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Development Never Ends: The Creative Process Values the Journey over Productivity

The creative process is something we all do in our daily lives, whether we recognize it or not. We collectively strive to build a better tomorrow in which to support our families, pursue our work, and enjoy our leisure activities. I consider the creative process synonymous with development, and yet there is a disconnect between the two that causes tremendous strife.

Development gets a bad rap because people are always in a hurry to “arrive.” Those not in development are quick to clarify they’ve already “passed the development stage,” as if it's a limited experience.  Because why suffer the strains of development if not for the promise of some degree of success?

But the creative process values the journey over productivity. And yet, business tends to reward the end product over the process. This makes the path to “success” disproportionately challenging for creatives, who thrive during development. (Which came first, The Exploited Artist vs. the Insecure Artist?)

In today’s #280Characters, fail-fast, technology driven marketplace, having no quick pathway to success is a tough pill to swallow.  Especially when we’re bombarded with lessons learned, cautionary tales, and personal advice, many of which hold kernels of wisdom.  

And yet, for all those promises, how many people are, in fact, left behind to suffer the quiet abyss of failure?  When in reality, failure lies not in the end product, but in anything that lies beyond the process of development. Failure is merely a misdirection that cripples the creative process!

And we know creativity is important to our health. There are mountains of evidence that demonstrate that value. David Eagleman is the neuroscientist, Stanford professor, and best selling author behind The Creative Brain. This body of work unravels the creative process in the brain and demonstrates its significance in our lives, to our evolution.

As a young adult, I always wanted there to be a universal truth, a shared understanding that humans can subscribe to that would guarantee success. And I searched long and far for it. Through case studies of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, unlikely success stories like Def Jam Records, famed failures like Enron, and the corrupt prosperity of companies such as Valeant Pharmaceuticals and HSBC Bank.

I searched at the negotiating table with venue owners, industry titans, and trend-setters; during private pitches, inside glamorous offices, and over drinks.  And of course, I’ve listened to my fellow artists going through the trenches, some of whom came through, some who didn’t.

I too have touched the highs of success and fell to the lowest depths of failure…over and over again. And even though everyone will tout the value of failure, nothing prepares you for it, or, in my experience, can sincerely help you through it.  Even if there are lots of vultures eager to sell you a cure.

I now equate the development process to that of Joseph Campbell’s "Hero’s Journey."  Put into linear terms (because the story in application is not always linear), the journey concludes with a return to normalcy, armed with a newfound paradigm.  This transformation can only occur from confronting the shadow self, or fighting one’s own demons.

As such, what I found instead of that universal truth I longed for, is that there are no definitive, one-stop-shop definitions for "success."  There is no finite end-goal, bottom line, or arrival. There is always another demon to conquer. #DevelopmentNeverEnds It’s a personal journey that looks different for everyone. It’s the Hero’s Journey.

So instead of finding a shortcut to “success,” I would suggest we lean into the process of our own creativity. But in doing so, we must remove judgement. Which means starting with how we define art itself. According to Digital artist Scott Ligon, “Art helps you see that larger picture.”  I define “art” in two parts: Who is an artist, but someone seeking,

  1. the expression of the self

  2. in response to his/her/their environment.

Then there's that age-old debate, “Is talent inborn, or can it be taught?” I’d like to suggest that talent is innate, just as Plato tells us wisdom is innate in all of us. We need only be open to the tap which lies inside, through which, art is waiting to be channeled. Talent is simply the way in which we channel our art.


The way to open that tap is to be creative! Answer the call to take the Hero’s Journey; it’s a venture to find our most authentic selves.  Authenticity is the elusive “talent” we seek to express through our art.  Those words might even be interchangeable because if your channel is not authentic, or the tap not opened, any art that comes through is affected.

As it turns out, authenticity is usually what’s lacking in the troubled areas of culture (e.g. exploitation, corruption, greed).  A three-year Cultural Value Project lead by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council culminated in the Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture Report, published in 2016:

So art is important.  Artists are important.  Which means it’s important to embrace, mentor, and develop them.  It is indeed a hero who chooses the artistic path. 

Just as our identity is continually a work in process, development itself never ends. The harder we cling to ideals about our future, etc., the more elusive it becomes. We live in a fast-paced society where we can skip to the point as quickly as possible. Afterall, every story has to have an ending...right? But the end of development is a moving target because it evolves.

That is why I call it The Sustainability Cycle (Exploration, Inclusion, Evolution).  If we master this, we learn there will always be a need to change and adapt.

People hate this idea.  Many would rather use money, sex, and negotiation to achieve success rather than endure a grueling process of tackling fears, facing the self, and getting their hands dirty for...infinitum. “What’s the point?” I hear artists say, “Life is short and I’m getting old.”   

The point is sustainability and peace of mind.  The point is to not end up the way of Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, Avicii, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain... People may not remember the stories of celebrity suicides.  But the tragedies will continue until we learn to support creativity over productivity.   

I have found it very difficult to grasp that all “success” is, in fact, transient. It feels more comfortable inside the paradigm that the majority dictates for us, valuing productivity over process. But comfort, happiness, and even failure are all….impermanent.  THAT is the universal truth I was searching for.

Emileena is writing a book on artist development called ANOTHER WAY. If you are an artist looking for development, consider Emileena's E-Velop program.

Original Artwork by Dave Law, freelance visual artist and illustrator. For more, please visit



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