The Consumer Myth is the idea that artists and creatives can consume media without being affected by it.

My generation spent much of our childhoods convincing our parents that this wasn’t true, especially when it came to video games. We certainly weren’t alone – we had the help of the video game companies and sponsored “research”. To this day, a massive faction of our culture insists that what goes in our brains doesn’t come back out.

I disagree. I believe what we consume does affect us. Sure, watching ultra-violent movies, listening to hardcore music, and playing M-rated games isn’t going to make every person a mass murderer, but it does have an effect which is far more subtle. It slowly modifies our thought processes. It settles into our subconscious and surfaces in moments of creative solitude.

And so while I’m consciously avoiding the whole “video games are evil” debate, I am asking you to admit what you should already know: that what you consume affects your thoughts – and surfaces in creative moments.

And why we, as creative people, should consciously choose creativity over consumerism. We are creatives first, consumers second. We should not only consume culture, we should create it.

The Consumer Myth is the idea that artists and creatives can consume media without being affected. Share on X

WHY ALL ARTISTS SHOULD BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF MEDIA

All media we take in exerts an influence on us to some degree. Whether through our eyes or ears, it has an effect both in our conscious and subconscious mind. Artists cannot refuse this fact. If we deny that, then we deny that our art has an effect on people we seek to reach! And how depressing is that concept?

No, we have to believe it. If we are to give our chosen profession any meaning, that is.

Think about it: we can’t have it both ways. If we say media has little to no effect, then we’re putting ourselves out of a job as creators and curators of content.

You may at this point try to be a responsible blog reader and demand facts and figures. You may ask for academic reports citing proof.

While I could do a simple Google search and provide this for you, I don’t need to. All I need to do is ask you to review your own experiences.

My first experience with the profound nature of repeated audio / visual input can be summed up in one word: Tetris. You know, the Russian block puzzle game that was in every single household in at least one form in the late 80’s to early 90’s.

Homework Avoidance Device, Circa 1989

Antique Homework Avoidance Device, Circa 1989

 

I remember the first night I had it, I binged on Tetris. Long after bedtime, there I was, hunched over the green screen of my Game Boy with a flashlight (this was before Game Boys had light up screens, kids!) I finally had to quit when my flashlight died. I remember afterward being in a strange half-waking dream where little block shapes were literally burned into my retinas. All the next day, I would see these block shapes superimposed in my real world, as if recalled by my visual memory. This freaked me out so much that I laid off the game for a couple of days (I did pick it up afterward… though I didn’t have any more late night Tetris binges!)

It’s a matter of volume… the more the volume of media consumed in a more compressed amount of time will result in more of an effect. Smaller amounts of media spread out over time does not have as much of an effect, but is still exerts an influence, however subtle.

I should mention one other area where media exerts a huge influence… over children. Their minds are like sponges, retaining massive amounts of information. (They don’t, however, know how to process a lot of it.) Kids can recall (and adults can recall when they were kids) even the tiniest of details in media messages. And these stay with them for life. Elderly people often recall childhood memories even when all other memories have failed because the childhood ones were embedded deeply. Parents, be aware of this… that’s just a friendly public service announcement for you.

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT

Okay, let’s move forward assuming that we’re all on the same page here… that media affects us to varying degree, depending on factors such as age, quantity, and length of exposure. Now, let’s look at what we consume.

If we inundate ourselves with base, meaningless drivel, then our creative work will suffer. It’s like pretending what we eat doesn’t affect our minds and bodies. (And this is coming from a guy who, over the years, has consumed quite a lot of base, meaningless drivel).

Needless to say, we may want to consciously control what we take into our creative brains.

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“What? I’m eating garbage? Well, it sure tastes good.”

 

Let’s say you’re working on a piece of dialog for a Shakespearean play. But the night before you watch several hours of scandalous reality talk show tv, complete with screaming scorned lovers and domestic altercations. The next day, in quiet moments of creative reflection as you work on dialog of the play, does salty “colloquial language” of modern times sneak its way into your thoughts? You bet it does! Does this make it a bit more difficult to focus on what you’re trying to convey in your play? Probably so.

So let’s review what consuming too much useless media does to us. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just call it “crud.”


Symptoms of consuming crud

  • When you try to create, you find yourself lacking inspiration.
  • The crud replays itself in your head when you try to create what you want to create.
  • You find yourself addicted to the crud, wanting to get back to it when you get the chance though you don’t know why.

 

At this point you may be denying this, and thinking “Hey, who is this jerk to tell me what to watch? I’ll do whatever I want!

Absolutely. Do whatever you want. Watch, listen to, and read whatever you wish. I’m not your guardian angel of creativity here.

But don’t come crying to me if you have writer’s block, but have been starving your brain of anything remotely resembling inspiration for what you’re trying to write about.

IT’S NOT ONLY A QUESTION OF WHAT… IT’S ALSO A QUESTION OF HOW MUCH

Not only do we artists often make the mistake of consuming the wrong things, we frequently consume too much media in too much volume. This has the result of us not producing enough. (I am reminded of a certain tv series I binge watched recently during holiday break. Needless to say, I did not attain my writing goals that week.)

The question of volume can be either too much or not enough. Like Goldilocks, we want to consume the amount that’s “just right”.

Consuming too much “good” media

A side note: when I say “right things” or “good things”, I’m not making a moral judgment. I’m referring to what is right from the standpoint of your creative brand. In this light, “right” or “good” means whatever inspires you and helps your creativity.

Even too much of the “right” kind of inspiration is detrimental. This is an easy trap to fall into for people like me who are over-analyzers and want to be completely immersed in a topic before jumping in and doing something. It can get us in a rut. It can begin to intimidate. It can lull us into inaction. This gives you the interesting situation of knowing exactly what you need to do, but knowing too much of what you need to do. You’re confused as to which course to take, and this leads to paralysis. And the hardest thing to do in your creative business is putting it in motion when you have zero momentum.


Symptoms of consuming too much good stuff

  • You’re intimidated when you think about producing it yourself.
  • You feel confused with multiple messages ricocheting around in your brain.
  • You are stuck in an analysis loop and your creative momentum has stopped.

Consuming not enough “good” media

One symptom of an under-consuming artist is when they sit down to create, nothing’s in the creative well. Are they starting from ground zero, with no momentum? The fabled “writers block” may be really be a symptom of not enough creative input. In keeping with the diet analogy, we could be starving our creativity when we don’t consume enough the things that give us creative inspiration.

One thought process that keeps us from consuming enough of the right kinds of inspiration is the fear of plagiarizing, or copying, other people’s work.

You might be worried that if you look at inspiration that you’re going to just regurgitate what you’ve already seen. You may be concerned that you’ll be blamed for copying, being derivative, or not being “original.”

Let’s put your mind at rest about this, because most artists err on the side of creative self-starvation, not of copying others’ work. It’s far easier to rework your message to be more original than it is to come up with something inspiring from ground zero. If you’re overly concerned about being original, then you may be a victim of the Originality Myth. The truth is, nothing’s truly original. We have to agree at some point that everything that we label “original” or “not original” is on a spectrum. We have to find a place on that spectrum where we are content with deriving sufficient inspirational input while still producing unique work that stands out.

That’s one big reason we don’t consume enough good stuff. There are others, such as you don’t know what to consume. This one is easy to fix… simply Google the niche you’re in and you’ll find a lot of inspiration out there. Allow yourself to become inspired, listen to your subconscious. It will resonate when you find something that speaks to you.

Artists are creatives first, consumers second.

All artists are creatives first, consumers second. Share on X

On a personal note, I find that listening to audiobooks and podcasts about creativity and overcoming personal beliefs is very enriching to what I write about on this blog. I frequently have to pause what I’m hearing and jot down notes. These interludes often blossom into full blown essays on a subject. As I’m also writing a book, I frequently find “aha!” moments as I listen to things that I’ve been needing for the book. It’s like working on a large puzzle and finding that elusive piece. The satisfaction of putting that piece into place is immense!

This is a great example of not only consuming the “right” kinds of things for your creative brand, it’s also an example of continuous action. When something resonates, don’t ignore it! Let it out on paper, on canvas, record it, whatever you need to do. This way you are always in motion. You’ll find that when this is the case, you’ll rarely be out of gas when it comes time to sit down and create. This is putting your consuming to work for you, not against you.

Another bad thing about not consuming enough outside inspiration is that we always have to dip into the same old well – the one within. While it’s good to have a common theme in your work, there’s a fine line between that and having all your stuff look to similar to itself. This inbred quality can make your work seem boring and uninspired.


Symptoms of not consuming enough “good” stuff:

  • We’re afraid of copying other people’s work.
  • We feel uninspired and “empty” when we try to create.
  • All of our work begins to look the same.

 

A SOLUTION

So… what’s the middle ground here? How do we form a habit of consuming enough of the right kind of stuff that helps, not hinders, our creative business? (Without being like artist-monks who just never seem to have any fun).

What I propose is that we prescribe for ourselves a creative “diet”. We consciously plan the media we consume. We are conscious of that which inspires, and that which is simply fluff.

It should be pretty easy to find sufficient inspiration for your creative brand. You know what resonates with your message and what gives you fuels your creative output.

  • Subscribe to other artists who you find inspiring.
  • Create a Pinterest board and follow boards that you find interesting.
  • Read a few chapters of a book each day.
  • Create a playlist of songs that fuel your imagination and put you in the zone. (For me, this involves liberal amounts of Deadmau5, Boards of Canada, and Groove Armada.)

Big wins can come when you schedule inspiration in the right amounts to coincide with creative goals you have. If your creative goal is to write a piece of science fiction, then immerse yourself in your favorite science fiction. If you’re making a photography series on a topic, then inundate yourself with stuff on this topic. This sounds painfully obvious, but you’d be surprised and how much people don’t do this. They often sit down to create and wonder why inspiration isn’t there when they’ve starved their creative brains.

Another way to look at it (because the diet analogy is sooooo tired) is that you are a curator of the art museum in your mind. You can decide what goes on the walls, and where. You can create collections of what you regard with fond nostalgia, what haunts your nightmares, or what gets your creative juices flowing.

And your museum can be as big as you want it to be! It can be ten Guggenheims linked together if you wish. (You may want some kind of system for finding where you put that Monet or Kandinksy.) Any time you need inspiration, just choose a wing and go for a stroll. You can even mash up the Abstract Expressionist section of your museum with your Gangsta Rap section. See what happens! It will be quirky and crazy, but maybe it will be genius.

And what about those junky reality shows, romance novels, and other fluffy types of media? Do they have a place in your life? You tell me what’s the right amount for you. We’re all big girls and boys now, we can make our own decisions about what we take into our creative brains.

In fact, if you’re not afraid to disclose what your junky media fetish is, it can actually work for you, and contribute to your quirky artist mystique. It can give you personality. Like the fact that one of my favorite things about my late granddad, who was a grizzled war veteran and butcher by trade, was that he liked daytime soap operas and would talk about them a lot. (And if he wasn’t able to watch them as they were broadcast, you can bet he was programming his VCR to watch them later.)


 

In summary:

  • Realize that everything you read here watch and consume affects you.
  • If you consume too much of the wrong kind of media, then it crowds out the inspirational thoughts… and it may keep you from having enough time to create what matters.
  • If you don’t consume enough of the right kind of media, then you’re starving yourself creatively.
  • Consuming the right kinds of media and in the right amounts ensures that you will never have to look for inspiration for your art.
  • We as artists and creators should make a conscious decision that we are creatives first, consumers second.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with this article? I’d love to hear your thoughts on consumerism and creativity.