I recently read The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. It’s a fantastic novel about a family of artists and their very distinct approach art. Camille and Caleb Fang have dedicated their lives to creating artistic works, with the world as their canvas—live works carried out in public spaces like malls with the intent to create chaos. And they make their children, Annie and Buster, part of their acts.
The novel examines the effects that being a part their parents’ artistic visions has played in the lives of Annie and Buster. Both grow up to be artists themselves, Annie an actress and Buster a novelist. Throughout the book, there is a fantastic tug-and-pull over what is art, what is beauty, and how it plays into real life. Here are some (spoiler free!) lessons on creativity from the masters themselves, the Fangs.
Passion is critical.
Caleb and Camille Fang are the prolific artists they are because they eat, sleep and breathe their art. In very literal ways, it consumes their lives. This all-consuming approach, though problematic in other ways throughout the book, drives their art and fuels them through highs and lows in a way nothing else could. Keep that love for your work alive.
Passion isn’t enough.
There are other characters in The Family Fang who share this consuming passion for art, but that is all they have. Passion simply isn’t enough. You have to put that passion to work to channel your talents, and work at it diligently. More than their passion, the Fangs are widely celebrated for their dedication to their art, and their willingness to do absolutely anything to get it right. Passion is the foundation, but you still have to put in the work to build the house—the talent, skills and hard work to put passion to work.
Sometimes it doesn’t work.
Even with passion, talent, skills and diligence, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Even the prolific Caleb and Camille’s attempts at art sometimes fail. It hurts to fail. But it’s a part of the process. The Fangs are somewhat mystified in the moments following a failed project. But they don’t let it rule them. They get it back together, assess what went wrong, learn from it, and put that lesson to work in their next great work.
They will try to drag you down. Don’t let them.
At the beginning of the novel, Annie and Buster’s lives are pretty messy. They’ve been slammed with negativity from reviewers and paparazzi. Their broken, confused state in the book’s opening chapters says a lot about the toll this negativity can take on any artist. It’s probably inevitable that sometimes the negativity of a reviewer, peer, competitor or somebody will get to you a little. It’s only natural that when someone says “your art sucks,” that you feel that. But no matter how good you are, this will happen. Don’t let these moments become the defining moments. Keep yourself focused on the positivity.
You won’t please everyone, so don’t try.
Caleb and Camille’s eccentric idea of art isn’t for everyone. Those who like them love them. Some were so obsessed they seem ready to put their own lives on the line for them. But others hate their work. Caleb and Camille don’t worry over getting those who hate their work to understand or like them more. They just focus on creating more amazing work. Caleb and Camille are deeply ambivalent characters, but when it comes to their art their confidence is undeniable. They leave it to the rest of us to decide whether to take it or leave it. And, in fact, the heated controversy over their art works to their benefit, raising their profile.
Creativity can be pretty messy. But it’s also deeply rewarding. The trick is to accept that the peaks and valleys are all part of the journey, and every experience along the way will strengthen you and your work. At its core, The Family Fang is about how we cope with the lowest and highest points as artists and throughout all of life. It’s a fantastic piece of literature that I’d recommend to anyone looking for a fun and thoughtful read.