Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Crazy Like an Artist Part 2 - Delusions of Grandeur

A few weeks ago I wrote about one of three types of crazy that the artist is familiar with. I called it mild insanity. In that case, I talked about how the shift in priorities that allows her to create art makes her look seem out of balance to the rest of the world.

The second in the theme steps it up a bit. It is the craziness that drives the artist to finish the big ideas when everyone else would see no use. To make the big dreams real, we have to believe they really matter, often when no one else believes it quite as much.

Like any oddity, the insanity varies from mild to extreme. Some ideas might even be so good that friends and rich investors stand behind the creator from the start. But at some point, maybe even for only a moment, anyone who gets a big idea and does something about it has to jump into this dare to believe. There's that moment when I have to tell my wife about the idea-the one that would impact thousands of people for good-that seemed good at 11:00 the night before or that I thought of when I was half dreaming that morning.

"Normal" people, it would seem, do not do this. They wake up thinking of ways to fix the lawn mower or how the new kitchen should look. At least those are the plans they share with me. Maybe they're not comfortable being that crazy around me.

I am very familiar with this crazy. My dedication to an idea is often obsessive. I usually believe immediately it's going to change the world, make me (mildly) rich. or at least achieve the better than nothing stamp of "critical acclaim".

I can go a few months like this, tearing into some new idea in a hobby I am barely familiar with. I did it with games for years. Good and bad ideas floated across the playtest table week after week, but I was driven by the overall crazy notion that I was meant to make games. I could tell stories from childhood to support this. And all those years when I didn't even know it, but the dream was there. I just knew it.

 For me it was a sense that I had something to give and I was supposed to make it real. It's like this messiah complex. Bono talks about it a lot. (“Anyone who finds their way to the front of a rock band… has definitely got a messianic complex.”) It drives him and (at least in cases like his) the success drives the idea.

At the heart of this type of crazy is a fundamental of true art - the fact that it might not work. A sure thing is not art. Still, these crazy artists, myself included, believe at times that they see the sure thing when no one else does. It is not just craziness, but the embracing of the craziness. We choose it, return to it and rest in it when everyone else says it isn't worth it.

The delusions fade in time, at least for me, throughout the process of work. There are times I keep going because I believe. Then there are times I keep going because I told my wife I'd have it done by May or I've put a year into it.

And there are times when the delusion is completely gone. In the flood of reality the idea and, in logical order, the artist himself, looks undeniably childish. Were we fools to believe?

And that can be one step toward the third type of insanity. I'll come back to that in time.

But the good and terrible thing of this delusional vision of the artist is that sometimes they are right. They aren't always right. Oh, I played some terrible games from people who were sure they had discovered gold. I hated to hear the stories of garages filled with unsold boxes. Sometimes the crazy is just crazy, but sometimes it's what someone was supposed to see. They had to see it. If there's a way to know the difference we haven't found it yet. As much as I hate falling for the lie in some of my ideas, if we ever find the formula for success we will destroy the art.

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