If you had the chance to sit down with a great designer, photographer, writer, or other creative, and ask them anything, what would you ask? Wouldn’t you want, if given the chance, to peel back the layers of experience and get down to the nitty-gritty core of what makes them tick as a creative person? That’s the concept behind The Great Discontent, “a journal of interviews focusing on creativity, risk, and what connects us as artists,” available to anyone with an Internet connection, free of charge.
Interviewees span the gamut from author/entrepreneur Seth Godin to graphic design pioneer Paula Scher, with lesser-known but no less successful creatives peppered in between—from designers, photographers, and illustrators to musicians, writers and entrepreneurs. Other notable interviews include with famous graphic designers Frank Chimero, James Victore, Debbie Millman, Bobby Solomon, Tina Roth Eisenberg, Heads of State, Jessica Hische, Tad Carpenter, Scott Hill, and Dan Cassaro, and Dana Tanamachi.
With a clean and simple web layout optimal for lengthy reading ease, the site is as beautiful as it is interesting. Conceived by creative duo Ryan and Tina Essmaker, a designer and writer respectively, The Great Discontent was created mostly out of curiosity, as described on the site’s About page.
“We have a lot of questions. The Great Discontent is our attempt to explore answers to those questions by asking people about their own experiences and hearing their stories.”
The questions are focused less on the work-side of the equation, and more about the individual. The reason being that the duo has “always been more intrigued by people than by the tools or the process by which they create.”
Common questions asked are things like “Did you have an ‘aha’ moment when you knew you wanted to be a [whatever they are]?” and “Are you creatively satisfied?”— questions that elicit completely different answers depending on the person. Paula Scher describes herself as sometimes creatively satisfied, but notes that she is “never done”; whereas, Seth Godin claims creative satisfaction is “a very dangerous place to be.”
Ultimately, through the conversations with creatives and the questions asked, The Great Discontent’s purpose boils down to “connecting with the human side of creativity and trying to understand the common themes among creatives from various backgrounds and disciplines.”
What I’ve gleaned from reading various interviews is that there’s no wrong way to be creative. Everyone interviewed on The Great Discontent has a different story. Some came from nurturing, encouraging artistic families, while others set out on a completely different road and had to sever a lot of ties with the people they loved. Some thrive on daily structure; others believe any kind of structure would turn them from a creative into just another desk jockey. Some read four books a week, others love to watch movies, and some work so much they have no time for either. The commonalities between all of them (or at least between all the interviews I’ve read thus far) is that each creative can give multiple examples of times they took a risk to move forward with their careers, and each believes that surrounding oneself with a creative community (not necessarily of others in the same industry) is key to nurturing and growing one’s own creativity.
Those two things—risk and community—seem to promote creativity and growth in ways nothing else can compare to. Maybe it goes without saying, (and maybe I didn’t have to read 15 interviews to realize how important those two things are), but if successful creatives agree that risk and community had a huge influence in bringing them to where they are today, then I am certainly going to cultivate those two things as I go forward in my career. Any time I am tempted to stay home or take the easy route, thanks to these interviews, I can list at least 15 people that would disagree with those decisions.
The site publishes new interviews (almost) every Tuesday, and has two years worth of archives. If you have a suggestion for an interviewee, they take suggestions very seriously, and you are welcome to email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, I suggest grabbing a mug of something toasty, settling in in a comfortable spot, and taking a couple hours to become more inspired than you ever thought possible by visiting The Great Discontent.