Tag: Art

Free Radicals: Don’t Follow your Passion, Cultivate it

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
— Seneca

***

maximize your potential

We’ve entered a new phase of self-invention.

Thanks in large part to technology and the pace of the modern world, finding your way through the labyrinth is more difficult than ever.

Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build an Incredible Career (Kindle), edited by Behance’s 99U editor-in-chief Jocelyn Glei, and featuring contributions from over twenty of today’s creative minds, explores the timeless skills—generating opportunities, building relationships, and taking risks—that can help you navigate today’s changing landscape.

In the foreword to the book, Behance founder Scott Belsky, author Making Ideas Happen, explains the concept of free radicals.

Chalk it up to new technology, social media, or the once out-of-reach business tools now at your fingertips. The fact is, we’re empowered to work on our own terms and do more with less. As a result, we expect more from those that employ us and we expect more from ourselves. When we get the resources and opportunities we deserve, we create the future.

Here’s a name for us: Free Radicals.

Free Radicals want to take their careers into their own hands and put the world to work for them. Free Radicals are resilient, self-reliant, and extremely potent. You’ll find them working solo, in small teams, or within large companies. As the world changes, Free Radicals have re-imagined “work” as we know it. No doubt, we have lofty expectations:

We do work that is, first and foremost, intrinsically rewarding. But, we don’t create solely for ourselves, we want to make a real and lasting impact in the world around us.

We thrive on flexibility and are most productive when we feel fully engaged. We demand freedom, whether we work within companies or on our own, to run experiments, participate in multiple projects at once, and move our ideas forward.

We make stuff often, and therefore, we fail often. Ultimately, we strive for little failures that help us course-correct along the way, and we view every failure as a learning opportunity, part of our experiential education.

We have little tolerance for the friction of bureaucracy, old-boy networks, and antiquated business practices. As often as possible, we question “standard operating procedure” and assert ourselves. But even when we can’t, we don’t surrender to the friction of the status quo. Instead, we find clever ways (and hacks) around it.

We expect to be fully utilized and constantly optimized, regardless of whether we’re working in a start-up or a large organization. When our contributions and learning plateau, we leave. But when we’re leveraging a large company’s resources to make an impact in something we care about, we are thrilled! We want to always be doing our best work and making the greatest impact we can.

We believe that “networking” is sharing. People listen to (and follow) us because of our discernment and curatorial instinct. As we share our creations as well as what fascinates us, we authentically build a community of supporters who give us feedback, encouragement, and lead us to new opportunities. For this reason and more, we often (though, not always) opt for transparency over privacy.

We believe in meritocracy and the power of online networks and peer communities to advance our ability to do what we love, and do well by doing it. We view competition as a positive motivator rather than a threat, because we want the best idea—and the best execution—to triumph.

We make a great living doing what we love. We consider ourselves to be both artisans and businesses. In many cases, we are our own accounting department, Madison Avenue marketing agency, business development manager, negotiator, and salesperson. We spend the necessary energy to invest in ourselves as businesses—leveraging the best tools and knowledge (most of which are free and online) to run ourselves as a modern-day enterprise.

Maximize Your Potential

One of the best insights in the book revolves around cultivating passion. We’re told from a very young age to follow our passion. Cal Newport, author of How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less, points out the flaw in this wisdom.

This pattern is common in the lives of people who end up loving their work. As described in Lesson 1, careers become compelling once they feature the general traits you seek. These traits, however, are rare and valuable—no one will hand you a lot of autonomy or impact just because you really want it, for example. Basic economics tells us that if you want something rare and valuable, you need to offer something rare and valuable in return—and in the working world, what you have to offer are your skills. This is why the systematic development of skill almost always precedes passion.

In other words Newport argues that what you do for a living matters less than you think.

“[T]he right question is not “What job am I passionate about doing?” but instead “What way of working and living will nurture my passion.”

Stepping back, he writes:

The goal of feeling passionate about your work is sound. But following your passion—choosing a career path solely because you are already passionate about the nature of the work—is a poor strategy for accomplishing this goal. It assumes that you have a pre-existing passion to follow that matches up to a viable career, and that matching your work to a strong interest is sufficient to build long-term career satisfaction. Both of these assumptions are flawed.

Newport argues a more sophisticated strategy for finding passion means “we should begin by developing rare and valuable skills.” Once we’ve done that, we can use these skills to navigate our career towards the general lifestyle that resonates with us.

milton erickson

In a section on reprogramming your daily habits, Scott Young speaks to how automatic many of our decisions become and how routines drive our lives.

If you think hard about it, you’ll notice just how many “automatic” decisions you make each day. But these habits aren’t always as trivial as what you eat for breakfast. Your health, your productivity, and the growth of your career are all shaped by the things you do each day — most by habit, not by choice.

Even the choices you do make consciously are heavily influenced by automatic patterns. Researchers have found that our conscious mind is better understood as an explainer of our actions, not the cause of them. Instead of triggering the action itself, our consciousness tries to explain why we took the action after the fact, with varying degrees of success. This means that even the choices we do appear to make intentionally are at least somewhat influenced by unconscious patterns.

Given this, what you do every day is best seen as an iceberg, with a small fraction of conscious decision sitting atop a much larger foundation of habits and behaviors.

We are What we do

Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build an Incredible Career explores how creating opportunities, building expertise, cultivating relationships, and taking risks can propel you forward. With contributions from Tony Schwartz to Ben Casnocha, you’ll be left thinking about the next opportunity and how to get there. (Best served with a side of its prequel: Manage Your Day-to-Day.)

TED Bookstore 2013

If you missed out on attending the famous TED conference this year — you’re not alone. But now you can queue up some of the books that were available at the TED Bookstore for your spring reading pile. The bookstore was curated this year by Maria Popova (Brain Pickings).

I haven’t been able to find a full list of all the books available. Yet, here are 10 of Maria’s favourites from this years TED Bookstore along with the text that appears on the bookstore cards introducing the book to TED attendees.

I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail

i-saw-peacock-with-fiery-tail-ramsingh-urveti-hardcover-cover-art

A die-cut masterpiece, two years in the making, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, one of the best art books of 2012, is based on a 17th-century British “trick” poem and illustrated in the signature Indian folk art style of the Gond tribe by Indian artist Ramsingh Urveti. It comes from Indian independent publisher Tara Books (♥), who for the nearly two decades have been giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a community of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on remarkable handmade books.

Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny-Beautiful-Things

When an anonymous advice columnist by the name of “Dear Sugar” introduced herself on The Rumpus on March 11, 2010, she made her proposition clear: a “by-the-book common sense of Dear Abby and the earnest spiritual cheesiness of Cary Tennis and the butt-pluggy irreverence of Dan Savage and the closeted Upper East Side nymphomania of Miss Manners.” But in the two-some years that followed, she proceeded to deliver something tenfold punchier, more honest, more existentially profound than even such an intelligently irreverent promise could foretell. Collected in Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, one of the best psychology and philosophy books of 2012, is her no-bullshit, wholehearted wisdom on life’s trickiest contexts — sometimes the simplest, sometimes the most complex, always the most deeply human — published under Sugar’s long-awaited real name.

Big Questions From Little People

big-questions-from-little-people-

The questions children ask are often so simple, so basic, that they turn unwittingly yet profoundly philosophical in requiring apple-pie-from-scratch type of answers. To explore this fertile intersection of simplicity and expansiveness, Gemma Elwin Harris asked thousands of primary school children between the ages of four and twelve to send in their most restless questions, then invited some of today’s most prominent scientists, philosophers, and writers — including TEDsters like Alain de Botton, Mary Roach, and Richard Dawkins — to answer them. The result is Big Questions from Little People & Simple Answers from Great Minds, among both the best children’s books of 2012 and the year’s overall reader favorites. A portion of the proceeds from the book benefits Save the Children.

Internal Time

Internal Time

“Six hours’ sleep for a man, seven for a woman, and eight for a fool,” Napoleon famously prescribed. But despite the laughably sexist hierarchy, his rule of thumb turns out to be grossly unsupported by science. In Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired (public library), one of the best science books of 2012, German chronobiologist Till Roenneberg demonstrates through a wealth of research that our sleep patterns have little to do with laziness and other such scorned character flaws, and everything to do with biology.

Where the Heart Beats

where the heart beats

In Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists, also one of the best philosophy books of 2012, longtime art critic and practicing Buddhist Kay Larson constructs an exceptional intellectual, creative, and spiritual biography of John Cage — one of the most influential composers in modern history, whose impact reaches beyond the realm of music and into art, literature, cinema, and just about every other aesthetic and conceptual expression of curiosity about the world, yet also one of history’s most misunderstood artists. Fifteen years in the making, this superbly researched, exquisitely written tome weaves together a great many threads of cultural history into a holistic understanding of both Cage as an artist and Zen as a lens on existence.

As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980

Susan Sontag — As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks

The second published volume of Susan Sontag’s diaries, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980, one of the best history books of 2012, offers an intimate glimpse of the inner life of a woman celebrated as one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable intellectuals, yet one who felt as deeply and intensely as she thought. Oscillating between conviction and insecurity in the most beautifully imperfect and human way possible, Sontag details everything from her formidable media diet of literature and film to her intense love affairs and infatuations to her meditations on society’s values and vices. Especially enchanting is the evolution of her relationship with love over that decade and a half, as Sontag settles into her own skin not only as a dimensional writer but also as a dimensional human being.

The Where, the Why, and the How

The Where, the Why, and the How

In The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science, one of the best science books of 2012, some of today’s most celebrated artists create scientific illustrations and charts to accompany short essays about the most fascinating unanswered questions on the minds of contemporary scientists across biology, astrophysics, chemistry, quantum mechanics, anthropology, and more. The questions cover such mind-bending subjects as whether there are more than three dimensions, why we sleep and dream, what causes depression, how long trees live, and why humans are capable of language. Above all, the project is a testament to the idea that ignorance is what drives discovery and wonder is what propels science — a reminder to, as Rilke put it, live the questions and delight in reflecting on the mysteries themselves.

Henri’s Walk to Paris

Saul Bass is considered by many — myself included — the greatest graphic designer of all time, responsible for some of the most timeless logos and most memorable film title sequences of the twentieth century. In 1962, Bass collaborated with former librarian Leonore Klein on his only children’s book, which spent decades as a prized out-of-print collector’s item. Exactly half a century later, Henri’s Walk to Paris, one of 2012′s best children’s books, was brought back to life.

A Technique for Producing Ideas

a technique for producing ideas

Originally published by an ad man named James Webb Young in 1939, A Technique for Producing Ideas is a forgotten gem that lays out with striking lucidity and clarity the five essential steps for a productive creative process, touching on a number of elements corroborated by modern science and thinking on creativity: its reliance on process over mystical talent, its combinatorial nature, its demand for a pondering period, its dependence on the brain’s unconscious processes, and more.

The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs

new yorker book of dogs

The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs is a remarkable collection of canine-themed treats — fiction, poetry, feature articles, humor, cartoons, cover art, manuscript drafts — by a slew of titans culled from the magazine’s archive, including E. B. White, Maira Kalman, John Updike, Jonathan Lethem, and Roald Dahl. Divided into four sections — Good Dogs, Bad Dogs, Top Dogs, and Underdogs — and spanning such subjects as evolution, domesticity, love, family, obedience, bereavement, language, and more, this lavish tome embodies what Malcolm Gladwell eloquently observes in the introduction: “Dogs are not about something else. Dogs are about dogs.”

(h/t to Maria)

Susan Sontag: Against Interpretation

Miscellaneous. 1972. France. Paris. American writer, Susan SONTAG.

against_interpretation

Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag’s second book, was published in 1966, but some of the essays date back to 1961, when she was still writing for The Benefactor. Sontag had some to New York in the early 60’s, eager to become the writer she so longed to become. Her ideas at the time of a writer was someone interested in “everything.”

Against Interpretation is regarded as a quintessential text of the 60’s. “It wasn’t the Sixties then,” she writes. “For me it was chiefly the time when I wrote my first and second novels, and began to discharge some of the cargo of ideas about art and culture and the proper business of consciousness which had distracted me from writing fiction. I was filled with evangelical zeal.”

Interpretation

Today is such a time, when the project of interpretation is largely reactionary, stifling. Like the fumes of the automobile and of heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities. In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.

Taming Art

Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, conformable.

Genius

…interpretation is not simply the compliment that mediocrity pays to genius. It is, indeed, the modern way of understanding something, and is applied to works of every quality.

Avoiding Interpretation

to avoid interpretation, art maybe become parody. Or it may become abstract. … Abstract painting is the attempt to have, in the ordinary sense, no content; since there is no content,t here can be no interpretation.

Our Task With a Work of Art

Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art, much less to squeeze more content out of the work than is already there. Our task is to cut back content so that we can see the thing at all.

Art

Art is not only about something; it is something. … Art is seduction, not rape.

Morality

Morality is a code of acts, and of judgments and sentiments by which we reinforce our habits of acting in a certain way, which prescribe a standard for behaving or tiring to behave toward other human beings general (that is, to all who are acknowledged to be human) as if we were inspired by love. Needless to say, love is something we feel in truth for just a few individual human beings, among those who are known to us in reality and in our imagination. … Morality is a form of acting and not a particular repertoire of choices.

Metaphor of Art as an “Argument”

The metaphor of the work of art as an “argument,” with premises and entailments, has informed most criticism since. Usually critics who want to praise a work of art feel compelled to demonstrate that each part is justified, that it could not be other than it is. And every artist, when it comes to his own work, remembering the role of chance, fatigue, external distractions, knows what the critic says to be a lie, knows that it could well have been otherwise. The sense of inevitability that a great work of art projects is not made up of the inevitability or necessity of its parts, but of the whole.

Love and suffering

The cult of love in the West is an aspect of the cult of suffering—suffering as the supreme token of seriousness. We do not find among the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and the Orientals the same value placed on love because we do not find there the same positive value placed on suffering. Suffering was not the hallmark of seriousness; rather, seriousness was measured by one’s ability to evade or transcend the penalty of suffering, but one’s ability to achieve tranquillity and equilibrium. … For two thousand years, among Christians and Jews, it has been spiritually fashionable to be in pain. Thus it is not love which we overvalue but suffering—more precisely, the spiritual merits and benefits of suffering.

If this has you curious, you should read the entire book.

Susan Sontag on Style and Metaphors

Susan Sontag (1933-2004) spent a lifetime on writing, art, and the commodification of wisdom.

Her moving work, Against Interpretation, is regarded as a quintessential text from the 60s. In it, she addresses both the advantages and the disadvantages of metaphors.

Sontag writes:

against_interpretation

To speak of style is one way of speaking about the totality of a work of art. Like all discourse about totalities, talk of style must rely on metaphors. And metaphors mislead.

Take, for instance, Whitman’s very material metaphor. By likening style to a curtain, he has of course confused style with decoration and for this would be speedily faulted by most critics. To conceive of style as a decorative encumbrance on the matter of the work suggests that the curtain could be parted and the matter revealed; or, to vary the metaphor slightly, that the curtain could be rendered transparent. But this is not the only erroneous implication of the metaphor. What the metaphor also suggests is that style is a matter of more or less (quantity), thick or thin (density) . And, though less obviously so, this is just as wrong as the fancy that an artist possesses the genuine option to have or not to have a style. Style is not quantitative, any more than it is superadded. A more complex stylistic convention-say, one taking prose further away from the diction and cadences of ordinary speech—does not mean that the work has “more” style.

Indeed, practically all metaphors for style amount to placing matter on the inside, style on the outside. It would be more to the point to reverse the metaphor. The matter, the subject, is on the outside; the style is on the Inside. As Cocteau writes: “Decorative style has never existed. Style is the soul, and unfortunately with us the soul assumes the form of the body.” Even if one were to define style as the manner of our appearing, this by no means necessarily entails an opposition between a style that one assumes and one’s “true” being. In fact, such a disjunction is extremely rare. In almost every case, our manner of appearing is our manner of being. The mask is the face.

I should make clear, however, that what I have been saying about dangerous metaphors doesn’t rule out the use of limited and concrete metaphors to describe the impact of a particular style. It seems harmless to speak of a style, drawing from the crude terminology used to render physical sensations, as being “loud” or “heavy” or “full” or “tasteless” or, employing the image of an argument as “inconsistent.”

Against Interpretation is well worth the read in its entirely.

Against Interpretation

In reading Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation and Other Essays I came across this passage on interpretation.

Interpretation is a radical strategy for conserving an old text, which is thought too precious to repudiate, by revamping it. The interpreter, without actually erasing or rewriting the text, is altering it. But he can’t admit do to doing this. He claims to be only making it intelligible, by disclosing its true meaning. However far the interpreters alter the text, they must claim to be reading off a sense that is already there.