The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.-Pearl S. Buck
Thirty eight years ago, I read this quotation for the first time. It was on the wall in the design studio of a man who couldn’t offer me a job. Instead he offered me a desk and the opportunity to learn from him. He later told me he had made that same offer to a number of people over the years, fresh graduates from art school, like myself, and others. At that stage, I was the only one to ever accept. Perhaps others were not in a position to accept, or perhaps they couldn’t imagine what they could learn in that situation, I don’t know.
I went to his studio every day, as if it was a paying job. I would assist him if there was some small task to which I could contribute, or I would tag along with him where appropriate, and soak up what I could from the situation. In between those times I was busy reworking my portfolio to give it a more professional edge. At that point in my life I was certain I wanted a career in design, probably advertising, and this man owned his own agency. Among other things, he taught me the importance of typefaces and text to a layout and an advertising message. I continued to follow up job leads whenever I found one. It was no easier back then for a Fine Arts graduate to find work than it is now.
After a couple of months, I got my big break, but it was not exactly how I thought it might happen. I had made an appointment at a local TV station to have a chat with the art director and show him my portfolio. I wasn’t particularly thinking he had a job opening and I knew nothing about TV art, but it was something to consider. In the middle of the chat with the art director there came a phone call… for ME!
My girlfriend who worked at the adjoining radio station (I had told her I was coming) was on the other end of the line and she wanted to see me in the lobby, urgently! I quickly packed up my folio and thanked the art director and made haste to the lobby. It turned out that the new creative manager of the TV station was about to sack the current art director with whom I had been chatting! But further, he wanted to meet me and interview me for the job right then and there! It was almost too much to take in. I took the interview (what, are you kidding?). Among the questions, he picked up a card with a heading on it, just text, and asked me ‘What typeface is this?’ A pause from me as I analysed it “Helvetica” I replied. I was hired on the spot, based on that answer which I had learned while hanging out with the artist in his studio.
We just never know where our decisions will lead us… or how they will lead us.
When I told the mentoring artist about my job and asked him how I could ever repay him for helping me, he simply said “Just do the same for someone else some day.” I have never forgotten that lesson. And yes, I did get to pay it forward.
Every time I think of the opening quotation, it takes me back to those very early days when I had no job, and no idea how the world worked. But I knew when something felt right to me. The quotation is still one of the better things I have read that describes the creative person.
I will finish with another quote, which only recently came to my attention, but which rings very true. I believe it is paraphrased and refers to psychologist, Carl Jung’s work,
The first part of one’s life is about learning, the second part is about understanding.
Here’s to to both parts. X