The relationship between the user and product in mind

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“Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design.”

Dieter Rams

‘Don’t shy away from discomfort’

book cover Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius

“Don’t shy away from discomfort. Enter it, especially if it’s a potential door to progress. When I picked up those paint supplies as a suddenly jobless thirty-year-old with three young kids and without enough savings to coast, it was a very uncomfortable move. The left side of my brain was screaming at me to go find a job, any job, before I ran out of money. It was screaming at me to stop screwing around with some ridiculous art form at which I had no experience. But my right brain was telling me otherwise. I knew it was right regardless of the logic that told me it was flippant and dangerous. The truth was that I cared deeply about what I was doing and that the greatest danger lay in going down another wrong path and finding myself stuck in another rut at forty.

Erik Wahl, Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius

‘If I don’t try to tell it, it risks not being told’

“What has prompted me to write over the years is the hunch that something needs to be told and that, if I don’t try to tell it, it risks not being told. I picture myself not so much a consequential, professional writer, as a stop-gap man.”

John Berger, Confabulations

Margaret Atwood teaches creative writing

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A little more audience, a little more action

It’s rough and ruthless, but criticism saves you time. People aren’t trying to be mean. They’re just trying to keep you from banging your head into the same wall.

Scientists can’t continue publishing the same paper over and over again. Apple can’t just release another iPhone without drastic improvements. As they say, sameness destroys creativity.

Instead of giving up, what critical advice does is redirect you. Writes Tom Standage in Writing on the Wall:

“Adam Smith. He wrote much of his book in the British Coffee House, his base and postal address in London and a popular meeting place for Scottish intellectuals, among whom he circulated chapters of his book for criticism and comment.”

In search of a little audience, you get the feedback you need to keep iterating until we get it right. Naturally, the process is frustrating for all artists. Writes Fred Kaplan on John Coltrane’s experimental determination.

In a backstage interview with Coltrane during intermission at the Stockholm concert, a local jazz DJ noted that some critics were finding his new sound “unbeautiful” and “angry,” then asked, “Do you feel angry?” Coltrane replied, in a gentle, deliberative tone, “No, I don’t,” adding, “The reason I play so many sounds, maybe it sounds angry, it’s because I’m trying so many things at one time, you see? I haven’t sorted them out. I have a whole bag of things that I’m trying to work through and get the one essential.”

The fear of messing up is good quality control. The feedback loop is a critical ingredient to success. Otherwise, you may just be making something that never sticks.

Staying edgy…

The audience already exists. The hard part is getting them to pay attention to your story.

How do you gain a fan base in the era of distraction? You select a specific audience, even one person, and write for them.

Different is attractive. 

The first few years of anonymity are hardest but they are also the freest. You get to write what you want with zero expectations. It’s the recognition that threatens your edginess.

“Success blurs. It rounds off the rough edges.” — John Peel

The trick to longevity, therefore, seems to be in the durability of your original pursuit.

If you can maintain your uniqueness while sharpening the tools, why dumb down your art to maximize reach?

Yet, the harshest reality as an artist is that your work may never get noticed. Van Gogh only sold one print while he was alive, and it was to his brother!

Posthumous recognition or not, you can only try to do your best work, to stay dedicated and keep showing up even if no one cheers you on.

The fire within should create enough artistic rage to keep rejuvenating itself.

“We do with our life what we can and then we die. If someone is aware of that, perhaps it comes out in their work.” — Francis Bacon

Creativity is a form of prayer


We give anxiety power, and the right brain consciousness loves to conjure up imaginary bombs of self-destruction.

What if instead of keeping any worries in we could express them through outward movement, some form of art.

The art of fiction, the art of underwater basket weaving, the art of rolling dice — whatever you fancy as a release from the prison of unnecessary worry.

Keep in mind that anxiety is not a prerequisite for making stuff. All creativity is a form of prayer.

There are plenty of genuinely happy artists that express themselves through their work. I’d say Paul McCartney is one of them, for instance. But there’s plenty on the opposite side of the spectrum like Francis Bacon or Vincent Van Gogh, whose paintings allowed them to release inner demons.

Transmuting either happiness or anxiety into a blank canvass helps prevent any excess storage.

“The talent to make art accompanies the need for that art; they arrive together.” — John BergerHere is Where We Meet

Leonardo da Vinci and the Codex Huygens

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The Codex Huygens is a Renaissance manuscript for a treatise on painting closely related to Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). Its author has been identified as the North Italian artist Carlo Urbino (ca. 1510/20–after 1585), who must have been familiar with Leonardo’s notes before they were dispersed. Some of the drawings are faithful copies of now lost originals by Leonardo. Others, like the Vitruvian Man, are related to Leonardo but independent interpretations in their own right. The extant manuscript, which appears to be only a fragment, includes five sections (books or regole).

Leonardo da Vinci: Treasures from the Biblioteca Reale, Turin

Copy-paste, retweet, regram. We have it so easy.

Can you imagine having followers who traced your work so these pieces could live on?

More Leo

The gutless algorithm

In today’s age, you get picked (and judged) by algorithms and your number of social media fans.

No matter your unique talent, it is the statistics that predetermine your success.

But the element of surprise is not over.

John Hammond discovered Billie Holiday, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan at the clubs. As a staunch contrarian, he looked for talent that offered a fresh and rebellious sound.

Meanwhile, the Goldman Sachs algorithmic machine incorrectly picked Germany to make the World Cup final.

Data or gut, predicting future success is impossible because everything thrives on chance.

Truth happens to an outcome.

Read The Data Or The Hunch?

Memory is not the enemy of creativity

Great find by Alan Jacobs from the book The Craft of Thought by Mary Carruthers, where it’s pointed out that medieval culture emphasized memorization as means of innovation.

The orator’s “art of memory” was not an art of recitation and reiteration but an art of invention, an art that made it possible for a person to act competently within the “arena” of debate (a favorite commonplace), to respond to interruptions and questions, or to dilate upon the ideas that momentarily occurred to him, without becoming hopelessly distracted, or losing his place in the scheme of his basic speech. That was the elementary good of having an “artificial memory.” …

I repeat: the goal of rhetorical mnemotechnical craft was not to give students a prodigious memory for all the information they might be asked to repeat in an examination, but to give an orator the means and wherewithal to invent his material, both beforehand and — crucially — on the spot. Memoria is most usefully thought of as a compositional art. The arts of memory are among the arts of thinking, especially involved with fostering the qualities we now revere as “imagination” and “creativity.”

Perhaps rote memoritization isn’t so bad as it seems, assuming its foundation leads on to creative forms of thinking.

Today’s Dream, Tomorrow’s Reality

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“After World War Two, artists and advertising agencies wanted to sell a bright and hopeful future. But they were also working to produce something that their audience would recognize and find plausible. As H. G. Wells said: “Anyone can invent human beings inside out or worlds like dumbbells or gravitation that repels. The thing that makes such imagination interesting is their translation into commonplace terms and rigid exclusion of the other marvels of the story. Then it becomes human.””

Read How Ad Men Invented The Future

 

‘The secret of theft, which is also called creativity’

@willkim

When asked how screenwriter and film director Paul Schrader came up with some of his scripts for the movie First Reformed, he responded like all remix artists:

PS: The secret of theft, which is also called “creativity,” is you have to steal a bit from a lot of different places. You can’t go to the same 7/11 every time because they’ll catch you. So you go to the photo shop, and you go to the gas station, and you go to that little hot dog stand that nobody goes to and by the end you’ve stolen enough stuff from enough places that people think its yours.

The internet can be the largest copy-paste machine. But it also offers a chance to pluck from a diversity of sources. Just be sure to recast, remix, and redistribute them in your own voice. To put it another way, Steal Like An Artist.

Read First Reformed – Q&A with Ethan Hawke and Paul Schrader