A Message To Artists

Writers out there. Painters. Creators.

Look at me.

I want you to do something along with me, okay?

It may sound scary, it may sound disturbing. Maybe even crazy if you’ve never done it before.

But let’s do it. It will be good in the end.

I want you to work on creating something with me.

Something beautiful.

If you’re a writer, I want you to write the best freaking sonnet or poem or blog post or whatever you’ve ever written.

If you’re a painter, I want you to paint something gorgeous. I want you to dig deep and bust something out.

If you’re any other kind of artist, I want you to do the same in your own genre.

Really throw yourself into it.

Okay.

Now.

After that…

I want you to take that beautiful creation… that piece of writing, that painting, that whatever…

And I want you to destroy it.

If it’s a piece of writing, just delete it off your computer. Put it in the trash and then empty the trash so there’s no chance that it will return from whence it came. If you’re a painter, you could be really dramatic with this and cut it up into pieces or light it on fire, or run a sword through it or hire a hitman to take it out.

But the end result needs to be the same: it needs to be gone, destroyed, with no hope of recovery.

Every artist should do this regularly.

Do you know that we haven’t seen the majority of the poems Blake wrote? He would do this sort of thing. He didn’t want to feel like he was doing his art for the world.

Or, in his own words, “I should be sorry if I had any earthly fame, for whatever natural glory a man has is so much detracted from his spiritual glory.”

I don’t know if I fully agree with that philosophy, but I know one thing: it’s hell on earth for an artist to feel like you’re controlled, beholden to the world outside yourself. That it determines how good something you do is, that it gets some sort of say in your work as a judgment of yourself.

And yes, I know that your art doesn’t determine your self-worth, and I know that you already know that, and that you’re already in tip-top shape.

But sometimes… we need a dramatic reminder that the real reason we create, the real reason we dig deep and make the things we want to affect the world… the real reason is because it’s just a part of who we are, it’s just something we have to do, even if no one was listening, even if only G-d got to hear our message and our mind and our beauty.

Because today, in the age of the internet, it’s even more likely that we will start to get confused, and think a like on our Facebook page means something more real than it is, or that the hits our website gets are more significant than they are, or that the comments people make on our site, coming in by the boatload (or not coming in at all), get to have some sort of bearing on how we judge the work that we do.

And, even worse, when those things get more significant in our minds, they can start to determine the work that we do. Not in the healthy way, the way that means we are working off and communicating with our audience, but that we are determining our self-worth, our success, our quality, by likes and hits and comments and shares.

You and I, every now and then, we need to be beyond that. We need to create for G-d, we need to make something only He and we can see. And it should be good, something we would, in theory, share with others. Because only then will we realize that at the end of the day, it really is all just about G-d, about the fact that we create because we were implanted with something not so that we can get likes, but so that we can help imagine the world He wants to make and bring it through us.

Please join me, then, in an act of creative destruction. Make that beautiful masterpiece and burn it to the ground.

And remember that G-d wants you to do this for you and to do this for Him and the world he’s painted in his own mind.

Any glory, any attention, any criticism… anything else… is an after-effect.

  • Rebecca Klempner

    AAAAAAHHHHHH! Just can’t do it!

  • I disagree. The way to internalize that everything we do is about our relationship with Hashem is not by destroying the work we did with the talents that He endowed us, but by bringing Him into our lives more–by learning more Torah, davvening with more kavanah, being more careful to avoid sin, keeping Mitzvos with more care, and doing more deeds of kindness.

    • This is an exercise, not a regular practice. But, for the record, I almost completely agree with you. I do think, though, that artists need to do things to help themselves grow, and which will help the stuff they do put out achieve those goals you mention on an even deeper level.

      • I fully agree that every technical skill must be honed. The light of Torah, faith, etc. needs a smoothly-functioning vessel in order to be expressed effectively.

  • Um, no. I make a living doing creative work. This only works if you’re not getting paid for your work. I don’t mean to sound snarky, but would you ask a lawyer to write a whole legal brief and then burn it? Would you ask a carpenter to build a bunch of cabinets for a client and then burn them? For some of us, creative work is how we pay the rent and taxes. Elad…marketability is the only reason I work. Period. I haven’t made art for fun since the Jerusalem Poetry Slam. It has really changed my perspective on this.

    • I’ve never heard of an artist that doesn’t also do some exercises on their own. A lawyer needs to do things on their own to improve their skill, as does a carpenter.

      “Elad…marketability is the only reason I work.”

      As you said in your Tweet… for once in my life I have to disagree with you. You CAN’T just work to succeed. You need to refresh internally, you need to grow your inner spiritual focus when you create. I’m not saying you always need to be doing something deep. But you simply can’t ONLY work for the money. At the end of the day, you need to be motivated by something deeper, just like a lawyer shouldn’t only be motivated to earn a living because it’s a steady job.

      It doesn’t have to be deep and mystical. But it needs to go beyond existing for itself. Otherwise, why on earth are you doing it?

      • We just have different perspectives on writing. I do it all day every day because someone is paying me to do it. My dad, the lawyer, says to me, “That’s why they call it work.” Because it is not fun all the time. Some people are carpenters. I am a writer. It’s a job. There are fun pieces that I enjoy writing more than the stuff I write for my day job, but even those are really just sitting down and sweating it out. Writing in drafts, rewriting…it is hard work. For me, it is not really that fun.

        • I never said it should be fun all the time, or that you need to be jumping up in some sort of mystical ecstasy every time you write. It’s just like davening or studying Torah or doing mitzvahs. The more you do it, the more it feels like work. Which is fine.

          But just like with those things, we need to continually attempt to make those things alive, to not just go through the motions, but to deepen its hold on us, and deepen the way we look at it.

          This is true with all things, really. But I think it’s particularly important for artists/writers/creators.

  • Hmm very interesting. It’s just that the entire time I’d be secretly hoping that somebody stole it while I wasn’t looking and made a copy… Like what if its really good and could inspire others or inspire you? Tricky…

    • In my mind, it’s worth it in the long run. You know why people are so scared of this idea? Because they judge themselves off of one page of work. They think that writing one great thing defines them. They forget that creation is a process. YOU are a process. And the deeper you dig into yourself, the better you and your work will be. Let go.

  • Heshy Rosenwasser

    I already did that once. One of the best songs I ever wrote, so incredibly self-revealing I scared myself to death. I destroyed every copy of the lyrics in existence. And I’ve regretted it ever since. If I can ever come up with something so precious again, there’s no way in the world I’m ever going to destroy it.

  • Woo – that’s a tall order. I have written music before that I ended up not using, but just because the piece went in a different direction. Not to not use it lishma.

    It reminds me of how we all need to do mitzvos that are just between us and Hashem, and that any pride or praise we get for a mitzvah in this world diminishes our reward in the world to come.

    Anyways, I like your point about not reading into online reactions, and not to let it go to our heads or dictate our choices. Thanks for that. Don’t know if I’ll be throwing out any work, though.

  • Everything you’re saying is very deep. However, I don’t really see the point of this exercise. Would we be doing this for ourselves? Or for G-d? If it’s for G-d, then I am pretty sure (only based on what I know about Chassidus–I have not spoken to G-d directly about this 😉 that G-d would not *want* us to destroy something beautiful that we created. And if it’s for ourselves, then it defeats the purpose. Am I missing something?

  • Wouldn’t you accomplish the same thing by just keeping it hidden and never publicizing it? I would think that always having it and never revealing it would really allow you to revisit your intentions at any time.

  • Miriam Patton

    I get where you’re coming from, but I would also hesitate to destroy something. I mean, perhaps, as a form of therapy, if you’re really that concerned, I suppose I could see it.

    But if you’re not there?

    I remember Rabbi Dubrawsky here in Dallas was giving a speech one Shabbos,he was saying that the chassidim of old would delay eating, in order to have a victory over their yetzer hara. They still ate, but delaying, even just a little bit, is a victory.

    So, too, with the art. Make it, put yourself into it… and then wait. Then post it.

  • When I was dancing in the company I was part of, we used to perform a lot of improvisational works. Ephemeral pieces of art that were there in the moment and never to be repeated again. That was also in the days of photos having to be developed and no cell phones, never mind always available video recordings. Those were also the days when I did some of my most “beautiful” work. And none of it is still here, no one will ever see it again, except in the mind’s eye and psyche of those audiences in different parts of the world. The movements in those contexts, in that timing, in that sequence were one offs, and not recorded in any way. There is a wistfulness and truth to that impermanence, and a privacy and the fact that those moments of art that disappeared were intensely personal, and a part of everyone’s story in a different way, and part of what made them perfect was that they (like many realities) were hard to pin down. I understand the power of making something that is not for anyone else but those involved in it’s creation (as we did so often in rehearsals when it was just us and no one to see something that was so lovely and not repeatable). I do think it’s a good thing to experience making art for the sake of art itself. It’s empowering, freeing to feel that the art is just there, and gone, and there again and gone, but it’s not less art just because it’s not there forever for all to see….sometimes its more moving, more real, you have to really HAVE it while it’s there, as opposed to perusing it because it will always be there. And yes, when it’s art that’s just for you it IS different than something you know others will see, have thoughts and feelings about…will validate or not. Perhaps like Schrodingers Cat, is the art still in the same form if it’s seen or not? Would you create something differently if you know that it is only for you? For a moment? And then ..gone?

    Thanks for the post Elad, nice for me to ruminate on this again…it’s been awhile…

  • sbefune

    Sorry to sound harsh but i think this is a very silly suggestion.

    Its one thing for a person to put things in perspective and come to the honest conclusion that the quality and value of your work is NOT determined by how many likes, hits and comments one gets. On that point I think we all can agree and that really just boils down to the maturity of the individual.

    But to throw your hard work away? thats highly unnecessary and a ridiculous thing to suggest, no offense.

  • Pingback: The Real Reason I Destroy My Writing | Pop Chassid()

  • “or run a sword through it or hire a hitman to take it out”… lol!!

    I think this is a GREAT idea because at the end of the day, even our art is JUST physical.

    It’s obvious that when an artist creates something they are somewhat emotionally/psychologically attached to it because it is an accomplishment on their part. But…to “destroy” it is liberating and freeing and should be done (at least once) in my opinion. I’ve done it many times and don’t regret it — not only that, I’m always surprised at myself in retrospect…and surprising yourself is always a good thing — otherwise it all gets monotonous and boring.

    And also, it creates a healthy balance between holding on to things and being able to let go. Change is good and one shouldn’t be afraid to let go of THINGS.

    Sh’koyach.

  • Avi

    Would you delete this post? Without explaining it in a future one… 🙂