Is our creative voice lost in translation?

The other night I had this crazy dream, wait! Stick with me, don’t stop reading just because I mentioned a dream! I promise, the dream is not actually that important.

Ok, perfect. You stuck with me, good.

Now, this dream was one of those completely nonsensical, out of left field affairs. I was following this leader of some sort of tribe around, documenting his interactions with other tribes for a project of some sort. However, and this is where things get real weird so stick with me, every time he met with another tribe he found himself in a confrontation. His solution to the confrontation was to let it escalate because he thought it would be settled in a dance off. (Trust me, I know, this is some bizarre stuff!).

Anyhow, right as things escalated to peak excitement levels and he shouted “Let’s settle this with a…” the other tribe would brutally attack him. And as he died, confusion on his face, he’d say “…a dance off”.

This happened over and over, each time ending in miscommunication leading to the ultimate failure.

I woke up shaking my head at just how strange that dream was, but it got me thinking about something.


How many times have you created something, released it out into the world full of excitement, only to find yourself defending it from people that just “didn’t get it”? You thought your creative message was crystal clear because it spoke to you like the voice of 10,000 angels singing in unison.

The problem is that not everyone else heard that choir. Part of being a creative is not just creating, it’s also communicating. It’s our ability to convey the ideas in our mind clearly to whoever the intended audience is.

I’m not saying that all creative work should be completely obvious in what it’s trying to say. There is absolutely value in allowing the viewer to have to work a little bit to really get to the good stuff. I would argue, however, that you need to have at least SOME message that is obvious enough that your intended audience can “Get” the first message and as they are enjoying that they can discover, or work for, the deeper message you have for them.

I think we have become so used to trying to engage our audience by just shouting a little louder, so we can be heard in a sea of competing voices, that we’ve forgotten to actually listen to what our audience wants to hear from us.

We don’t have to shout to have our message heard.

It’s something I’m honestly working VERY hard on learning and teaching myself, even as I write this. I’ve developed this intense desire to really connect with all of you, both to share my art AND to learn from you as well.

I’ve said it many times here and on the podcast, and I’ll say it many more times I’m sure, but my goal is to give value. Be it enjoyment, education, or simply something to think about, I want to connect with those of you that find value in what I’m doing.

I can’t know and connect, can’t provide that value, if I’m not listening first. If I go into the interaction like the “Dance Off Guy” from my crazy dream, just assuming I’m on the same page as you, I may find the connection impossible to make.

See, his problem was that he assumed he knew what the other tribe was saying. He didn’t actually listen. As things escalated, he was thinking of a super fun, epic, dance off. He didn’t take time to know, listen to, or understand his “audience”. They took his behavior as a sign of aggression that needed to be stopped. So they stopped it violently.

Ok, ok, enough about the dumb dream.

My point is this.

It’s vitally important to spend more time listening than shouting. Spend time getting to understand what the fans of your work REALLY want to see from you. Understand that you aren’t being asked to change WHO you are or WHAT you are saying, but rather you need to be able to understand WHO the people are that will truly find value in what you are doing. Once you understand that, you can work towards building genuine connections through strong communication. Focus on building relationships and community around your vision, not on just accumulating “followers” or “fans”.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I need to figure out why my non-dancing self dreamed about dance-offs in the first place.

David (Usually Dave) Szweduik is a photographer, podcaster, and all around geek from the great state of Minnesota and can be found weekly on his podcast Adventures in Creativity. There you’ll find him having conversations fueled by curiosity around the amazing world of all things creativity. If you want even more terrific creativity based content, feel free to join the fun with the Newsletter!

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