Archives for posts with tag: Writing

I like to write.  An article I read today challenged me to write for 15 minutes rather than complain about not having the time.  So I’m doing it now.

I have been thinking about limits.  In limits there is freedom.  Endless possibility can mean paralysis.  Chaos alone does not lead to beauty or truth.  It is creativity working within boundaries that really makes something special.  And it’s only once you know the rules that you really know how to break them, as I think the Dalai Lama said.

I love Jazz, partly because improvisation is one of the best examples of all this.  Only by first learning the rules of scales, chords, rhythm and song structure can a musician be free to soar to the heights of his creativity and self expression, and to do so in harmony with others.

Perhaps one of the reasons we wrongly believe we will find freedom unshackled by any limits is because limits/rules/boundaries – whatever you want to call them – hold the possibility of transgression or failure.  And we fear this.  Yet without the possibility of failure there is no meaningful achievement or purpose.

I write this the day after a crushing failure for the English Rugby team.  First ever host nation to be knocked out at the group stages.  Huge knock on effects to national morale, plus economic effects.  And yet it’s only a game.

And isn’t it interesting to think that any game is nothing but a collection of arbitrary rules, made significant only by collective agreement and historical familiarity?  And isn’t this how so much of life is really structured?  We all agree to some common ways because without them we are adrift in meaningless, at odds with each other or with nothing to hold onto.

The rules themselves, often are less important than what they represent, or the good effects they seek to produce.  Was the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden itself in anyway harmful?  Or was the rule about it simply a representation of the need to submit faithfully to something – someone – so much better, wiser and more beautiful than anything our own willfulness could lead to?

15 minutes is up, clicking publish.

I would like both my woodworking and my writing to be in some sense an art. Yet ‘art’ these days is a word too often associated with the degenerate, so on balance I would prefer to use the word ‘craft’.  Craft suggests artistry mixed with skill – a skill that incorporates a deep understanding of both materials and techniques.  Craft also suggests a practical purpose to the thing created.

One of the lovespoons I used to make.  Although now a symbolic and decorative item, I like that it originates from a functional spoon.

One of the lovespoons I used to make. Although now a symbolic and decorative Welsh tradition, I like that it is still based on a functional item, and as such is very much a craft.

There is a need for compromise to combine these ideals with making a living for my family.  To some people compromise is a dirty word.  Yet I believe the right kind of compromise moves us closer to our ideals, not further away from them.

For me right now, I am adjusting my business model to prioritise the profitable work that involves less hands-on craftsmanship (anathema to me when I started out).  Yet by doing so I can free up time and resources to do the craftsman-like work I love at other times, without the constraints of a client and budget.   I am leaving behind a poverty mentality to embrace profit as an enabler of the things I aspire to.   The alternative was to condemn myself to poverty and frustration by my choice of work, and thereby to poison the enjoyment and artistry of it anyway.   Perhaps to some purists my compromise exempts me from the ranks of a true artist or craftsman.  But my intention is that one day my craftsmanship will return to the fore as I establish myself in the right market.

I have also discovered I can find a satisfaction in ‘crafting’ the business itself, as something beautiful, functional (profit-making), and well executed.  And this is a necessary lesson for any craftsman – the ability to learn from your work and apply the principles on a higher level.

Now to return to my general theorising on art and craft:

The beauty of craft is that by combining artistic vision and skill, they reinforce each other.  I believe the only truly great works of art embody both vision (art), and skill (craftsmanship).  See the work of the Rennaisance masters, such as Michelangelo.

Yet there is an interesting dynamic when modern artists seek to free themselves from the disciplines of skill and technique.  It can sometimes appear to free their ideas.  I have in mind as an example, the witty cartoons of Edward Monkton, where the childish drawing style provides a direct medium for the idea, and complements it.

Perhaps this is a trivial example, and to leap from Michelangelo to Monkton seems a little ridiculous.  I could stop there if I wanted to cynically sum up all that has been lost in the world of art, but it would be a false comparison.   I believe there is hidden skill involved in simplicity.  I also think the throw-away presentation of a lot of modern artistic ideas is a reaction against an over-emphasis on skill.  A simple, even naive, technique, may connect us with the artist’s real message more directly than an overwhelming display of skill.

Skilful execution of an empty idea is just window dressing.  But slapdash presentation of a wonderful idea is a missed opportunity.  ‘The wise man avoids all extremes’.

I think sometimes aspiring artists are held back by indiscipline in technique: becoming less, not more, than they could have been as artists.  Perhaps some are inclined to think that a preoccupation with skill leads to arrogance.  Yet without skilful technique (and the work required to acquire it), the artistic vision can also be puffed up beyond it’s merits: subjective and unproven, lacking a full expression.   And an artistic idea unexpressed is useless, just like love.

But in all this theorising I am getting lost in the territory of ‘art’ as the expression of vision and ideas.  Craft is my preference because in craft the thing being made has a practical purpose, which anchors it in a sort of humble necessity, which in the end is more satisfying to me than the flights of fancy which sometimes get dressed up as art.

 

Why do I blog?  I used to think blogs were self indulgent.

Here’s why I blog:

Writing helps me think.  The possibility of someone reading it encourages me to self-edit.  Improving my writing improves my thinking.  And thinking more clearly improves my experience of life  (which gives me more to write about!).

‘When you deliberately simplify your style
and make it transparent,
you also start thinking in shorter,
lucid sentences and paragraphs’

Anita Mathias

The best blogs I have read start with the writers’ own experience.  Self indulgent?  Occasionally.  But fear of pride can be a false humility – holding back the gifts we’ve been given to share.  Fear might silence us from speaking at all, but a desire for true humility will purify what we have to offer – so long as we keep taking the risk of offering it.

Authenticity gives authority, and authenticity starts where we are, and with who we are.   Really understanding those two things can be a lifetime’s work in itself!

‘Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves
into some ideal that we imagine we ought to be,
but to find out who we already are and become it’
Steve Pressfield

I become more fully who I am when I write.

What about you, what makes you feel alive?  What is holding you back from doing it more?

I just drew this to explain my need to write. Do you ever feel the same?

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Jeff Goins on his blog that I recently subscribed to quoted Flannery O’Connor as follows:

‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.’

This is why I write too, and I wish I’d started sooner!

Jeff has a lot of good stuff to say about writing for the right reasons.

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