The Creative’s Struggle: We Are Not Just About Making Beautiful Things.
I have finally seen the eponymous Lee Alexander McQueen biopic.
I don’t usually write movie reviews, but felt compelled to do a post on the complexity of the creative spirit, in the briefest way I can write about such a vast topic. His life may not be mirrored to mine 100%, but a lot of the vital points are.
As a creative, we push the boundaries. We rub people the wrong way, but dance between that and our desire for acceptance, in a society that has always completely disregarded, and for the most part under-acknowledged, our true value.
It is through the creative mind that all advances happen. It is not through logic and reason that creation comes into existence. Those skills are important, but they come after the concept is born.
In society, creatives may be revered, but at the same time society also loves to not accept you as you are. They take the mold that is you and kick it around a little with their criticism, they all have better ideas on how to do your work when nobody actually asked them in the first place for their opinion, leaving the creative battered and bruised and misshapen as a result.
We all do it. We mock, have a running commentary from the comfort of our sofa forts on, and see in hindsight, how someone could be better at something we know little or nothing about.
The Number One thing that fuels a creative soul, like gasoline on a fire, is passion. But if you take us as we are and try beat us into submission or make us conform to too much structure, like take on too many admin duties beyond the creative scope, you end up with an extinguished flame. Nothing snuffs out a creative’s fire like a cocktail of criticism, failure to please, and lack of acknowledgment.
Taking on too much is a common addiction for us too. It is our drug of choice. We like the pressure like a crackwhore loves crack. It means that we are our own worst enemy, and those pulling the strings behind the scenes drain us of every drop they can get out of us until we burn up completely.
Although McQueen died in 2010, I feel like it was just yesterday.
His work was always something I loved. Even in my teens, before I actually knew who he was, several of my own comic characters were inspired by his real-life creations. Miss Kitty’s eye makeup from my comic book in 1995 was drawn straight from his Givenchy collection where he pushed back against the expectations of society and brought people down a peg or two. He was taken from us too soon.
His brilliance may have ended on the highest high, but we have been robbed by no longer having him here.
For several months, I have been searching for this missing passion. I haven’t felt alone, but I have felt like I am being suffocated by the commercial aspects of my field. Supplying what I can to big business at the best prices and bleeding myself dry of the energy I had left just to keep up with what is needed to be done. All roads being coordination and production management, which are all very admin-based.
I hit rock bottom again for the third time in four years. Whilst I hadn’t lost my independence fully like the previous two times, I had lost my will to live. I was depressed, and my pride had taken a beating so big that I did not feel like I had 17 years experience in my industry, practically making me a veteran in my field.
It takes a lot of strength to ask for help when you have adrenal fatigue and depression brought on from stress after failing in your field. I won’t take anti-depressants, I don’t take drugs, I believe in the power of my mind and correct vitamin supplementation to heal the body of its depleted nutrients, and thus started a three-month journey to get back on track.
During this time, I have been taking baby steps to pull myself towards myself, all the while telling people clearly what I have been going through. People have mixed responses when you tell them of your current bad state. Some think you are weak, though it takes great strength to be that in touch with your body and mind and not be ashamed to talk about it.
Perhaps in a more open society, which McQueen did not have back then, he may have felt safer to talk about his state of mind. Society is the true villain here. We put ourselves out there on social media wanting to be seen, a constant flux of billboard imagery: look at me, look at this, look what I did, look where I am, look what I ate… me me me me. A never-ending clamber for the limelight. It’s all bullshit.
And yet I do it because society wants to see you. They want to know what is going on — to inspire, hate or judge, or just feel like they are a part of your life.
Most of us do not give people enough credit. We are caught up in our own lives, and when we aren’t, we use others to distract ourselves from our own lives. It’s a continual juggling act. We are the ones who need to become more present in order to make a difference in the world of depression.
Not only are you able to keep your own mind in check by being more present, but you will bite off only that which you can chew, not gorge yourself in a people-pleasing hurricane of duties which is sure to burn you out as badly as the bridges you may burn in the process.
The creative spark seeks freedom, but it also often needs some navigation help from someone more structured. But that doesn’t mean something so structured that out of fear you keep a creative from taking risks. Risks are what push our buttons, challenge our boundaries, and tear down our comfort zones. The total destruction of these things is vital in order for the human evolution of society.
But with structure, all too often the humanness is not regarded. It’s about prices and returns, going against the core values that make us human. The consideration of our actions and how they can affect others and the world around us is seldom brought into the bottom line in the admin mind. In the admin mind, you will screw over a supplier if it saves you a buck. Loyalty and integrity go out the window.
A creative however, only disregards the virtues in the frenzy they can be caught in. It is not a conscious choice, and when made aware of what they are doing, they are quick to correct themselves through some necessary grounding.
The power of a creative completely terrifies people. People like boxes. You can’t be in multiple boxes all at once. That’s bordering on lunacy.
All these things mean that creatives don’t fit in anywhere, not even into multiple boxes because that is not allowed. Rules. Regulations. Red tape. All that shitty structure stops us from becoming more. From pursuing better things and letting our imaginations run wild which in essence has the power to create the drive for you to live the life you deserve to live.
You don’t need to live in a white-picket-fence mentality. You don’t need to exist to procreate. You don’t need to exist just to live, which is what happens to all of us when we get out of school, get a job, buy a car, a house and start a family. Living is not that.
Living is experience that stirs emotions. Living empowers you to desire greatness even if that means something as small as being a mom who makes the best cookies on the block. Whatever it is to you, it needs to be driven by passion and grounded by self-love. If you don’t have the two together, you cannot walk this earth truly awake, truly alive and connected to the energy around you.
There is not enough connectivity. Because we are told not to talk about our emotions, not to be ourselves because we are too weird. Having grown up in a society that did not like my weirdness, now seeing more people embrace it in a slightly more accepting society makes me sad. We have not evolved enough in the 20 years since my childhood. We are better than this.
So ask yourself: What do you want to be if you could be anything? Who would you be? What you do does not define who you are. Who you are is not a mother or daughter or husband or brother. Who you are is determined by your values, your judgments, and most importantly, your passion.
If you do not know yourself, you have no right to sit there and tell someone who is marching to the beat of their own drum who they need to be. You don’t really have a right at all actually, but you know where I am going with this. You can’t judge someone for being true to their essence because you are so terrified of yours.
We as creatives deserve the attention we get. We are the movers and shakers. We are the powerful force behind human drive, we are the ones who spark emotion in your core. We are the ones who speak with our real voice even though it may quiver as the truth comes out of our mouths.
We are the ones who put a spotlight on all the ugliness that makes up society, with the hope that we can alert the world to the things that need our immediate attention. Creatives are not just about making beautiful things. We are about reshaping the world as it transforms from its ugliness into its full potential.
In this world, people like McQueen were conflicted between responsibility and their passion and true love for creating. The pressure of disappointing people and the fear of having that ability to create taken from us either by force, or destructive words, nobody can truly know that terror unless they live it.
I don’t know if people truly recognize the strength, courage and sheer gall it took for someone like McQueen, with his lack of experience, his background to become what he did. He literally was an entrepreneurial hero. I thought I had completely lost my way until I watched McQueen. I could relate to his journey each step of the way, although I feel he had it a lot tougher, his rewards came quicker than mine have.
In South Africa, we are not valuing creatives very much. Certain parts of SA do, but for the most part, we do not truly reward those who create. It’s always about who you know and whose ass you want to kiss. It is not my thing to suck up in order to get somewhere. It isn’t about pride, I respect myself too much to kiss someone’s ass because they need their ego stroked to give me a foot in the door.
I am real, authentic, and have gotten as far as I have purely because of hard work and sharing the limelight with others, giving back to society, guiding people. It is not about being a rebel. People only think we do stuff to rebel or be a talking point, but often the things that we do create need to be a topic of discussion.
In fashion and art, we create links to atrocities on this earth. We want you to feel uncomfortable. We want you to speak about it so that maybe, just maybe, one person may change something in their lives that can change the world for the better, even by just a fraction. More often than not, if you are offended, then perhaps you have your own demons to kill off. Art is meant to wake you the fuck up.
McQueen’s best line from the movie was, “I don’t care what you feel when you watch my show, so long as you feel something. If you come to my show and don’t feel anything after watching it, then I may as well give up.”
Emotions are catalyzing. So think about that next time you open up a fashion magazine or go to a show. What heart and soul has been poured into this work? What has the team behind it been through in order to bring it to life? What do I feel when I think of the story behind the art? Stop just existing. Wake up. Start feeling something, anything. Become more than you are through the feeling of it.
Let the pain come to the surface, the suffering, and as you shed those feelings, there will be a release. Light. More than just existing.
Now you’re awake.
Only now, you are truly alive.
Genna-Wae Webster is the creative mind behind the clothing brand Wae West. She was named after a character played by Priscilla Presley on Dallas, Genna Wade. She is a free spirit, a lover of furry beings (especially her cats) and believes in existing within the positive realm when it comes to how she lives her day-to-day life. Commercial clothing and costume design have been her passion since her early teens. Unicorns, mermaids, fairies and all things fantastical inspire her. Collecting superhero things, My Little Ponies and shoes get me excited. Getting lost in movies and TV is what she does for escapism from life. Being involved in helping others with guidance wherever she can is also a big part of who she is. She never tires of talking, and fights for the underdog with a strong will, big ideas and bold opinions. Yoga is how she keeps fit, and doing photo shoots for fun is how she grows in confidence by putting herself under the very uncomfortable spotlight. She believes that facing your fears and being authentically You, no matter what people think, is how life should be lived, and living in a state of unconditional happiness is how you maintain a positive mindset.