Yeah, I Have Weird Feelings, Too

Hat tip to the National Endowment for the Arts for linking to this video of an 11 year old taking The Bob Ross Challenge – basically trying to keep up and replicate Bob Ross’ painting instructions as he relates them during an episode of his show.

The kid, Khary Halsey, an avowed Bob Ross fan since he was six, is charming and hilarious just on his own. But it is right at the end of the video that he says something that encompasses what the creative experience should be for everyone, “From the looks of it, I did horrible, but I feel great.”

Okay, so obviously people shouldn’t always think they did horrible, it is the satisfaction and enjoyment of the experience regardless of the perceived quality of the product that I am advocating as the ideal.

Khary isn’t sure if he is supposed to be having this contradictory experience so he follows up saying, “I have weird feelings.”   The truth is, those feelings are quite normal and shared by a lot of people, including, I am sure many with long careers in the arts.  There are a lot messages we get throughout the day, both overt and subtle,  that equate quality with marketability. (And don’t get us started on “you shouldn’t expect to get paid if you are having fun.”)

Delay May Appear Wise, But Is The Outcome The Same?

Interesting short piece on the FastCompany website that points out the current uncertainty about the future created the the Covid-19 pandemic makes deferring on a decision seem the wise option, however there is always a cost associated with delaying on that decision. The author of the piece, Art Markman, says that because deferring the decision seems so attractive, people don’t actually think through whether the delay will make any difference or not. (my emphasis)

Leaders might think it prudent to wait for more information about the status of the pandemic before moving forward. However, it is always worth making a decision tree to determine whether a different decision would be reached in each of these conditions. Key leaders do not always take this step. In some cases, leaders might find that the best outcome is actually the same regardless of the status of the pandemic. In that case, deferring the decision would involve paying a cost to defer the decision in order to get information that does not change the decision that gets made. There was no reason to incur that cost.

I haven’t come up with a scenario other than capital improvements/repairs and staffing decisions in which this might apply to arts and cultural organizations. I may be too entrenched right now  in thinking about the pros and cons of re-opening venues in the context of economics and public perception/willingness to broaden my imagination. However, I figure some readers might be in situations where being reminded to make a decision tree might be useful for helping move things forward.

You Don’t Know You Are In Water

Seth Godin made a post today that addresses the current climate of Black Lives Matter, policing, statues, etc without directly naming any of these things.  (A week ago he mentioned he generally tries to write posts that were evergreen rather than specific to the times in which they were penned, but felt he had to unequivocally state Black Lives Matter.)

Today he points out that when you are part of the dominant culture, you don’t see it around you like the proverbial fish that aren’t aware they are in water. It isn’t until you go to another country that you recognize every small assumption comprising your daily routine needs to be examined closely just to cross the street to get breakfast.

This experience can be part of what is fun and engaging about your visit. But part of what makes it fun is that you know you can return to a familiar environment later where you will have many stories to tell. The prospect of living in that foreign place for a longer time can be more daunting.

When media images, policies and corporate standards tell someone that they are an outsider who needs to fit in in non-relevant ways, we’re establishing patterns of inequity and stress. We need to be clear about the job that needs to be done, the utility we’re seeking to create, but not erect irrelevant barriers, especially ones we can’t see without effort.

Good systems are resilient and designed to benefit the people who use them.

If the dominant culture makes it harder for people who don’t match the prevailing irrelevant metrics to contribute and thrive, it’s painful and wasteful and wrong.

If you think about the above quote from Godin a bit, you might see that there are a good many times when the dominant culture shows little regard about alienating its own members. We have seen it happen often in recent years in both large and small ways. Currently we are in a period where many people are realizing their membership isn’t as secure as they thought or that they are no longer in synch with the terms of membership. The result is, they are finding greater common cause with those who have felt themselves outsiders.

But also, lest it get lost in the macro level big societal questions being wrestled with on the national and international stage, Godin’s admonishment about good systems being resilient and designed to benefit the users is just as applicable on the micro level of your organizational business hours and admission practices.

Making Time For Your Creativity Can Be The Hardest Part

While people still haven’t returned to the daily routines they may have had before Covid-19 brought a halt to so much of our lives, it might be worth encouraging people to continue cultivating whatever creative practices they may have engaged in during these times. Reinforce the value of whatever they became interested in as part of their lives. Chances are people are reconsidering what things they found fulfilling before and whether those things still hold value for them.

That said, there is always an investment of time and a learning curve involved with starting anything new. That can be a disincentive to continuing for people who are seeking the comfort of their earlier familiar lives.

It has been awhile since I linked to a cartoon from the Zen Pencils site. This one is excerpted from a page the cartoonist wrote about his own practice.

Long time readers know before I moved to my current position in Georgia, I lived in Ohio where I tried to infiltrate a Creative Cult, a group of people who provided the community with various hands-on creative experiences at different places around town. They are still up to their shenanigans and currently have people on a hunt around the community trying to find “eggs” that were stolen out of museum paintings.

Nick Sherman, a young gentleman who may or may not be the mysterious, yet dashing cult leader has a weekly newsletter which includes missives to him from the Creative Underground explaining all the ways in which the Man will try to convince him he isn’t creative or that he should be prioritizing other things over his creative pursuits.

For example, on May 1 the Creative Underground wrote:

This is what we mean. THE MAN starts by whispering in your ear something very obvious; that there is a time for art-making, and there is a time not for art-making. A harmless statement right? Wrong! THE MAN never stops where he should. He then goes on to cleverly suggest that, “If you are doing your art, you must be neglecting something else.” Do you see his trap?

Then because you want to be a responsible, upstanding, person you think, “Of course! I do not see my little old grandmother nearly enough.” You go see her. And in this way, THE MAN keeps bringing up distraction after distraction (even legitimate ones!) that keep you from your art. Something always comes up. Soon, your brain makes a very dangerous and direct comparison. It flashes like a bright-red neon sign against the darkest corner of your brain. “ART = SELFISH”

In this way, Nick anthropomorphizes all those insecurities and doubts everyone has about their creative practice. Granted, sometimes there are actually people in our lives who are more than happy to give voice to these sentiments and there is no need to provide them with a metaphoric form.

You can subscribe to Nick’s newsletter here if you have an interest.

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