Brain Pickings

Five Manifestos for the Creative Life

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How a numbered list can start a personal revolution.

Some days everyone needs a little extra encouragement. The words or lines or colors don’t want to come, or worse, we don’t even want to sit down to create. That’s when we turn to these inspiring manifestos, any one of which is guaranteed to give our uncooperative creativity a sharp kick in the pants. Here are five of our favorite contemporary manifestos that nudge ideas out of your head and into the hands of the world.

RIGHT BRAIN TERRAIN

We’ve long been fans of the amazing work of Frederick Terral, the creative visionary behind design studio Right Brain Terrain. His “Alternative Motivational Posters” have in fact adorned our walls and desktop wallpapers for some time. But the love affair really began at the words behind his whole operation:

You may not be a Picasso or Mozart but you don’t have to be. Just create to create. Create to remind yourself you’re still alive. Make stuff to inspire others to make something too. Create to learn a bit more about yourself.”

We can’t imagine more sound advice. And charming, too: Terral’s manifesto appears online in its original form as scanned notebook pages, complete with sketches. Happily you can support all things Right Brain Terrain, and surround yourself with life-affirming statements, by purchasing limited edition prints from the studio’s gorgeous selection online.

THE CULT OF DONE MANIFESTO

Guidelines to get you from Point A to finished product, The Cult of Done Manifesto was written by tech guru Bre Pettis (of MakerBot fame) in collaboration with writer Kio Stark in 20 minutes, “because we only had 20 minutes to get it done.” Following that same parameter, their manifesto consists of 20 truisms borrowed from hacker culture. To wit, number four on the list:

Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.”

With iteration at the heart of its process, The Cult of Done Manifesto will banish your inner perfectionist (and its evil twin, procrastination).

HOLSTEE

We first featured the Holstee manifesto over a year ago, and our fondness for their sustainable social enterprise has only grown since then. Whether you’re raising a family or venture funds for your new business, rallying cries for creativity don’t get much stronger than this:

This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.”

You can buy these bracing words in poster, card, and even bib form, so that every time your baby throws a cup of peas on the ground you’re reminded of the things that matter most in life.

WORK IS NOT A JOB

It’s no coincidence that three out of the five manifestos featured here come from design-y entrepreneurial ventures, since as a discipline design takes a “fail forward” approach to creativity. Our number-four favorite was written by Catharina Bruns, the German-born designer and illustrator behind Work Is Not A Job. Bruns’s raison d’être is effecting “a paradigm shift in how people approach ‘work’ not as your 9-5 job but how you individually contribute to the world.”

Empower yourself and realise the importance of contributing to the world by living your talent. Work on what you love. You are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you.”

In addition to design-for-hire, Work Is Not A Job also offers products, from hoodies to fine-art prints, to keep you inspired on the daily.

DO THE WORK

We’re over the moon that author Steven Pressfield has a new release out this month. Part of Seth Godin’s e-publishing experiment The Domino Project (which we featured earlier this year), Do the Work is intended as a companion guide to Pressfield’s earlier text – and one of our all-time favorites on the creative process – The War of Art. Where that book was almost Zen-like in tone, containing koans about art and life that have had us returning to it for years, Do the Work focuses on practical methods and tools. Still, Pressfield doesn’t pull any punches, getting right to the point about what’s at stake in whether or not we create.

There is an enemy. There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us. Step one is to recognize this. This recognition alone is enormously powerful. It saved my life, and it will save yours.”

Even better, Do the Work is free(!) until April 20th, so do yourself an enormous favor and snag a copy now.

Whatever you do, we hope this list of manifestos helps you manifest your passion; and if you have other favorite creative directives leave us a link in the comments. Now go forth and create!

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not doing the work spends far, far too much time on  Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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Material World: A Portrait of the World’s Possessions

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What Japanese stuffed toys have to do with The Bible and child mortality in Mali.

We’re longtime fans of photojournalist Peter Menzel, whose visual anthropology captures the striking span of humanity’s socioeconomic and cultural spectrum. His Hungry Planet and What I Eat portrayed the world’s sustenance with remarkable graphic eloquence, and today we’re turning to some of his earliest work, doing the same for the world’s shelter: Material World: A Global Family Portrait — an engrossing visual time-capsule of life in 30 countries, captured by 16 of the world’s leading photographers.

In each of the 30 countries, Menzel found a statistically average family and photographed them outside their home, with all of their belongings. The result is an incredible cross-cultural quilt of possessions, from the utilitarian to the sentimental, revealing the faceted and varied ways in which we use “stuff” to make sense of the world and our place in it.

Freelancing in Somalia during their civil war and in Kuwait right after the first Bush War, I had some rather intense experiences that made life in the U.S. seem rather shallow and superfluous. Sitting in my office early one morning, listening to NPR, which is the way I like to start every day, I heard an amazing piece on the marketing of Madonna’s autobiographic book called SEX. The book was a sensation in the U.S. The radio report ended with Madonna singing, ‘I am living in a material world and I am just a material girl,’ or something close. I thought it was spot on. We live in an idiotic capitalist self-indulgent society where the sex life of a pop star is more important than impending starvation, land mines and child soldiers in Africa, or more interesting than the world’s biggest man-made natural disaster in oil fields of the Middle East.” ~ Peter Menzel

China: The Wu Family

The nine members of this extended family live in a 3-bedroom, 600-sq-foot dwelling in rural Yunnan Province. They have no telephone and get news through two radios and the family's most prized possession, a television. In the future, they hope to get one with a 30-inch screen as well as a VCR, a refrigerator, and drugs to combat diseases in the carp they raise in their ponds. Not included in the photo are their 100 mandarin trees, vegetable patch, and three pigs.

Image copyright Peter Menzel via PBS | www.menzelphoto.com

United States: The Skeen Family

Rick and Pattie Skeen's 1,600-sq-foot house lies on a cul-de-sac in Pearland, Texas, a suburb of Houston. Rick, 36, now splices cables for a phone company. Pattie, 34, teaches at a Christian academy. Photographers hoisted the family up in a cherry picker to fit in all their possessions, but still had to leave out a refrigerator-freezer, camcorder, woodworking tools, computer, glass butterfly collection, trampoline, fishing equipment, and the rifles Rick uses for deer hunting, among other things. Despite their possessions, nothing is as important to the Skeens as their Bible -- an interesting contrast between spiritual and material values.

Image copyright Peter Menzel via PBS | www.menzelphoto.com

India: The Yadev Family

25-year old Mashre Yadev had her first child when she was 17 and is now mother to a total of four. Every morning, she draws water from a well so that her older children can wash before school. She cooks over a wood fire in a windowless, six-by-nine-foot kitchen, and such labor-intensive domestic work keeps her busy from dawn to dusk. Her husband Bachau, 32, works roughly 56 hours a week, when he can find work. In rough times, family members have gone more than two weeks with little food. Everything they own -- including two beds, three bags of rice, a broken bicycle, and their most cherished belonging, a print of Hindu gods -- appears in this photograph.

Image copyright Peter Menzel via PBS | www.menzelphoto.com

Japan: The Ukita Family

43-year-old Sayo Ukita had children relatively late in life, like many Japanese women. Her youngest daughter is now in kindergarten, not yet burdened by the pressures of exams and Saturday 'cram school' that face her nine-year-old sister. Sayo is supremely well-organized, which helps her manage the busy schedules of her children and maintain order in their 1,421-sq-foot Tokyo home stuffed with clothes, appliances, and an abundance of toys for both her daughters and dog. Despite having all the conveniences of modern life, the family's most cherished possessions are a ring and heirloom pottery. Their wish for the future: a larger house with more storage space.

Image copyright Peter Menzel via PBS | www.menzelphoto.com

Mali: The Natomo Family

It's common for men in this West African country to have two wives, as 39-year-old Soumana Natomo does, which increases their progeny and in turn their chance to be supported in old age. Soumana now has eight children, and his wives, Pama Kondo (28) and Fatouma Niangani Toure (26), will likely have more. How many of these children will survive, though, is uncertain: Mali's infant mortality rate ranks among the ten highest in the world. Possessions not included in this photo: Another mortar and pestle for pounding grain, two wooden mattress platforms, 30 mango trees, and old radio batteries that the children use as toys.

Image copyright Peter Menzel via PBS | www.menzelphoto.com

Originally published in 1995, Material World was a massive undertaking that cost Menzel $600,000, which he scrapped together by refinancing his house, maxing out all his credit cards, and patchworking various small loans from friends — a feat in and of itself, and curious meta-evidence for the material world we live in, where even creating meaningful social commentary on materiality and excess has an excessive material cost of its own.

And for an excellent companion read, see Menzel’s 1998 follow-up, Women in the Material World — a fascinating look at an even more intimate aspect of the human family.

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Ants Are Amazing: Count the Ways, Literally

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We’ve already seen that bees are amazing. Today, we’re looking at why ants are: NPR’s Robert Krulwich and Odd Todd, the same team who explained to us why we can’t walk straight, report on an ingenious new study, in which scientists devised a creative way to prove that ants actually count their steps.

For more on this absolutely incredible civilization, we highly recommend Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions — a fascinating and riveting journey by entomologist Mark Moffett, who’s been rightfully described as “the Indiana Jones of entomology.” From Nigeria’s ant armies to Australia’s silk-spinning ants to Brunei diver ants, Moffett’s enthusiasm for these extraordinary and diverse creatures jumps off the page and pulls you into a remarkable parallel universe of intelligence and creativity.

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