My brain feels like mush lately. Not promising anything spectacular here, but lets see if I can lay this out in some semblance of reasonableness. These past few weeks I have been much preoccupied with issues of the big picture of cultural bias and systemic inequality, mostly regarding big things like racism and sexism, so much of my thought has wandered into spaces that art sometimes talks about but which are not usually seen as conditions of art itself.
And then, a shoe dropped, and some previously unrelated dots lined up suddenly and a new picture was formed.
Lets see if the picture I am seeing is something that others can see. Maybe not the same picture, but that there is a picture rather than nothing. At least part of the interest is that there is something rather than nothing. You can tell me what you think it is…..
“Our brains are expert at providing explanations for the outcomes we see. People who swim with the current never credit it for their success, because it genuinely feels as though their achievements are produced through sheer merit. These explanations are always partially true — people who do well in life usually are gifted and talented. If we achieve success through corrupt means, we know we got where we are because we cheated. This is what explicit bias feels like. But when we achieve success because of unconscious privileges, it doesn’t feel like cheating. And it isn’t just the people who flow with the current who are unconscious about its existence. People who fight the current all their lives also regularly arrive at false explanations for outcomes. When they fall behind, they blame themselves, their lack of talent. Just as there are always plausible explanations for why some people succeed, there are always plausible explanations for why others do not. You can always attribute failure to some lack of perseverance, foresight, or skill. It’s like a Zen riddle: If you never change directions, how can you tell there is a current?
“Most of us — men and women — will never consciously experience the undercurrent of sexism that runs through our world. Those who travel with the current will always feel they are good swimmers; those who swim against the current may never realize they are better swimmers than they imagine. We may have our suspicions, but we cannot know for sure, because most men will never experience life as a woman and most women will never know what it is like to be a man. It is only the transgendered who have the moment of epiphany, when they suddenly face a current they were never really sure existed, or suddenly experience the relief of being carried by a force larger than themselves. The men and women who make this transition viscerally experience something that the rest of us do not. They experience the unfairness of the current.“
Now pretend we were talking about art, different forms of art, different practices of art. Pretend we were talking about the tides and currents that sweep through different art forms and practices. Pretend we were talking about the marketplace for art, the things that rise up on the crest of waves, and the things that sink beneath the surface, disappear.
Pretend we were talking about YOU the artist. Pretend we were talking about the creativity you navigate with, the practice that paddles you forward. Are you swimming with the current? Are you, perhaps, in the slipstream of some other artist, moved along in the eddies as they push through to get where they are going? Or are we striking out entirely on our own, heedless of the current, struggling or succeeding in blind faith to our capacity for hard work? Do we occasionally raise sail, tack with the wind, let the breeze fill our sheets? Or do we sometimes also lower the sails and dig in with our oars? Do we even just sit back, give up our control, and let the currents take us where they may? Do we sometimes even drop anchor and moor at docks?
When we fail, do we think the failure is necessarily our own, that we are simply poor swimmers? Or when we fail do we ever think that the currents are simply moving in a different direction, that where we are going is not supported by the general flow in which we are situated? Failure may not be all down to us, especially in a commercial context. We may be caught in opposing currents, riptides, even. The wave that raises one artist up will often fall squarely on our unprepared heads and crush us into the bottom sands…..
Just this morning Seth Godin posted this:
There’s the obvious sort of laziness, the laziness of not trying very hard, of avoiding strenuous tasks or heavy lifting, of getting others to do your work or not showing up for many hours each day.
We’re quick to point fingers at others (and ourselves) when we demonstrate this sort of sloth.
But there are other sorts of laziness, and they’re far more damaging.
There’s the laziness of racism and sexism, which permits us to write people off (or reward them) without doing the hard work of actually seeing them for who they are.
There’s the laziness of bureaucracy, which gives us the chance to avoid the people right in front of us, defaulting instead to rules and systems.
And the laziness of rules of thumb, which means we won’t have to think very hard about the problem in front of us, and don’t have to accept responsibility for the choices we make.
Don’t forget the laziness of letting someone else tell us what to do, ceding the choice-making to anyone bold enough to announce what we’re supposed to do next.
Or consider the simple laziness of not being willing to sit with uncertainty…
Emotional labor is very different from physical labor. It’s hard to measure, for starters, and it’s easier to avoid, but the consequences are significant.
When we find ourselves looking for a shortcut, an excuse or an easy way out, we’re actually indulging in our laziness.
The hard work involves embracing uncertainty, dancing with fear and taking responsibility before it’s given to us.
So much to consider. So much to think about…..