Studio Jingo

Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.
― Pablo Picasso

This young recruit poses with her gun and her creative space. Image courtesy of An-Sofie Kesteleyn from her series 'My first rifle'.

This young recruit poses with her gun and her creative space. Image courtesy of An-Sofie Kesteleyn from her series ‘My first rifle’.

“Ten hut!”

“Fall in line you namby pamby creative types! You! Wipe that smile from your face! Take your thumb from your mouth, Moonbeam. This is your studio drill sergeant barking in your miserable, daydreaming, butterfly chasing faces! Art is war, a holy war, and if you want to come out on the winning side you had better shape up or ship out. Your mommy isn’t here to hold your hands, so you had better get used to doing things on your own, doing them the right way, and playing for keeps. Anyone who can’t stick with these simple rules will wash out. Now unclog your damn ears while General Sachs explains the gospels of the clusterf@*k you all have just signed up for!”

The ten commandments of the war, on art, in 50 caliber bullet form:

Pow! Bang! Boom!

  1. Thou shalt not be clever. ‘Work to code’ instead. Let your conduct be code driven. Creativity is the Enemy: “Working to code means adhering to the system of production already in place. Arbitrary decision making and personal inventiveness are discouraged. This is what is meant by ‘creativity is the enemy’…. Inventions and developments must happen within the existing vocabulary. Don’t jump ahead. Stick to what has been defined for you to do. Work to code.” And by no means even dream of thinking for yourself or showing initiative. Start dreaming those dreams and you’ve taken your eye off your enemy. That’s what gets people killed. Stay on track. Follow the rules. Obey the chain of command.
  2. Thou shalt not profane thy workspace, peon. Be pure of heart, body, and mind. The Studio is a sacred space and respect of this space is essential: “Do not become distracted by the work of others, unless instructed to do so. All respect should be given to a worker completing a task. This includes the restriction of abrupt actions and loud noises not related to work…. In a sacred space one should proceed as if in a shaker workshop or monastery.” Walk small when in the studio. Speak in hushed respectful tones or not at all. The sobriety of this sacred space should dominate your every action. And being natural-born creatives you will inevitably be given to much creative wickedness. You will be swayed by artistic temptation. You had better get down on your knees and pray for forgiveness. Everyday all day. Unless instructed to do otherwise. Our God is vengeful and has made a special place for the wicked. Your impure thoughts are an insult. Your impiety is an outrage. Your nonchalance is an abomination. Your sacrilege and defilement is an unconscionable affront. GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES! (See Commandment #9)
  3. Thou shalt punch thine clock (or have it punched for thee). Be on time: “Come prepared and commit entirely. An on the clock mentality should carry on to all things. Your present task demands your full attention.” No slacking, no navel gazing, no wool gathering, no lint wrangling, no butterfly chasing, no apple knocking, no music listening, no chatting, no deliberating, no guessing, no improvising, and especially no independent thinking! Stay on task, dammit! At all times. If you are punched in, your ass is already in a sling! (See Commandment #9)
  4. Thou shalt follow through. Be thorough: “Thoroughness applies to steps preceding and following a task, as well as the task itself…. Perform to the studio’s precise exacting standards- aka the code.” Keep a list. Know where you are supposed to be and have an exact explanation for why you are doing what you are doing, start to finish. Point to it on your list. If a problem is not yours to solve, take it to the authorities. Be an informant. Be thorough. (See Commandment #5)
  5. Thou shalt show thine papers to the proper authorities and inform on all suspicious activity. Give Feedback, Get Feedback: You’ have a job to do. Following the chain of command and maintaining control require that everyone know what they are doing, where they are supposed to be. But you can’t be trusted. Others can’t be trusted. You all must show your papers when asked, and question anyone who looks like they may be in unauthorized territory. “I understand” ensures that the sender and the receiver are on the same page. Let conformity and obedience guide you.
  6. Thou shalt cover thine ass. Sent does not mean received: Don’t take it for granted. “Always get a receipt. Without a receipt your actions cannot be proved. Without a receipt you don’t exist.” Your place in the War Leviathan depends on what you can be trusted to do. Get verification that you belong.
  7. Thou shalt abolish all randomness in what thee do. Keep a list: “Keep a prioritized list at all times. Carry this list at all times. Keep track of every detail of every project you are involved with. Your list is your future and your past. You will justify your actions through a carefully updated list” If its not on the list you shouldn’t be doing it (See the 4th Commandment).
  8. Thou shalt abolish all chaos from thine environment. Always Be Knolling: Knolling is the studio’s way of organizing your space. Anything that is not being used needs to be removed. Everything in its proper place. A smooth running art machine has no parts out of place. You are a cog in an impressive wartime effort. Behave like one. The gears only fall into place when everything is lined up correctly. Get it right. No mistakes. (See Commandment #9)
  9. Thou shalt pay the penance. Sacrifice to Leatherface: “It is written in The Way of the Studio that a small monetary sacrifice should be given to Leatherface to amend for certain types of oversight, weakness, and lack of responsibility…. Taking responsibility for mistakes is a sign of good faith. Mistakes happen, and it is important to claim them as our own…. The fines double each time.” Thankfully Leatherface can intercede in our God’s behalf for violations of the sacred space and book of codes. If you don’t want to wind up in studio damnation you can pay your fine and feel the rewards of his holy blessing.
  10. Thou shalt press on, despite thy insignificant, fatigued, and lightweight capacity. Persistence: “Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Ray Kroc founder of McDonalds. If you can’t take Ray Kroc’s word for it, whose word can you take? The war on food is as culturally impressive as the war on art, after all……


To be honest, I started watching this video with the impression that it was a spoof filled with delicious irony. Creativity is the enemy? Ha! As things wore on and the evidence pilled up it eventually became clear that this was deadly earnest. The real enemy had just walked in the door wearing sheep’s clothing, dressed up in grandma’s clothes. I started to feel sick to my stomach. I had just stepped into a deadly trap.


Of course I don’t believe any of this, except (possibly) in extreme circumstances. Like, say, real dire stuff. As in a last ditch effort to avert Ultimate Catastrophe, maybe…..The appeal of jingoism plays on our fears and willingness to do ‘bad’ things in a ‘good’ cause. The trick is in making the case that these actions are necessary, that we do need to defend our borders and take the war to the enemy. We need to believe that the enemy is at our doorstep and that there is only one way to avert the threat. That’s the act of conceptual prestidigitation that is required.

In any case, I would hope that the extremes of war and warlike behavior are not the defaults we purposely aim at. Not as a ‘peacetime’ studio activity, at least. They are not my ideals for any aspect of this life, if they are sometimes brutal and ugly necessities the further things stray from respect and human dignity. Is that really where we are? They simply do not reflect or represent the values I ordinarily subscribe to. When I aim at making art my mind is driven by so many things, few of any of which would suit the military stance appealed to in the video. We should not be driven by fear in order to make art. We should not be motivated by threats to inspire us. Just what is the perception of reality this video hinges on?

If “Creativity is the enemy” I’m not sure who my friends are. The world is suddenly upside down: Black is white, and good is evil. I want this attitude as far away from my own normal studio practice and life as possible…… The vague authority of ‘the code’ is an insidious but smartly packaged advertisement for the orthodox power mongering that artists face. Rather than the freedom of expression we are given an institutional dogma with rules to abide by and penalties for transgression. And the idea implicit in this is that authority must go unchallenged, unquestioned, and sacrificed to. How else can it justify itself?

Personally, I’d rather challenge even just authority as a civic responsibility and assurance that those who lead truly have the general welfare at heart. A code that denies questions and punishes difference seems a great distance from how life should be lived. Human dignity matters more than even whatever important art agenda Sachs is aiming at. This code only dehumanizes the people working this way. If in a nicely framed ‘arty’ sort of way. Can we afford cages so long as they are gilded and ‘hip’? Can we afford to have art only at the expense of our human dignity? Have we not come further than that?

I’d rather take a walk in the woods, go off the beaten path, and occasionally spend the day twiddling my thumbs. Neither perpetually sober nor entirely serious. I’d rather dance in the shadows and sing in the rain. I’d rather search for mistakes, earn them, and practice the alchemy of turning lead to gold. I’d rather be rewarded for living fully. I’d rather pay a penalty whenever I knowingly bow down to some oppressive rule or conform to the expected course. I’d rather encourage wrong turns and serendipity. I’d rather put things out of place just to find the new possibilities. I’d rather leave obstacles scattered about to invite creative solutions and to see how high I can jump. I’d rather make my space sacred like the Sufis do and make love to the world. I’d rather tell half truths and outright lies, make ambiguous statements, use metaphor and poetic license, than be strapped down to some rigid authoritarian ‘code book’. I’d rather leave the doors unlocked and open to encourage timid new visitors and unexpected strangers with tales from bizarre far off lands. I’d rather ask them in for a cup of tea than bar the door in their faces……. I’d rather take the long and winding road just to see where it gets me………

How about you?

Are you armed and ready, vigilant at the borders, or are you much taken with that pretty flower growing in the cracks of the pavement outside your studio?

Peace all!

Make beauty real!

Happy potting!



About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Creative industry, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Studio Jingo

  1. chantay says:

    Well, I’m flummoxed. If I was running a business, I would probably adopt this video as my own. Esp if I was working with young people. Actually, Im thinking of showing it to my children. These are a lot of the same rules in my house. But in my studio, alone, most of these go out the window. So I think there are two sides. Late at night with some loud rock playing, high on espresso, that’s when stuff happens at my place.

    • Heh. heh! I’m with you on that. The interesting thing is that it actually does make sense “If one were running a business”. Business has more to do with war than art does, and for very convincing reasons. But then the question is whether art truly survives as a business. You can make it fit, squeeze it in, cut the corners, etc, but then we should be clear we are no longer making art but manufacturing a product, and the soulless activity of drones is the best way to get that done. Always has been and always will be as long as maximizing profit stands at the center of our ambitions……

      And I’m not trying to say it can’t be done humanely and with decency, but the cards are stacked in a different direction to be sure. I always like to boil things down to intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to see how well things stand up. Rarely does the business side weigh in on the positive……

      Just stuff to think about! If the code book wasn’t so dictatorial I would have probably given it a pass. But since it was so absolute, and left not an inch of wiggle room I just felt the need to call it out for what it was describing. I have friends who have spent time in the military and who had positive experiences with the structure and organization. Why this is being used for art purposes truly says more about the business of art than the art itself. Or basic human dignity, self respect, and autonomy. But maybe in some non-personal-studio settings that’s exactly what’s called for…..

  2. If I had waited another two days to post this I would have found this gem from the Sopranos:

    Tony: “We’re soldiers. Soldiers don’t go to hell. Its war. We’re in a situation where everyone involved knows the stakes. And if you can accept the stakes you gotta do certain things. Its business. We’re soldiers. You follow codes. Orders.”

    Dr. Melfi: “So does that justify everything you do?”

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  4. From brainpickings:

    Pixar Cofounder Ed Catmull on Failure and Why Fostering a Fearless Culture Is the Key to Groundbreaking Creative Work
    by Maria Popova

    Why the greatest enemy of creative success is the attempt to fortify against failure.

    “Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before,” Neil Gaiman urged in his commencement-address-turned-manifesto-for-the-creative life. “The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself,” philosopher Daniel Dennett asserted in his magnificent meditation on the dignity and art-science of making mistakes. And yet most of us, being human and thus fallible yet proud, go to excruciating lengths to avoid making mistakes, then once we inevitably do, we take great pains to hide them from ourselves and the world. But this, argues Pixar cofounder Ed Catmull with the help of journalist Amy Wallace in an especially enthralling chapter of the altogether excellent Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (public library), is a grave mistake itself — not only from an abstract moral standpoint, but also as a practical strategy for cultivating a strong creative culture in a company and an entrepreneurial spirit within ourselves as individuals.


    While fortifying against failure and avoiding mistakes may seem like admirable goals, Catmull argues that they are ultimately misguided. He cites the example of the Golden Fleece Awards, which in 1975 began spotlighting government-funded projects that were epic wastes of money. While such scrutiny might have its place and no doubt comes from a place of seeking betterment, Catmull argues that “failure was being used as a weapon, rather than as an agent of learning” — the awards had a chilling effect, rendering researchers and government agencies so terrified of being “awarded” that they began taking fewer risks and innovating less. (If you’ve read Stuart Firestein’s excellent book Ignorance: How It Drives Science, you’d nod wistfully upon recognizing that this flawed ethos is the fundamental premise of science funding today, where researchers are routinely being discouraged from pursuing “curiosity-driven” experimentation and are being awarded grants for safe, “hypothesis-driven” research.)

    Catmull elegantly distills the result:

    In a fear-based, failure-averse culture, people will consciously or unconsciously avoid risk. They will seek instead to repeat something safe that’s been good enough in the past. Their work will be derivative, not innovative. But if you can foster a positive understanding of failure, the opposite will happen.


    Creating a fearless culture enables people to explore new areas and pursue ideas with much less hesitation and trepidation, “identifying uncharted pathways and then charging down them.” It also fosters a greater appreciation of decisiveness, liberating us from the constant preemptive questioning of whether the path we’re about to head down is the right one. That way, Catmull argues with an inadvertent wink to Steve Jobs’s famous assertion that “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards,” also allows people to see what they couldn’t possibly see when starting out. Catmull captures the creativity-stifling effect of overplanning:

    If you seek to plot out all your moves before you make them — if you put your faith in slow, deliberative planning in the hopes it will spare you failure down the line — well, you’re deluding yourself. For one thing, it’s easier to plan derivative work — things that copy or repeat something already out there. So if your primary goal is to have a fully worked out, set-in-stone plan, you are only upping your chances of being unoriginal. Moreover, you cannot plan your way out of problems. While planning is very important, and we do a lot of it, there is only so much you can control in a creative environment. In general, I have found that people who pour their energy into thinking about an approach and insisting that it is too early to act are wrong just as often as people who dive in and work quickly. The overplanners just take longer to be wrong (and, when things inevitably go awry, are more crushed by the feeling that they have failed). There’s a corollary to this, as well: The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it. The nonworking idea gets worn into your brain, like a rut in the mud. It can be difficult to get free of it and head in a different direction. Which, more often than not, is exactly what you must do.


    With a sentiment that calls to mind David Foster Wallace’s exquisite definition of leadership, Catmull concludes:

    The antidote to fear is trust, and we all have a desire to find something to trust in an uncertain world. Fear and trust are powerful forces, and while they are not opposites, exactly, trust is the best tool for driving out fear. There will always be plenty to be afraid of, especially when you are doing something new. Trusting others doesn’t mean that they won’t make mistakes. It means that if they do (or if you do), you trust they will act to help solve it. Fear can be created quickly; trust can’t. Leaders must demonstrate their trustworthiness, over time, through their actions — and the best way to do that is by responding well to failure.


    Rather than trying to prevent all errors, we should assume, as is almost always the case, that our people’s intentions are good and that they want to solve problems. Give them responsibility, let the mistakes happen, and let people fix them. If there is fear, there is a reason — our job is to find the reason and to remedy it. Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the ability to recover.

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