Veronica on August 16th, 2011
“And don’t tell me it’s not personal, it’s business. What’s so wrong with being personal anyway? Whatever else anything is, it should start by being personal!”
This exasperated exclamation by rom-com heroine Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail always resonated with me — and left me concerned that it might mean that I also shared with Meg’s character a most entertaining yet un-sexy penchant for preciousness. So it was with relief that I read the indomitable Francis Ford Coppola state that his best advice to his children has been: “Always make your work personal.” Can’t argue with the man who made “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now.” No pastel sweater sets there.
I believe in personal. In the beautiful insight from designer Ji Lee that “When you give something, just for the joy of creating, it always comes back on a much larger scale.”
It can be hard to justify doing something that spends considerable time, money or energy simply because you
love it. Because it brings you joy. But the truth of the matter is that this is exactly the type of creation – and the type of living – that breathes “beauty and truth” into our work (another insight from Coppola, which I think he ripped off from Keats, who in turn ripped it off from the Greeks, but I digress). While doing something because you like it may seem a childish motivation, or even selfish, it can be anything but.
“I take care to seem happy, and especially to be so,” St. Therese famously said. The way the youthful nun wisely split “seeming” and “being” makes me think of the ways in which we cultivate creative behaviours. Within our current creativity-as-a-trend (hipster) culture I often feel that it’s deceptively easy to take care to seem creative, rather than to be so. Craftsmanship can be connected to image, but just as often it’s completely unrelated – an obsession that adherents follow for the sheer love of it, out of a personal need that has very little to do with what others think. In fact, many great creative talents – recognized or unrecognized – have persevered despite what others thought of their passion or how they go about pursuing it.
This short film of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings pouring over the process of letter-pressing (and coffee-staining!) their album covers makes me think of that type of obsession. Sure, letter-pressing is très cool at the moment, and Welch isn’t hurting for affirmation – but the point isn’t whether or not what they’re doing is popular. (To counterbalance a little, popularity isn’t a crime, folks.) It’s that when I watch them get lost in the process over a part of the album that’s usually mass-produced, I get the feeling they’d do it anyway, even if every kid wheeling a fixie didn’t profess a love for hand-printing. “She was going to do it anyway,” Welch sings in one of my favourite songs. “Even if it doesn’t pay.”
Power to that, I say.