The most creative people, you’ll notice, throw themselves into what they do with absurd, even reckless abandon. They commit, no matter their doubts about their talents, education, finances, etc. They have to. They are generally fighting not only their own misgivings, but also those of friends, family, critics, financiers, and landlords. Artists who work to realize their own vision, rather than someone else’s, face a witheringly high probability of failure, or the kind of success that comes with few material rewards. One must be willing to take the odds, and to renounce, says Ethan Hawke in the short TED talk above, the need for validation or approval.
This is hard news for people pleasers and seekers after fame and reputation, but in order to overcome the inevitable social obstacles, artists must be willing, says Hawke, to play the fool. He takes as his example Allen Ginsberg, who appeared on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line in May of 1968 and, rather than answer Buckley’s charge that his political positions were “naive,” pulled out a harmonium and proceeded to sing the Hare Krishna chant (“the most unharried Krishna I’ve ever heard,” Buckley remarked). Upon arriving home to New York, says Hawke, Ginsberg was met by people who were aghast at what he’d done, feeling that he made himself a clown for middle America.
Ginsberg was unbothered. He was willing to be “America’s holy fool,” as Vivian Gornick called him, if it meant interrupting the constant stream of advertising and propaganda and making Americans stop to wonder “who is this stupid poet?”
Who is this person so willing to chant at William F. Buckley for “the preservation of the universe, instead of its destruction”? What might he have to say to my secret wishes? This is what artists do, says Hawke, take risks to express emotions, by whatever means are at hand. It is the essence of Ginsberg’s view of creativity, to let go of judgment, as he once told a writing student:
Judge it later. You’ll have plenty of time to judge it. You have all your life to judge it and revise it! You don’t have to judge it on the spot there. What rises, respect it. Respect what rises….
Judge your own work later, if you must, but whatever you do, Hawke advises above, don’t stake your worth on the judgments of others. The creative life requires committing instead to the value of human creativity for its own sake, with a childlike intensity that doesn’t apologize for itself or ask permission to come to the surface.