Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

Many moons ago, as I went through my schooling in architecture I began to get a sense of something that was important, and even vital, in the creative pursuits. It stayed on the edges of my consciousness until it came to me one day as a strong feeling coupled with a phrase: “Ya gotta pin your work up on the wall.”

You have put the work you are doing up on the wall, stand back, and look. And, moreover, you have to let someone come and look too. And examine. And critique. Because, invariably, they will look at it for about thirty seconds, walk over, point to something and ask, “What’s this?”

And, doubly invariably, you will look and go, “How in the hell did I never notice that before?” *

A funny thing happens when we get all nose down into a project, powering away, grinding away, jamming away, creating away… our view tends to narrow. We get focused on a structure and a path and a narrative and a latticework of thoughts that tunnel towards a point. Interestingly this tends to happen whether our process is going well or not well. It just happens. Within our laser beam focus, all seems to fit into place, link together, make sense. We see our work more and more only within the context of our work and within the context of our intent and narrative. It all leads to one place.

Until someone points something out. Something that once seen is hard to unsee or ignore. And something that, once seen, is hard to believe you couldn’t have seen it before.

Years later, I realized that the same is also true in that grandest of our individual creations: ourselves. Who we are. Who we are being and acting in the world. How we relate to the world. If there’s anything that’s more pressing than the deadline of a project, it is the never-ending string of deadlines and “pressures” and events and invention that is our everyday lives at work, at home, at play, alone, together, and beyond. With this immediacy, we’re always in “project” mode… and our view tends to narrow. The exact same way. All within, be it our narratives, our worlds and views, our actions, and creations, and thoughts, they all fit and link and seem solidly real.

When we take the opportunity to pin ourselves on the wall, amazing things can happen. Friends, coaches, confidants, they can all take a moment to examine us, walk over, and point to ask “What’s this? What’s going on here? What’s that all about? Is this how it truly is?” And, just like when someone does that to our work, our first reaction may well be not only shock and surprise, but a defensive explanation, contortion, and attempted escape. If we set that aside though, choose to let it in, we can go “Huh. What the heck … really?” And new, expansive, inspired art can emerge.

To quote Anton Ego, it’s about “A little perspective… fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective.”

This, too, is what mindfulness is about, and meditation in particular. It is the exercise of building our perspective, extending and expanding our view, taking in more of the bigger picture. The ability of stepping back and looking at ourselves hanging on the wall, as a whole and in the context of the greater world. It’s a fabulous skill to develop. It lets us see and grow and expand in our own way. And it lets us be more receptive for the greater power that is letting others see us on the wall and critique. **

Because the most effective way of getting out of our own heads is to use another’s head.

Like our art, it allows growth and excellence to develop. It is the path to a masterpiece. And it’s not always going to be nice and fun. But in the end, the results are super worth it.


* – This really struck home for me once when I was working at Corel, and an artist hired to do some clip art asked me to look over and comment on some of his work. I gave feedback, he went back to work. A couple of hours later he turned to me and thanked me, acknowledged the straightness of my comments, and mentioned “I hadn’t noticed at all how that thing looked like it was floating.” While I’d been realizing something from my own experiences being critiqued at school, his statement to me from the other side really helped me get it.

** – By all means, choose someone valuable, worthy, and capable of providing a good critique and being a good coach! The art of the critique (or being a critic) is that, an art, and requires a level of competence in the field as well as good communication skills.

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