Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.Pablo Picasso
“Keep it simple and stupid.” That was the acronym coined by aircraft engineer Clarence Johnson during the early 1930s. He proposed the “H” style tail for airplanes which helped stabilize flight.
Keeping it simple is always easier said than done. What may appear visually simple, took a deduction of complex details.
We don’t get to simplicity without amassing a pile of disparate parts first and then building shitty first drafts.
Complexity is often hidden within the design — such as the case with Apple products and apps like Instagram which appear simple on the outside but contain convoluted architecture and code on the inside.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” said Leonardo da Vinci, who painted over pieces that didn’t meet expectations. Artists like Pablo Picasso and writers like Ernest Hemingway edited down their pieces, again and again, to reduce their craft into the most practicable and understood forms.
Erasing difficulties requires patience of experimentation. It takes both head and heart work to minimize the unnecessary while maximizing utility in powerfully simple ways.
With a bit more curiosity and execution, we can turn less into more.
Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.Pablo Picasso
The internet is a sea of intimacy in the midst of indifference.
We all hang within our tribes — the Picasso heads, the hip-hop enthusiasts, the mommy bloggers — without curiosity for a broader perspective of differing interests.
“Your whole life informs your eye.”Roger Deakins
While no one can attain Da Vinci’s single holistic way of looking at the world, we can make the effort to heighten our senses to a new stimulus.
There’s little need to understand every little detail of the casual interest. But we can acknowledge that the world when we decide to notice it, is often surprising.
Years elapse with no apparent intention of an end.
They want you to finish it to find closure and move on to the next ‘big thing’ without understanding the brisk tempo of a focused, hungry maker.
Creators are slow cookers and even slower chewers, interspersed with periods of gorging. They expect to uncover as many mistakes and regrets as discoveries of new strengths and skills, all the while grappling with the forced and unpredictable.
It takes time to go forward and ship things, to hurry slowly with the occasional deadline like Picasso had with Guernica.
The artist never graduates, trying to be clever without being pretentious.
In a cycle of learning, the beginner wades like water over rocks and tweaks to days on end.
Creatives obsess with how other successful creators do their work. Witness the 2013 bestseller Daily Rituals by Mason Currey.
But instead of focusing on the productive habits of successful artists, author Ellen Weinstein highlights their oddities.
Her book Recipes for Good Luck: The Superstitions, Rituals, and Practices of Extraordinary People contains some fascinating and funny habits.
- Thom Yorke prepares for live concerts with a headstand ritual
- NASA engineers eat peanuts before every launch as a lucky charm
- Picasso held on to his fingernail clippings to maintain his spiritual “essence”
- Frida Kahlo painted plants and flowers from her desk, looking over her garden
Creative people can be a bit superstitious, to say the least. As Seth Godin likes to say, “we’re all weird.”
Whatever you do to keep your edge, do it.
All images courtesy Chronicle Books
In 2016, graffiti artist Banksy installed a shredder into one of his canvasses entitled it “Girl With Balloon.”
Just last week, Sotheby’s auction house in London sold the painting to the highest bidder for $1.37 million. The picture subsequently tore to shreds.
“A few years ago I secretly built a shredder into a painting…in case it was ever put up for auction…”Banksy
People are wondering whether someone at Sotheby’s was in on the prank or whether it was just careless. Purveyors of modern art do consider frames as part of the artwork, so it’s possible that Sotheby’s never thoroughly examined the painting on purpose.
Either way, the self-destructing painting makes a mockery of the commercialization of art. Banksy quotes Picasso: “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”
Given Banksy’s triumph and his legendary status in art world folklore, the only question people are asking now is how much the demolished painting will be worth in the future. Guaranteed the new owner is already there picking up the scraps.
“Go and do the things you can’t. That is how you get to do them.”
NASA engineers eat peanuts before every launch as a lucky charm. Picasso held on to his fingernail clippings to maintain his spiritual “essence.”
You can more read about artists and their peculiar amulets in Ellen Weinstein’s new book Recipes for Good Luck: The Superstitions, Rituals, and Practices of Extraordinary People.
Why do some creators hold onto some strange and unique amulets?
The primary reason for holding on to such talismanic devices is to establish an aura of positivity. As artists, the muse sometimes works against you, wanting you to fail or hide. Hanging on to or wearing an object of fortune allays those fears and sets the tone for confident action.
Crafted from found objects—string and bottle caps from Phuket, a cracked mask from Venice, a piece of sea glass from Long Island, New York—the 74-year-old celebrity photographer uses them to ward off bad vibes on his set.
But lucky charms go beyond the workplace and creative endeavors. They also have everyday importance.
Everyone needs some type of pacifier to calm down, whether it’s the lucky necklace, rock, or prayer they cling onto before takeoff. These items act as security blankets, placebos, and in doing so, instill the confidence to proceed.
As they say, let go (or rather hang on) and let God…
Since starting a year ago, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has made 400,000 of its images free to download and remix.
The project immediately empowered the likes of software developer and designer Simone Seagle. She downloaded a 1920s print from abstract Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky called Violett. Said Seagle:
Generally you can’t be in a mad mood looking at his work, and it’s a blast to cut up and play with in Photoshop. I picked the print called Violett, because it has fun colors and good shapes to work with.
Everything is a remix
It was Pablo Picasso who once said “great artists steal.” He took inspiration from his scenius and mixed it into his own original work. So it is no surprise that third most visited in the world wants to be part of the creative dialogue. The museum’s chief digital officer Loic Tallon told Quartz:
“If we could preserve the art world in a nice old pickle jar, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I genuinely believe that for the museum to maintain its relevance, we have to participate in that conversations.”
The internet is the world’s largest copy-paste machine. Giving the public unfettered access to rework old masterpieces will bring visibility to obscure pieces while also fueling new interpretations. With time, reworks will birth their own stems for future creators to build on top of.
Art is where our mind’s eye merges with reality to create a theater inside our head, resulting in the form of a diary. This was especially true for Pablo Picasso.
Picasso was perhaps best known for his practice of public journaling via painting. “My work is my diary. I have painted my autobiography,” he said.
Art is therapy
Art is an instrument for coping, part mental therapy part expression. Bottling his thoughts without letting them go would’ve driven Picasso insane. Whether it is painting, writing, or playing sports, we exercise our bodies to verify that we’re still alive.
As Picasso and so many other artists illustrate, self-expression has a real and irresistible pulse.
“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.”Pablo Picasso