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The importance of creative friendships

by Erik Beerbower

Chris picked me up early so we could tailgate before the start of Ghost Rider. Rainy days are good days to catch a movie. We stopped at the first convenient store to pick up some 22-ounce Heinekens and headed to the theater. We parked, poured our beers into plastic cups and listened to Rush’s “Working Man” on a headbangers banquet compilation.

A lot has changed over the past 20 years of our friendship, while some things have just been upgraded. The first time I met Chris he was chasing me down the street with a fence post in Buffalo, NY, because the friend I was with said something about one of his friend’s mamas. We all know that if you want trouble just talk about someone’s mama. After our narrow escape we rounded up some of our crew and collected a few baseball bats and a couple of lead pipes, loaded everyone up in my friend’s mom’s station wagon and went looking for them. We caught up with them in the neighborhood next to ours and proceeded to chase them around several houses. An eminent ass-whooping would have taken place if not for the man with the shotgun who chased us out of his backyard.

A couple years later we met again at a party and looked at each other with a silent I know you. We soon became the best of friends. Back then we were tailgating with 40-ounce Black Label in brown paper bags listening to Iron Maiden. Chris went on to study interior design then architecture while I was studying art and design. We both moved to Greensboro and have married and are trying to make a living in our creative fields.

I am convinced that creative people gravitate towards each other, whether consciously or not, like intuitive magnets. It could be that they are drawn to each other through inspiration or validation, or maybe both. When I look at my core group of friends it amazes me that just about every one of them inspires me and motivates me. Creative people feel the need to be immersed and saturated in the conversations and presence of other like-minded creative individuals. It gives strength and credence to their ideologies.

Perhaps one of the greatest pitfalls of any creative friendship is navigating through the inflated self worth and strong will of creative individuals. With great ideas comes great emphasis on self-importance, and the struggle for who has the greater idea. I tend to view these situations not as conflicts but as an exercise in brainstorming, where the outcome yields a better idea or different perspective than ones initial idea or position. If you believe that there are no bad ideas, just constructive conversations, you can sail your ship through the seas of any egomaniacal storm.

If you are a creative friend you have a responsibility to your friendship. Being a good listener and strong supporter are prerequisites. Think of yourself as a lighthouse, a beacon, aiding direction and shedding light on the darkness of creative uncertainty. You must be the steadfast advocate and the grounding wire in your friendship. Creative people have a tendency of having more ideas than strategies to implement their ideas. That it why it is important to help your friends stay focused and motivated.

Negativity can be the greatest wedge in your relationship. Rather than telling your friend that his idea sucks, try using his idea as a stepping-stone or launch pad to flush out a more practical idea. This approach eliminates the potential for resentment and perceived pretentiousness.

There is no question that the greatest benefit to any creative friendship is the dialogue. Having someone you respect and admire to bounce ideas off is truly priceless. Creative people can at times feel isolated on an island of their own ideas. Friendship provides a conduit to express your ideas and field responses. The more friendships you develop, the more opportunities you have to reshape and refine your ideas.

I have been blessed with great creative friendships in my life. Some have been brief while others have been long. I would like to believe that every friendship has had a positive and lasting influence on me as a person and as an artist. Some may have had more of an impact than others.

One thing is for sure: With every great idea I have had, there has been a friend’s input entwined in that idea. If you believe in the power and importance of friendships you must believe that there is a better idea out there. Some just need to be chased down the street with a fence post to realize that.

E-mail Erik Beerbower at imisculp@mindspring.com.

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