In a recent podcast episode of Creative Pep Talk, Andy J. Miller advocates the idea that each person is the average of the five people we spend the most time with. It is inevitable that who we are and what we produce will be influenced by those around us the most, or so it goes.
I have a hard time with this concept. Partly because I think it’s an over-simplification, and partly because I don’t actually spend time with five people very often. I think it’s easy for most to understand why I would find the concept above too simple, but I will explain. First, where is the proof of this? Are there studies on this, or is this one of those ideas that gets passed around on the Internet and ultimately and uncritically taken as truth? It almost sounds intuitive, but then it starts sounding like junk psychology. Second, I think it unlikely that five people can have such a heavy influence on us when our entire day is a barrage of influences from incalculable sources, most namely the Internet. What about the Twitters and Facebooks? What about advertisements? What about the music we listen to all day? What about our environment? What about podcasts?
The other reason I find it hard to accept this theory is that, well, I don’t really have five regulars in my life on a daily basis. I have my wife and two children, and then apart from that, I spend all day in the studio, alone. I have neighbours at the studio, but with so much to squeeze into an 8 hour day, I don’t do much chit chat. On an average weekday, I get up, eat breakfast with my girls, and then bike to work. We live in a pretty rural area, so I see maybe 8 cars on my commute. When I get to work, I may see some neighbour artists and kindly wave hello before ducking into my hermitage for the day. I then bike back home, have dinner with my family, put the girls to bed, and then spend a couple hours with my wife before bedtime. On weekends, we may visit with friends, a couple hours here, an hour there.
It’s not that I don’t have friends and extended family, it’s just that I really don’t spend much time with any of them. This exercise of naming five key influencers in my life, if anything, makes me realize how isolated I am. But it also makes me wonder if I should be doing more to be around positive creative influences. Although I am doubtful of being the average of the five main people in my life, I wholly believe in the need for community. But it seems I don’t have one — not, at least, offline.
But that is just it. My community is almost completely online. My circle of influence is my contemporary heroes, my colleagues, my clients — none of whom I actually see in real life. Does that make me the average of my five online influences? Who would these be? Certainly, whomever is my client at the time has a huge influence on me. But creatively, I suppose I am slightly starved for community. Is it possible to be so hungry for so long that you no longer notice how hungry you are? Because I am mostly an introvert, and because the extrovert part of me gets its fill from my family, I don’t often feel that need for connection in the deepest sense. And because I work so much (like 60-80 hours a week), I don’t have a lot of time to notice how little time I am spending with fellow creatives.
I’m going to surmise that I am in fact starving for creative community. When I lived in Vancouver, I was going out very regularly to meet with others. I went to a hand-lettering meet-up every other Friday. I ran into fellow creatives all the time in the neighbourhood where I had my studio. I met a few times a month with friends, colleagues or clients on a casual basis. I went to gallery shows. The city was good for that. Without even needing to be deliberate, my creativity had a social life. My creativity does not have much social life today. And I wonder why I feel so creatively blocked lately.
What can I do about this? I suppose I can make it down to the city more often. I could also start more local meet-ups and meet creatives in my neck of the woods. Conferences, although expensive, are also great ways to rub shoulders and catch creative influences. Going to Brand New in New York in September was definitely revitalizing. I am looking very forward to going to ICON 9 this July. But between my online-only community and these once-a-year conferences, I need to find more regular camaraderie.
My next question, perhaps for another post, is how creative hunger and creative community relate to one another. This is because, aside from social isolation, I have also been experiencing a lack of passion for what I do. It’s so much easier to do good work when I have an explosive feeling of inspiration, where I am so eager to make beautiful stuff that I obsess. Lately it’s felt more like trudgery. I’m now almost certain there is a link, and I guess I will have to write about that next time.
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts on creative community and influence, or inspiration. Let me know what you think in the comments here, or by email, or a tweet. Thanks for reading!