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Arts Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Artists are scavengers and tweakers

Artists are scavengers, modern-day hunters of information. And they pluck inspiration from everywhere: people, places, and things. 

They even gather resources through error. Mishearings, misspellings, and mistakes are idea producers. 

The creative process is two-fold. Ideas bloom, and then they require execution and management. The producer thinks about them, reads about them, talks about them, and ultimately acts on them. What emerges is something fresh and original.

Artists are continually developing novel techniques, ways of seeing, thinking, being, and diligently applying those efforts from various tools onto the canvass. 

The painter studies the way light falls on an object; the sculptor manipulates a hunk of marble to carve a figure; the poet converts a banal phrase into a haiku; the photographer reveals an obscure item plain eyes miss; the musician observes how a note lingers and uses it to create a melody that fits the song’s mood.

No matter what medium is involved, the creative process is the same. It starts with experimentation, struggles with tweaks, and ends with precision.  

The best artists study, learn, practice, and perfect the skills they need to imagine and design. Creativity is impossible without attention and effort.   

The never-ending search to consume and build something unpredictable keeps life interesting. Like nature, art is not static and remains subject to change. 

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Arts Creativity Productivity & Work

Creativity is a game of inches

It comes as no surprise that lousy work begets good work — the more one creates, the more they have to play with. 

People mistakenly believe that successful artists excelled all along. In reality, what the viewer sees are remarkable stories told by people who decided never to give up

The internet is a great liberator because it allows anyone can show their work. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee anyone’s going to see it. 

It’s nearly impossible to stand out when everyone’s an Instagram photographer. The world’s drowning in jpegs that all look alike, punctuated by countless candy-colored apps begging for attention. 

It’s no surprise that artists do their best work while toiling in obscurity. They may emulate conventions at first, but starved of significance, the creator begs to be different. 

It takes a lot of time and a ton of practice to develop both good taste and a unique craft. 

When we create for ourselves, rage into our work, the world becomes our oyster. “It is a joy to be hidden, and a disaster not to be found,” once said English pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott. 

From stylization to originality, cultivating talent unfolds slowly into a game of inches. The only guarantee is the willingness to try repeatedly for a breakthrough.

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Arts Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Tighter the brief, the deeper the craft

Once we commit to a creative project, we make choices within it. We narrow down everything into a tight brief so we can build something conclusive.

The frames in place help guide our unconscious decisions. There’s no blur between what we’re making and what we want to make. 

Slowly but surely, we commit to a process despite all the doubt. We gather a proper stream of blood flow and breathing, focusing free-flowing talent into a concentrated effort.  

Distracting opportunities have to die for the most important craft to live. 

We don’t need more of anything; instead, we play with what we already have. We hunker down on the front lines and figure out how to shape our materials. Boredom is welcome, as it provides the opportunity we need to have the next big idea. 

And once the art is out there, it’s out there. We try not to take feedback personally — not to repress or ignore negativity — but to acknowledge we shipped! 

How we perceive our work is more important than how others look at it. Society is either too polite or doesn’t care. Passion, care, sticktuitiveness — these traits are leverage. 

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Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Working backward

We all know what we want. Our main challenge is in getting there. 

If we take our end-destination in mind and outline the steps to reach it by working backward, the goal suddenly becomes less intimidating.

The only way to “control” the future is to steady our mentality and take immediate action. Making progress requires both urgency and patience with the process. 

Mastering each step fortifies the fundamentals and strengthens our “why.” Knowing our purpose helps push us through temporary and unforeseen hurdles.

Greatness is scarce because so few people want to endure struggle. Failure is integral to the process of learning.  

There are power and magic in practice. Only the indolent think they can perfect the work in theory — all talk, zero execution. 

The art of pertinacity demands that we keep going — it may be the bravest thing we ever do. 

Get the pen and paper out. Feel compelled to identify what we want and map out the road it takes to get there. 

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Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Quieter times

The covid crisis reminds us that time is precious. It untethers us from the plague of 24/7 always-on work culture and permits more pockets of free time to do whatever we want: make dinner, spend more time with family, explore a side interest. 

The pandemic gives us our time back. Working from home saves us from the extra hours put into commuting and face-to-face meetings. It also increases our productivity, as we can shape our surroundings and get comfortable in ways that enable intense focus and absorption. 

Electronic communication’s invisibility cloak allows people more time to think in silence rather than countdown the clock in useless meetings and brainstorm sessions. Being outside the office disconnects us from the suasion of group-think and overall herd mentality. 

Never underestimate the power of pause and the power of independent, reflective thought. Thinking alone is not just an idea producer; it’s also an intrinsic motivator. When we find meaning in our work and enforce our own decision rights, we become richer workers. 

The ‘black swan’ Covid-19 catastrophe — entirely unpredictable and damaging (2.69M deaths as of March 19, 2021) — offers the chance to eliminate the inefficiencies (e.g., going to an office five days/week) driving us all insane. For better or worse, we connect through wires

Time is invaluable, in some ways more important than money. We have to work now, live life now, and do our best for ourselves and others. In such quieter yet anxious moments, we realize that there’s no need for dumping problems on tomorrow.  

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Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Aging with energy

We are constantly searching for a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Why are we even here — to suck the land dry? 

We force meaning into the world with the hope that an outer stimulus ricochets back to accentuate the pulse. 

We risk everything to feel something, encouraged by the mechanisms of error. 

Life is an experiment. First, we act, then we deduce, making sense of the world by categorizing our reactions to it. The never-ending to-do list forces humans into overdrive. 

Evolution is more than about survival. It’s also about the resistance to boredom. “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone,” wrote Blaise Pascal

We push ourselves to stay interested and excited. We pay the costs for playing it too safe and overthinking. What a pity it is when we leave it too late!  

We deploy attention to the endless opportunities and challenges ahead — and then we wonder why we’re exhausted. How does one keep going? 

The race between our need to mature while remaining child-like explorers is an extant struggle. The mind hears what it wants while the body takes it personally. 

The flow becomes more effortful with age, yet the knowledge comes easier. With the extra push, we go far further than we could imagine. 

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Creativity Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Throwing a rock into a hard place

Stuck between the intention and the act, we often fail to carry out what we’re meant to do. 

Motivation is fickle. Distractions are plentiful. Doing is not a matter of talent but discipline. Every repetition is a bicep curl for the brain. 

Wrote William James in The Principles of Psychology: “This very day I have been repeating over and over to myself a verbal jingle whose mawkish silliness was the secret of its haunting power. I loathed yet could not banish it. What holds attention determines action.”

What holds attention predetermines action and protects us against the pitfalls of the next shiny object or stirred emotion. 

Focus is our only guard, without all the narrowness of attention. We need to keep our eyes on the donut over the donut hole. 

So we keep going, showing up despite there being no guarantee of happiness at the end of the tunnel. 

Greater use of the palette insulates the individual from the dizziness of anxiety and the needless aim for the pedestal of fame.  

A creative flow hardens the brain’s sticktoitiveness and summons a type of artistic unity. 

We throw the rock into the hard place. The daily practice is our only durable storage. 

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Arts Creativity Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Crafting confidence

Confidence is fickle. Better to start before you’re ready than wait until you have full faith in yourself. 

The key to crafting confidence starts in the imagination. If you can armor yourself with enough courage — even if it means acting slightly overconfident — you’ll have revved the engine for risk-taking. 

Synchronicities also tend to happen when you’re feeling more upbeat than depressed. Anxiety and darkness, while integral to artful thinking, impair memory and squanders productivity. The maker wants to establish a long-term rhythm of creating rather than weaning off the fickle energy of short-term dopamine.    

Even the wisest men need psychological tactics to regulate the monkey mind. Expectations drive achievement. Of course, one should expect sensible outcomes — no one becomes the best or gets rich by merely thinking it. 

Patient with results, impatient with action

Pace, purpose, and practice are everything. Only a few are geniuses; most are late-blooming opsimaths. Like the Japanese artist Hokusai once said, Until the age of 70, nothing I drew was worthy of notice. At 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.”

Do anything enough — even if it takes decades — and you’ll begin to find your own style and workflow. Hard work usually compounds into something greater than expected and ultimately supports the joy of living.

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Creativity Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Never mind the mood

The work doesn’t begin or end at the mercy of mood. Feeling lazy or prepared is neutral — both are non-starters. The mood’s texture remains unchanged. 

Having a daily discipline is the best way to keep the shipping alive. Habits are stronger than moods. 

If your emotions or conditions get in the way because you’re either unmotivated, too sick or cold, exhausted, or missing the perfect seat, you’re screwed. 

Show up and ride the wave of frequency

Sitting in the chair and beginning promptly by 10 AM is non-negotiable. By sticking to a schedule, you alleviate the pain of starting while forcing yourself to dance with all the anxieties that arise. 

If you get frustrated or stuck, try running out the clock. So be it — you showed up but didn’t produce. 

Dissatisfaction is part of the creative process. Afterward, rest or take your thoughts for a walk to digest the reality of incompleteness. A blank canvass with even the most disappointing attempts is a refreshing experience. There is always tomorrow!

When your perspiration and dedication are the muses, the creativity always comes back because the motivation is the same. The sink keeps dripping. 

Even while going about your day, discipline pays off. Deep work compounds, as the brain uses rest periods to reconvene, reconnect, and make sense of all the input. 

Creativity is complicated, but moods are untrustworthy. Once you’re committed to the process while following your curiosities, there’s no wasted time. 

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Arts Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

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.