The Importance of Leisure

We need a different relationship with leisure in our minds. It may be the best investment we can make. I refer over and over to this article by Maria Popova: Leisure, The Basis of Culture:

"The most significant human achievements between Aristotle’s time and our own — our greatest art, the most enduring ideas of philosophy, the spark for every technological breakthrough — originated in leisure, in moments of unburdened contemplation, of absolute presence with the universe within one’s own mind and absolute attentiveness to life without, be it Galileo inventing modern timekeeping after watching a pendulum swing in a cathedral or Oliver Sacks illuminating music’s incredible effects on the mind while hiking in a Norwegian fjord. So how did we end up so conflicted about cultivating a culture of leisure?"

She covers the topic further in another article, profiling David Steindl-Rast, titled We Lost Leisure:

"Leisure … is not the privilege of those who can afford to take time; it is the virtue of those who give to everything they do the time it deserves to take."

I re-read these articles all the time to remind me what art and life should be about. Leisure is one of those topics we don't discuss much because it seems too indulgent, but if we want to create art, advance civilization or live in any meaningful way, leisure will have to be given priority.

“Of all people, only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive.” - Seneca

 

Selling Ideas

We're all trying to sell something, even if it's just our ideas. If we weren't, social media wouldn't exist and neither would the blog, the book or the portfolio.

This is why it helps when photographers learn to write and writers learn to photograph. And all of us are helped by learning to publish.

When's the last time you read a marketing book to improve your art? When's the last time you thought about how to best publish your work to sell your ideas?

How We See Art

This is a small, eye-tracking study from Frontiers in Human Neuroscience that found some unusual variables in how we view art (via Andy Adams):

"We found some common principles in the way people look at art and a large variability depending on the subjects’ own interests, artistic appreciation, and knowledge. This large subject-to-subject variability makes the scientific study of art very challenging. It is indeed very difficult to find common principles but this lack of uniformity and objectivity is perhaps one of the reasons that make art so unique, personal and fascinating."

Being a small study, I don't give it a whole lot of weight. But, it's food for thought and discussion.

They found previous knowledge of the artwork to affect the eye tracking. So, if we create art of similar genres, would that affect the eye tracking as well?  It's another thing to consider in photography: did the "rules" we read about exist before or after we acclimated to iconic prints?

And, if the viewers are so subjective in their viewing, how can their be so much objective advice about your viewers?

Yet another reason to ignore the rules.

Why a Nuclear Physicist Waits Tables at Olive Garden

I went to Olive Garden last night with the family, because we had a gift card. I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much. It had been years since I set foot in an Olive Garden.

Our server was an unusual dude. He was middle aged with disheveled hair. He was also having a great time. I was intrigued. As we talked to him a bit more, he explained he was a retired physics professor with a Masters degree from MIT and 39 patents for nuclear reactor design.

I quizzed him a bit, since one of my favorite pet side-subjects is thorium nuclear reactors. He knew about the designs and the politics of thorium reactors, so I'm assuming the rest of his story is true.

We didn't ask him why he was a server now, but, lucky for us, he volunteered it.

He said after a year of retirement, he was bored with himself. He wanted a job where he could get out of the house, meet people and still think about physics problems all day. This was the perfect solution.

I knew immediately what he meant.

The best job I ever had was working in the records department of a bank. I mindlessly fetched files all day and thought about topics like...nuclear reactors...or my next book. Having the freedom to think and still earn a paycheck was something I had not experienced before or since. I miss it sometimes (but not the size of the paycheck).

Einstein worked as a patent clerk. Isaac Newton worked at a mint. T.S. Eliot was a banker. Bram Stoker was a bureaucrat. Lots of artists and great thinkers had boring day jobs (see Jack Lynch's book Don't Quit Your Day Job).

I think about this whenever someone insists artists must follow their passions and make careers out of them.

Maybe you just need a paycheck and the freedom to enjoy what obsesses you. 

Which Rules Apply to You?

Some of us photograph for the pleasure of photographing. For that kind of photographer, there are no rules.

Some of us are artists primarily. For that kind of photographer, the rules only exist for the breaking.

Some of us are professionals. For that kind of photographer, the rules are many, but widely available for a price.

The trick to not wasting your time and money is to decide which you are (for the moment) and act accordingly.

Efficiency

Everyone wants to be more efficient. But no one would want to describe their art as “efficient.”

The groundbreaking stuff tends to be incredibly inefficient in its making.

What Are You Willing to Give Up for Photography?

As much as photography adds to our lives, we often forget it comes at a cost.

Besides money, we invest our time, creativity and attention. When we focus that energy on one thing, it comes at the cost of other things.

To leave this unexamined is a recipe for frustration and anger.

Ask yourself:

  • What projects am I willing to drop to practice photography?
  • How much time am I willing to take away from my family/friends/job (if my photography doesn’t involve them)?
  • What is my budget?
  • What has brought me the best return on my investment in the past?
  • What am I absolutely not willing to sacrifice?

Amateurs give up the least to enjoy photography. We get to use whatever camera we want and chase an experience to enjoy the experience. The documentation is secondary. The costs in terms of money, time and effort is minimal. The returns can be enormous.

Artists give up what they choose to give up. This creates all kinds of interesting conflicts. The costs vary. The returns can be enormous.

Professionals give up what someone else chooses. The costs can be enormous. The returns can be enormous.

Photography adds way too much to our lives not to invest in it. That’s why you’re reading this.

Invest wisely.


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It’s a blizzard out there. Nobody cares about your hand crafted, artisanal snowflakes.
Hugh MacLeod

As soon as you’re willing to say ‘it’s not for you’, you’re freed up to make art.
Seth Godin