The Artistic Coin: Creation and Consumption

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I haven’t posted anything here in a while. I don’t even have a simple excuse like the last time I missed a post or two.

I’ve written a couple of things in the time since the last post. I’ve done a bit of knitting, tried out a new recipe or two, and even played some guitar here and there.

I’ve also read most of a pretty interesting book, completed a 120-hour playthrough of Persona 5, and watched the entirety of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency on Netflix.

Many of my pastimes and leisure activities, including those described above, fall into two largely distinct categories: creation and consumption. I am either creating something myself or I am consuming something that someone else has created. There’s a bit of grey area (if I play someone else’s song on guitar, which category is that?), and where you draw the exact division is really a matter of personal preference, but I think the dichotomy of creation and consumption is largely sound.

The problem I face — the problem that, in some way or another, I am always facing — is how to reconcile the two.

Because that’s the goal, isn’t it? To engage in both creation and consumption, to engage with things that others have produced and produce some things of your own?

I think there’s a common tendency to map virtue and vice onto these two drives, and I think it’s incredibly important to address that tendency. Creation is too often portrayed as the nobler pursuit, the one that demonstrates the creator’s discipline, ingenuity, and individuality. Creation is the one that garners attention and praise. It’s the one that (ideally) makes money.

It’s also exhausting.

It takes energy, time, and resources to make things! I know I’m being vague here, but deliberately so because this applies to any sort of creative or artistic process. Creation requires you to have an idea and act on it, and neither of those components is necessarily easy. So no artist or creative individual — and I defy you to produce a single counterexample — spends all of their time creating. Artists must also consume. They have to read books, or watch movies, or listen to music.

I think a big part of my problem comes from trying to internalize that virtue/vice approach to creation and consumption that I mentioned above. Sometimes I feel guilty about the amount of time I spend consuming versus the amount of time I spend creating. Other times, I sit down to try and write something and just end up feeling exhausted with only a stanza or two to show for it, and I feel like I’m failing at the creative process.

When I look at the situation critically, though, I take great issue with the black and white, virtue/vice dichotomy. I’ve extolled the virtues of consuming content before, after all, and I stand by what I said in that article. Consumption allows us to cultivate our own unique portfolios of artistic experience; it helps us identify characteristics that we want to incorporate into our own creative practice, or faulty habits that we’d like to cast off.

Furthermore, the fundamental division between creation and consumption itself falls apart under scrutiny. They’re two sides of the same artistic coin. Every act of consumption is also an act of creation as you enliven the message or story contained in the work, while all creation entails consumption as you imagine how a consumer will react to your work. That’s why I like to conceptualize the creator and the consumer as two players in a cooperative game.

There’s a balance, though, and it’s another thing that I struggle with. I occasionally get caught up in a bit of cycle, where I feel like I need to improve my writing (or my creation more broadly) through consumption alone rather than deliberate practice and creation.

If reading a book today will make me a better writer tomorrow, then I owe it to myself and any potential readers to read as many books as possible before writing a single word. That way, when I eventually do write something, it should be as good as I can make it. So goes my rationale, at least.

But of course, we don’t just learn through observation. We learn by doing. Consumption is a valid way to improve one’s creation, but it’s not the only way or even necessarily the best way.

I’ll keep trying to get better about balancing the two — creating when I can, and consuming when I want to. I’ll try to stop feeling guilty about consuming and becoming exhausted by the act of creation, but I’ll encourage myself to create as a form of practice in and of itself.

And I’ll do my best to share my creations here. That’s why I created this site, after all, so it would be a shame not to use it.

See you on Wednesday with some creative writing.

Author: Mitchell

I'm 24 and currently pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Toronto.

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