Creativity · Writing

Competition and Rivalry

Why do so many artists feel like art is a competition? They dismiss the work of other artists, some even going so far as to sabotage or undermine them.

I don’t get this mentality. What’s the point? Do they lift themselves up by putting others down? It’s not like it’s going to make their own work any better or popular. In fact, in my opinion it makes them less interesting to me.

I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t experienced artistic bullying, but I have seen it happen to other artists. And it’s not a new phenomena. There are all sorts of examples of artists who have tried to – or succeeded – in undermining the work of others. One famous example is Mozart and Salieri. There’s also Picasso and Matisse, Hemingway and Faulkner, Wolfe and Updike. The list goes on. Some artists seem to love to insult the work of their peers.

In a way, I think that a friendly rivalry can be healthy. A perfect example of this is the rivalry between The Beach Boys and The Beatles back in the 1960s. The story, as I know it, is that Brian Wilson (songwriter for the BBs) heard Rubber Soul and was blown away by it. It inspired him to write Pet Sounds. When Paul McCartney heard Pet Sounds, he responded with Sgt. Pepper’s. It was a rivalry between two of the biggest bands at the time, but it never turned nasty. In fact, we ended up with a couple of amazing albums because of it.

Going back to the competition theme, I can’t help but believe the reason why some artists do turn against their peers is because they feel they have to compete for an audience. They must think that there’s a limited number of readers or aficionados in the world and they have to do whatever it takes to get their attention and keep it. Or maybe they think that stirring up controversy will bring them publicity. As the saying goes, bad publicity is better than no publicity.

Maybe I’m naive. I’ve always tried to encourage other artists, provide support and constructive feedback. Supporting other artists might inspire them to do the same, and in the end we all benefit from it. Sort of like paying it forward. Besides, supporting other artists is also supporting the art itself. If you think about it, it makes sense. A positive writing community will attract readers because people are drawn to that kind of energy. We all feed off it.

Don’t misunderstand this, though. I’m not saying that we need to all write positive, life affirming stories. Write what interests you, regardless of whether it’s horror, science fiction, religious, romantic, or weird stories. The point is that we – the writers – need to be more positive with one another. We need to support and encourage. We need to provide constructive feedback. And yes, we need to have friendly competition. In the end, we all benefit from this. How? Because we’ll all be more inspired, more creative, maybe more collaborative.

In my humble opinion, the world is dark enough as it is. We’re inundated with nasty politics, racism, hate, fear of the other, and ignorance. As writers, we’re obligated to bring these things to light, to chase the cockroaches back into the shadows. We can start by helping each other to improve and be better writers. In turn, we’ll write better stories.

Like I wrote above, maybe I’m just being naive. But even if I am, I’m going to continue trying to help other writers and artists and hopefully get others to do the same. What have I got to lose?

RB

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