Friday, May 01, 2015

Creativity is not about money

Creativity is not about the money. Although it's true that people can make enormous sums of money from allowing their talents to express themselves, that is only because of government intervention the markets. This intervention comes in the form of patent and copyright protection of ideas and works of creative expression. But I don't think that people wake up in the morning with an urge to create something just for the money. I'd like to share with some of my observations on this point.

Many of you may remember the television show, Seinfeld, featuring Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld was a standup comedian before getting into television sitcoms, indeed, every episode of Seinfeld has a short segment of Seinfeld's stand up comedy. Production of Seinfeld stopped at ten years with high ratings and billions earned. The series has earned more than $3 billion in syndication for reruns since the last episode aired in 1998. Jerry Seinfeld turned down an astounding $5 million per episode to keep the show going.

But few know about the movie Jerry Seinfeld made after the movie, "The Comedian". I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the Seinfeld show. After ten years of working the sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld went on the road to perform standup comedy with all new material. Here is a man who quit one of the popular television shows in history at the top of his game so he could drive around the country in his Porche and get on stage with new jokes.

In the movie we watch him bomb on stage. He even gets heckled. But he persists. He complains of his experience with two jokes, one that he loved he nurtured and polished, but saw no joy on stage. The other joke he hated, but the fans loved it. He had to face the fact that the fans get to decide which jokes get the laughs. Jerry is not doing that for the money. He's doing it because he loves doing standup comedy and he didn't want to stop.

Then there is Paul McCartney. I'm a big fan of his music and I appreciate the fact that he made enough money with the Beatles to never have to work again if he didn't want to. He's currently worth around $750 million, more than any other musician out there. But he's still writing. He's still touring.

Take the venerable album, RAM. McCartney didn't set out to make every song a hit song as far as I can tell, though some of his songs did become hits. The album got negative reviews among critics, but was eventually hailed as a classic. The most memorable song from the album, "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" is a medley of tunes that is just pure creative expression. During that recording I don't think McCartney was thinking about money, more likely, he was thinking about how much fun it is to make music.

I've seen video of McCartney on tour and on late night TV. I kid you not, the expression on his face when he's on stage playing his bass guitar and singing is priceless. It says that there is nothing he'd rather be doing right at that moment than performing.

I'll close with a note about Gene Hackman. Back in the 70's, Gene Hackman was famous for movies like The French Connection. His tough guy persona proved popular and people took him seriously. But Hackman got word of a movie in production, "Young Frankenstein", featuring Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman. He called Wilder and asked if he could have a small part in that movie, and he didn't even ask for money. He just wanted to be in it. Where does Hackman turn up in a beloved 70's comedy movie? He's the blind priest pouring hot tea in Young Frankenstein's lap. I learned that from watching the extras on the DVD.

All of these people participated in the creative arts out of a sincere desire to share their works. Yes, they get paid for their work, and sometimes the sums were incredibly large. But none of their efforts are really any fun unless their work is shared.

I know this from my writing, too. I write every day. I try to blog every day and I'm mostly successful at getting a blog out every day. But none of this would be any fun if I kept it all to myself. I enjoy writing alone, but sharing it with you makes the effort worth the while.
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