Brain Pickings

Orson Welles on Work-Life Balance and the Gift of Ignorance (1960)

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“There is a great gift that ignorance has to bring to anything, you know.”

We’ve already seen how ignorance fuels science, but most any creator would also attest to its centrality to the creative process. Whether we call it “ignorance” or “beginner’s mind,” this radical openness to uncertainty is central to the act of creation. In this excerpt from The Paris Interview, conducted in his Parisian hotel room in 1960, Orson Welles testifies to the gift of ignorance:

I didn’t know what you couldn’t do. I didn’t deliberately set out to invent anything. It just seemed to me, ‘Why not?’ There is a great gift that ignorance has to bring to anything, you know. That was the gift I brought to [Citizen] Kane… ignorance.

At a different point in the interview, Welles is asked, “Would you say that you live to work or work to live?” His answer embodies the secret of finding purpose and doing what you love, or as Sir Ken Robinson has put it, working from your element:

I think that working is part of life, I don’t know how to distinguish between the two… Work is an expression of life for me.

Now for a related rant, which isn’t actually a rant so much as a Very Important Point: Last week, Coudal posted a link to the first video on Vimeo, which I watched in the morning and kept open in a tab to write about in the evening. By the evening, however, the video had been pulled down from Vimeo for copyright violation. (Luckily, I was able to transcribe the dialogue from the cached player and use it to search for the interview elsewhere; I found it on YouTube, where it remains apparently undetected so far.)

Somewhere, some rights-holder — in this case, Kultur Video — decided it was better for the world that no one see the interview online than that people see it and no one profit from it. This, right here, is the deepest, saddest brokenness of current thinking on intellectual “property” as a wealth of humanity’s greatest intellectual and creative treasures rot in the clenched talons of rights-holders unable to monetize their properties and unwilling to make them available for free. As long as we continue to place commercial profit above cultural profit, especially when it comes to archival materials and cultural preservation, we are doomed to a future bitterly divorced from its past.

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