Is it easier to hate than to love? In terms of art, the answer might be yes.
Artist David Levine details the best art activity he ever assigned. At first, he passed out various art magazines to his students and asked them to find an artist they liked (one they hadn’t heard of before) and report back. The results were dismal. None of the students connected with the artists in the magazines.
Levine flipped the idea on its head and for the next week, asked the students to report back on artists they hated. This generated the energized argument he was searching for.
Levine commented on the activity:
“What I found interesting about this turn of events was how much easier it is, as a first step, to define your own position negatively, and how the beginnings of articulating taste are almost always through discovering what you don’t like.”
Defining what we don’t like is easier than choosing what we love. When we collect together ideas we think are stupid or banal, we create a road map of places we will never go. This gradually begins to reveal our actual course though the landscape of creativity.
Having just watched the recent season of Stranger Things (Season 4, Volume I), I grew interested in the Duffer brother’s approach to writing and stumbled upon some tips they gave early on in the Stranger Things run.
Two of the “tips” stood out to me. One was to “Always return to what inspired you in the first place.” When you keep on subtracting things you hate, you’re left with only the ideas you cherish. The Duffer brothers spent years creating projects for other people and hated it. They knew, instinctively, that the core of their creativity lay in the movies from the 80s.
The other tip that resonated was to not over analyze your reasons. “Don’t pay attention to what’s hot in the marketplace. Just do what makes sense to you.” Why does Eleven like waffles so much? Who cares, she just loves them.
The act of knowing what you think is dumb or trite is a godsend to those who create. Think about it. If you hold up a writer or composer you admire, the pressure to live up to that ideal is immense. How can I write like Stephen King? Yet, if you turn around and look at those books or songs you despise, it’s much easier to create. You can look at them and say, “Well, I can do better than that.” It takes the heat off and allows you freedom to breathe.
So yes, it is easier to hate than to love. Create that list of all the stupid and idiotic things you’ve read or seen. These people got their work published or shown. And you can do so much better than their horrid ideas. Plus, along the way, you might just stumble across your own passions. What else could any true artist ask for?