I adore this excerpt from Ira Glass’s longer piece called “On Storytelling.” Glass points to something that he wishes he had known when starting out writing for radio: That there a gap. There is a gap between your good taste and the quality of the work that you make as a beginner. Your taste is good enough to tell you that what you are making isn’t really that good. At this point, a lot of people just quit. But Glass urges us to push through. And he says that the only way to close that gap between your good taste and the beginner work that you are making is to make a lot of work.
Back in the 1980s, learning to use a computer was the same thing as learning to program one. But as computers got easier to use and more user-friendly, the distance between using a computer and knowing how it worked got longer and wider until we had extremely opaque interfaces in which you do what the program says without any idea of what’s actually going on behind the screen.
Last November I attended The Fingerlakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute hosted by The Center for Transformative Action at Cornell University. I had a great time chatting with the social entrepreneurs there and left feeling engaged and inspired. That inspiration manifested in a small change at the time: I changed the name of this blog from Make Better Stuff to Art & Invention. For me, the name-change marked a shift in thinking and writing about stuff to thinking and writing about what it takes to make stuff: the emotional and practical world that artists create, define, and live in.
Then in January of this year, I applied to Seth Godin’s altMBA program with the goal of making more art. But once the course actually started I changed my goal from “making more art” to “helping other people make art.” And that’s a trap we fall into, right? We avoid working on our own sh*t by helping other people do theirs. And that’s not all bad. It’s good and it’s generous, but for me, it’s also a form of hiding from my own work. So I’m just trying to hold a light on that in my life and examine it.
Another push toward making art came in late August when I visited the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Deer Isle, Maine. The campus is what I hope heaven to be: simple modernist cabins built into a tree-lined mountainside overlooking the sea. In each cabin, a different set of tools and materials: hot studios for glass and metal, a graphics studio with ink and roller, a ceramics studio with slip and wheels, a woodshop with saws and clamps, a textiles studio with sewing machines and dyes, and a fab lab with CNC routers and 3D printers . I left there feeling that I needed to go home and create my own space. You can’t make art just anywhere. You really do need a workshop. A place to have your tools out and keep them out. So I’ve done that this fall. I’ve created that.
This fall I’m falling into art. I’m emotionally ready and I’ve carved out the practical space to work.
Why are we so afraid? Often because we haven’t thought through the consequences.
But if we think through the consequences, we might not be so afraid to make a decision and try it out. The thing you decide on can be an experiment with an evaluation plan. Once you try out your decision and evaluate it, you can then decide to stay on that course or change.
Moving through life is decision making. Not making decisions causes stagnation.
an excerpt from the book Art & Fear about artistic practice:
As a practical matter, ideas and methods that work usually continue to work. If you were working smoothly and now you are stuck, chances are, you unnecessarily altered some approach that was already working perfectly well….When things go haywire, your best opening strategy might be to return very carefully and consciously to the habits and practices that were in play the last time you felt good about the work. Return to the space you drifted away from and, sometimes at least, the work will return as well.
Now, if you are building a bridge that can hurt people if it fails, take fewer risks. But if you’re given a prompt or an assignment in which you don’t have to actually build the outcome, you should take risks. And if you are tasked to make an art piece that challenges the status quo, you should do it. Taking creative risks helps you build creative muscle.
However, too often our blanket response to a challenge is risk aversion. We don’t stop to evaluate the situation and ask ourselves: “Is this a good time for me to take creative risks?” Too often, we default to conservative without giving it any thought.
Taking creative risks helps you get over the fear of looking stupid in front of other people. A fear that we all need to get over. A fear that is holding us back.
When technology is taught out of context, it can only get us so far. But when we pair it with disciplines that teach effective methods for intentional change, then we can make the world better. Here are a few pairings:
Technology + Design. Students learn to empathize with users and to employ design processes to develop solutions that give their users super-powers.
Technology + Sustainability. Students learn models for human, biological, and ecological systems and to identify and leverage points in a system for positive change.
Technology + Entrepreneurship. Students learn how to create and test business models and use that knowledge to inform their product development process and launch.
Technology + Leadership. Students learn how to navigate fear, set goals, build highly functional teams, and develop trusting relationships as they work on technology projects.