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Arts Life

Imagining life without work

Some people are obsessed with work. It defines them, gives them a structure. Without work, they’d sail away at the mercy of the waves and get lost at sea.

But technology facilitates creativity. The accountant becomes a music producer at night, a photographer, or YouTuber on the weekend. He or she identifies more as being an artist than a professional who crunches numbers. Their online persona seeks some greater truth beyond the work, more aligned with who they want to be. 

Everyone wants to pursue something meaningful. We want to do something that matters while working hard without working hard. As the musician Brian Eno reminds us, “Try not to get a job.” 

Whether it’s the day job or an artist, work is supposed to reflect our life philosophies. Most jobs, though, are solutions to a practical problem: we need the cash to live. The money fact keeps man awake at the clarion call of labor.  

The pressure to blend work and life results from our obsession with careerism in a twenty-four-seven hyperconnected world. So what would we do with all that free time if we didn’t work? 

We’d just do stuff rather than getting stuck in a career. We’d read, hang out with friends and family, watch and play sports, and listen to music. It would be like all the activities we’ve immersed in during the extra free time of COVID lockdown, minus all the social distancing and depression. The future of work would look less like a vocation and more like an extended vacation.

Will we be ok when the robots take over and the concept of labor fades away? Will making art suffice? We’re born off balance. It’s how we dance with the uncertain future that shapes who we are.

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Arts Life

Through the wire

The world grows numb to the air of distraction. We’ve left the world of 2-D consciousness in exchange for the anesthesia of the brite lite’s bits and bytes.  

Freedom to do anything is the freedom to do nothing. Technology makes us more curious and ever-more cautious. But like a video game, unfettered space uses up attention and propels excess consumption.

The inability to disconnect and steer clear of the shiny object suffocates our attention. Restraint, on the other hand, is why limits are also so magnetic. They help us protect against an addictive environment. 

As we gravitate toward constriction, we stymie the possibilities of distraction.

We do more crucial work in stillness and silence than we do fritter time away in the tangled wires of freedom.

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Arts

Beware the mind virus

Creativity dwindles with age. First, school sucks it out of you, and then corporate work puts the nail in the coffin. 

Patterns of normality and absolutes are leaches. Like a mind virus, they try to kill off the imagination and train your organic reflexes into compliant sheep. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll have no choice but to follow the siren song of vocation. Suppose that means becoming an artist; if it’s a bank teller, ditto. Follow up your calling way with the utmost passion. To echo Mark Twain, “The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.”

Never let your ambition slip out of sight. The happiest people chase their human truths to exploit time. 

As the musician Brian Eno reminds us, “Try not to get a job. Try to leave yourself in a position where you do the things you want to do with your time and where you take maximum advantage of wherever your possibilities are.”

Following the herd is a mind virus. Ride the mind wave of opportunity instead. 

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Arts Life

From seeing to believing

Obvious to you, not to others.

It’s the human condition to see patterns but leave them to abstraction.

Identifying the gaps is only the start. No one gains from keeping silent on the puzzle of opportunity.

What occupies the rest of the grey space is doing the work.

Creators play the dual role of keen observer and competent persister. They control the master switch between idea and reality, optimizing their time, energy, and luck while never having all three simultaneously.

Anyone can learn how to see — how to build off a concept, sell the story, and contribute something meaningful is the worthiest challenge.

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Arts

A panoply of tools

What’s the primary device that unlocks your creativity — the camera, a pen, or the paintbrush?

These tools are our passport to freedom. So photographers speak through photos, writers communicate in text, cartoonists draw, etc.

“We become what we behold,” Marshall McLuhan said, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”

Tools for Titans
Photo: Bill Robertson

Our vocation shapes our perspective and predetermines our output.  

But we gather scraps of ideas everywhere; through unintended eavesdropping, mishearing things, and misread headlines. Artists are scavengers.  

We combine divergent widgets in our toolshed to strengthen the entire arsenal. The writer makes draws; the architect paints with light; the musician scribes poems. 

Using a variety of widgets helps work out different artistic muscles. As we draw analogies across subjects, we improve our core craft. 

Said the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” 

All the hedgehog knows how to do is protect itself with its spines. But the fox is more elastic — it can adapt to different conditions that enhance its chances to survive.

We permit our perspectives to shapeshift by opening the mind up to ubiquitous inspiration. Our imagination expands in so far as we stretch our palette. 

First, we collect and understand. Then we deduce. Only then can we return to mastering our core competency. 

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Arts Life

The archaeological dig of the self

A synchronization of mind thought, and people — symphonies boost enthusiasm, concentration, and memory power. Their confluence is the great harvester of human attention.

If you’re always polishing the car, you’ll never go anywhere to discover new things. If you’re always rushing, you’ll never reap the benefits earned through reflection.

The inner and outer worlds work together to stimulate the imagination.

Money and passion fail to make one rich and happy automatically. Creators are doers. And work demands all the scars.

Invest in yourself — spiritual and mental health — and see it a role to play the orchestrator of your own life.

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Arts

The chorus of arrival

“The pen is the tongue of the mind,” wrote Horace.

It scribes from experience and the imagination, ricocheting from one neuron to the next.

Sometimes it takes years to write a lyric. The frustration of waiting on its arrival is the art of gathering string.

We are always chewing over something and turning out blanks of progress. The sentence is already there, dormant, waiting to bloom. The lyrics are phenomenally written, waiting to be sung!

It’s quality of the connections that make eureka-moments feel so elusive. Fragments take time to make whole.

Simple and beautiful — thoughts are not born from the recipes of artificial intelligence.

Discovery dawns on us like a spark of randomness, but only if we challenge ourselves to get to work.

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Arts

Creativity lies within

The quest of creativity is really the search for aliveness.

It is no wonder that when we spend the time to make and ship our craft, we are happier human beings.

To see and have any product resonate is icing on the cake. Few artists ever achieve wide acclaim for their work, even fewer prosper.

There’s no guarantee that the so-called “professional” writer or photographer achieves monetary success. Money is no arbiter, as Van Gogh can attest — he only sold one painting while he was alive and it was to his brother.

When we begin with the intention to please or entertain others, it’s no wonder the muse gives up on us. She demands honest work.

Creativity can be selfish act. We make what we want to see in the world, even if we don’t believe in the project at hand. It is within the practicing of creating, the maker basks in raw aliveness.

Originality is the pusher.

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Arts

The Olivetti Valentine typewriter

An icon of 1960s pop-art design, the Olivetti Valentine typewriter was designed by Italian architect Ettore Sottsass and British designer Perry Ellis for the Italian company, Olivetti.

Sottsass covered the typewriter in red “so as not to remind anyone of monotonous working hours.” Its iconic red color was a precursor to the iMac, a machine that also differentiated itself from other computer products by offering a panoply of vibrant colors.

The late great music icon David Bowie was known to have one of the Olivetti Valentine typewriters in his own private collection.

The typewriter debuted on 14 February 1969, hence the name ‘Valentine’ and also existed in a neutral gray color as seen below.

The Olivetti Valentine typewriter
Photo: Twitter/dean_frey
The Olivetti Valentine typewriter
via twitter
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Arts

Write to be misunderstood?

The write to be understood trope is itself, misunderstood.

Don’t be too specific. Keep it vague enough to goad a broader curiosity.

The details ruin everything, especially if they’re explained by a loudmouth. Revelations squash the guts of great imagination.

The best approach therefore is one that’s provocative yet tactful. Stay determined to keep the reader entertained while also giving them something to chew on.

Keep the reader guessing.

The writer is still trying to figure it out themselves.

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Arts

Why simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” wrote Leonardo Da Vinci. He would paint over work that didn’t meet up with his expectations. Not surprisingly, Steve Jobs adopted da Vinci’s maxim in designing Apple computers.

Simplicity is the reduction of complexity. It unclutters the multiplicity of crayons and fence-sitting gray space in the middle and replaces objects with mere black and white.

Simplicity comes from revision

Simplicity retains the essence and deletes the rest. Take a look at the sequence of Picasso’s drawing of a bull. He pairs down the bull from full detail down to its fundamental shape.

The simplicity of design directly relates to the clarity of design — retained and kept implicit is the main thing that gets featured in the work.

'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication'

Only when we remove the excess can we appreciate the beauty of simplicity. What results only appears natural because all the explaining was wiped our during reduction.

The experts know what to ignore.

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Arts Life

The trick to staying motivated

Money and fame often serve as motivation. So too does doing good for the world. You’d think it’s impossible to be motivated every day.

But you don’t have to be 100% motivated to get stuff done. It only takes a little motivation to get started.

Fortune favors the motivated

Motivation is not a prerequisite to doing the work.

People often work even when they don’t feel like it. Whether they’re following a passion project or exercising pure grit, fortune favors the consistent.

For some like artists and athletes, the daily grind is a profession. It is through starting, action, that is both the cause and effect of motivation.

Motivation is a psychological muscle. If everyone was purely ruled by mood, they’d probably reach for a candy bar or a red bull. The right type of motivation takes looking inside yourself — intrinsic motivation — for the push forward.

Self-help blogs, books, and streams are wonderful but they only provide temporary motivation. Motivation is fickle.

The trick to getting better at any craft is through persistent practice.

Never let being extraordinary prevent you from starting. Even more, spending time thinking about how well things may go can also become also a demotivating force.

If all else fails to inspire, ask yourself whether you were really interested in the first place.