Brian Feeney

Designer & Front-End Developer

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Resident of Brooklyn, NY. Senior Product Designer at the Wall Street Journal.

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October 15, 2013

Are You Creatively Satisfied?

Every interview from The Great Discontent includes the question, "Are you creatively satisfied?". It's an amazing question precisely because of the same reasons it's a terrible question. It defies a real answer, but yet usually everyone comes to the same conclusion: "No. I mean, yes. I mean, maybe. Actually, it depends. Sometimes." The interesting thing isn't so much the final answer given, but in watching how the respondents wriggle in getting there.

I ask myself a version of this everyday, more or less indirectly: "Am I doing what I want to be doing?" If the answer is no, then I sit and write out my thoughts until I find out what the reasons might be. The next step is to make moves to correct my path. Right now, I feel like I'm working too much. I have a full time job and I'm working on a couple websites on the side. My time is a little more constrained than I'd like it to be. What I want to do next is to play around with photoshop again, make some collages and pretty images, maybe a poster or two. Thinking this through, whatever the answer, helps me become more optimistic and renews my interest in the world around me.

Creative satisfaction, for me, is determined on a timeline. It's not about being perfectly happy with my work right at this moment, but over a period of time stretching between a few months in the past and a few months into the future. It's hard to feel satisfied if you don't like the work you've recently done, or if you aren't excited about what's coming up, and it's not very helpful to worry about liking the work today. Today is for working and getting things done.

Satisfaction is a general feeling. It comes and it goes. And it touches down just as lightly as it blows away. Because of this, I do what I can to invite it into my life, but I don't struggle to make it happen. The goal, i think, is a matter of zen practice, being satisfied with being unsatisfied. The goal is too keep asking yourself the question.

A few of my favorite responses from TGD:

Frank Chimero:

I think this question is bullshit, man. I know that this is sort of the namesake of the site, but the reason I think it’s bullshit is because the way you frame a creative practice should not be in terms of whether you’re content or not. I think everyone has a window of approval for their work; sometimes that’s years and sometimes it’s months, days, or hours. Your approval of your work metabolizes no matter what, and it doesn’t matter how good you are. That’s why I hit you up on Twitter recently to say “What if we’re thinking about this all wrong? What if contentedness about your creative work is more like eating?” . . . It doesn’t matter how good the meal is. A few hours later, you’re going to be hungry again. Maybe the reason you’re dissatisfied is not because the burger you just ate was bad, but because you’ve already eaten it—your body processes it. Doing the work makes you better, so of course you’ll be dissatisfied with what you’ve already done. You’re better!

Jeff Veen:

I hope I never am—why would I continue to create if I was? But at the moment, I can’t think of anything to change. Right now, I get to work with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met in a culture that is tight and supportive—and only vaguely political—with what appears to be, after spending so many years in a startup, almost unlimited resources to achieve what we have set out to do. I put all those things together and it leads to a lot of satisfaction, though I don’t think you should ever be creatively satisfied. The only time I want to feel that way is when I’m recharging in anticipation of doing more stuff.

Aaron Draplin:

Fuck yeah, I love what I do. I worked all weekend on a logo, like a dumb-ass. I got to go in and present it today and I couldn’t get in there fast enough. You sketch and sketch and sketch and come up with something. I am proud of what I came up with and I hope they pick it. If they don’t, what are you gonna do? You fight to make something better that they’ll love the next time you present. . . . Yeah, I’m too satisfied. You know how you eat too much and you’re too full, like at Thanksgiving? I feel that some days. I’ll leave work and go home so full and exhausted. I’m so proud of that shit.