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Art and Design Learning The Internet

The Creative Source Pyramid

Replied to The Creative World’s Bullshit Industrial Complex (Adobe 99U)

In these pitches there’s nothing to suggest the person has any original experience or research or insight to offer said advice. Instead they choose to quote other people who quote other people and the insights can often be traced back in a recursive loop. Their interest is not in making the reader’s life any better, it is in building their own profile as some kind of influencer or thought leader. Or, most frustratingly, they all reference the same company case studies (Hello, Apple and Pixar!), the same writers, or the same internet thinkers. I often encounter writers that share “success advice” learned from a blogger who was quoting a book that interviewed a notable prolific person.

I think Blanda has diagnosed a real problem — that the creative world and productivity field suffer from regurgitation of the same ideas and a lack of original thought — but doesn’t consider the cause and misses the solution.

Creatives aren’t shy about saying their work pays poorly and people shouldn’t follow in their footsteps — yet they make money teaching others their craft. I think a lot of these ‘bullshitters’ Blanda calls out recognize that training and writing about productivity and work practices is more likely to earn them money than their creative work — but as Blanda points out, don’t have much new to add to the conversation yet.

At the same time, I believe sharing what you’re learning is valuable (I’ve been doing it since 2012, and took my own hack at synthesizing everything I’d learned so far into my Craft Your Life planner) — the act of writing what you think or what you’ve learned helps reinforce that. But, your writing may be more useful for yourself than others, especially when you’re starting out. And, let’s be honest, it takes quite a bit of writing to find your own voice and level up.

So the issue Blanda’s describing is people trying to shortcut their way up their career faster by borrowing ideas and repackaging them without adding anything of their own. But they compound that lack by using generic, overused sources instead of hunting down fresh examples.

Where we get our information and our inspiration matters: deep, firsthand, and sensory are the most valuable sources — and these are tough to get from the Internet. When we only read things we find on social media and newsletters, we’re reading the same stuff as everyone else. Yes, that keeps us in touch with the Cultural Conversation and zeitgeist, but that’s a difficult space to say anything original. What you’re taking in shapes what you’re putting out.

To be clear, I am not immune from this! My mind garden here is explicitly a collection of other people’s work and thinking, with my half-formed commentary. I try to learn from a wide range of people but noticed last year that it was not uncommon for the article du jour to make its way to me through several newsletters and blogs. Sometimes that’s vouching for its value, sometimes it’s echo chambering. So a lot of this is a note to self 😉

The quality of information improves the closer you get to the source. First person accounts and physical evidence are our best sources of information about history. Analysis of original sources by experts in the field comes next. In the creative world, the experience of creating your own work or interviewing other people is the closest you’ll get.

Engaging more of your senses roots the experience or knowledge deeper. Visiting a museum, exploring a new place, or taking a hands-on workshop yourself will be a richer experience and source of inspiration than watching someone else do it on YouTube. (This is something the pandemic has stolen from me — I used to take “artist dates” (an idea from The Artist’s Way) by myself to some cool activity or place, but as a higher risk person I’m wary of going anywhere a lot of other people will be — like this weekend I’m skipping the rhododendron gardens at peak bloom — they’ll have to wait till next year 😢)

(I’m blurring together writing and visual art and productivity advice to some extent here but 🤷‍♀️ this is an off the cuff response and I do think a lot of the concepts apply across creative fields.)

Another challenge of primarily getting our info from the Internet is its obsession with what’s new. The lifespan of a work online is typically short-lived. Yet the article I’m referencing here is six years old. I missed whatever the contemporary response was, but I don’t think that invalidates considering the argument today — it’s certainly triggered me to put words to some thoughts I’ve had swimming for a while. The immediacy of a Twitter hot take should be outdone by a more complex exploration that takes longer to prepare.

The Internet serves up quantity, but going deep takes more work. Reading one artist’s art book will teach you more than skimming your Instagram feed with art from fifty different artists. There’s endless 101 level content out there, but it’s harder to find the 400 level thinking. Online, academics are great for analysis and deep cuts into their field. Books and longform have space to carry thoughts longer, and have (hopefully) put more thought into their conclusions than a tweet chain or blog post.

Likewise, drawing creative inspiration only from social media and online sources can be limiting, depending on where you’re getting the info from. The algorithm excels at showing you more of the same thing you already like, and reinforcing what you already think. Instead of using aggregator websites, following interesting people who are making their own work or digging into different realms of the web helps you explore off the beaten path and can broaden your attention to sources and ideas you might not have encountered on your own. (Earlier this year I flushed out my RSS feeds and have been working on following more individuals, though I haven’t added them to my blogroll yet 😅) Mix up the demographics of who you’re following. Guide yourself down your own paths by following backlinks, exploring archives, and digging deeper into new concepts. The more serendipity we can expose ourselves to, the better.

Beyond being a place to connect with others, I see the Internet as a wide shallows to wander and find sparks to pursue. But instead of stopping with that spark, we can delve deeper with books and tactile experiences. We can take a dip back into the Internet for more when that well has run dry.

I’ve had the past week off work. I was inspired by what Ray shared about his experience stepping back from the Internet for a bit, and decided to try a lite version 😉. Though I haven’t done a hard Internet cutoff, I’ve stopped the accumulation of new things to read: I haven’t been checking my feeds, micro.blog, or Twitter, and instead working my way through the tabs I already had open. I’ve taken several days totally off from Internet reading. I unsubscribed from a few more email newsletters.

And I haven’t felt like I’ve been missing out. I do miss the dopamine hit of new things to read — I’ve described myself as a neophile in the past — but I suspect the amount of time I spend reading other people’s work has been giving me a mental excuse not to pull that info together into something more. I feed my brain with intellectual junk food because organizing my own thoughts is more effort. But, ideas you never process or do anything with aren’t actually valuable. This week I’ve felt more inspired to write my own work than I have in ages — I’ve started half a dozen blog posts. Part of that comes from having a break from my day job, for sure, but I’d also credit giving myself a break from taking in more new info and instead giving that brainspace to processing. (More sleep doesn’t hurt either 😉)

In the fiction writing world there’s the trope of the author who puts all their energy into world building and runs out of steam before they can write the book. I think we can all fall into this mindset on the internet: it’s so easy to keep reading the next thing and the next, to glut ourselves on ideas and never do anything with them. I’m going to keep trying this for the next week off and see how I feel after more time away. I’m hoping I can persevere against the urge to binge read for a while 😂

Article via Tom Critchlow

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at tracy.durnell@gmail.com. She/her.

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