A Creative and an Editor Walk Into a Bar.

To erase or not to erase?

When I was a kid, maybe in about third grade, I had an art class where a guest artist was brought into the classroom one Friday to teach us. I remember being excited because I was drawing every spare moment of every day and had been for a couple of years.

In part of the lesson the teacher showed us two pieces. One where the artist had clearly drawn without erasing. I remember the image was a very natural, flowy line drawn form of a woman in a voluminous dress and was very detailed. The other piece was a series of very black balls where the artist had erased the highlight so there was a very bright contrast between the highlight and the shadow of each ball, making them look like black steel or something. She asked us to raise our hands as to which one we liked. The class was almost universally drawn to the balls. She then asked a question "Is it ok that the artist use the eraser in his drawing to achieve the effect? Should he not have been able to achieve the same result without the eraser?"

I remember thinking emphatically, no. I remember thinking that it was a greater skill to have drawn such a beautiful form without erasing. Sadly, the teacher was not able to correct my misinterpretation of the lesson that day. The point is this, the lesson really was that both were great ways of attaining different goals. The pieces were very different and therefore the path to the end result was also very different.

In other words, one piece was made completely through processes of addition. The other, however, made its impact through a process of subtraction which gave it a certain striking character that was visually more impressive than the other because of its strong contrast. What am I getting at here? Surely, it has more to do than just a couple of processes of drawing and a lesson on contrast. It does, although I must admit, this analogy breaks here because it really just reminds me of what I really want to talk about rather than being exactly analogous...

This is what I want to really get at. I often tell people I have a philosophy about iteration and editing. I like to say that you should never put the creator and the editor in the same room. It's not an absolute never, but I think it's a generally a good idea to keep them separate and here's why.
The creative person is very sensitive. I know, I am one. They love the things that they make. Everything they make is a baby to them. They put their heart and soul into it. The creative needs safe space to create relentlessly without being stopped or told that their ideas are stupid. If you keep the editor from talking to them while they are creating, they will create more and better ideas.

I'm not just talking about two people in a working environment. I am talking about the creative and the editor in your head. We all have them, the angel and the demon. The one telling us that we suck and the other telling us that we're great. The trick is, we need them both, but not at the same time. We get too confused by their back and forth.

If you give the creator free rein and let them create more and better ideas, then you give the editor more and better ideas to edit. On the flip side, keeping the creative out of the room when the editor is at work is very important. When the editor is cutting and killing the darlings and babies of the creator, the creator will get sensitive and defensive and want to keep ideas that might not be that great. Let the editor cut at will after the creator has fully fleshed out all of his ideas.

This is how we arrive at our best work. Let both sides have their day by preventing both of them from getting in the others way.

Jesse Barney

December 14, 2019