Made from doorknob flyers I found all over our street while listening to Dolly Parton’s America.
Filed under: Sunday collage
Tom Hart emailed me the other day, asking if I remembered a Kurt Vonnegut passage where he talks about how “we all are all dispirited because we feel like have to compete with the world’s best, not just fulfill a role (say artist, writer, storyteller) in our tribe or extended family.”
I did, believe it or not. It’s from his (underrated, IMO) novel, Bluebeard:
I was obviously born to draw better than most people, just as the widow Berman and Paul Slazinger were obviously born to tell stories better than most people can. Other people are obviously born to sing and dance or explain the stars in the sky or do magic tricks or be great leaders or athletes, and so on.
I think that could go back to the time when people had to live in small groups of relatives – maybe fifty or a hundred people at the most. And evolution or God or whatever arranged things genetically to keep the little families going, to cheer them up, so that they could all have somebody to tell stories around the campfire at night, and somebody else to paint pictures on the walls of the caves, and somebody else who wasn’t afraid of anything and so on.
That’s what I think. And of course a scheme like that doesn’t make sense anymore, because simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but the world’s champions.
The entire planet can get along nicely now with maybe a dozen champion performers in each area of human giftedness. A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tapdances on the coffee table like Fred Astair or Ginger Rogers. We have a name for him or her. We call him or her an ‘exhibitionist.’
How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her the next morning, ‘Wow! Were you ever drunk last night!”
Of course, Bluebeard was written in 1987. I think the internet, for better or worse, has meant that quite a few moderately gifted people — people like me! — have managed to eke out livings based on our weird work and building an extended family out of the fellow weirdos who find us.
I shall enjoy it while it lasts!
Artists and children both need the right combination of time, space, and materials to do their work.
Here’s how Ursula Kolbe puts it in her book Children’s Imagination: Creativity Under Our Noses (emphasis mine):
The elements of time, space and materials make it possible for children to explore, invent and make their ideas visible. Thinking of these elements as invitations gets to the heart of the matter.
It’s the combination of unhurried and uninterrupted time, inviting spaces and materials that guides mind and hands, that invites creative thinking. Seeing, handling, and thinking are inseparable, as Rudolf Arheim, psychologist and scholar of art and ideas, reminds us.
Together, time, space and materials provide ‘invitations to act’.
Those adjectives are extremely important: unhurried and uninterrupted time, and inviting spaces and materials.
Years ago, my friend John T. Unger turned “time, space, and materials” into an equation for producing work. (Only he uses the word resources instead of “materials” — “Resources meaning materials and tools, or the money to get them.”)
Time + Space + Resources = Work
His insight was that you need all three at the same time, otherwise you fall into idleness. Here, in John’s words, are variations on the equation:
T+R-S=Idle: You have time and resources but no work space. Examples: a rock band with close neighbors, a dancer with a no floor space, any visual artist whose space is improperly ventilated, too small, or is not conducive to the use of their proper tools.
T+S-R=Idle: You have time and space but no resources. Example: you quit your job and moved into your parent’s basement, but ran out of paint & canvas. Or you saved up enough cash to rent a big space and take time off, but your welder just blew out it’s coil and there’s not enough cash left to fix it. Or you took a part time job so you’d have
more time to work, but you can’t afford materials after you pay the rent.
R+S-T=Idle: You have resources and space, but all your time is used to maintain them. Example: You have a great job that pays for a huge loft and you’ve purchased everything you need to do a big project. But every night when you come home, you’re just too burned out to get anywhere with the stuff.
“The trouble is,” he says, “it’s almost impossible to get all three at once.”
Time gets used to make money. Money gets used to pay for space. Space is hard to justify unless you have the time and resources to make it pay for itself. The whole equation can easily turn into a vicious circle in which you constantly have to rob Peter to pay Paul.
We can easily see this play out in the lives of children, too.
S + M – T = You provide a nice space and plenty of materials in the classroom, but the bell rings and it’s time to stop for the day, regardless of where the children are in their work.
T + S – M = You provide the time and space for children to work, but all you’ve given them to draw with is crummy old crayons and scrap paper.
M + T – S = You provide great materials and lots of time, but nowhere to spread out.
My question is whether increasing the quality or amount of a variable in the equation can make up for a lack of one the others.
So, for example, you have very little time, but you have a dedicated space and materials ready to go so you can pop in at any opportune moment and work.
Or, you have no space to work, but you get up early when the kids are in bed, and use the kitchen table.
I’m scratching my head thinking about how space and time can make up for a lack of materials, which might reveal something about their importance. I suppose if you have lots of time, you can scrounge around for materials?
I’ll think about it some more, but until then, remember the equation:
Time + Space + Materials = Work
Here is a sweet mini-portrait of growing up in a small, loving house in a great city and being given the time, space, and materials to do your work:
Finneas O’Connell, a 22-year-old singer and songwriter, also co-writes and records the music of his younger sister, the 17-year-old phenomenon Billy Eilish. They grew up in a 2-bedroom in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, and were homeschooled by their actor parents, resulting in a musical partnership that thrives on their friendship and trust.
Their parents’ decision to homeschool was partially inspired by the fact that Finneas was born the year of “MMMBop” when the Hanson Brothers broke big. As their dad put it, “I was completely swept away by these kids. They were religious Oklahoma home-schooled, but nonetheless. Clearly what had happened was they’d been allowed to pursue the things that they were interested in.”
It’s interesting to me that homeschooling isn’t just part of their story, it’s central to their story. Finneas summarizes the results:
Being born when I was born, and just being able to afford a computer and Logic Pro, just being afforded the opportunities I was afforded, living in LA, making music, being homeschooled, having time in the day to make that music, it was this gift I was given of time and resources.
He talks about the importance of their home as a space:
“There’s a crazy intimacy to what we’re doing…. There’s such a private feeling. It’s our house. It’s where we’ve experienced everything. That allows us to make some kind of music that feels wholeheartedly exposed, as far as who we really are as people.”
I was in the songwriting class my mom taught, and the little assignment was that you had to watch a movie or a TV show and then write down all the parts that you thought were good hooks or good lyrics. So, I watched The Walking Dead — like, why not — and then I wrote down all this stuff. People don’t even know that that’s what it’s about, because it sounds more like a longing heartbreak song. But nope, it’s about zombies.
Elsewhere, she talked more about their homeschooled childhood:
“When I see movies set in summertime, that’s what my life was like all the time, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t learn,” Billie explains. “My mom would cook and she’d be like, ‘How much goes into this?’ And that’s how we learned.”
Homeschooling was crucial partly because Billie deals with auditory processing disorder—it’s hard for her to listen and absorb meaning in standard ways—but it had the happy side effect of sharpening her sense of self. “I never went to school, so popular was never a thing for me. I don’t understand peer pressure,” she says.
Filed under: unschooling
PS. Just for fun, here’s Finneas vs. Owen in his studio:
Every time I finish a diary it feels like I should mark the occasion. People ask me what I’m up to these days, and I say, “Working in my diary, mostly,” and they probably think I’m insane.
Looking back through this one, I notice how filled it is with drawings by my four-year-old: he is in that irresistible period where every single drawing they produce seems to be vibrating with life and you want to save them all. The ones in the diary are mostly discards that I “rescued” from the recycle bin to use in collages…
Collage, collage, collage. So many collages. That’s what I do when I don’t have anything to say.
If you want to see more, head over to Instagram, or I’ve posted the photo sets below.
View this post on Instagram
Pages of a finished diary. (1 of 3) #kleondiaries 1. I always decorate the cover with weird stickers 2. I usually do a “guardian spirit” on the inside cover, but this drawing of a skeleton from my 4-year-old worked better I thought #juleskleonart 3. Drawing of poison ivy by the 4-year-old and real dialogue 4. Beethoven obsession 5. Sometimes it’s just quotes and collages 6. Phone doodles while talking to my friend @johntunger 7. I draw angry comix so I don’t say mean things out loud 8. When I have nothing to say i collage. Especially good when I have a daily paper with the comics section 9. More collages + 4-year-old’s drawing More: #kleondiaries
A post shared by Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) on
…and set two…
View this post on Instagram
Pages from a finished diary. (2 of 3) #kleondiaries 1. I like to glue the four-year-old’s thrown out drawings to magazine backgrounds 2. Spider collage 3. Big feelings collage 4. Collage and quote about redwood roots 5. Sometimes I wake up with words in my head and even if they’re “bad” or “offensive” words I do something with them 6. Linocut prints by my six-year-old 7. Pretty standard page: longhand brain dump + doodles 8. More 4-year-old drawings (they’re irresistible) + comic dialogue 9. Epic Batman collage story #kleondiaries
A post shared by Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) on
…and set three:
View this post on Instagram
Pages from a finished diary (3 of 3) #kleondiaries 1. Sometimes I will work on a new talk by drawing a comic and let it go wherever it wants to go (you can tell how much I’ve taken from @thenearsightedmonkey) 2. Tape collage / writing about what I’m reading 3. Abandoned collage 4. Grey’s anatomy + sheet music from the thrift store collage 5. Drawing of my son in his lucha mask 6. I like to take text ads and make new messages 7. A postcard of @valeriefowlerart‘s work + stickers and a torn note from my friend’s daughter 8. Back matter 9. I don’t always decorate the back cover but I couldn’t wait for the next notebook to bless it with Bucee Hope this isn’t too boring. When people ask me what I’m up to, I say, “Working in my diary.” ? #kleondiaries
A post shared by Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) on
“No one wants advice — only corroboration.”
My friend Heather Havrilesky (author of What If This Were Enough?) is also quoted in the piece. I DMed her after we were interviewed that I don’t know how to convince people that “I’m actually an extremely unhelpful person in real life which is why I write the books.”
The more I become known as someone who gives advice, the more skeptical I become of the whole act of advice-giving, the more reluctant I am to dish it out. (I believe strongly that anyone who aspires to be a professional advice-giver should be prescribed a copy of Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts.)
This feeling is further exacerbated by my experiences as a father, in which any advice or teaching I offer is routinely dismissed immediately or backfires in some other fashion. (See: “You are fine without advice or suggestions.”)
The best I can do is be a teacher while remaining a student.
From the article:
“My M.O. is to share things that I’ve learned along the way in the spirit of, ‘This worked for me, maybe it’ll work for you, too.’”
The only thing I’ve really learned about being directly asked for advice:
Be clear on the advice-seeker’s goals. When people approach Austin Kleon, author of “Steal Like an Artist,” for advice, he drills down and identifies the exact problem: “What do you want to know specifically that I can help you with?” This way, he won’t overwhelm the person with irrelevant information.
Finally, it’s impossible for me to type the word “advice” and not hear Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron: “He comes to me for advices. So it’s not that hard for me to give him… the wrong advices.”
It’s impossible for me to even hear the word “advice” without thinking about @Schwarzenegger in PUMPING IRON: “He comes to me for advices. So it’s not that hard for me to give him… the wrong advices.” pic.twitter.com/Ws9yFmdNNV
— Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) October 21, 2019
A cut-up of an ad for The Music Man on Broadway. One day I want to do a whole series of collages where I take ads and don’t actually add or subtract anything, just cut and shuffle them, like verbal/visual anagrams.
A question I get asked a lot: “How do you manage to find all the stuff that you put in your weekly newsletter?”
I’ve gone over the how before, but the how might not be as interesting as the why.
The why is explained in my book, Show Your Work!:
Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It’s that simple.
The longer I write this blog and the newsletter, the more I try to focus on what I genuinely love. The stuff that really nourishes and feeds me.
I could probably grow a bigger “audience” with the most recent creativity tips and life hacks or whatever, but that’s not why I started doing this.
I started doing this to find my people. The people who care about the same things that I do.
In other words: You.
Thanks for being here.
Here is Titian’s Noli me tangere, the painting that falls off the wall in the Hot Priest’s office when Fleabag announces she doesn’t believe in God. (“Love it when he does that!”) Noli me tangere translates to “Don’t touch me”: That’s what Christ says to Mary Magdalene in the Garden of Gethsemane when she sees him after the resurrection. (John 20: 14–18). A perfect detail in a perfect season of TV.
This site participates in the Amazon Affiliates program, the proceeds of which keep it free for anyone to read.