Six daily habits for artists

I just finished Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception. Like all of Godin’s work, it was excellent. I highly suggest you check it out if you’re interested in creative work.

Here is one of my favorite lines in the book: six daily habits for artists.

  1. Sit alone; sit quietly.
  2. Learn something new without any apparent practical benefit.
  3. Ask individuals for bold feedback; ignore what you hear from the crowd.
  4. Spend time encouraging other artists.
  5. Teach, with the intent of making change.
  6. Ship something that you created.

You can find more great quotes here.

Difference: a poem

Gazing upon the still waters of my mind
I sit, pondering
Ripples course through, offering visions of those from another life
Love lost, chains broken, the richness of shared sentiment shattered by mistakes unforgiven and habits untempered
Why do we not accept our own humanity? Why do we not recognize our own selfishness? Why do we wallow in our discontents, paradoxically pleased at the torments and losses of those most near?
I suppose it’s ignorance
I suppose it’s capitalism
I suppose it’s the need to replace the void of our self-worth
To assert that, “Indeed, I know better!”
“Indeed, I am better!”
“Indeed, I am the conqueror!”
“Indeed, I am of the higher class!”
“Of the higher status!”
“Of the higher authority!”
“Of the higher sensibility or absolute true opinion!”
“These are the convictions I have accepted, how could they NOT be right?!”
In reality, none of know barely a thing
We are most but willows in the wind, which is the accepted postulates, positions, or proposed notions of those who have come before, those who, for some reason, have set the standard of behavior and practice
Popular will at the same time abhors and celebrates the eccentric
The eccentric is only odd insofar as they are unaccepted
As their grooves deepen and their art made resonant, so their oddness beams in the darkness, spouting glimmering phantasms that inspire genius and move mountains

Ira Glass on what’s necessary to succeed at creative work

Ira Glass is the host and executive producer of the popular National Public Radio show, This American Life. Each week, This American Life is broadcast to more than 1.7 million listeners across 500 different radio stations. But it wasn’t always that way.

Success takes persistence. Almost no one starts off great.

Here’s what Glass has to say about it:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes awhile. It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.

If you prefer to listen to the words, here they are by Glass himself.

Scouting ants and the artist’s role

To survive, ant colonies require some members to act as scouts. These are the rare few who venture beyond the paths that have proven to lead to a food source. Many of these ants never return. They risk their own lives for the benefit of the colony.

The artist is a scout. They seek to venture beyond accepted wisdom and norms of the culture and discover new paths. It is in these paths that genius is born. Instead of death, however, their risk is isolation and misunderstanding. No one ever succeeded in a remarkable fashion that was unwilling to risk breaching conformity.

 

Kurt Vonnegut on the stories we tell

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Kurt Vonnegut is a masterful storyteller. He’s the type of author you might see quoted on social media with a lake at dawn resting calmly in the background – a “post-it note author” who continually calls on us to live a life of thoughtfulness.

Today, I’m offering his lecture on the types of stories we tell. Stories are certain to be a recurring topic in this blog. This is because stories are immensely powerful. From religious texts to the MacBook you bought to the entirety of your self-perception, the human experience is a complex amalgamation of stories, both true and false.

You can find a link to a video of it here. You can also get the gist of it from this infographic:

direct

The War of Art continued, a lesson in professionalism

What is an artist? How does it relate to being a professional? Can you be both? What is the distinction between an amateur and a professional?

These are some of the most intriguing questions. I put them up there with “What’s it mean to be credible?” and “How do you cultivate credibility?” These are such entrenched social constructs, yet we often take them for granted and fail at realizing their fluidity.

The con artist realizes their fluidity. That’s how they manipulate. A masterful con artist can quickly hit all the right cues so you trust them to perform. Then, of course, they pull the carpet.

It’s because of Steven Pressfield’s revelations surrounding these questions that I fell in love with his book The War of Art. There are many definitions offered. Here is the one that has stuck with me most:

A PROFESSIONAL ACCEPTS NO EXCUSES

The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters; he believes the serpent’s voice in his head that says mailing off that manuscript is more important than doing the day’s work.

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work.

I’ve thought about this every day since reading it. It’s so easy in theory though so difficult in practice: a professional doesn’t even pick up the phone. I encourage you to try to remember that line the next time you want to turn to a familiar vice.

Commercial and authentic art

If you dreamed of being a great documentary filmmaker, but you ended up developing trailers for movies, you’ve sold out.

But what if you develop movies on the side?

Are you discounting the dream?

If you dreamed of being a great writer, but you’ve taken a job as a local journalist, or worse, a manager at a local bank, are you truly living or are you getting by?

The distinction between commercial and authentic art isn’t easy to determine.

In the end, create what brings you joy.

Instagram, pop culture, and hedonistic tendencies

I recently got an Instagram. I think it’s a fun way to promote ideas, people, and stuff I care about like libraries and comic books. But since joining I’ve noticed something interesting. Namely, it reveals things about people I didn’t realize.

It shows me that people I know like pictures of scantily-clad women. It’s surprising, but perhaps shouldn’t be. I mean it’s normal, I guess, right? And I suppose it could be much worse.

About two months ago, I watched this movie on Netflix called The American Meme. It showed how there is a subculture in America (presumably youth culture) that loves to watch people just act like idiots.

It’s like total Epicureanism – the worship of mental pleasure; ultimate indulgence in absurdist vice, hedonism.

I’m not sure if society has always been plagued by such debauchery or craving to witness irrational, thoughtless activities. Surely, we’ve been racist, sexist, greedy, and selfish for a long time.

However, I think today it’s evolved into something much more extreme, which has been perpetuated by media.

There are so many movies that glorify sex or objectivism, alcoholism, and drug abuse. What’s more, the celebrities in these films have become staples of cultural paradigms thanks to a rise in magazines like People and J-14. I don’t know the answers to these issues, nor do I have them widely explored.

I’m bringing them up because I think it’s important to have an open dialogue about where we’re moving as a society. This conversation at this point might be trite. Think about how many people were up in arms about the rise of rock n’ roll, MTV, hip hop, and Eminem’s mainstream success. The list could go for hours. Though it’s continually necessary to think about whether we’re creating fertile ground for the healthy, thriving development of our children.

These thoughts have led me to start thinking about cultural theorists such as Karl Popper and Theodor Adorno, as well as concepts related to post-consumerism and post-materialism. Hopefully, I’ll get time to read these in the next 3 to 5 years. Meanwhile, I am just striving to get my daily actions in order by reading books like Good to Great and The War of Art.

You can’t change the world until your own motivations are right.

Interesting posters from my school

A few days ago I was working on homework at Northern Illinois University’s library when I realized above me were these strange posters. Their messages range from violent to insightful to downright nonsensical. Northern has a lot of really interesting, provocative art in its library. It’s one thing I really appreciate about the school.

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A Poet’s Advice to Students – Prose by E.E. Cummings about what it means to be yourself

E.E. Cummings
E.E. Cummings by Edward Weston (Photograph courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography)

So, if you didn’t know, E.E. Cummings is delightful. His words have this strange way of making you feel warm and wonderful inside. It’s probably because he’s a hoper, and hopers inspire.

This is prose. It’s a poetic narrative but not a poem.

It’s about the power of feeling feelings and how feeling feelings is the hardest thing in the world – harder than blowing up the world, actually. And it’s about how feeling feelings makes you the realest you.

From a hoper to (hopefully) another hoper, I present: A Poet’s Advice to Students by E.E. Cummings.

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

For more information, check out this article by Maria Popova.