Ann Lewnes and David Grohl on stage at Adobe MAX

5 Pieces Of Advice From Famous Creatives To Inspire Success

Knowing who you are, retaining a sense of self, and believing in your vision is key to a successful and authentic creative career, according to five celebrity artists who took to the stage at Adobe MAX 2019–the Creativity Conference in Los Angeles.

“Creativity is the great enabler,” said Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes, as she kicked off Tuesday’s program. “Creativity doesn’t happen without a community. Creatives need a community to come together, learn, connect, and be inspired, and that’s what we’re doing here.”  

You Are You

“You don’t have time to be anybody else but yourself,” visual artist Shantell Martin declared to the 16,000 attendees.

When speaking on the topic of how to find your own personal creative style, Martin said, “I extracted it myself–your unique fingerprint, identity, and style is already within you.“ 

Martin tapped into finding exactly what that style was while working as a “visual jockey” in Tokyo, where, when live music played, she created real-time art.

“There was no time to hesitate or plan, only to create,” she said.

Shantell Martin on stage at Adobe MAX

Martin also learned that in foreign places, “when nobody knows who you are, they don’t care who you are,” so figuring out who you are at your core is crucial to finding your way.

“I found mine through this language of drawing and words and characters,” she said. “Everyone can draw a line, but what if that line becomes recognizably mine? For it to become Shantell’s line, I listened to myself and knew when it felt right.”

On the topic of collaborating with brands and companies, such as for recent projects with the New York City Ballet and Governor’s Island, Martin advocated for the creative.

“Brands need to support the artist by not trying to win all the time. Let us create and own our work,” she said.

Inspiration Can Come From Anywhere

Photographer David LaChapelle’s images have appeared in GQ, New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and Interview Magazine. As an adolescent in the East Village of New York in the 1970s, he found creative inspiration could be instilled and provoked from all types of different circumstances.

“When I started shooting analog photographs, it was to create images as a way to escape,” he said. “It wasn’t about having a legacy or leaving a mark. I just wanted to have a purpose for being alive.”

When LaChapelle was hired by Andy Warhol to shoot for Interview Magazine, the famed artist, director, and producer told him to “do whatever you want, just make everyone look good.”

David LaChapelle on stage at Adobe MAX

With that direction, LaChapelle’s creative identity got bolder, and he started to create with the sole purpose of beauty, escapism, and humor.

“I aspire to create something that will take people away and make them dream, like music does,” he said. “I’ve always wanted my photos to be like music and touch the heart directly.”

LaChapelle’s advice for young creatives? “It’s not a question of what you’ll get from a career in photography, but what you’re going to give to the world from it,” he said.

He also cautioned the younger set glued to their smartphones to stop the scroll. 

“Inspiration can come from anywhere–love, pain, loss, solitude. You need solitude to receive direction, comfort, and creativity. You have to turn your device off to hear that voice,” LaChapelle said.

Do What You Want

Seventeen-year-old singer and songwriter Billie Eilish first “met” Japanese visual artist Takashi Murakami through a series of direct messages on Instagram. The end result was the animation-packed “you should see me in a crown” music video.

“Working with [Murakami] was the most incredible, amazing experience–his art is the most shocking and beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Eilish said on stage in conversation with Murakami. “I walked around his studio and pointed out things that caught my attention and inspired me. Then he showed me the things that he liked and was inspired by, and it was every single thing I had pointed out myself.”

Billie Eilish and Takashi Murakami on stage at Adobe MAX

In addition to collaborating on the music video, the pair has also collaborated on a fashion line, something that is a passion for both of them. “Fashion has always been a way of expressing how I felt creatively without saying anything. I think we both felt it without realizing it–a mutual respect for creative style,” Eilish stated.

When it comes to their creative collaboration, Murakami said, “I’m like the catcher and the musician is the pitcher. I follow their lead and add in my unique identity.”

Following your own creative identity and process is of utmost importance for both Murakami and Eilish.

“Do what you want,” Eilish said. “Do exactly what you’re going to be happy with. That’s it.”

Control What You Can, Don’t Worry About What You Can’t

As he started out his career as a screenwriter, director, and producer, M. Night Shyamalan learned the “beautiful lesson” that when it comes to his creative process, he only has himself to lean on.

“When you become successful early on in your career, you can get confused about what you do, and it can pull you from who you are and that can cause you to lose your power as a creator,” he said.

Creativity and emotion pours out in their purest form by focusing on what is within your control as a creative, Shyamalan also stressed.

“I tell stories for a living. I focus on the ingredients and in making sure the quality of those ingredients is super, super high,” Shyamalan said on stage in conversation with Jason Levine, Adobe’s principal Creative Cloud evangelist.

M. Night Shyamalan on stage at Adobe MAX

Shyamalan also discussed how the democratization of video is changing the film industry. He cited the positive, how “technology lets anyone tell their story which I absolutely advocate for,” but also pointed to the potential negative in that it can take the thinking out of the process.

“It used to be that you cut the film, tape it together, watch the cut, and then think through what’s working and what isn’t and how you can fix it," he said. "Now, with modern technology, you have five, six, seven, eight takes all at your fingertips instantly, and you stop thinking. We have to figure out how to use all that access in the right way.”

Throughout his 20-plus-year career, the one thing Shyamalan has always believed in (even when those huge movie studios didn’t) is himself.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t believe in you and your vision, why should anyone else?” he said.

Retaining You Is The Most Important Thing

Singer, songwriter, musician, director, and Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl is a completely self-taught musician.

“I can’t read music–I do it by ear and a patterned mind. I can memorize arrangements, but don’t ask me to read music,” he said. “By never taking music lessons, I never thought there was any right or wrong, and in that thought alone there are beautiful imperfections. That’s what makes progress and changes music.”

Growing up in a household with parents who were passionate about music made it easy for Grohl to also fall in love with it. 

“The first time I listened to drums was on a Rush album–that was it for me,” he said. “I set up pillows on my bed in the configuration of a drum and played along for hours and hours.”

Dave Grohl on stage at Adobe MAX

Grohl joined alternative rock band Nirvana and unexpectedly became a part of a musical revolution. 

“It had nothing to do with superficial image or conventional rock and roll. It was just about the songs and the art we were creating,” Grohl said.

In addition to playing the drums, Grohl frequently recorded songs on his own purely as a personal creative release, more for himself than for anyone else. 

“I realized that during tough times, music would save my life,” he said. “There is something about music and having an outlet where I could write something I actually felt that was actually me, and I put it out into the world that kept me going.”

As the Foo Fighters record their 10th studio album this year, Grohl has also shifted some of his creative focus to film-making, including HBO’s “Sonic Highway" series. 

“Everything I do is in the hope that I inspire someone to pick up an instrument and play for themselves,” he said.

As a father, Grohl stressed the importance of the up-and-coming generation knowing that the simple idea of grabbing an instrument and playing from the heart is still available to them.

“In the creative process, you can get ahead of your heart at times, but retaining you is really the most important thing,” he said.

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