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The Arena

A Miley Cyrus song came on the radio today and ushered in a train of thought which moved from observation to opinion to tirade, ultimately challenging me into a new way of thinking.  Thanks, Miley; I know that’s probably not what you were going for when you recorded “Party in the USA,” but it happened.

As a person over the age of fifteen eleven, it’s easy to listen to Miley Cyrus and be – shall we say – less than impressed.  It’s easy to be a critic.

It’s easy to look at Britney Spears circa 2007 and throw around words like “raving lunatic.”  It’s easy to look at LeBron James’s “decision” and call him an egotistical traitor.  It’s easy to slam Stephenie Meyer for writing something less than an enduring literary classic, but let me ask you,

What have you written lately?

What were you doing when you were fifteen years old?

Probably not recording quadruple platinum singles or being scouted for the NBA.

You were probably doing the same things I was:  procrastinating on your history paper and waiting for your mom to pick you up from the mall.

But just for the sake of discussion, let’s say you can sing better than Miley, handle fame better than Britney, or turn a phrase better than Stephenie (no way can you ball better than LeBron):  the point is this – you didn’t.

Creating something is much more difficult than criticizing something – not necessarily because of the skill required, but because of the bravery.

I think it completely senseless when a person walks into an art museum, looks at Piet Mondriaan’s “Red, Yellow, and Blue” for example, and says, “I could do that.”


Of course you could – now.  But Mondriaan’s real genius wasn’t in placing the lines – it was in believing it to be beautiful.  He thought of it, pioneered it, created it, stood by it, promoted it.  Of course you could copy it; but he did the real work of creation.  Neither copying nor criticizing assume any of the risk:  that lies with the creator alone.  This is what Charles Brower was getting at when he wrote,

“A new idea is delicate.  It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.”

What’s more, I’ve found that creatives don’t often criticize other creatives – they support them.  A seasoned risk-taker recognizes the gumption in a creative rookie – they sense a kinship, a sameness.  They recognize that they’re all on the same team; all working to affect the world – to make it more beautiful.  Both John Mayer and Ingrid Michaleson tweeted their support of Miley’s music; Mayer stating that “The Climb” was one of the most honest songs he’d heard in a long time and an example of what songwriting should be, and Michaelson saying that she “opened her heart” to Miley’s music and wanted to protect and support her.

In my life – my sphere – it’s easy to criticize a writer, a mommy-blogger, a brander.  It’s easy to think, “I could do it better.”  It’s harder, however, to put something out there.  To do the tedious work, to scrap together the courage to self-promote and stand by your work.  To sleep less, censor less, endure criticism, and create, create, create.

Today Miley Cyrus reminded me how desperately I want to stay on the creative team.  I want to recognize creative courage, even when it’s a little rough around the edges.  I am terribly rough around the edges.

“A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic.” 
[Jean Sibelius]

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”  
[Theodore Roosevelt, emphasis mine]

More from Kate on creativity here.

  • Cody Williams

    Agree one hundred percent….

  • Dana Portwood

    Thank you for creating beauty here today.

  • Louise

    I love this so much! I’ve had many arguments with friends over what is “art” and none of them have ended well hah!

  • Anonymous

    Kate! So good!! I’ll never forget standing in the Philadelphia Art Museum my junior year in high school, whispering with my friends about a giant canvas that was just painted blue, about how “We could have done that.” And mid whisper our art teacher walked up behind and said “Yea… But you didn’t.”

    That shut us up! And I’ve come back to that so many times in my life. :) Great post – as always!

    • Kate Conner

      That’s awesome – what a great art teacher!

  • Heather

    This is great! Always enjoy taking a few minutes to read your posts. You’re a very gifted writer.

  • Maddie

    You’re back!! I’ve missed reading your posts!! Please update on life in Georgia and baby Conner!!

  • DD

    Kate –

    You’ve been missed. I check in daily for you inspire me in countless ways.

    Thank you for this post. Thank you for reminding me that spending myself in a worthy cause is going to be vulnerable, painful and difficult but the rewards in the journey and the anticipation of victory is worth every scar.

    I fight for those who have no voice. I fight for a sister who was sexually abused by trusted friends. I fight for the future children in the church so that they will never be over-looked as she has been.

    I am in The Arena and it is scary and hard. But I will, I must keep fighting.

    Thank you.

  • Davy

    You make a very good point. Thank you for continuing to create!

  • Sandra

    Thanks!!! You bring tears to my eyes and give me courage! I love you!

  • Jennifer Legra

    As a writer, I struggle every time I sit down to write. What will I write about? Is this direction I wanted to take this? Will anyone other than my mom be interested in reading this? And then I remember THIS. I write for me. Because I love it and want to share it. And doing that makes me brave… no matter what the critics say. Inspired by this. Thanks!

  • Anna White

    I was just having this same type of realization about human tendencies this past weekend, but at church. I used to be a church critic. “That pastor was getting quite creative with that interpretation of that passage” or “the worship leader sure enjoyed hearing herself sing this morning” or one of my old favorites “I wonder how much money they spent on this stage set-up that could have gone to our church neighbors who have been struggling to find enough to afford groceries this past few months.”

    It is so easy to criticize when I’m not the one on the board of directors, I’m not the one getting a gazillion comments from the members about which songs they want to sing on Sunday, I’m not the one poring over a passage and praying for God to speak through me to the hundreds of faces that will greet me Sunday morning, etc. I’ve been working on my ability to love others, appreciate what they have chosen to do as part of the church, and know that me being cynical doesn’t help anyone or make anything better, it just makes me kind of a b.

    Thanks for the reminder about how it relates to other areas of creativity as well! And I’ll echo others’ comments that you have been missed:)

  • Rebecca Rejoices

    As always, Kate, you say it perfectly. I love to hang out with creatives, because they build up. I don’t need any dream stealers in my life–I doubt my abilities enough on my own without them adding fuel to the fire, thankyouverymuch. I want to inspire and encourage others, and I want to hang out with others with the same intent.
    Keep creating! We’ve missed you!

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