“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about… say yes quickly, if you know, if you’ve known it from before the beginning of the universe.” ― Rumi

There is a seesaw, on the left side of which sits the word “Creative” (having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas) and perfectly weighted on opposite side the word “Director” (a person who manages an organized group of people or a part of an organization) balances.  The see-sawing words have, as a pair, comprised my “job title” for the past 19 years, in various modes of employ. I’ve actually worn the label “creative” since when I actually played on see-saws (“Well Mrs. Smith, she is still having difficulty grasping simple division, but on a positive note, she made a very nice working pinhole camera out of an oatmeal box…”) and my gratitude in finding organizations full of the best and brightest, willing to pay me to “direct” creativity, my own, and that of others, as an adult has been immense. Having design equations to solve provides not only a limitless container for my borderline pathological interests in language, symbols, color, image, pop-culture, history, music, basic human behaviors and so on … but allows them to alchemize into bigger and better things and any spillover can be applied to personal projects, merrymaking and daydreaming.

Once “titled up” and working in the field, I began to have conversations that opened typically with questions about a project I’d worked on, that went something like this:

“Wow you did that? That’s so cool, I could never do anything like that, I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”  

Curiosity over the origin of this mystery bone aside (is it located anywhere near the romantic bone, or the mean one? Can it break?) I questioned how this ability I am seen to possess is viewed by the self-proclaiming “creatively boneless". I now had a question in return, and I asked it. That went, and continues to go something like this:

“Well, may I ask, in your mind what do you imagine my work life to be like? What do you think it feels like to work on an ad for TV, or a series of photographs?”  

The answers vary of course, but there has been one over-arching theme that I find fascinating. Contrary to the popular archetype of the tortured artist, the description of the imagined creative process contains major elements of joyful, easy inspiration, bursts of inspired ideation, almost magical in nature and very little, if any, self-doubt or struggle. Not to mention the ever-present opinions of other concerned parties and resulting constant compromise.

Much has changed in regards to process and I've improved from my self-torturing design school years, spent working on projects in an apartment on which I’d scrawled the Nietzsche line “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” on the wall in the fattest of black Sharpies. But my experience has very rarely approached the realm described above.  At nineteen, the Nietzsche quote’s appeal for me lay largely in the way I understood the word “chaos”, as a sort of wild, unpredictable and horrible slam dance with the uncontrollable forces of nature and fate, and much less in the mysterious “dancing star” part of the equation.

What I could not grasp in my youth was Nietzsche’s use of the word chaos was more likely the classic Greek definition, indicating the formless matter supposed to have existed before the ordered universe, a limitless field of creative potential from which anything may, and most likely will, arise. (In other words, a lot less like my teenage Mad Max dystopian nightmare version of the word.)a It was meant, I hope, as a kinder, more fertile chaos, one that leaves wide openings for those brave enough to wade in and muck about.

As charming as I have to admit I find the perception that my work is an easy flow of steady inspiration and wonderment, I have learned to accept that the fallow periods, the errors in judgment or scope, the missteps and struggles to regain balance, even the big spectacular fails are just a part of the journey into the chaotic emptiness from which I like to think, it’s possible to emerge with a dancing star or two of one’s very own.


Susan Smith is Creatively Directing pretty much anything you throw her way. If not that, then defining it from behind a lens. She is wildly enthusiastic about strategic creative for brands, fashion, typography, photography, big dogs, big rings, the large hadron collider, better communication and very fast cars. 


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