Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

26 MARCH, 2012

The Importance of Frustration in the Creative Process, Animated

By:

“Before we can find the answer — before we can even know the question — we must be immersed in disappointment.”

Last week, Jonah Lehrer took us inside “the seething cauldron of ideas” with Imagine: How Creativity Works, his long-awaited (by me, at least) new book. Now, from Flash Rosenberg — Guggenheim Fellow, NYPL artist-in-residence, live-illustrator extraordinaire, and Brain Pickings darling — comes this wonderful hand-drawn teaser for the book, distilling one of Lehrer’s key ideas in Rosenberg’s signature style of simple yet visually eloquent line drawings.

When we tell stories about creativity, we tend to leave out this phase. We neglect to mention those days when we wanted to quit, when we believed that our problem was impossible. Instead, we skip straight to the breakthrough. We tell the happy ending first.

The danger of this scenario is that the act of feeling frustrated is an essential part of the creative process. Before we can find the answer — before we can even know the question — we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced that a solution is beyond our reach. We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost. Because it’s only after we stop searching that an answer may arrive.

For a related treat, see Rosenberg’s live-illustration of John Lithgow reading Mark Twin at the New York Public Library.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

23 MARCH, 2012

Advice on Advice from Literary Greats

By:

Cultivating the wisdom to know when to ignore wisdom.

There’s indisputable value in turning to our greatest heroes for wisdom on everything from how to find our purpose to the balance of rationality and intuition to the key to happiness to the secret of life. But blindly following advice, even from the greatest of minds, is a recipe for disappointment since, after all, every human experience is different from every other. Gathered here are five pieces of anti-advice from literary greats — mostly on writing, but also applicable to life at large — reminding us that, sometimes, the best advice is to ignore advice.

JOHN STEINBECK

Even though he issued six timeless tips on writing, John Steinbeck followed them with a sort of caveat cautioning against relying too heavily on such advice:

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.

GEORGE ORWELL

In 1946, George Orwell issued a similar list of six rules for writers, the last of which is a disclaimer to the rest of the list:

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

STEPHEN KING

While feedback and input are a critical form of advice, they too can warp our own ideals. Stephen King puts it best:

Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.

JACK KEROUAC

Popular opinion is, of course, a form of feedback and, as such, implicit peer advice. Jack Kerouac — whose 30 tips on writing and life are among the most follow-worthy advice there is — cautions against it, echoing Paul Graham’s thoughts on prestige:

Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.

CHARLOTTE BRONTË

An essential part of advice is, in fact, knowing when to ignore it. The excellent Advice to Writers recounts the story of Charlotte Brontë, who in 1845 wrote to the British poet Robert Southey to ask whether to be a successful writer. He replied with “cool admonition”:

Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment and recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are, you will be less eager for celebrity.”

Brontë, of course, chose to ignore his advice and, along with her sisters Emily and Anne, produced a wealth of poetry under male pseudonyms before publishing Jane Eyre the following year.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

23 MARCH, 2012

PBS Off Book: Art in the Age of the Internet

By:

How the digital age is changing the rhetoric and regimes of creative expression.

Over the past few months, the fine folks at PBS Arts have been exploring various facets of creative culture — including typography, product design, generative art, papercraft, and more — and their evolution in the digital age as part of the ongoing Off Book series. The latest installment explores art in the era of the Internet, and features Kickstarter founder Yancey Strickler, Creative Commons mastermind Lawrence Lessig, and my dear friend Julia Kaganskiy, editor of Creators Project, along with her colleague and creative director Ciel Hunter.

When extend the life of a physical project on the web, and give people the ability to remix that media, they’ll do some really inventive stuff with it.” ~ Julia Kaganskiy, Creators Project

The Internet’s incredible ability to align people with similar interests makes it very possible for normal people to make big things happen, and that’s something that wasn’t possible at any other time.” ~ Yancey Strickler, Kickstarter

We had a regime of copyright and the Internet completely flipped the technical foundation upon which that regime had been built. […] My creative utopia is that we have a huge proportion of all of us creating all the time.” ~ Lawrence Lessig, Creative Commons

As Edward Gorey might remind you, PBS is public media supported by “viewers like you” — show them some love here.

@juliaxgulia

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.