I’m participating in an online course hosted by MIT’s Learning Creative Learning group. Our first assignment is a lovely one: Share an object from your childhood and reflect on how it influenced you. For inspiration, we were given Seymour Papert’s short essay Gears of my Childhood.
Lucky for me, our mother filled our home with beautiful objects. I’m pretty sure this environment is what led me to study product design in graduate school. From an early age, I remember noticing the details on the objects. And as an adult, I have such an appreciation for combinations of materials in an object (like the leather+wood+brass on my baby carriage) and how they work together to deliver a functional whole.
Check out some objects from my childhood here
I’m teaching a new and improved version of MakerLab to undergrads this fall. The biggest change I’ve brought to the course is weekly writing assignments. The assignments have multiple parts and have at least two components:
- Explore a big picture question about the maker movement
- Identify a maker from a particular genre and write about their work
The latter component is called “Maker Appreciation” and I’ll dedicate a post to that in future. Quick insight: it’s a great and rewarding exercise.
The former component really interests me…and scares me a little. So far, the big picture questions have been questions like, “Why the maker movement, why now?” or “What are makerspaces and why do they matter?” But for this week, we’re going to move way out of the comfort zone and read some critiques of the maker movement. Why? It’s important to explore the criticism. I mean, if you are in the middle of a theatrical run, you might want to hold off on reading reviews lest they negatively affect your performance. But in other areas of life, you want to understand and acknowledge criticism in real time.
So for an upcoming assignment (not this week, but the next), we are reading Evgeny Morozov’s New Yorker piece called Making It: pick up a spot welder and join the revolution and Leah Buechley’s 2014 talk called Thinking About Making. I look forward to seeing where the discussion takes us.
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.
Is a wonderful thing. And a generous thing. But it can also be an escape from working on the stuff that you really need to work on. Your own stuff. The stuff that scares you.
There’s a lot of talk about celebrating failure in the innovation process. However, failure alone isn’t really enough. You have to use that failure to help you and those around you grow.
There’s a great little piece in the NYTs today on this: Talking About Failure is Crucial for Growth – here’s how to do it right
Failure can help us grow if we use it to connect with colleagues. It offers a great opportunity to ask for help and share our vulnerability. It also offers an opportunity to learn.
So the next time you fail, instead of burying it and pretending it never happened, push through that shame and use your failure as an opportunity to connect and to learn.
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.
I scan TV music and dance competitions to watch the great performances. This one by a young dancer, Jaxon Willard, is worth watching. Also worth listening to is his explanation of the piece to the judges:
“It’s about my feelings toward my birth mom and how I was angry and felt abandoned by her. But then I also didn’t know how to [trails off – crying] I didn’t know how to share these feelings with the mom I have now because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. So I just suppressed all these feelings. But throughout my journey and though growing, I learned that I can’t just be mad at my birth mom because I don’t know the full story.”
What a courageous and generous act of empathy from this artist to his birth mom. Mature beyond his years.
Judge Ne-Yo is spot on when he describes the performance and the performer as the “epitome of power and vulnerability. You jump in the air and you float.”
In tears, judge Jennifer Lopez calls out the importance of Jaxon’s journey to his art, “Without your story, you wouldn’t be able to be the artist that you are today.”
Processing emotion through your art can make great art. It can also help you heal.
someone else will set them for you.
And if you’re the type of person who says yes to every request that is made of them, then you are letting other people set your priorities.
You say yes because you want to help. You have a generous spirit and have the best of intentions. But saying yes too quickly can get you into trouble.
To gain more control over setting your own priorities, create a new habit: use the pause button. When someone asks you to do something, instead of saying yes right away, try forming a new habit. Smile and say, “That’s a great idea. Let me get back to you on that.” And do get back to them. But first, take some time to evaluate how this request affects your priorities. This request probably doesn’t need to be filled today. It might not even need to be filled by you. Pause and think about it.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Greg McKeown in HBR
I’m grateful for the writing I’m doing these days. I’ve been writing some longer pieces and that has been satisfying.
I’m grateful for the different groups of people that I work with on different projects. That diversity and engagement feed my soul.
I’m grateful that spring has finally arrived. I’m happy about the plants that I picked up at the farm stand that are now sitting on my porch.
I’m grateful for my friends and family even though I don’t see them as much as I’d like to. I hope that they are enjoying spring too.
I’m grateful for my husband and our little aging dog. We’ve been through a lot together and it’s so nice to enjoy to have the peaceful times we are having these days.