Competition in creativity is an odd concept, and yet it exists. Human nature is inherently competitive. It makes us strive for more and keep going. That’s why sports are so huge. Even if we’re not participating in the competition, we pick a horse in the race and have a stake in their wins. And that competitive edge makes sense in athletics.
There’s a clear marker on who the best basketball player is or who the fastest runners are. Those things can be timed and viewed pragmatically. Art is different though. Art is subjective. Every writing, song or painting evokes different emotions from different people. And yet artists are still competitive.
Hip Hop is the best example of this competitive edge. Hip Hop is usually referred to as a “sport”. And even though that carries racist connotations, it’s historically been as competitive as sports. Rappers have always had this edge to want to outshine one another on songs. Kendrick Lamar dropped ‘Control’ back in 2013 where he called out all of his peers like Drake, J Cole, Tyler, The Creator and Mac Miller. Kendrick told them what his intentions were. Kendrick Lamar wanted to be the best rapper alive. Best rapper alive is a moniker that’s been used by a lot of rappers like Lil Wayne back in 2008. Rappers, like all artists, want to be the best in their craft.
Artists want acclaim, validation, accolades and to be acknowledged as a creative genius because every artist thinks they’re a creative genius. Artists create from this place of insecurity and grandeur. A lot of artists perpetually think they’re the best in the world and that they completely suck, and that’s why artists are preyed on. That’s why the entertainment industry gives out prizes like the Oscars, Golden Globes and Grammys. All of these things are given out to Artists that dream of getting them since they were young because that’s what people who they admired received.
It’s supposed to be the official validation of great art, but unfortunately it’s a scam. You see, unlike sports, you can’t quantify great art. You can’t measure it, you can’t weigh it. All you can do is feel it. The movies that are nominated or end up getting Oscars are just a couple of guys favourite movies, they don’t account for all the movies that came out. Same thing with the Grammys. Billion dollar studios and labels get nominations for their products and then leverage the worth of these artists by however many trophies they have. In the 2020 Grammy awards the nominees for album of the year were Lizzo, Lil Nas X and Billie Eilish. No offence is intended towards any of these people. They’re probably all tremendously talented. But it’s clear that this is more of a label ploy than an actual award going towards the best music made. There are tons of well respected, critically acclaimed artists that have never won a Grammy like Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Nas, Snoop Dogg, even J Cole just won his first Grammy for a feature on a 21 Savage album.
Macklemore won the 2013 grammy for best rap album over Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid Mad City, Drakes Nothing Was The Same, Jay Zs Magna Carta Holy Grail and Kanye Wests Yeezus. We can say it’s racism, we can say it’s being out of touch, but it’s also just capitalism in art. If there are people with vested interests in Macklemore’s success and influence over the Grammy board or frankly any other award show, then they’ll do whatever it takes to give him that prize so that he can later leverage more money from studios and labels. These awards are manufactured and made to manipulate artists into the acquisition of meaningless badges on their belts.
And that’s why competition in art is strange. Because I feel it in myself. I feel the need to outdo every writer I’ve ever liked. Whenever I hear a beat I like, it motivates me to want to outdo it. I have the drive to be the best at every craft I pursue. Corporations and labels know this about artists so they manipulate that feeling which is why we have to set our own standards.
We have to make our own markers of greatness because if not then you’ll be living for external validation. I’ve been learning to draw my joy out of the love of the process instead of the results from the outcome. I love writing, I love making music and I love creating. But as artists we can get stuck in the loop of waiting for the results to feel good. We wait for the numbers to prove it or for someone to tell us that we’re good. It’s like waiting for a report card to find out if you learned when really the whole point was just to learn. The whole point was just to create. I fell in love with writing before anybody was reading it. Its what I’d do when I was 14 and sitting in my bedroom. It’s all I would do in my spare time alone. It’s what helps me understand myself and my view of the world. And I’ve seen myself get stuck in that loop where I determine how good something I’ve written is by the amount of clicks it’s gotten or the amount of positive responses I get from strangers. And that loop just gets you to pander and lose sight of yourself and your original vision.
So is there room for competition in art? I think so. I think that competitive drive is what gets you to do better and inspires you to make great work. From Andy Warhol and Basquiat to Kanye West and Jay Z, I think competition has inspired some of the greatest art the world has seen. But i don’t think it’s like sports in that we should wait for a medal or for someone to tell us that we’ve done well. Competition should drive us to create the best product but I think we should derive the worth of the product from the process of creation. I truly think that’s where ultimate greatness comes from. Cause if your drive is the achievements and then you achieve everything then you have no reason to continue. But if you derive joy from the creation process and seeing yourself make something new, cool and different then you can do that forever and unlike sports, the longer you do creative things, the better you get at your craft.
Creativity isn’t like sports where the older you get the more you face wear and tear. When you’re creating you’re ultimately mastering a craft that for the most part does no physical harm to you so you only get better the longer you do it. I’m still gonna try to be the Michael Jordan of art but I’m giving myself the rings. But I’m only 21 so if at some point I end up winning a Grammy, Oscar or a Pulitzer Prize just mind your business.