Functional Discontentment or Why Artists Can't Be Satisfied

Creatives are notorious for being unsatisfied with their work and for that translating to a general unhappiness in life. Hidden in that, though, is a real key to creativity, as long as one can find the proper balance. 

I think Simon Cade from DSLRgude is spot on when he talks about "constructive pessimism" and moments of brilliance in this video. There's a certain mysticism around the creative process, as if it's a magical thing during which the artistic genius conjures flashes of inspiration, when anyone who works as a creative knows that those "flashes" are really the sum of decades of learning, experimentation, refinement, repetition, success, and failure, and when seen that way, they're not magic at all; they're hard-earned. Of course, the downside is the feeling of never being good enough and never being ready to release one's work, because it can always be better. As a composer, I struggle with this constantly. There's no piece of music I've put out that I haven't thought "that transition could have been smoother, that chord voicing could have be clearer." It's a difficult balance both to find success and to be happy with ourselves and what we do, and I suspect the balance is different for all of us. Do you struggle with it? Let me know in the comments.

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Thomas Starlit's picture

Great post! In its essence, this video is very similar to the Ira Glass video which I also have drawn much encouragement from

Anonymous's picture

Interesting theory, but im not sure that i agree on the part it's at stressfull og pessimistic way too live. You don't have too be depressive and melancholy person(as I interpret it), just because you are your own worst critic. Thats what the fuels the engine, when you see something you can do better. Thats not stressfull. Thats bliss. If you can say so.

Josh Rottman's picture

I enjoyed this video a great deal, kid's wise beyond his years. I will say on the video side of my work, clients forced me early on to pump out quality edits quickly and consistently which helped me make my discontentment more functional with time. It forced me to understand the relative lack of importance of my creative hang-ups and to realize that the best thing I could do is put my project out there, learn something from it and apply what I learned to the next. Rinse and repeat.

Spending 10,000 hours on one project will only help you glean so many lessons about who you are as a creative and what you desire to say with your medium, where spending that same 10,000 hours on many consecutive projects--persistence in the face of obstacles and failures--may help you learn more and progress further faster.

The thing I've struggled with most in my first 5 years with a camera is not technical, it's finding my style and what/how I desire to articulate through the things I make. I've come to understand style is such a sought after element of creation because it will never come in a single brainstorm or project. It is by its nature the accumulation of years of experience trying and failing at numerous things and much of the time shouldn't come easily or quickly.