunity to be creative in your spare time. Working an office job may not be as fulfilling as conducting an orchestra, but unlike a Chinese factory worker you are paid enough to afford violin lessons on the weekend. Unlike the Sudanese farmer who dreams of writing poetry you have time to write poetry at night, and militias won’t attack your cattle if it doesn’t rhyme. This is a reward of sorts, but also a social pressure valve in a capitalist economy – to prevent thousands of frustrated watercolour painters from rising up like bolsheviks, killing their bosses and remaking our society in the image of a sunlit vase of daffodils.
According to this perspective, your day job is a means to an end and the deal is that you should abandon all creative thoughts the minute you clock on. The problem with this arrangement is that the creative spirit is like a sleeping bag – impossible to put away properly once unwrapped, and often covered in mysterious stains. Sooner or later creativity is going to leak out, even at the dullest job – like suppressed flatulence at a church funeral.
So why not bring your creativity to the workplace?
Suggesting that you “bring creativity to the workplace” is the kind of offer made in a group email from middle management, usually limited to the options of decorating your work area with inoffensive personal kitsch or dressing up in cheesy #banter costume one day a month to raise money for charity. Unfortunately for the productivity slavedrivers who dream up these initiatives, doing spreadsheets whilst wearing a cowboy hat isn’t creative, and will only raise employee morale if your workforce is entirely made up of cretins who spend their evenings reposting Minion memes on Facebook. In fact the only thing less creative than employer-sanctioned wackiness is swanning around like you’re Steve Jobs or Philippe Starck because you work vaguely in the media, have an iMac on your desk or shoehorned the word “creative” into your job title. Writing a hot take on Boaty McBoatface does not make you Charlie Brooker, and you are not Don Draper just because you sold the client a desaturated stock image of some bubbles with their logo on it. I’m writing this on an iMac right now, and I can assure you that my creative fire is currently colder than Donald Trump’s welcome in Tijuana.
Most creative people are terrible at deadlines, easily distracted and prone to thinking about things in illogical and even nonsensical ways. Unless your boss is a super manager with the ability to harness them, these qualities basically have to be suppressed to make a productive employee, rather than championed as a source of marginally more entertaining PowerPoint slides. Therefore, it is highly likely that the creatively frustrated employee will come to perceive their working life in the form of a drawn-out guerrilla conflict against the forces of order and productivity. Their only weapons will be periods of daydreaming and small acts of rebellion, their only victories a piece of art made out of photocopier paper and Post-It notes, or a comedy wang drawn in marker on the toilet walls.
Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction – Pablo Picasso
This petty war against an enemy who doesn’t even know you exist can be disheartening, and occasionally self-destructive, but if you’re creatively inclined it might be the only thing that keeps you sane in the kind of society we live in. The reality of your struggle to express the sublime mysteries of the universe (via obscene doodles) will serve as a constant reminder that there are different ways of looking at ideas like success and fulfilment, and that living a good life will involve constantly reassessing what it is to reach a compromise with the systems we live inside. You might come to realise that your personal compromise means being creative in your spare time, aside from the odd bit of creativity left as a furtive present for polite society or your employer – like when your cat leaves you half a mangled thrush, or a pile of furry sick. You might reject the idea of subtlety and proudly court a disciplinary hearing by decorating your desk with naked etchings of Sir Bruce Forsyth, wearing a gimp mask on “crazy hats Friday!” and illustrating presentations on quarterly earnings with slides from The Human Centipede. Unlike me, you might be creative enough to recognise this trap before you fall in it, ignore the careers advisor and follow your dreams of becoming a post-modernist circus clown. Even if you don’t follow that dream, never lose sight of the scary, unpredictable clown you have inside of you. That’s advice you can live by whether you’re creative or not.