Garbage In, Garbage Out

Growing up, my grandmother would always cluck at me: “garbage in, garbage out.”  I would always feel a bit persecuted when she would say this, and I couldn’t help but think “what exactly was I surrounding myself with that was so bad?”

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized what she meant.

Without delving into a nature versus nature diatribe — what up, controversy — I do believe our surroundings play a huge factor in the work we produce, and the way we feel about ourselves. Your surroundings aren’t just your physical location, but they’re also the people you surround yourself with, the material you read or view, the music you listen to, the movies you watch, and even the clothing you wear.

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
—Pablo Picasso

As a creative, I think it’s critical to be conscious of surroundings because part of your job is to create work from your unique set of personal experiences. Your upbringing, your education, your city, your home, even the language(s) you speak — everything, all of it, has a direct impact on your work.

Personally, I have a problem where I see the potential in people at the cost of not realizing how toxic or generally terrible they might be, until it’s too late. I’m getting better about it now, but in retrospect I’ve wasted so much time feeling bad about myself just because I was with the wrong people. I’ve been unduly influenced by other people’s negative thoughts about themselves, and nobody needs a Negative Nancy constantly flushing positivity down the drain. Yet we might not even realize how toxic someone is until we take a step back and reassess.

Likewise, if you’re surrounding yourself with negative inspiration, your work is going to reflect that as well. Much like diet and nutrition translate into the way our skin looks, or how our bodies feel, not paying attention to your creative intake can be equally disastrous.

To be successful as a creative you need to have a wide variety of inspiration to pull from in order to execute original and effective work. This means consuming a diet of rich culture, with a healthy dash of bad as well. Love reality television? Perfect. Soak it up. But then head to a museum and look at Byzantine art. Read a book translated from another language. Scroll through Tumblr and find water color paintings from an artist in Sedona. Mix the high and the low, the familiar and the foreign, the good and the bad.

You’re responsible for what culture you consume, and it’s going to have a direct impact on the work you’re creating.

Another way to think about this is to think about clothing.

Clothing doesn’t need to be expensive to make you feel good — more than half of the things I wear on a daily basis were either thrifted for a few dollars or were on sale for a fraction of their original price. But the important thing is how it makes you feel.

I’m all about a good black t shirt and a great pair of jeans. It’s a super simple outfit, but when the elements are right I feel more put together and polished. I feel like I can take on any situation. On the flip side, put me in a suit or some overly dressy outfit and I will immediately feel uncomfortable and out of place. I’d rather show up to a gala in a pair of jeans with a great blazer and a great pair of shoes, as opposed to a full on tux, since that’s how I’m going to feel more put together, and thus appear more confident.

My point is I’m not trying to define what’s “good” or “bad” inspiration — that’s up to you to decide. My point is to be aware of how you define the two, so you can maximize the good.

Inspiration is never going to saunter up to you at the bar, buy you a drink, and then take you home for a wild rendezvous. You’re going to have to step up your game, work on your lines, make witty banter, be charming, and then maybe you’ll get the digits.

I believe inspiration is critical to maintaining a productive and evolving workflow. You don’t want things to stagnate or to become repetitions of themselves, because that’s how you sink quickly. Most creatives I know are highly intuitive people and feed off of the energies around them. But when they’re younger — at least for me this was true — they aren’t always fully aware of just how much they’re reacting to the energy around them.

Wise up, learn how to protect yourself, and you’ll be good.

Likewise, you need to be conscious of seeking out all kinds of inspiration.  Interacting with and understanding “bad” is just as important as cultivating a steady source of “good,” because of yin and yang and all that yeezey.

Inspiration exists, Mr. Pablo Picasso said, but it has to find you working. If you’re shoveling other people’s ish, chances are your workflow is going to be more garbage in, garbage out.

Jeff Smith

Jeff started in photography and short format video, and he's been at the forefront of the web tv movement. He’s worked on haute couture shoots in Paris, shot street style in Milan, and is currently developing a steady roster of beauty, fashion, and digital clients in NYC.