Dear Tahli (letter to a young filmmaker) #1 — web depression
Here’s a very personal blog post from the vault of 2008. I’m posting the first of these letters now, because I’ve been surprised over the years how many positive comments I’ve received from different people about them. Now I’m curious to know if they still resonate with anyone, 4 years on.
Tahli is a fictional character. She is a visual artist interested in filmmaking, still in secondary school in her mid-late teens. As Tahli explores the world with fresh eyes, my own eyes are opened to new ideas, trends and observations.
On a more spiritual level, Tahli has grown up in a Christian family. As Christian myself, there’s a natural inclination to encourage someone younger like this who shares my views, but I also realise that this faith may no longer be something she calls her own. Above all, I want her to connect her beliefs — whatever they are now — with this new world of photography, filmmaking, and art in general she’s getting into… as I myself grapple with exactly how to do that for myself.
Of course Tahli is based on a few real friends of mine, about 20 years my junior. If the letter reads like an advice column, I guess that’s because it (kind of) is. I’ve updated a few links (Tumblr didn’t exist in 2008!), but otherwise left it pretty mch the same. See what you think. I value any feedback…
It’s been a little while since I wrote. So sorry – life is getting so busy these days.
There are so many things to deal with I sometimes wonder where to start. I get overwhelmed. I heard a rumour that you were a bit, too. In fact, it’s about being overwhelmed that I wanted to write to you about.
I hate when you think you’ve created something original – a painting, a poem, a short film, a website – then you go online, and you find that tens, hundreds, maybe even THOUSANDS of people have already had similar ideas before you! It can be soooo depressing. Like this visual map of the internet that came out recently, which puts things into perspective, making websites look like stars. Any sites that don’t have much size don’t even rate as a speck of light. We are all SO small.
I came across this art book yesterday where the author, listing all the periods of art in the history of western civilisation, comes to something interesting about the period generally called “the twentieth century” and tries to sum it all up. I like what he says:
“Make it new” was the poet Ezra Pund’s dictum, and the one constant in the arts of this turbulent and phenomenal century has been a seemingly inexhaustible quest for originality and freshness. (Dennis Spore, ‘Introduction to the Arts in Western Civilisation’, Prentice-Hall, 1990)
Widely touted as one of the wisest rulers on earth, king Solomon wrote these words: “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) So if there’s nothing new, why do we create? Or how do we avoid becoming depressed when we create work that goes online?
Here’s five little ideas. It’s not a complete list, but you may find it useful – or maybe you could write back and add to it:
YOUR CREATION IS UNIQUE
There are almost seven billion people on the planet. The vast majority of people have roughly the same physical gear — a body and head -– yet every single one of these people are unique and different. In the same way, YOUR CREATIVE WORK IS UNIQUE. This fact alone makes it special.
POPULARITY IS NO MEASURE OF SUCCESS
Everyone online has ways of checking how successful your work is – hits to your website, friends on FaceBook, followers on Twitter or Tumblr, number of downloads, dollars earned – we’re obsessed with measuring everything. It’s like the world’s most savage popularity contest. But you know as I do that popularity isn’t everything. Only one person gets to be the ‘best’ or ‘most popular’; and even then, that kind of popularity doesn’t last. Jesus said that ‘he who is the least among you is the greatest’. He flips our whole centre of value and importance on its head. I find that pretty refreshing.
BEING ONLINE GIVES SOME OPPORTUNITY TO CONNECT
One response to web depression is to become a hermit. Just hide away and sulk. Please don’t do that. We are social creatures. We’re meant to live in community. Regardless of how popular your creative work is (or NOT), putting it online provides an opportunity for others to connect with it. Have you heard of Pareto’s principle, or the 80-20 rule? If you were selling something, it means that “80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients.” It’s the same with connecting your art to others.
If five people see your work online, and only one stops to appreciate it, you have made a most valuable connection. Maybe you have lifted their spirits for a moment, challenged them to think, made them laugh, cry or engage in life more. You might get an email from them or even make a new friend. Above all, you have connected. And that is a precious thing.
LEARN FROM THE CLOUDS
I’ve heard your mum complain that you’re a bit of a dreamer with your ‘head in the clouds’.
Well, while your head’s up there – study what you see! Every single day, God puts on the most amazing sky-show, but only some of us notice it… well that’s how I see it anyway. Sometimes I think the clouds actually look like a masterful painting, with the grand, sweeping strokes and surprising flourishes of colour. You’d think God would get tired of it – but no! Every day, no every minute, right throughout history, another unique masterpiece has been created for every single location on the planet. We are made in God’s image. We should do the same. Who cares if it gets seen or not!
IF NOT NOW… MAYBE LATER
Sometimes things take time to grow. Maybe your early work has not been noticed or it seems much lower standard than everything else online. Don’t give up. There are the great stories like Einstein’s, who was a considered a poor student, yet ended up becoming the greatest scientific mind of the 20th century.
Maybe your work will be discovered later… next week, next year, next decade… maybe not even in your lifetime! Who (or what) can really measure the eternal worth of your handiwork? Surely not some crude little counter of LIKES or RETWEETS. In the end, that’s not what matters. Of course you know this, but I wanted to remind you.
Using the internet to put forward your creative work may be new,
but many others before you have felt as you have — that sad, overwhelming sense of insignificance I think we all feel at times.
Take heart, dear Tahli,
and if nothing else, know that you are not alone.