I'm Lauren League, an artist, writer, and designer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Sep 18, 2023

Why There Are So Many Creatives with Unfinished Projects

I think having to have an “end goal” is why people start art projects and never finish them. It’s drilled into us from elementary school that before we start something, we have to have a PLAN and an EXECUTION PATH and GRIND until we fulfill whatever goal we set at the beginning.

But what if you were an idiot when you made the plan? Riddle me that.

Starting something with a rigid vision and end goal in mind is a surefire way to squeeze the magic and interest out of a creation, ultimately killing any motivation to finish. If you already have a picture in your imagination of how the creation MUST BE, why on earth would you bring it into the physical? That’s not fun. That turns fun into tedium.

It becomes work.

It’s much better to make it up as you go and feel the joy as your creation takes shape over time.

Most people are brainwashed from a very young age to automatically convert fun to tedium. It may happen in the school system, or the family system, or under whatever dumb made-up-expectations some group or individual is trying to impose on you. You’re expected to get A’s on assignments. Why?

So your progress is standardized and measure-able by other people. Often people with zero imagination or vision. True creativity is frowned upon; standardization and constraints are prioritized. Parent-teacher-conferences go well when the kid is getting all-A’s. The parents are pleased to hear that their kid is “smart,” when really, success in public ed is about the kid’s ability to pay attention and remember things within the education system’s constraints. It’s a twelve-year pipeline to transform creative, imaginative, social toddlers into productive, isolated adult workers with little imagination and a built-in fear of authority.

Who does that benefit? It doesn’t take long to figure it out.

So now, we have all these adults who feel trapped in their lives as workers and feel an existential longing for meaning. I can’t say what that is, as it’s different for everyone. But I do know that I’ve seen people try to be artists or writers, but one painting takes them months. One novel takes them years. I believe this is because they are still running on that old, elementary school conditioning that trained them to be workers. They must get an A, or the teacher (boss) will be disappointed and Mom and Dad (big bosses) will be mad and maybe kick them out of the house.  

But in the creative fields, if you’re independent and have your own business, getting an A doesn’t matter because you don’t have a boss. There’s no authority looming over you, threatening you with an ambiguous punishment that may lead to loss of income, exile, and ultimately, public shame. There is only the customer, who just wants to get their need met, and your own internal critic, installed long ago by these systems that tells you your work must be “good enough” (which is a moving goal post) and you must be working “hard enough” (also a moving goal post) and you must have “goals” and “work ethic”—or else.

This programming is humming away invisibly under the surface, but it influences your thoughts and triggers little squirts from your amygdala when you start thinking about doing something different than the norm. “What will my parents think? What will I do about money? What if it doesn’t work? What if people make fun of me?” It’s the need to fit in and do as you’re told, and it doesn’t even come from you.

Question it.

Start poking at it.

Do the weird thing and see what happens.

You don’t have to know how it’s going to turn out. It comes together as you go.

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