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“Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.”

“Make good art,” Neil Gaiman advised in his endlessly heartening counsel on the creative life. But what, exactly, is “good” art?

English musician and visual artist Brian Eno, born on May 15, 1948, is celebrated as a pioneer of ambient music and one of the most influential artists in modern musical sensibility. But he is also an insightful observer of contemporary culture, his ideas having populated the pages of various magazines as well as John Brockman’s fantastic Edge Question series. Nowhere does his dimensional mind shine more brilliantly than in A Year With Swollen Appendices: Brian Eno’s Diary (public library) — a curious dual tome, originally published in 1996, featuring a year’s worth of Eno’s diary entries during 1995 and thirty-six short essays on various aspects of culture, from music-sharing to pretension to the Duchamp Fountain. Gathered here are his most timeless insights on art, a wonderful addition to history’s finest meditations on what art is and does.

In an entry dated April 23, nearly twenty years before our present-day fame factory of manufactured attention, Eno makes a prescient observation:

Attention is what creates value. Artworks are made as well by how people interact with them — and therefore by what quality of interaction they can inspire. So how do we assess an artist who we suspect is dreadful but who manages to inspire the right storm of attention, and whose audience seems to swoon in the appropriate way? We say, ‘Well done.’

The question is: ‘Is the act of getting attention a sufficient act for an artist? Or is that in fact the job description?’

Perhaps the art of the future will be indistinguishable.

In a related meditation, he considers confidence as the conferring mechanism of value:

The term “confidence trick” has a bad meaning, but it shouldn’t. In culture, confidence is the currency of value. Once you surrender the idea of intrinsic, objective value, you start asking the question “if the value isn’t in there, where does it come from?” It’s obviously from the transaction: it’s the product of the quality of a relationship between me, the observer, and something else. So how is that relationship stimulated, enriched, given value? By creating an atmosphere of confidence where I am ready to engage with and perhaps surrender to the world it suggests.

Gene Davis: Night Rider (public domain via The Smithsonian Institution)

In one of the micro-essays, titled “Miraculous cures and the canonization of Basquiat,” Eno revisits the subject with a sentiment Greil Marcus would come to echo in his fantastic recent SVA commencement address on “high” vs. “low” art. Eno writes:

Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences. (Roy Ascott’s phrase.) That solves a lot of problems: we don’t have to argue whether photographs are art, or whether performances are art, or whether Carl Andre’s bricks or Andrews Serranos’s piss or Little Richard’s ‘Long Tail Sally’ are art, because we say, ‘Art is something that happens, a process, not a quality, and all sorts of things can make it happen.’ … [W]hat makes a work of art ‘good’ for you is not something that is already ‘inside’ it, but something that happens inside you — so the value of the work lies in the degree to which it can help you have the kind of experience that you call art.

This notion of “inside” and “outside” is in fact central to Eno’s conception of culture and something he notes on multiple occasions in the diary. He explores it at length in another essay titled “On being an artist,” where he ponders:

Where do you work?

Do you work ‘inside’ or ‘outside’?

To work inside is to deal with the internal conditions of the work — the melodies, the rhythms, the textures, the lyrics, the images: all the normal day-to-day things one imagines an artist does.

To work outside is to deal with the world surrounding the work — the thoughts, assumptions, expectations, legends, histories, economic structures, critical responses, legal issues and so on and on. You might think of these things as the frame of the work.

A frame is a way of creating a little world round something.

[…]

Is there anything in a work that is not frame, actually?

William H. Johnson: Nude Seated — Front View (public domain via The Smithsonian Institution)

In a diary entry from February of 1995, Eno considers the essential role of evolving the tools of creativity by way of iteration, even if implicit to which is the frowned-upon notion of unoriginality:

How determined people seem to be to aim for exactly the same target again and again. A charitable interoperation: by doing so they evolve better tools for everyone else, creating vocabulary out of metaphor. Like those pathetic computer artists who are so thrilled when they’ve finally produced a picture of a daffodil with a drop of dew upon it — indistinguishable from a real photo. To me this would represent a total failure, but it’s probably those people who propel the evolution of tools.

Gene Davis: Davy’s Locker (public domain via The Smithsonian Institution)

But beneath the tools and the iterative nature of much of what passes for the experience of art, Eno suggest, lies an existential longing for its opposite — for profound change, for transcendence. In the Basquiat essay, he writes:

Changing ourselves. Surely that must be what we’re after when we look at pictures and watch movies and listen to music. It sounds more Californian than it really is. Changing ourselves includes switching on the radio when we’re bored — to change from being someone who’s bored to someone who’s being less bored, or bored in a different way. But of course we would prefer to think that the art we venerate does more than feed us sensations to keep us from the gloom of everyday existence. (Why would I prefer that? What’s wrong with the opposite? I remember someone saying that all human creativity is a desperate attempt to occupy the brief space or endless gap between birth and death.) We would like to think that art remakes us in some way, deepens us, makes us ‘better’ people.

Pair A Year With Swollen Appendices: Brian Eno’s Diary with Susan Sontag’s illustrated insights on art, culled form her published diaries.

via Brain Pickings http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/05/15/happy-birthday-brian-eno-the-father-of-ambient-music-on-art/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+brainpickings%2Frss+%28Brain+Pickings%29

x-post by Jered Higgins

For breakfast, “a salted soft-boiled egg with toast, or perhaps fresh-squeezed lemonade, and two cups of very sweet tea.”

My fascination with the daily routines of famous writers was recently rekindled by the release of the similarly-minded Daily Rituals, which in turn reminded me of one of the characteristically, charmingly eccentric routine of beloved author and cat-lover William S. Burroughs, found in Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs (public library).

In the introduction to the altogether fantastic volume, writer and editor James Grauerholz, who served as the bibliographer and literary executor of the Burroughs estate, describes the author’s typical day:

On a typical day in the last year of William Burroughs’s life he would awaken in the early morning and take his methadone (he became re-addicted to narcotics in New York in 1980, and was on a maintenance program the rest of his life) and then return to bed. If the day were Thursday, I would arrive at 8:00 A.M. to drive him to his clinic in Kansas City, or — after he had finally earned a biweekly pickup schedule — take him out to breakfast, so that his house could be cleaned. At about 9:30 A.M. on all other mornings William would arise and — in his slippers, pajamas, and dressing gown — make his breakfast, sometimes a salted soft-boiled egg with toast, or perhaps fresh-squeezed lemonade, and two cups of very sweet tea. Feeding his many cats at the beginning of each day took up considerable time, only after which would he shave and dress himself, by about noon.

William might have visitors at midday, or he might make an outing to his friend Fred Aldrich’s farm for some target shooting with other gun enthusiasts. Otherwise, he passed the afternoon looking through his gun magazines or reading an endless stream of books, sometimes works of serious fiction but more often in the category of pulp fiction, with an emphasis on medical thrillers, stories about police and gangsters, and — his favorite — science-fiction scenarios of plague ravaging the world.

[…]

William liked to go outside in the afternoon and walk in his garden, sometimes practicing throwing a knife into a board propped up against the little garage. But in his last year, he could usually be found lying down for an afternoon nap of an hour or two. One or more of his friends would arrive at 5:00 or 6:00 P.M. to join him for cocktails and make dinner. William’s daily cocktails — which had started religiously at 6:00 P.M. when I first met him in 1974 — now commenced at 3:30 sharp. After the first vodka-and-Coke and a few puffs on a joint, he often wrote in his new journal books until he was joined by his dinner companions.

[…]

In this last year William conserved his strength by “making an early evening of it,” sometimes starting to take off his shirt at 8:30 or 9:00 P.M. to signal his guests that they should move their fellowship elsewhere. During the night he was, by his own account, up out of bed many times to urinate or deal with cat exigencies. He often said he was a light sleeper, and until the middle of the night he was, but he usually slept soundly for several hours in the early morning hours, curled up on his side in a fetal position, his hands tucked between his thighs — and his pistol under the covers, not far from his hand, in case of trouble.

Pair Last Words with the daily routines of Joy Williams, Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce, and other literary greats.

via Brain Pickings http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/05/06/william-s-burroughs-daily-routine/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+brainpickings%2Frss+%28Brain+Pickings%29

x-post by Jered Higgins

“You can’t assert an answer just because it’s not something else.”

Isaac Asimovsage of science, champion of creativity in education, visionary of the future, lover of libraries, Muppet friend — endures as one of the most visionary scientific minds in modern history. Every year, the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, of which Asimov had been a tenacious supporter, hosts the Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, inviting some of the greatest minds of our time to discuss monumental unanswered questions at the frontier of science. The 2013 installment explored the existence of nothing in a mind-bending conversation between science journalist Jim Holt, who has previously pondered why the world exists, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, who has explored the science of “something” and “nothing,” Princeton astrophysics professor J. Richard Gott, NYU journalism professor Charles Seife, and Stanford physicist Eve Silverstein, moderated by none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson. The wide-ranging conversation spans such subjects as quantum mechanics, space-time, black holes, and string theory.

Holt considers Leibniz and the invention of the calculus as a radical turning point in the history of science and philosophy:

The crucial notion of the calculus is the notion of the infinitesimal — the infinitely small. And what is the infinitesimal? It’s not nothing — but it’s not quite something, either. It somehow mediates between finitude and nothingness. … You have to have a temperamental attraction to dangerous ideas, and the infinitesimal is considered to be an extremely dangerous idea, and there was a great resistance to the calculus because of it.

One apparent universal the panel points out is the ubiquity of creation myths across civilizations, bespeaking some fundamental human need to understand how nothing became something — but Holt points to a curious exception:

The creation myth is always about how the world we live in came into existence. … There’s an Amazon tribe called the Pirahã, who are the only civilization known that doesn’t have any creation myth at all. When they ask about the world, they say, “It’s always been like this.”

But the soundbite of the night comes from Tyson himself, in answering an audience question about science vs. religion — which is really a meditation on the fundamentals of critical thinking and what science is:

There can be alternatives that are not always religious. That’s an interesting false dichotomy that’s often set up: If it’s not this, it must be religious. No: If it’s not this, it could be other stuff you haven’t thought of yet. You can’t assert an answer just because it’s not something else. That’s a false argument that’s been made throughout time, and the better scientists that move forward never assume anything just because one thing is wrong.

Complement with what it’s like to live in a universe of 10 dimensions and John Updike on why there is something rather than nothing.

via Brain Pickings http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/04/25/2013-isaac-asimov-memorial-debate/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+brainpickings%2Frss+%28Brain+Pickings%29

x-post by Jered Higgins

Hemingway wrote standing, Nabokov on index cards, Twain while puffing cigars, and Sitwell in an open coffin.

“We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone,” the William James’s famous words on habit echo. “Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar.”

Given this omnibus of the daily routines of famous writers was not only one of my favorite articles to research but also the most-read and -shared one in the entire history of Brain Pickings, imagine my delight at the release of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (public library) by Mason Currey, based on his blog of the same title. Currey, who culled the famous routines from a formidable array of interviews, diaries, letters, and magazine profiles, writes in the introduction:

Nearly every weekday morning for a year and a half, I got up at 5:30, brushed my teeth, made a cup of coffee, and sat down to write about how some of the greatest minds of the past four hundred years approached this exact same task — that is, how they made the time each day to do their best work, how they organized their schedules in order to be creative and productive. By writing about the admittedly mundane details of my subjects’ daily lives — when they slept and ate and worked and worried — I hoped to provide a novel angle on their personalities and careers, to sketch entertaining, small-bore portraits of the artist as a creature of habit.

The notion that if only we could replicate the routines of great minds, we’d be able to reverse-engineer their genius is, of course, an absurd one — yet an alluring one nonetheless. Currey’s feat is in at once indulging and debunking the mythology of our voyeuristic routine-fetishism by exploring the wildly diverse ways in which celebrated creators structure their days, while at the same time engaging in delicate pattern-recognition to reveal a number of recurring undercurrents essential for creative success. Here is a small sampling of some favorites:

Mark Twain — master of epistolary snark, unsuspected poet, cheeky adviser of little girls — followed a simple but rigorous routine:

He would go to the study in the morning after a hearty breakfast and stay there until dinner at about 5:00. Since he skipped lunch, and since his family would not venture near the study — they would blow a horn if they needed him — —he could usually work uninterruptedly for several hours. … After dinner, Twain would read his day’s work to the assembled family. He liked to have an audience, and his evening performances almost always won their approval. On Sundays, Twain skipped work to relax with his wife and children, read, and daydream in some shady spot on the farm. Whether or not he was working, he smoked cigars constantly.

Photograph courtesy Poetry Foundation

Gertrude Stein’s routine, as detailed in a 1934 New Yorker piece, relied heavily on her partner, Alice B. Toklas, who all but managed Stein’s life:

Miss Stein gets up every morning about ten and drinks some coffee, against her will. She’s always been nervous about becoming nervous and she thought coffee would make her nervous, but her doctor prescribed it. Miss Toklas, her companion, gets up at six and starts dusting and fussing around. . . . Every morning Miss Toklas bathes and combs their French poodle, Basket, and brushes its teeth. It has its own toothbrush.

Despite his astounding creative output, from Ulysses to his lesser-known poetry to, even, children’s books, James Joyce once described himself as “a man of small virtue, inclined to extravagance and alcoholism.” And yet he followed a steady regimen, as outlined in Richard Ellmann’s biography of Joyce:

He woke about 10 o’clock, an hour or more after Stanislaus had breakfast and left the house. Nora gave him coffee and rolls in bed, and he lay there, as Eileen [his sister] described him, “smothered in his own thoughts” until about 11 o’clock. Sometimes his Polish tailor called, and would sit discoursing on the edge of the bed while Joyce listened and nodded. About eleven he rose, shaved, and sat down at the piano (which he was buying slowly and perilously on the installment plan). As often as not his singing and playing were interrupted by the arrival of a bill collector. Joyce was notified and asked what was to be done. “Let them all come in,” he would say resignedly, as if an army were at the door. The collector would come in, dun him with small success, then be skillfully steered off into a discussion of music or politics.

Photograph courtesy BBC

On the most eccentric end of the spectrum, we find Vladimir Nabokov — beloved author, butterfly-lover, no-bullshit lecturer, hater of clichés, man of strong opinions:

The Russian-born novelist’s writing habits were famously peculiar. Beginning in 1950, he composed first drafts in pencil on ruled index cards, which he stored in long file boxes. Since, Nabokov claimed, he pictured an entire novel in complete form before he began writing it, this method allowed him to compose passages out of sequence, in whatever order he pleased; by shuffling the cards around, he could quickly rearrange paragraphs, chapters, and whole swaths of the book. (His file box also served as portable desk; he started the first draft of Lolita on a road trip across America, working nights in the backseat of his parked car — the only place in the country, he said, with no noise and no drafts.) Only after months of this labor did he finally relinquish the cards to his wife, Vera, for a typed draft, which would then undergo several more rounds of revisions.

But perhaps Leo Tolstoy, man of great wisdom, had perhaps the most emblematic relationship with the purpose of routine, professing in his diary to write “each day without fail” not necessarily in pursuit of creative merit but to avoid falling out of his routine.

Daily Rituals features such beloved creators as T. S. Eliot, Honoré de Balzac, Sylvia Plath, Alexander Graham Bell, Frank Lloyd Wright, Tchaikovsky, and Georgia O’Keeffe. But more than a mere voyeuristic tour of creative routines, what makes it particularly enjoyable is that Currey manages to take these seemingly superficial rotes and weave of them something so rich and representative of the human impulse for creativity, at once incredibly diverse and uniform in its compulsive restlessness.

Excerpted from Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. Copyright © 2013 by Mason Currey. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

x-post by Jered Higgins

On the art-science of “allowing the various petals of our identity to fully unfold.”

“If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment,” wrote Dostoevsky, “all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.” Indeed, the quest to avoid work and make a living of doing what you love is a constant conundrum of modern life. In How to Find Fulfilling Work (public library) — the latest installment in The School of Life’s wonderful series reclaiming the traditional self-help genre as intelligent, non-self-helpy, yet immensely helpful guides to modern living, which previously gave us Philippa Perry’s How to Stay Sane and Alain de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex — philosopher Roman Krznaric (remember him?) explores the roots of this contemporary quandary and guides us to its fruitful resolution:

The desire for fulfilling work — a job that provides a deep sense of purpose, and reflects our values, passions and personality — is a modern invention. … For centuries, most inhabitants of the Western world were too busy struggling to meet their subsistence needs to worry about whether they had an exciting career that used their talents and nurtured their wellbeing. But today, the spread of material prosperity has freed our minds to expect much more from the adventure of life.

We have entered a new age of fulfillment, in which the great dream is to trade up from money to meaning.

Krznaric goes on to outline two key afflictions of the modern workplace — “a plague of job dissatisfaction” and “uncertainty about how to choose the right career” — and frames the problem:

Never have so many people felt so unfulfilled in their career roles, and been so unsure what to do about it. Most surveys in the West reveal that at least half the workforce are unhappy in their jobs. One cross-European study showed that 60 per cent of workers would choose a different career if they could start again. In the United States, job satisfaction is at its lowest level — 45 per cent — since record-keeping began over two decades ago.

Of course, Krznaric points out, there’s plenty of cynicism and skepticism to go around, with people questioning whether it’s even possible to find a job in which we thrive and feel complete. He offers an antidote to the default thinking:

There are two broad ways of thinking about these questions. The first is the ‘grin and bear it’ approach. This is the view that we should get our expectations under control and recognize that work, for the vast majority of humanity — including ourselves — is mostly drudgery and always will be. Forget the heady dream of fulfillment and remember Mark Twain’s maxim. “Work is a necessary evil to be avoided.” … The history is captured in the word itself. The Latin labor means drudgery or toil, while the French travail derives from the tripalium, an ancient Roman instrument of torture made of three sticks. … The message of the ‘grin and bear it’ school of thought is that we need to accept the inevitable and put up with whatever job we can get, as long as it meets our financial needs and leaves us enough time to pursue our ‘real life’ outside office hours. The best way to protect ourselves from all the optimistic pundits pedaling fulfillment is to develop a hardy philosophy of acceptance, even resignation, and not set our hearts on finding a meaningful career.

I am more hopeful than this, and subscribe to a different approach, which is that it is possible to find work that is life-enhancing, that broadens our horizons and makes us feel more human.

[…]

This is a book for those who are looking for a job that is big enough for their spirit, something more than a ‘day job’ whose main function is to pay the bills.

‘Never have so many people felt so unfulfilled in their career roles, and been so unsure what to do about it.’

As we turn the corner of the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique, Krznaric reminds us of the pivotal role the emancipation of women played in the conception of modern work culture:

If the expansion of public education was the main event in the story of career choice in the nineteenth century, in the twentieth it was the growing number of women who entered the paid workforce. In the US in 1950 around 30 per cent of women had jobs, but by the end of the century that figure had more than doubled, a pattern which was repeated throughout the West. This change partly resulted from the struggle for the vote and the legitimacy gained from doing factory work in two World Wars. Perhaps more significant was the impact of the pill. Within just fifteen years of its invention in 1955, over twenty million women were using oral contraceptives, with more than ten million using the coil. By gaining more control over their own bodies, women now had greater scope to pursue their chosen professions without the interruption of unwanted pregnancy and childbearing. However, this victory for women’s liberation has been accompanied by severe dilemmas for both women and men as they attempt to find a balance between the demands of family life and their career ambitions.

Another culprit Krznaric points to in the stymying of our ability to find a calling is the industrial model of education:

The way that education can lock us into careers, or at least substantially direct the route we travel, would not be so problematic if we were excellent judges of our future interests and characters. But we are not. When you were 16, or even in your early twenties, how much did you know about what kind of career would stimulate your mind and offer a meaningful vocation? Did you even know the range of jobs that were out there? Most of us lack the experience of life — and of ourselves — to make a wise decision at that age, even with the help of well-meaning career advisers.

Krznaric considers the five keys to making a career meaningful — earning money, achieving status, making a difference, following our passions, and using our talents — but goes on to demonstrate that they aren’t all created equal. In particular, he echoes 1970s Zen pioneer Alan Watts and modern science in arguing that money alone is a poor motivator:

Schopenhauer may have been right that the desire for money is widespread, but he was wrong on the issue of equating money with happiness. Overwhelming evidence has emerged in the last two decades that the pursuit of wealth is an unlikely path to achieving personal wellbeing — the ancient Greek ideal of eudaimonia or ‘the good life.’ The lack of any clear positive relationship between rising income and rising happiness has become one of the most powerful findings in the modern social sciences. Once our income reaches an amount that covers our basic needs, further increases add little, if anything, to our levels of life satisfaction.

The second false prophet of fulfillment, as Y-Combinator Paul Graham has poignantly cautioned and Debbie Millman has poetically articulated, is prestige. Krznaric admonishes:

We can easily find ourselves pursuing a career that society considers prestigious, but which we are not intrinsically devoted to ourselves — one that does not fulfill us on a day-to-day basis.

Krznaric pits respect, which he defines as “being appreciated for what we personally bring to a job, and being valued for our individual contribution,” as the positive counterpart to prestige and status, arguing that “in our quest for fulfilling work, we should seek a job that offers not just good status prospects, but good respect prospects.”

Rather than hoping to create a harmonious union between the pursuit of money and values, we might have better luck trying to combine values with talents. This idea comes courtesy of Aristotle, who is attributed with saying, ‘Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.’

Krznaric quotes the French writer François-René de Chateaubriand, who wrote over a century ago:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.

Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, arms stretched out wide, is the quintessential symbol of the Renaissance wide achiever.

And yet, Krznaric argues, a significant culprit in our vocational dissatisfaction is the fact that the Industrial Revolution ushered in a cult of specialization, leading us to believe that the best way to be successful is to become an expert in a narrow field. Like Buckminster Fuller, who famously admonished against specialization, Krznaric cautions that this cult robs us of an essential part of being human: the fluidity of character and our multiple selves:

Specialization may be all well very well if you happen to have skills particularly suited to these jobs, or if you are passionate a niche area of work, and of course there is also the benefit of feeling pride in being considered an expert. But there is equally the danger of becoming dissatisfied by the repetition inherent in many specialist professions. … Moreover, our culture of specialization conflicts with something most of us intuitively recognize, but which career advisers are only beginning to understand: we each have multiple selves. … We have complex, multi-faceted experiences, interests, values and talents, which might mean that we could also find fulfillment as a web designer, or a community police officer, or running an organic cafe.

This is a potentially liberating idea with radical implications. It raises the possibility that we might discover career fulfillment by escaping the confines of specialization and cultivating ourselves as wide achievers … allowing the various petals of our identity to fully unfold.

Krznaric advocates for finding purpose as an active aspiration rather than a passive gift:

“Without work, all life goes rotten, but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies,” wrote Albert Camus. Finding work with a soul has become one of the great aspirations of our age. … We have to realize that a vocation is not something we find, it’s something we grow — and grow into.

It is common to think of a vocation as a career that you somehow feel you were “meant to do.” I prefer a different definition, one closer to the historical origins of the concept: a vocation is a career that not only gives you fulfillment — meaning, flow, freedom — but that also has a definitive goal or a clear purpose to strive for attached to it, which drives your life and motivates you to get up in the morning.

And yet fulfilling work doesn’t come from the path of least resistance. He cites from Viktor Frankl’s famous treatise on the meaning of life:

What man actually needs is not some tension-less state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.

Marie Curie didn’t find her vocation. She grew it.

For a perfect example, Krznaric points to reconstructionist Marie Curie:

Curie was absolutely committed to her career. She lived an almost monastic lifestyle in her early years in Paris, surviving on nothing but buttered bread and tea for weeks at a time, which left her anemic and regularly fainting from hunger. She shunned her growing fame, had no interest in material comforts, preferring to live in a virtually unfurnished home: status and money mattered little to her. When a relative offered to buy her a wedding dress, she insisted that “if you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory.” Before her death in 1934, aged 67, she summed up her philosophy of work: “Life is not easy for any of us,” she said. “But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”

But while Curie’s career embodies the essential elements of meaning — she employed her intellectual talents in the direction of her passion for science, which she pursued with “Aristotelean sense of purpose” — Krznaric debunks the eureka! myth of genius and points out that Curie’s rise to vocational fulfillment was incremental, as she allowed her mind to remain open rather than closed in on her specialization, recognizing the usefulness of useless knowledge:

Marie Curie never had [a] miraculous moment of insight, when she knew that she must dedicate her working life to researching the properties of radioactive materials. What really occurred was that this goal quietly crept up on her during years of sustained scientific research. … Her obsession grew in stages, without any Tannoy announcement from the heavens that issued her a calling. That’s the way it typically happens: although people occasionally have those explosive epiphanies, more commonly a vocation crystallizes slowly, almost without us realizing it.

So there is no great mystery behind it all. If we want a job that is also a vocation, we should not passively wait around for it to appear out of thin air. Instead we should take action and endeavor to grow it like Marie curie. How? Simply by devoting ourselves to work that gives us deep fulfillment through meaning, flow and freedom. … Over time, a tangible and inspiring goal may quietly germinate, grow larger, and eventually flower into life.

A quick yet disproportionately enriching read, How to Find Fulfilling Work is excellent in its entirety. Complement it with this timelessly wonderful 1949 guide to avoiding work.

Excerpted from How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric. Copyright © 2012 by The School of Life. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher. Reprinted by arrangement with Picador.

 

via Brain Pickings http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/04/23/how-to-find-fulfilling-work-roman-krznaric/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+brainpickings%2Frss+%28Brain+Pickings%29

x-post by Jered Higgins

“Write! Writing, to knowledge, is a certified check.”

The quest for intellectual growth and self-improvement through education has occupied yesteryear’s luminaries like Bertrand Russell and modern-day thinkers like Sir Ken Robinson and Noam Chomsky. In 1936, at the zenith of the Great Depression, the prolific self-help guru and famous eccentric James T. Mangan published You Can Do Anything! (public library) — an enthusiastic and exclamation-heavy pep-manual for the art of living. Though Mangan was a positively kooky character — in 1948, he publicly claimed to own outer space and went on to found the micronation of Celestia — the book isn’t without merit.

Among its highlights is a section titled 14 Ways to Acquire Knowledge — a blueprint to intellectual growth, advocating for such previously discussed essentials as the importance of taking example from those who have succeeded and organizing the information we encounter, the power of curiosity, the osmosis between learning and teaching, the importance of critical thinking (because, as Christopher Hitchens pithily put it, “what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”), the benefits of writing things down, why you should let your opinions be fluid rather than rigid, the art of listening, the art of observation, and the very core of what it means to be human.

14 WAYS TO ACQUIRE KNOWLEDGE

    1. PRACTICE

Consider the knowledge you already have — the things you really know you can do. They are the things you have done over and over; practiced them so often that they became second nature. Every normal person knows how to walk and talk. But he could never have acquired this knowledge without practice. For the young child can’t do the things that are easy to older people without first doing them over and over and over.

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Most of us quit on the first or second attempt. But the man who is really going to be educated, who intends to know, is going to stay with it until it is done. Practice!

    1. ASK

Any normal child, at about the age of three or four, reaches the asking period, the time when that quickly developing brain is most eager for knowledge. “When?” “Where?” “How?” “What?” and “Why?” begs the child — but all too often the reply is “Keep still!” “Leave me alone!” “Don’t be a pest!”

Those first bitter refusals to our honest questions of childhood all too often squelch our “Asking faculty.” We grow up to be men and women, still eager for knowledge, but afraid and ashamed to ask in order to get it.

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Every person possessing knowledge is more than willing to communicate what he knows to any serious, sincere person who asks. The question never makes the asker seem foolish or childish — rather, to ask is to command the respect of the other person who in the act of helping you is drawn closer to you, likes you better and will go out of his way on any future occasion to share his knowledge with you.

Ask! When you ask, you have to be humble. You have to admit you don’t know! But what’s so terrible about that? Everybody knows that no man knows everything, and to ask is merely to let the other know that you are honest about things pertaining to knowledge.

    1. DESIRE

You never learn much until you really want to learn. A million people have said: “Gee, I wish I were musical!” “If I only could do that!” or “How I wish I had a good education!” But they were only talking words — they didn’t mean it.

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Desire is the foundation of all learning and you can only climb up the ladder of knowledge by desiring to learn.

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If you don’t desire to learn you’re either a num-skull [sic] or a “know-it-all.” And the world wants nothing to do with either type of individual.

    1. GET IT FROM YOURSELF

You may be surprised to hear that you already know a great deal! It’s all inside you — it’s all there — you couldn’t live as long as you have and not be full of knowledge.

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Most of your knowledge, however — and this is the great difference between non-education and education — is not in shape to be used, you haven’t it on the tip of your tongue. It’s hidden, buried away down inside of you — and because you can’t see it, you think it isn’t there.

Knowledge is knowledge only when it takes a shape, when it can be put into words, or reduced to a principle — and it’s now up to you to go to work on your own gold mine, to refine the crude ore.

    1. WALK AROUND IT

Any time you see something new or very special, if the thing is resting on the ground, as your examination and inspection proceeds, you find that you eventually walk around it. You desire to know the thing better by looking at it from all angles.

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To acquire knowledge walk around the thing studied. The thing is not only what you touch, what you see; it has many other sides, many other conditions, many other relations which you cannot know until you study it form all angles.

The narrow mind stays rooted in one spot; the broad mind is free, inquiring, unprejudiced; it seeks to learn “both sides of the story.”

Don’t screen of from your own consciousness the bigger side of your work. Don’t be afraid you’ll harm yourself if you have to change a preconceived opinion. Have a free, broad, open mind! Be fair to the thing studied as well as to yourself. When it comes up for your examination, walk around it! The short trip will bring long knowledge.

    1. EXPERIMENT

The world honors the man who is eager to plant new seeds of study today so he may harvest a fresh crop of knowledge tomorrow. The world is sick of the man who is always harking back to the past and thinks everything wroth knowing has already been learned. … Respect the past, take what it offers, but don’t live in it.

To learn, experiment! Try something new. See what happens. Lindbergh experimented when he flew the Atlantic. Pasteur experimented with bacteria and made cow’s milk safe for the human race. Franklin experimented with a kite and introduced electricity.

The greatest experiment is nearly always a solo. The individual, seeking to learn, tries something new but only tries it on himself. If he fails, he has hurt only himself. If he succeeds he has made a discovery many people can use. Experiment only with your own time, your own money, your own labor. That’s the honest, sincere type of experiment. It’s rich. The cheap experiment is to use other people’s money, other people’s destinies, other people’s bodies as if they were guinea pigs.

    1. TEACH

If you would have knowledge, knowledge sure and sound, teach. Teach your children, teach your associates, teach your friends. In the very act of teaching, you will learn far more than your best pupil.

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Knowledge is relative; you possess it in degrees. You know more about reading, writing, and arithmetic than your young child. But teach that child at every opportunity; try to pass on to him all you know, and the very attempt will produce a great deal more knowledge inside your own brain.

    1. READ

From time immemorial it has been commonly understood that the best way to acquire knowledge was to read. That is not true. Reading is only one way to knowledge, and in the writer’s opinion, not the best way. But you can surely learn from reading if you read in the proper manner.

What you read is important, but not all important. How you read is the main consideration. For if you know how to read, there’s a world of education even in the newspapers, the magazines, on a single billboard or a stray advertising dodger.

Th secret of good reading is this: read critically!

Somebody wrote that stuff you’re reading. It was a definite individual, working with a pen, pencil or typewriter — the writing came from his mind and his only. If you were face to face with him and listening instead of reading, you would be a great deal more critical than the average reader is. Listening, you would weigh his personality, you would form some judgment about his truthfulness, his ability. But reading, you drop all judgment, and swallow his words whole — just as if the act printing the thing made it true!

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If you must read in order to acquire knowledge, read critically. Believe nothing till it’s understood, till it’s clearly proven.

    1. WRITE

To know it — write it! If your’e writing to explain, you’re explaining it to yourself! If you’re writing to inspire, you’re inspiring yourself! If your’e writing to record, you’re recording it on your own memory. how often you have written something down in order to be sure you would have a record of it, only to find that you never needed the written record because you had learned it by heart!

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The men of the best memories are those who make notes, who write things down. They just don’t write to remember, they write to learn. And because they DO learn by writing, they seldom need to consult their notes, they have brilliant, amazing memories. How different from the glib, slipshod individual who is too proud or too lazy to write, who trusts everything to memory, forgets so easily, and possesses so little real knowledge.

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Write! Writing, to knowledge, is a certified check. You know what you know once you have written it down!

    1. LISTEN

You have a pair of ears — use them! When the other man talks, give him a chance. Pay attention. If you listen you may hear something useful to you. If you listen you may receive a warning that is worth following. If you listen, you may ear the respect of those whose respect you prize.

Pay attention to the person speaking. Contemplate the meaning of his words, the nature of his thoughts. Grasp and retain the truth.

Of all the ways to acquire knowledge, this way requires least effort on your part. You hardly have to do any work. You are bound to pick up information. It’s easy, it’s surefire.

    1. OBSERVE

Keep your eyes open. There are things happening, all around you, all the time. The scene of events is interesting, illuminating, full of news and meaning. It’s a great show — an impressive parade of things worth knowing. Admission is free — keep your eyes open.

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There are only two kinds of experience: the experience of ourselves and the experience of others. Our own experience is slow, labored, costly, and often hard to bear. The experience of others is a ready-made set of directions on knowledge and life. Their experience is free; we need suffer none of their hardships; we may collect on all their good deeds. All we have to do is observe!

Observe! Especially the good man, the valorous deed. Observe the winner that you yourself may strive to follow that winning example and learn the scores of different means and devices that make success possible.

Observe! Observe the loser that you may escape his mistakes, aroid the pitfalls that dragged him down.

Observe the listless, indifferent, neutral people who do nothing, know nothing, are nothing. Observe them and then differ from them.

    1. PUT IN ORDER

Order is Heaven’s first law. And the only good knowledge is orderly knowledge! You must put your information and your thoughts in order before you can effectively handle your own knowledge. Otherwise you will jump around in conversation like a grasshopper, your arguments will be confused and distributed, your brain will be in a dizzy whirl all the time.

    1. DEFINE

A definition is a statement about a thing which includes everything the thing is and excludes everything it is not.

A definition of a chair must include every chair, whether it be kitchen chair, a high chair, a dentist’s chair, or the electric chair, It must exclude everything which isn’t a chair, even those things which come close, such as a stool, a bench, a sofa.

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I am sorry to state that until you can so define chair or door (or a thousand other everyday familiar objects) you don’t really know what these things are. You have the ability to recognize them and describe them but you can’t tell what their nature is. You knowledge is not exact.

    1. REASON

Animals have knowledge. But only men can reason. The better you can reason the farther you separate yourself from animals.

The process by which you reason is known as logic. Logic teaches you how to derive a previously unknown truth from the facts already at hand. Logic teaches you how to be sure whether what you think is true is really true.

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Logic is the supreme avenue to intellectual truth. Don’t ever despair of possessing a logical mind. You don’t have to study it for years, read books and digest a mountain of data. All you have to remember is one word — compare.

Compare all points in a proposition. Note the similarity — that tells you something new. NOte the difference — that tells you something new. Then take the new things you’ve found and check them against established laws or principles.

This is logic. This is reason. This is knowledge in its highest form.

The rest of You Can Do Anything! goes on to explore such facets of success as the fundamentals of personal achievement, manual and mental production, the art of the deadline, selling by giving, mastering personal energy, the necessary elements of ambition, and more.

 

via Brain Pickings http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/04/22/14-ways-to-acquire-knowledge-james-mangan-1936/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+brainpickings%2Frss+%28Brain+Pickings%29

x-post by Jered Higgins

“Only one mountain can know the core of another mountain.”

Mexican painter and reconstructionist Frida Kahlo is among the most remarkable figures of contemporary culture. At a young age, she contracted polio, which left her right leg underdeveloped — an imperfection she’d later come to disguise with her famous colorful skirts. A decade later, as one of only thirty-five female students at Mexico’s prestigious Preparatoria school, she was in a serious traffic accident, which resulted in multiple body fractures and internal lesions inflicted by an iron rod that had pierced her stomach and uterus. It took her three months in full-body cast to recover and though she eventually willed her way to walking again, she spent the rest of her life battling frequent relapses of extreme pain and enduring frequent hospital visits, including more than thirty operations. As a way of occupying herself while bedridden, Kahlo made her first strides in painting — then went on to become one of the most influential painters in modern art.

Two years after the accident, in 1927, she met the painter Diego River, whose work she’d come to admire and who became her mentor. In 1929, despite the vocal protestations of Kahlo’s mother, Frida and Diego were wedded and one of art history’s most notoriously tumultuous marriages commenced. Both had multiple affairs, the most notable of which for bisexual Kahlo were with French singer, dancer, and actress Josephine Baker and Russian Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky. And yet her bond with Diego was one of transcendental passion and immense love.

Kahlo’s love letters to Rivera, found in The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait (public library) and stretching across the twenty-seven-years span of their relationship, bespeak the profound and abiding connection the two shared, brimming with the seething cauldron of emotion with which all fully inhabited love is filled: elation, anguish, devotion, desire, longing, joy. In their breathless intensity, they soar in the same stratosphere of love letters as those exchanged between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, and Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.

Diego.
Truth is, so great, that I wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep, or listen, or love. To feel myself trapped, with no fear of blood, outside time and magic, within your own fear, and your great anguish, and within the very beating of your heart. All this madness, if I asked it of you, I know, in your silence, there would be only confusion. I ask you for violence, in the nonsense, and you, you give me grace, your light and your warmth. I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors, because there are so many, in my confusion, the tangible form of my great love.

F.

Diego:

Nothing compares to your hands, nothing like the green-gold of your eyes. My body is filled with you for days and days. you are the mirror of the night. the violent flash of lightning. the dampness of the earth. The hollow of your armpits is my shelter. my fingers touch your blood. All my joy is to feel life spring from your flower-fountain that mine keeps to fill all the paths of my nerves which are yours.

Auxochrome — Chromophore. Diego.

She who wears the color.
He who sees the color.
Since the year 1922.

Until always and forever. Now in 1944. After all the hours lived through. The vectors continue in their original direction. Nothing stops them. With no more knowledge than live emotion. With no other wish than to go on until they meet. Slowly. With great unease, but with the certainty that all is guided by the “golden section.” There is cellular arrangement. There is movement. There is light. All centers are the same. Folly doesn’t exist. We are the same as we were and as we will be. Not counting on idiotic destiny.

My Diego:

Mirror of the night

Your eyes green swords inside my flesh. waves between our hands.

All of you in a space full of sounds — in the shade and in the light. You were called AUXOCHROME the one who captures color. I CHROMOPHORE — the one who gives color.

You are all the combinations of numbers. life. My wish is to understand lines form shades movement. You fulfill and I receive. Your word travels the entirety of space and reaches my cells which are my stars then goes to yours which are my light.

Auxochrome — Chromophore

It was the thirst of many years restrained in our body. Chained words which we could not say except on the lips of dreams. Everything was surrounded by the green miracle of the landscape of your body. Upon your form, the lashes of the flowers responded to my touch, the murmur of streams. There was all manner of fruits in the juice of your lips, the blood of the pomegranate, the horizon of the mammee and the purified pineapple. I pressed you against my breast and the prodigy of your form penetrated all my blood through the tips of my fingers. Smell of oak essence, memories of walnut, green breath of ash tree. Horizon and landscapes = I traced them with a kiss. Oblivion of words will form the exact language for understanding the glances of our closed eyes. = You are here, intangible and you are all the universe which I shape into the space of my room. Your absence springs trembling in the ticking of the clock, in the pulse of light; you breathe through the mirror. From you to my hands, I caress your entire body, and I am with you for a minute and I am with myself for a moment. And my blood is the miracle which runs in the vessels of the air from my heart to yours.

The green miracle of the landscape of my body becomes in your the whole of nature. I fly through it to caress the rounded hills with my fingertips, my hands sink into the shadowy valleys in an urge to possess and I’m enveloped in the embrace of gentle branches, green and cool. I penetrate the sex of the whole earth, her heat chars me and my entire body is rubbed by the freshness of the tender leaves. Their dew is the sweat of an ever-new lover.

It’s not love, or tenderness, or affection, it’s life itself, my life, that I found what I saw it in your hands, in your month and in your breasts. I have the taste of almonds from your lips in my mouth. Our worlds have never gone outside. Only one mountain can know the core of another mountain.

Your presence floats for a moment or two as if wrapping my whole being in an anxious wait for the morning. I notice that I’m with you. At that instant still full of sensations, my hands are sunk in oranges, and my body feels surrounded by your arms.

For my Diego

the silent life giver of worlds, what is most important is the nonillusion. morning breaks, the friendly reds, the big blues, hands full of leaves, noisy birds, fingers in the hair, pigeons’ nests a rare understanding of human struggle simplicity of the senseless song the folly of the wind in my heart = don’t let them rhyme girl = sweet xocolatl [chocolate] of ancient Mexico, storm in the blood that comes in through the mouth — convulsion, omen, laughter and sheer teeth needles of pearl, for some gift on a seventh of July, I ask for it, I get it, I sing, sang, I’ll sing from now on our magic — love.

Pair The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait with more exquisite love letters by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Balzac, Rilke, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

 

via Brain Pickings http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/04/19/frida-kahlo-diary-love-letters/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+brainpickings%2Frss+%28Brain+Pickings%29

x-post by Jered Higgins