On disclosures, Instagram photos of your kids, and the “artist as genius” myth

austinkleon:

“That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.”
—Charlie Chaplin, Limelight

My wife and I have been talking so much lately about “authenticity” and “honesty” online — this insane idea that you can really tell who or what someone is and how they are doing just by what they show you of themselves on the internet. That social media is somehow a more “authentic,” or more “human” way of presenting yourself, warts and all, to the world. (As if it weren’t, in fact, making it easier to invent more perfect, alter egos — as if we aren’t all carefully selecting and choosing the bits and pieces of our life to show each other — and as if, “IRL,” we didn’t already choose what bits and pieces to show our friends when they came over to dinner [“Sweep that mess into the closet! Do the dishes! Put away the embarrassing records!”]) And how, inevitably, you start measuring your own life against what you see of the lives of others. (cf. “Keeping Up With The Joneses” and “The Referendum” and my friend Paige’s “Why Facebook Makes Us Miserable.”)

This used to happen to me with other artist friends of mine who I follow online, but actually, it was a positive thing. I would see that so-and-so had been on a drawing tear, posting tons of really interesting drawings, and some of them would be really good, and it would get me wanting to draw. Only later, when talking to them in person, would it turn out that they were just as lazy and uninspired sometimes as I was. The myth contained in the images, in a way, did me good, because it made me push myself. But I wondered, for other aspiring artists who aren’t as driven or delusional as me, if the opposite wouldn’t be true, and they would feel discouraged.

This quandery got ratcheted up a bit more after our son was born. I started thinking about how fundamentally unprepared I was for the experience of caring for a newborn. It was simultaneously the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. (As I like to say, even the best baby in the world can still be a complete fucking monster.) I remembered how people told me it was tough, but nobody told me how fucking distressed and insane sleep deprivation would make me, how absolutely full of despair I would feel for that first month, how it would dredge up feelings I hadn’t felt in years, etc.

And yet, there I was, feeling pretty fucking dark, Instagramming perfect photos of my cute kid sleeping, my wife looking like an angel, etc. And there were my friends doing the same, even though I knew, after a drink at the bar, their struggles were mostly the same as mine.

I was talking about this with my friend Steven, and I suggested that there should be a kind of “shadow gallery” on Instagram — a place where you post pictures of your kid at his worst. He said I absolutely had to do this. (He had a friend whose first move after giving birth was to call all of her girlfriends who were moms and swear them out for not being honest with her.)

And then, of course, I thought of a “shadow gallery” for artists — places where they post their work at their worst, where they acknowledge, that they are, in fact, not natural-born geniuses. A blank Microsoft Word screen. A terrible, sloppy drawing. Their Google search histories…

(You’d think someplace like Dribbble would accomplish this — but every work-in-progress I’ve ever seen a designer post there has been borderline perfect. Things organized neatly…)

Then last night my wife sent me this post my a mommyblogger, acknowledging that the reason she seemed so productive is that she has a nanny.

Why are we, as women, so reluctant to talk about the people we hire to help us so that we can do what we do? What are we afraid of? People thinking we CAN’T do it all?

Well, duh.

We fucking can’t.

So what’s this big secret we’re trying to keep and who do we think we’re fooling?

And what is it doing to people who read our blogs and books and pin our how-tos and think that all of these projects are being finished while children sit quietly on the sidelines with their hands in their laps.

What is it doing to you?

We write disclosure copy on posts that are sponsored, giveaways that are donated. We are contractually obligated to label and link but where is the disclosure copy stating how we work from home with small children? How we shoot videos and meet deadlines and go to meetings and travel around the country attending conventions and conferences.

We have help, that’s how!

People have asked me, over the years, how I’m able to do so much. (My first thought is always, “So much? Boy, do I have you fooled.”) Now, I’m thinking of this idea of an Artist’s Disclosure. (Brian Eno had one in his Diary: “one of the reasons I am capable of running three careers in parallel is because I married my manager.”) I’m thinking about what my disclosure might look like, and whether I have the guts to share it, and whether it’d really do anyone any good, including me.

Reminds me: one hiker I met on the Appalachian Trail made sure to take pictures of himself during the worst days on the trail. Tired, cold, rain-soaked, heat exhaustion, dehydrated, muddy, cranky, whatever. It’s a way to remind yourself of the price of admission, and a reminder that you did, in fact, keep doing this cool thing despite the occasional suckiness.

On disclosures, Instagram photos of your kids, and the “artist as genius” myth

Paris Review – CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Preface, George Saunders

When I was in my twenties I had this plan to go to El Salvador and write about the experience. I had no money, didn’t speak Spanish, but this was “my dream.” I stopped by one day to see a friend of mine but found only his father home. I’d never spoken to this man before, not really. He was a truck driver, a father of eight, always went around in a white T-shirt and a pair of Buddy Holly glasses. But this day, we talked. I told him about my El Salvador plan, expecting him to find it indulgent. But instead he said, “You know what? You have to do it.”

“Yes,” I said, with the force of revelation. “I do. I really do.”

“And you know why?” he said. “Because you know who you’re going to blame if you don’t?”

I did know.

“Myself,” I said with a knowing smile.

“Bullshit,” he said. “You’ll blame your wife and  kids.”

I often thought of this conversation when I was stealing time from Radian to write this book. If I didn’t, I told myself, I was going to become a bitter old-fart version of myself, blaming Paula and the girls.

So I stole like a mother. I wrote in the bathroom, I printed using the company printer, I turned away from my Kodak report to jot things down, I edited while waiting for an offsite groundwater remediation system to purge, I sometimes blew off a full afternoon when I was feeling ripe, although usually, when that happened, I’d take work home, just to be fair.

(Cf. Amy Poehler.)

It’s been a few years since I’ve read any Saunders, but I’m really excited about his new book.

Paris Review – CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Preface, George Saunders

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

After watching THX 1138, I started reading about co-writer Walter Murch. I love how he separates his film editing from his film writing:

When I write a script, I lie down–because that’s the opposite of standing up. I stand up to edit, so I lie down to write. I take a little tape recorder and, without being aware of it, go into a light hypnotic trance. I pretend the film is finished and I’m simply describing what was happening. I start out chronologically but then skip around. Anything that occurs to me, I say into the recorder. Because I’m lying down, because my eyes are closed, because I’m not looking at anything, and the ideas are being captured only by this silent scribe–the tape recorder–there’s nothing for me to criticize. It’s just coming out.

That is my way of disarming the editorial side. Putting myself in a situation that is opposite as possible to how I edit–both physically and mentally. To encourage those ideas to come out of the woods like little animals and drink at the pool safely, without feeling that the falcon is going to come down and tear them apart.

So simple, so obvious: if you want to get some ideas out without reflexive self-editing, choose your medium and environment so it’s hard to edit. Use a tape recorder, separate digital vs. analog desks, Sharpies, index cards

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

Chuck Close photographed by Bill Jacobson, while Close works on “John, 1992, oil on canvas, 100 x 84”. (via) Featured in Lisa Yuskavage’s interview with Close:

I think of my work as what used to be called women’s work: knitting, quilting. Women were busy cooking, raising children, so they had to have an activity that they could pick up and put down. A quilt may take a year, but if you just keep doing it, you get a quilt. Or if you knit one and pearl two, and you believe in the process, eventually you’ll make a sweater. There’s some aspect of that in me.

Last album I was like “I don’t now how I’m finna do this shit again,” but it’s been like that since Southernplayalistic… When in doubt you just gotta go to work.

The secret is that the shit is fun to me. Finding a new groove to make a new song, that shit is fun. When you get the beat right and then the hooks and the bridges and the lyrics and it all comes together it’s like this feeling that you get like you hit the jackpot. I can only describe it as trying to unlock the combination to a safe. Once you get inside it, boom.

An essential aspect of a painter’s canvas and a musical instrument is the immediacy with which the artist gets something there to react to. A canvas or sketchbook serves as an “external imagination”, where an artist can grow an idea from birth to maturity by continuously reacting to what’s in front of him.

Learnable Programming. Also:

As a child, you probably had the experience of playing with a construction kit of some kind – Legos, or Erector Sets, or even just blocks. As a first act before starting to build, a child will often spread out all of the parts on the floor. This provides more than simply quick access. It allows the child to scan the available parts and get new ideas. A child building a Lego car might spot a wide flat piece, and decide to give the car wings.

Philip Glass and Beck Discuss Collaborating on ‘Rework’ – NYTimes.com

Glass:

When I talk to young composers, I tell them, I know that you’re all worried about finding your voice. Actually you’re going to find your voice. By the time you’re 30, you’ll find it. But that’s not the problem. The problem is getting rid of it. You have to find an engine for change. And that’s what collaborative work does. Whatever we do together will make us different.

Philip Glass and Beck Discuss Collaborating on ‘Rework’ – NYTimes.com

austinkleon:

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky

Started reading this last year, finished it a few weeks ago. My favorite sentence from the book which maybe summarizes it best: “The internet is an opportunity machine.”

My other favorite passage, which I’ve already posted, but I’ll repost here anyways:

The stupidest creative act is still a creative act… On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.

Oh, by the way: it’s fun to pay attention to subtitles, especially when a book comes in a hardback/paperback edition — the paperback edition usually shows the evolution (or devolution) of the publisher’s marketing of the book. The hardcover subtitle of Cognitive Surplus is “Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age” vs. the paperback subtitle, “How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators.” When Lewis Hyde’s The Gift came out, the subtitle was “Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property”—later, much later, it was “Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.”

That favorite passage reminds me of Peter Thiel talking about horizontal business vs. vertical business. Going from 1 to N, copying things that work, incrementally spreading and improving, is hard, yes. But going from 0 to 1 is really, really hard in a very different way.

For The Body Is Not One Member, But Many: An Interview with Tim Carmody : Deron Bauman

Nice interview with Deron Bauman (of Clusterflock) and Tim Carmody (Snarkmarket).

TC: The best way to [figure things out for ourselves] is by making things — whether it’s a website, an app, or a little book.

DB: So the act of making becomes an act of definition.

TC: Exactly — definition in its original sense of mapping a thing’s contours, in order to make something that’s fuzzy easier to see.

Also:

Something a college professor of mine told me: it’s not about making students love the same things that you do, but showing them that they can love something just as much. And that it’s OKAY, it’s IMPORTANT, for them to find something that they love that much.

For The Body Is Not One Member, But Many: An Interview with Tim Carmody : Deron Bauman

The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice. You can learn whatever you want from them. They left their lesson plans in their work.

Are people who dwell on their problems more creative? – Barking up the wrong tree

Because rumination may allow an idea to stay in one’s conscious longer and indecision may result in more time on a given task, it was expected that these two cognitive processes may predict creativity. Self-report measures of rumination, indecision, and creativity were electronically distributed to 85 adults (28 men, 57 women; M age = 32.96 years old). Reflective rumination significantly predicted creativity, moderated by high levels of indecision. This study may resolve previous conflicts between findings on rumination and creativity and introduces indecision as beneficial in the creative process. This study also provided important clinical implications in distinguishing between adaptive and maladaptive rumination suggesting a new cognitive link between creativity and depression.

Insert the “One Single Study Often Means Jack Shit” disclaimer here. But it reminded me of Alain de Botton:

Being cheerful is really no recipe to get down to work: nothing happens until paranoia, jealousy, competitiveness and guilt arrive.

And also of Roz Chast:

I kind of tend to stay up late just about every night, anywhere from 12:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. I putter. I nurse old grudges. I fold origami while nursing old grudges. I think about the past. I wonder if there’s any grudges I should start.

Are people who dwell on their problems more creative? – Barking up the wrong tree

They say you only live once but every time I come to work I feel like I’m starting a second life.

Kanye West on the transformative power of creative endeavors.