🦊 Quick Links: August 2022
#85 — Creative solitude, the purpose of art, and escaping the envy trap.
I’ve published a flurry of essays in recent editions, so today I’m switching things up to share a digest of links.
In case you missed the last newsletter or two, I wrote about how showing up a little every day goes a long way, writing while the inspiration is hot, managing your energy (not your time), and most recently, the growth of wisdom beyond knowledge.
Without further ado, here are six links that made me think:
1) Creativity requires solitude (DKB Show) — I loved this “fictional but realistic” dialogue with poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The author took past writings and constructed a question-and-answer dialogue exploring a variety of topics around creativity. I enjoyed the way the discussion looks at both sides of the issue of solitude—that we are inherently social, but also creatively thrive in solitude.
This question-answer format is a great way to address questions in the reader’s mind as they absorb ideas. The book Courage to be Disliked did a great job of leveraging the same format to explore the contentious ideas of Alfred Adler. (I enjoyed the book so much I wrote an essay about it, Altering Your Reality.)
2) On the purpose of art (Ethan Hawke, TED) — “Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about poetry. Right? They have a life to live, and they’re not really that concerned with Allen Ginsberg’s poems or anybody’s poems. Until, their father dies, they go to a funeral, lose a child. Somebody breaks your heart, they don’t love you anymore. All of a sudden, you’re desperate for making sense out of this life. Has anybody ever felt this bad before? … And that’s when art’s not a luxury. It’s actually sustenance.”
In a similar way, books only resonate when the timing is right.
3) Photography is not objective (Aaron Hertzmann) — We tend to think of photography as a tool for capturing reality without bias. As Aaron puts it, the common understanding is that “an artwork displays the artist’s perceptions and experiences, and photography records and displays objective information.”
But there are many choices that go into a photograph from lighting to location, camera to composition. Aaron’s piece highlights the role of storytelling in photography, and the presence of the creator’s perspective in every picture: “Looking at a picture is not like reading a book and knowing what the words are. It’s like reading a book and interpreting what the writer meant.”
4) In Praise of Shadows (Robin Rendle) — On the surface, this is an essay about cameras and shadows, but under the hood lies a powerful personal message about creative liberation. Robin reminds us of the beauty of a lightning-fast tool that lets us focus our attention on the subject, rather than our devices (as phone cameras often lead us to do.) I was definitely tempted to run out and buy a Fujifilm camera after reading this 😅
I’m always looking for ways to be creative without looking at a screen. These days, I do all my sketching with pencil and paper instead of on my iPad. I find the tactile sensation of lead on paper so satisfying, the results of my drawing seem to matter less. It’s meditative. Whatever the tool—camera, pencil or otherwise—I think we can all use a little space to be creative without the harsh light of our phones.
By the way: The medium of Robin’s message is noteworthy, too. It’s got a wonderful focused experience for navigating each “slide” in the piece (best experienced on mobile), and some nifty custom CSS that powers it. Each one of Robin’s essays feels like its own little website. Another favorite of mine from Robin is his piece on newsletters.
5) Home-cooked software (Maggie Appleton) — I loved this thread of examples of "software that doesn't scale.” There is a culture and category of tools out there that are purpose-built to serve a single person's need, or perhaps a few. (I probably shouldn't say "out there” because they're not widely available, but that's the point.) What's great about these is that they allow us to indulge our own personalities and taste, and channel them into software. Take a tour through the examples, and you’ll find a plethora of heart-warming inspiration. If you're curious to learn more, check out this write-up Maggie shared on the history of end-user programming.
6) Avoid the envy trap (Khe Hy) — I really appreciated this piece from Khe. He explores the feeling of envy he sometimes gets when watching his peers succeed. I can relate. I’m rooting for my friends to do well, but sometimes I open up my social media feed, see a barrage of success posts, and feel overwhelmed.
Khe offers some useful reframes for these situations, including one of my favorites: "You gotta take the whole enchilada.” When I find myself wishing I had what someone else does, I try to think about their whole life—their relationships, their day-to-day obligations, their past, their beliefs…everything. I can't have just one part of it. I can have everything they have, or keep my life. When I put it that way, I feel a little more comfortable in my own shoes.
I’ll leave you with these scintillating scenes on woodblock by Japanese painter Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950), via @RhymeOfArt:
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