Why Do Some Many Great Works Have Troubled Backgrounds?

When I’m doing a project, I’ll listen to music I love or leaf my collection of inspiring images. This isn’t unusual. Creative people will tell you they use all kinds of rituals and practices to get into the flow of their work.

Today, many companies that depend on innovation focus on creating fun, stimulating environments for their employees. I’ve worked at a few such companies. The ad agency I worked for placed large bowls of candy in common areas for employees to enjoy. Another employer did away with set hours; it was up to each project team to decide how to meet their commitments.

And yet, creative work…often superb creative work…has been created under conditions which were anything but ideal.

This morning I was listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. There are other albums by Pink Floyd I like more, but there are moments in The Wall when, as I listen, I think to myself, this is just freaking brilliant.

Like many people, I assume that profound and remarkable things must have been occurring to have inspired such a wonderful musical work. And being a curious kind of person, I checked out the album’s history in Wikipedia to learn more.

Wrong. It turns out that The Wall was created during one of the band’s most acrimonious and chaotic periods.

To begin with, the band was in a financial crisis because of poorly managed investments and tensions were high. Band members refused to record together and parts had to be recorded individually then arranged later. Various production staff quit or were fired and had to be replaced. The Wall was the last album for Richard Wright, the band’s keyboardist who was fired after falling out with other band members.

So how does something so beautiful result from something so ugly and dysfunctional?

I think it’s important here to make a distinction between the creator and what he or she is creating.

As a creator I have so often wondered at the things I have created. I’ve looked at things I’ve drawn or read something I’ve written and asked myself “Really, did I do that?”

This isn’t an expression of arrogance. It’s the exact opposite. It is an expression of appreciation and deep humility because somehow I produced this lovely thing.

My personal belief is that creative work is a kind of collaborative effort between myself and a Higher Power. When I’m creating I feel like I’m like the tuner In a radio. I am necessary to the process no doubt about it. Yet there is something about what I create that seems so much finer than me. So much finer than anything I could do using my own devices.

This is why I think so many great works have come out of painful, ugly situations and why many great artists are often troubled individuals.

This not to say that great art cannot come from happy circumstances and from good-natured, content individuals.

But I find it very interesting that creative work is not dependent upon ideal circumstances being in place. That remarkable work can come from the most unlikely conditions.

If you or I approach or work as artists…as creators…this means we do not have to be victims of circumstance when it comes to creating what we want. Something that gives me hope and inspires me to keep creating.

10.19.16 Update


Today I created images meant to look like templates. There are three templates and I wanted the templates to show how page elements were positioned so it would be easy to add text and images. I thought I would use graphic Design software like Adobe Illustrator to create the template images but Illustrator doesn’t play with Apple’s latest OS. I finally ended up going with “good enough” and creating them using Adobe InDesign. They don’t look great but they get the information across.

This has got me thinking that it’s worth the investment to buy the version of Illustrator that works with Apple’s new OS.

This is also an example of how shifting the focus from problem-solving to creating my desired end result shifts how I do work and the decisions I make. If my focus was on solving the problem I would have spent hours figuring out how to create these images using less expensive software. But because my focus is creating something by a specific date and the time I allot each day for this project, I’m realizing it makes more sense to invest in software I know how to use.

I also made progress creating a couple other images. I like using grid paper to get my ideas down. Having my ideas sketched out helps me work faster and more decisively.