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.
What would the world look like if everyone was guaranteed a basic income?
For musician Brian Eno, that society would put a lot more emphasis on time well spent.
“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.”
Of course, not everyone can afford to remain jobless; the harsh reality is that work pays the bills and keeps us alive. But as more jobs get outsourced to robots and artificial intelligence, humans will need to renew their purpose.
What will we do when there’s no work to be done?
Work defines who we are. It forms the nucleus of our identity. However, a jobless world may encourage more innovative thinking about ourselves and our role in a secular, globalized world.
A jobless world may compel people to pursue more passionate work and adopt the vocations that choose them instead of the other way around.
In such a world, we’ll be makers instead of cogs, tinkerers instead of algorithmic lemmings. The future writes itself if we dig deep enough to see it out.
Writes Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote:“There is a positive correlation between the fear of death and the sense of unlived life.”
The old world required that we struggle to live. When we work on something we enjoy, we smash through and settle in on what it means to live.
As David Byrne of the Eno-produced, Talking Heads sang in 1978, “If what you do ain’t what you love, then something isn’t right.”
Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies has been helping people defeat their creative block since the mid-1970s.
But Alain de Botton’s The School of Life is taking the concept a bit further and applying the deadlock to other life’s philosophies such as a career crisis, kindness, self-knowledge, calm and confidence.
The Financial Times sat down with “musician, artist, thinker” Brian Eno in the studio of his Notting Hill home. Here are my favorite snippets from the interview:
On the transactional value between art and bitcoin:
It is not so different from bitcoin. Art is the ultimate cryptocurrency. What the art world is doing is engineering the consensual value of something, very quickly. It only needs two people, a buyer and a seller.
On fusing music and art vocations:
I had this real struggle inside me, on whether to do music or art. I worried about it a lot. And then one day, I decided I didn’t have to do one or the other, I could do both. I glimpsed the possibility of making each one more like the other, a sort of fusing together.
On ‘how simplicity can produce complexity’:
When I first came up with the idea of utilitarian music, it was very, very unpopular. It meant muzak. It was music reduced, stripped of its fundamental cultural importance. And that was my biggest hurdle. Artists were supposed to want people’s 100 per cent attention.” What interested him instead was, “what was the least that I could do with music; how much could I leave out? What if I made music that was just like an atmosphere?
He criticizes pop musicians for being too close-minded, using the metaphor of a light bulb: “nobody looks at the bloody bulb. And that is what has been happening in music. We’ve been looking at the bulb.”
Eno illustrates the complexity from simplicity theory on paper by drawing out what it isn’t. He draw a pyramid and inserts lines from top to bottom:
This is God, or the Pope, or the orchestra conductor. And information flows this way only. There is no feedback, other than something dramatic like a revolution.
The symphony: it is inspired by the divine; it enters the composer’s head; he writes it down and passes it to the conductor, and then the leaders of the orchestra, then the section principals, and then down to the rank and file. There is this idea that the music is already in existence, in the mind of God or the composer, and it is our purpose to realise it.
Now, as a working musician, I know it doesn’t happen like that. I have seen a lot of music come into existence. It is a mess. It is a lot of complex things bouncing off each other, until suddenly something beautiful and intricate exists. It wasn’t in anybody’s mind. Nobody had conceived it up to that point.
On the left’s provincialism and the urge to speak out against the rise of nationalistic tribes:
“But now there is engagement with politics. I have so many American friends, they were so apolitical. Politics was something you never admitted to doing, like masturbation. But that has changed now. We all thought these [Trump and Brexit supporters] were this little bubble of weirdos. But we discovered that we were the ones in the little bubble.”
“But I got the same painful pleasure out of writing prose that I did out of writing poetry—the pleasure of trying to put the right words in the right order. And I took away from my experience with poetry something else. I understood that the reason people write poems is the reason people write. They have something to say.”
Art translates life. It takes us places. We need stories and memes in order to keep the everyday exciting.