Artists often work alone. While isolation naturally draws introverted personalities into the richness of their inner life, it can also leave creatives feeling confused about their progress and place in the world. Is all this a waste of time? Who cares if I finish this project anyway? What can I do to get better, to be the best? How do I know if I’ve succeeded?
While no one can answer these questions for you, it can be helpful to see the progression of people who have fought similar doubts and emerged triumphant (or not).
Here are suggestions for (somewhat) recent movies that deal with the artistic questions of creativity, identity, and success. Some fictional. Some documentary. All confront the risks and rewards of creativity with honesty, aplomb, and attention to detail.
Whiplash (Sacrifice & Greatness)
How far do you want to go? Whiplash takes a hard look at the drive required to pursue insanely ambitious creative goals. This is not about what it takes to be good. It’s about how to become one of the greats. Nothing is sacred. Not your family. Not your health. Your art is your life.
Practice until you bleed. Then practice more.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Craft)
While Whiplash is about the sacrifice it takes to become legend. Jiro Dreams of Sushi examines what life is like at the top. The movie assumes a zenlike affect for a variety of reasons, not least among them: when you’ve won every award and dominated every competition, what can possibly motivate you?
Obsession with craft as an end in itself.
Indie Game (Anxiety, Completion, & Launch)
In the beginning, even the most driven creative person has no idea if she will succeed in reaching her definition of success. The documentary Indie Game follows independent game designers on the rocky path through the development and launch of their creative projects.
Some win, some lose, but almost everyone suffers a nervous breakdown.
Birdman (Art & Personal Significance)
After achieving some level of success in a creative endeavor, how does an artist move forward with their lives? How do you continue to find meaning after your hard-fought-for popularity begins to wane?
Birdman looks at the lives of several artistic people struggling to find personal significance in a world primed to sneer before they applaud.
Salinger (The Recluse)
Faced with the vicissitudes of critical acclaim, some artists choose to focus on craft, some choose to fight harder for attention, and some… run and hide.
Salinger follows the unusual life of the enigmatic author of Catcher in the Rye, who felt that seclusion and a lifetime of unpublished work was the solution to a world full of phonies.
Most of these are available on Netflix or other similar services.
Find and reapply. Your mileage may vary.
Of course, you could also watch this brief little documentary about toiling in artistic isolation, as seen in the life of Vincent Van Gogh. Because, if anyone’s going to inspire you to believe that your artistic pursuits may one day be worth while it’s him.
Agree or disagree with any of the selections here? Have others you would add? Leave a comment below. THANKS!