Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

An Unfinished Idea

I’ve noticed a common thread in recent essays and conversations about ideas. When the topic turns to creating something new, the ideas themselves are talked about as commodities of little value.

“Ideas are easy,” we’re told. “Anyone can come up with ideas. Execution is what matters.” An idea that doesn’t result in something tangible is a failure. There is a right way and a wrong way to create, and only one is worthwhile.

We sometimes forget about the wonder that comes from false starts and messy mistakes; the joy found in an absurd idea and the gumption of those willing to try regardless. My father’s house and yard were filled with testaments to successful experiments and ideas gone wrong. A visitor was never quite sure which were which. He loved that.

Ideas are becoming another form of productivity, something to be implemented and measured. Instead of celebrating the madcap and unattainable, or the stack of first chapters and partial canvases, they are seen as a waste of time. We belittle unfinished ideas, as if we’re not all unfinished ideas.

Ideas should never be limited to what’s possible.

Does what we create have value if no one else ever sees it? What if it is never finished?

Bringing something new into the world is one of life’s great joys, of course. That should always be encouraged and celebrated. The extra push to stop chasing perfection, let go, and share it, is a good thing.

Yes, real artists ship. They also have ideas that are never realized and work that lies unfinished. They have dreams they can’t describe and plans that don’t make sense.

We’re all trying in our imperfect way to express the inexpressible. We’re all real artists.

Originally written for Uncommon in Common’s weekly dispatch.