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Creativity Productivity & Work Writing

Creativity is a fancy version of productivity

People confuse busyness with productivity. Answering emails all day is mostly a waste of time, as is instant messaging co-workers. Doing something — typing into little boxes all day — fulfills the human desire to feel useful.

People also perceive what artists do is an unnecessary use of time. But creativity is a fancy version of productivity.

Nothing gets wasted when it comes to painting, songwriting, and any other artistic vocations. Scraps and shitty rough drafts give us something to play with. The art of gathering string — doing the hard work, heart work, and head work — expands the reality we perceive.

Sensible work gets us paid. Yet, when we photograph everything, we look at nothing.

Without propelling the imagination and practicing our craft, we’re just procrastinators and waiters. The whole point of making art is to do and ship something interesting.

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Creativity Productivity & Work Writing

If you’re struggling to get started, do it badly

“Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly,” advises the author Alain de Botton

Perfection is the antithesis of inspiration — it prevents you from getting started.

The trick to getting going is to do it badly. To do that, one must be intentionally messy. The art of spontaneity asks you to start before you’re ready. Don’t over-think the process; intensify the habit of doing.

The emancipatory power in getting started helps jumpstart creativity. 

Producing crap isn’t the end-goal. There is no quality without quantity — first, we get going, then we deduce. 

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

Margaret Atwood

The point of taking small actions is to create enough momentum to feel like we’re winning. You’re looking to go from one pushup a day to two the next week, four thousand steps a day to five-hundred. 

You’ll need to write one-hundred words day after day before developing the muscle to consistently get down two-hundred words. By the way, there is no such thing as writer’s block!

Do small things to get started — no matter how poorly — to avoid second-guessing yourself and prime the motivational pump.

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Arts Creativity Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

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 Creativity Productivity & Work

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 Creativity Life & Philosophy

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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Creativity Productivity & Work

The burn of discontent

Everything starts and ends from the burn of discontent.

We all have an inkling for something, a dormant enthusiasm, waiting to erupt so we can pour our hearts into it.

But the wait is killer. Toiling in anonymity while practicing in mediocrity needs a special kind of patience.

The resistance can only win at our own capitulation. The work is all that matters. 

As they say, “the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

If self-promotion along the way helps one build up the confidence to ship, by all means, do it. We must seek the respect we deserve.

We are the audience and actor in the play of life, trying to step back and compose with the highest quality. 

No one is going to announce our emergence. All we can ask for is to be consistent with our time. 

Show up. The only talisman is the heart and head work.

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Creativity Productivity & Work

Creativity: Faith in process, faith in rest

Rest is integral to unlocking creativity.

Your best ideas come when you’re not trying to grind it out, but when you’re not trying at all. Ideas hit you when your mind is at ease. 

Says composer and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda:

A good idea doesn’t come when you’re doing a million things. The good idea comes in the moment of rest. It comes in the shower. It comes when you’re doodling or playing trains with your son. It’s when your mind is on the other side of things.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Creativity is always awake

The brain never shuts off. It’s always processing knowledge, thoughts, and experience, even in a perceived dormant state. 

Creativity is always awake, but it needs time to bloom. The head takes in new information and gets feedback along the way. 

The ‘eureka moment’ is, therefore, a canard. The sedentary body helps the neurons and synapses synchronize thoughts. 

If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.

Banksy

Neurochemistry thrives off disconnecting, in which connections mount unforced.

A good idea is an accumulation of bad ones, clever hybrids cleaned up and simplified through trial and error.

The creative thinker enters a relationship through a swift reflection process.

Discovery is not a matter of giving up but giving in to the process of waiting and wondering, all the while keeping the faith.

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Creativity Life & Philosophy

Thinker types: Contrarian versus the individual

Shall one play the contrarian or the individual thinker?

It’s not that interesting to be the rejectionist of the status quo just for the sake of it.

What’s more interesting is forming one’s unique style or opinion and projecting that with confidence — minus the bombast, of course.

What individuates individuals is their desire to make a difference because they believe in something.

‘Think different’ is a call for variation and abstraction. We need more of these poets, those who stray to the side to peruse the neglected fragments.

We need less antagonists, those who say the opposite of what everyone else is saying. Thinking outside the box is not a vocation, nor some deliberate existential thrill.

The self-appointed individual pokes at the mainstream without pretentiousness and criticism. She strives to make blind spots visible.

Once we get over the societal pressures of what we like and dislike, we get to focus on the heart work: what matters instead.

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Creativity Photography

The vast but empty spaces of Andreas Gursky

German photographer Andreas Gursky’s photograph “99 Cent II Diptych” (see above) was once the world’s most expensive photo.

In it, the Dusseldorf School photographer stitched together a two-part photograph (also called a ‘diptych’) of a vast but empty grocery store in Los Angeles.

Taking another contemporary digitally manipulated view of everyday objects, Gursky’s “Rhein II” sold for $4.3m at Christie’s New York in 2011 — the image became world’s most expensive photo to sell at an auction.

“I wasn’t interested in an unusual, possibly picturesque view of the Rhine… This view cannot be obtained in situ; a fictitious construction was required to provide an accurate image of a modern river,” recounts Andreas Gursky on the work.

The vast but empty spaces of Andreas Gursky
Photo: ‘Rhein II’ (1999, remastered 2014) © Andreas Gursky

However, I still dig the artifice projected in his 2017 high-speed train ride in Tokyo, where he merged multiple photos to give the picture a blurring, hyperreal effect.

Gursky’s “Bahrain I” which reconstructs myriad images of the Bahrain International Circuit racetrack is also one to marvel at — especially for the way its paint-like race-tracks enhance reality.

The vast but empty spaces of Andreas Gursky
Photo: ‘Tokyo’ © Andreas Gursky
Photo: ‘Bahrain I’ 2005 © Andreas Gursky

Regardless of his skill, Gursky tells his students that it’s only because of hours of practice and work that beget his radical intuition.

“People keep trying to find a matrix for the perfect image, but it’s intuition, it’s not something that can be taught.”

Andreas Gursky (via FT)

You can learn more about Gursky’s 2018 exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery in the video below or right here.

Categories
Creativity Life & Philosophy

Thoughts are seeds

Examining the world, collecting artifacts, awaiting that sudden flash. 

To believe that epiphanies are a result of short-term thinking is a canard. Good ideas emerge from gathering string over long stretches of time. 

Do you think Isaac Newton discovered insight into gravity only after the apple dropped on his head? No, he’d been chewing on the concept during one of his numerous contemplative moods.  

Seeds of thought blossom into ideas

Whatever it is–a mental note, a scrawl on a napkin, a Pinterest pin, or bunches of index cards–the most important thing is to get your observations recorded. Hence, you can remember what’s interesting now and more easily recall it again, later. Memory favors double-recall.

Having an aggregation system where thoughts compound and grow as seeds to flowers is vital to the thinking process

Like a series of connected synapses storing up bytes of memory, building on top of ideas spurs on a curiosity that lends itself to an aliveness unheard of in the day to day numbness.

Persistent novelty keeps us awake. The fruit of creativity — curiosity — creates a beautiful cycle of discovery. 

Seeds merely planted but watered with attention, keep the brain tickled well enough.