Two Thoughts

I encountered two thoughts, this weekend, that have been on my mind, because I think they represent good advice for artists and for people in general.

The first thought was that you shouldn’t be afraid of the future, you should be excited by it.  It represents fantastic possibilities and if you grab the opportunities to have a happy life that are presented to you, your future can be unimaginably better.  Too many people fear their future and regard it with dread and trepidation, as if only doom awaits.  If you have more days on Earth, be excited about what you might be able to do in those days.

The second thought was that too many people act out of fear and let fear run their lives and make their decisions for them.  Far better to act out of love at all times.  Whatever you do, whatever you decide, always do it with love.  Love eradicates fear.

I thought those were two powerful thoughts.  I hope you do too.

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Oil Painting With Baby Wipes

Every artist that works with oil paint knows that spills and smears happen and that having some of those moist baby-wipes in your kit is a very sensible precaution.  You know the ones.  They’re frequently used to clean messy baby bottoms and to remove food and other unfortunately placed bodily fluids from clothing, surfaces, car seats, you name it.  What I didn’t realise, until recently, is that those moist towelettes can be used in your oil painting.

Sainsburys-basic-wipes

I had the problem of rendering a jumper the model was wearing in a number of shades of a particular turquoise.  Ordinarily, this would have meant mixing a number of shades of the colour and applying them in different areas, to indicate the highlights and shadows.  Being a mixed colour, adjusting the shades of it, without making it look too milky, through the addition of white paint, or having it drift toward being too blue or too green was the challenge.  I also didn’t have much time.

The solution was to mix a single mid tone colour and apply it fairly evenly on the canvas.  I left my canvas white underneath.  Some portraits are given a solid colour as a base, but this time I left the canvas pure white, as it came from the manufacturer.  Having applied the paint evenly, I then took a baby wipe and wiped off paint, where the highlights were supposed to be.  This gave a translucent, glowing, almost glazed finish to the paint.  The areas of colour were highlighted simply because more of the white canvas behind it was allowed to show through.

To complete the effect, I went back over the dark areas and areas in shadow with the original mixed paint, making it thicker and more opaque.  The result was a jumper rendered with a single colour, but using the transparency of the paint to create the tonal contrasts.  In the lighter areas, more of the white canvas showed through a turquoise tint.  In the middle tone areas, the mixed colour was evident, but thin.  In the shadows, a thick, impasto application of the colour simulated darker tones.  I added some yellow to the mix and added these to the darker areas, just to bring in a contrast with the single turquoise shade and to harmonise the jumper with the lemon yellow background of the painting, but these touches are incidental to the technique I am describing.

Here’s the detail of how it turned out.  Give it a try!

Ellie Detail

 

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The Inflexion Point

John Lennon, it turns out, was right.  We live in a pathocracy.  The gospel, according to John Lennon, goes like this:  “Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives.  I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that.  That’s what’s insane about it.”  John was onto something important.

Sceptical?  Most people are disbelieving, when this proposition is first put to them.  They can’t or don’t want to believe it.  Unfortunately, none of that changes the truth of the matter.  In fact, the psychopaths in charge, the pathocrats, rely on our denial to operate as they wish.  “Do what thou wilt” is their value system, after the deranged teachings of the deceased Aleister Crowley.  Could there be a more succinct statement of psychopathy?  Yet, this is a creed to which many of them subscribe.

How can you tell if you are living in a pathocracy – a society run predominantly by a small cabal of psychopaths and sociopaths, subjugating normal people?  Below is a list of telltale signs that you might be (taken from http://pathocracy.wordpress.com/definition/ ):

  1.  Suppression of individualism and creativity.
  2.  Impoverishment of artistic values.
  3.  Impoverishment of moral values; a social structure based on self-interest and one-upmanship, rather than altruism.
  4. Fanatical ideology; often a corrupted form of a valid viable ‘Trojan’ ideology which is perverted into a pathological form, bearing little resemblance to the substance of the original.
  5. Intolerance and suspicion of anyone who is different, or who disagrees with the state.
  6. Centralized control.
  7. Widespread corruption.
  8. Secret activities within government, but surveillance of the general population. (In contrast, a healthy society would have transparent government processes, and respect for privacy of the individual citizen).
  9. Paranoid and reactionary government.
  10. Excessive, arbitrary, unfair and inflexible legislation; the power of decision making is reduced/removed from the citizens’ everyday lives.
  11. An attitude of hypocrisy and contempt demonstrated by the actions of the ruling class, towards the ideals they claim to follow, and towards the citizens they claim to represent.
  12. Controlled media, dominated by propaganda.
  13. Extreme inequality between the richest and poorest.
  14. Endemic use of corrupted psychological reasoning such as paramoralisms, conversive thinking and doubletalk.
  15. Rule by force and/or fear of force.
  16. People are considered as a ‘resource’ to be exploited (hence the term “human resources”), rather than as individuals with intrinsic human worth.
  17. Spiritual life is restricted to inflexible and doctrinaire schemes.  Anyone attempting to go beyond these boundaries is considered a heretic or insane, and therefore dangerous.
  18. Arbitrary divisions in the population (class, ethnicity, creed) are inflamed into conflict with one another.
  19. Suppression of free speech – public debate, demonstration, protest.
  20. Violation of basic human rights, for example: restriction or denial of basic life necessities such as food, water, shelter; detainment without charge; torture and abuse; slave labour.

Do you recognise this country?  Maybe you live in it.  If you’re an artist, it might go some way to explaining why so many artists are starving, for one thing.

If you don’t recognise this dystopian country (and it’s not just one country, incidentally), you’re either asleep, in active denial or perhaps you’re one of the psychopaths.

We live in a society predominantly run by psychopaths.  This blog post is not the first to notice this at all.  There is a growing body of literature on the matter.  Watch this video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgGyvxqYSbE

Psychopaths rise to positions of power and influence, because you can win any game you’re prepared to cheat at.  They see the rest of us as prey, to be used and discarded as they see fit.  In fact, they often enjoy seeing others suffer.  Research shows that primary psychopaths are born not made.  Having been born with an inability to understand or feel emotions, upbringing can greatly influence what kinds of ill deeds the psychopath will ultimately engage in, however.

There are secondary psychopaths too, who adopt the ways of the psychopath as a survival tactic.  It can be difficult to tell if you are dealing with a primary psychopath, who can’t be changed, or a secondary one, who might be changeable, but not easily.

I’ve written before about the human tendency to mimic the pathocrats: http://tropicaltheartist.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/blundering-toward-mass-psychopathy/ and http://tropicaltheartist.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/the-corruption-of-ordinary-people/

You find psychopaths everywhere, in positions of power, because they crave power.  They crave it for its own sake.  People that put short term profits or personal gain ahead of human mental and physical well being are everywhere and that’s very easy to observe for yourself.  It’s far harder to ascribe the observations to the presence of individuals unable to feel emotions or to those mimicking that behaviour, in order to protect themselves from harm.

Average, decent, non-psychopathic people struggle to believe they’re frequently amongst psychopaths.  The reason is that it takes courage to acknowledge and face down evil.  There is less mental effort and emotional turmoil involved in simply denying it.  This provides the psychopaths the cover they need to continue to prey upon the gentler and more trusting people in society.

On the other hand, if one keeps up with current events, even in the strictly controlled mainstream media, there is a growing sense in which the pathocracy no longer concerns itself with maintaining the fictions that gave them the cover stories, masks, benefit of the doubt, consent and goodwill they needed to maintain themselves in their positions of power and influence.  They have become careless and are out in the open.  They’re also out of control.  The NSA, for example, spies on us all at scale but defies us, with an attitude of, “just what are you going to do about it?”  They know our impotence in the face of their totalitarian control.  The pathocrats don’t try to hide as much as they used to, because they think they have won and that their seemingly invincible positions are unassailable.  They might be wrong about that.

You might wonder why an evolutionary adaptation, such as the inability to sense emotions, would have survived over millennia.  Clearly it confers some kind of competitive advantage, rather than being an unmitigated handicap, or it would have disappeared from the population, given enough time.  It may, in fact, be in the process of disappearing.  When the world consisted of individuals trying to succeed against other individuals, on a planet much bigger than both of them, the ability to be ruthless, violent and to lie and cheat might have (and did) allow individuals with this trait to preferentially survive and breed.  That said, they’re still a minority.  However, now that pathocrats have the ready means to threaten the survival of all life on the planet, it has become a maladaptive trait.  Given their ability to cause extinction, it’s no longer a trait that the majority of people, who do not share their inability to feel, can tolerate.

Psychopaths and pathocrats have become a danger to us all and to themselves.  They will, impulsively and on a whim, kill us all.  In doing so, through nuclear annihilation or environmental destruction or both, they won’t care about doing it.  They are unable to care.

The potential for this has been amply demonstrated by the dropping of the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, which caused widespread death and suffering, particularly among innocents and also left a barren, contaminated site that cannot be safely inhabited for centuries to come.

First the pathocrats will kill all the non-psychopaths (perhaps even in the name of population control, to save the planet) and then when only psychopaths remain, they will kill each other, until there is only one man standing (psychopaths are predominantly male).  A world consisting only of psychopaths becomes an endless dog-eat-dog war zone and a fight to the death.  Having destroyed all other life, this remaining psychopath will also, inevitably, perish.  There can be no other outcome.

Something becomes abundantly obvious, when you think this through.  We’ve reached an evolutionary inflexion point.  We can’t let the pathocrats run amok any more.  There is too much at stake.  Whenever a minority of organisms threatens the continued existence of a majority of them, nature and evolution usually step in to treat the one less likely to sustain life as a disease to be eradicated.  Yes, the disease sometimes wins in the short term, but preservation of the continuance of life is the predominant arrow of evolution, over the long run.  Death cults or death cultures usually lose, in the end.  What can be done by ordinary people today, though, to stem the threat of annihilation at the hands of the pathocrats?

Firstly, don’t imagine that they can be fixed.  No amount of love, understanding, sympathy or empathy will change them.  They were, in the case of the primary psychopath, born that way.  As immoral as abandoning anybody to their fate feels, especially because their condition probably wasn’t their choice, we’re dealing with a group of people that will use your kindness and compassion against you, in this case.  It helps if those with a predilection for being unable to sense or feel emotions are not sent away to boarding school, bullied, assaulted as children or otherwise traumatised, but there’s not much you can do if they have been.  To a non-psychopath, it’s painful to give up on anybody, but the cause is a lost one.  Rationality and survival require that you recognise that psychopaths are stuck with being that way.

The next impulse might be to identify them, round them all up and somehow eliminate them.  You’d have to be a psychopath to favour that solution.  It’s a hopeless idea anyway.  The true psychopaths would easily subvert such a plan and turn it around to their own advantage, so that those with a conscience would be rounded up and hung, for example.  Don’t even go there.

We appear to be stuck with the bastards.  Primary psychopaths will despise your sympathy, so that isn’t going to do anything purposeful.  You’ll just put yourself in harm’s way and get heartbreak for your trouble.  Secondary psychopaths, who act in the manner of psychopaths, may give up their ways, if they feel it safe to do so.  Although arguably more contemptible and cowardly for their choices, they might be people that can be rehabilitated, once the primary psychopaths are no longer pathocrats (i.e. in power) and the secondary psychopaths don’t need to act like bastards to be spared the harm meted out by primary psychopaths.

If we are stuck with psychopaths, how can we protect ourselves against their excesses and the danger they pose to existence?

One tactic is that you can expose them as psychopaths.  They hate that, because it limits their scope for action, but as previously noted, the pathocrats are becoming less concerned about who knows what they are and what they plan.  They imagine they are immune from any sort of retribution or limitation of their actions.  It’s also dangerous to corner a psychopath and leave them with no escape or options.

That said, most psychopaths rely on hiding in plain sight as their stealth tactic, so that they can prey on people.  They want to appear as reasonable, even benevolent sorts of fellows, so that they can continue to be nothing of the sort in reality.  If you call out their psychopathy, you blow their cover and they can’t use it anymore as a cloak to abuse others.

A good way to identify a psychopath is to see if they display empathy when empathy is required.   Their attitude to grief, death and mourning is often revealing.  A visceral, disdain for peace, love and compassion, except for the most superficial and showy versions of these, is also usually a good marker.  Ask them about hippies.  If they class them as dirty, speak of them in derogatory terms or regards them as rat bags, the dehumanisation of these people and a disdain for their opinions is already evident.

In addition, psychopaths usually have no ability to genuinely respond to the emotional impact and content of music, except by faking it unconvincingly.  Many of them eschew music completely.  It’s just a meaningless, confusing noise to them.  For the non-psychopath, a person unmoved by music is a good marker.

You often hear psychopaths framing their world view in terms of conflict and adversarial relationships.  They like to talk about “the enemy” and “it’s a jungle out there”.  They frequently use phrases like “man up”, or “suck it up”.  None of these, on their own, are diagnostic signs, but they are clues.

Once you accept that we are predominantly lead by pathocrats, in politics and in the corporate world, you can begin to minimise their power by being carefully selective about which rules you obey, whose authority you uphold, which challenges and defiances are safest to make and how to undermine their networks of support and power.

Once you spot a psychopath, you can organise your life so that they are not a part of it.  If you have a psychopathic boss, quit immediately.  If your partner is a psychopath, do whatever it takes to distance yourself from them, before they can do lasting harm.  If your political leaders are pathocrats, organise to defuse their influence on your life.

As a species, we need to begin to recognise and shun these people.  They’ve lasted this long, in evolutionary terms, because they keep breeding and psychopaths are mostly men, so women have a special role to play in identifying psychopaths and not breeding with them.  Women that try to change or save a psychopath, or who are so severely lacking in self esteem that they become co-dependent on a psychopathic spouse pose a risk to all of us, it’s sad to say.

That is not to condone eugenics, though.  Eugenics is another one of those psychopathic solutions, open to subversion and which is so inhuman that it corrupts the non-psychopathic so comprehensively, they might as well have not bothered to adopt the idea in the first place.  If they’re bred out at all, it will be because they become recognised as deeply unattractive, narcissistic, dangerous partners, instead of how they’re mistakenly seen now – as heroic, thrusting, entrepreneurial, successful, self-made men.  You have to define success in a very perverted way to maintain that point of view.  It isn’t any measure of success to finish up the winner in a competition which results in the destruction of all life.  Standing astride a smouldering ruin of a planet is not a win, no matter how sharp your suit or how fancy your sports car.

The one fortunate thing about becoming aware of the psychopaths among us and who rule over us as pathocrats is that they are very predictable.  Once you accept that they are in it for themselves, at all times, you can easily second guess their moves and motives.  This makes it much easier to neutralise their cunning plans to put one over on the rest of us and to limit the scope of their harmful actions.

It has to be recognised, however, that it’s exceedingly exhausting to live under pathocrats and to live and work among psychopaths.  The situation is exacerbated by mobs which adopt the pathologies of the leader.  This applies to corporate cultures, political affiliations, military or security forces and any other group that permits people to abrogate their responsibility and culpability for acts carried out in the name of the group’s stated vision and mission.

If you try to become a secondary psychopath, as a survival strategy, you will discover that it causes you great internal conflict.  Going against your conscience, just to fit in to the company culture or other societal or group expectations, ultimately burns you out.  You get ground down both by having to deal with the non-stop skulduggery of pathocrats and pseudo psychopaths at all times, or else by having to conform to their twisted value system to prevent becoming their prey.  Both harm your psyche.  Whereas the pathocrats or their supporting psychopaths can carry out inhumane acts without feeling the pain of doing so, if you are only acting the psychopath to maintain the favour of pathocrats, you will suffer personal agonies, each time you carry out one of their sadistic and harmful orders.  The abuse of your own feelings and conscience carries a heavy long term cost to your health (not to mention the health of others around you).

Artists have a special role to play in rolling back the bounds of the pathocratic state or organisation.  Artists can continue to be creative and individualistic.  It turns out that the brightest and most intelligent are rarely psychopaths (why this should be so is not fully proven or understood), so if you are an artist with particular intellectual gifts, use those gifts to enrich the culture as much as you can.  The artists that engineer things can build technologies that prevent the pathocrats from spying on us all, for example.  You don’t have to design their weapons systems just because they’re willing to pay you.  You can use your creativity to do something more positive.  Above all, you don’t have to take the pathocrats’ money.  Other sources of human wealth are possible, even if the entire supply of currency is in the control of pathocrats.  Above all, you can nurture life in all of its diverse forms and exhibit passion.

Don’t accept the characterisation of an artist as being emotionally volatile, hence out of control and therefore suspect and irrational.  The point is that psychopaths are wholly unable to express genuinely felt passions and emotions and that’s why they feel so uncomfortable around such displays.  See through the propaganda put out by generations of pathocrats and understand that demonstrating your real and genuine emotions, unashamedly, is one of the best ways to identify and isolate those that lack the ability to do so.

Most importantly, we can stop aping the pathocrats.  You don’t want to get rich – not if it means losing your humanity and becoming as destructive and damaging as those that do get rich, through their inability to feel and to empathise.  If you aren’t wired that way, why uphold that aberration as the highest good?  Why try to achieve, by painfully crushing and suppressing your emotions, what pathocrats achieve easily, through simply not having any?

Perhaps ironically, both psychopaths and non-psychopaths favour hierarchy and authority, because it provides the illusion of safety for both groups (though for entirely different reasons).  However, there are strong arguments to suggest that such hierarchical regimes really only favour the psychopaths, at the expense of the non-psychopaths, whose safety is imperilled by the actions of the ruling pathocrats.  In fact, anarchy (in the sense of there being no authoritarian hierarchy in charge, governing the people) is the far safer option for non-psychopaths.  If there is no power structure, then pathocrats cannot easily obtain power.  That’s not an intuitive result, but true, nevertheless.

Awareness of the pathocrats, psychopaths, wannabe psychopaths and the pathocracies that they construct is our only viable defence.  Being awake to their affliction and consequent behaviour is all we have.  If we just leave them to it, they will lead us to catastrophe.

Artists have a special contribution to make.  They can do the following:

  1. Relentlessly perform acts of supreme individualism and creativity.
  2. Enrich the artistic values of the society they live in or the corporate culture they work in.
  3. Speak freely, with courage.
  4. Create an alternative, uncontrolled media to the one the pathocrats control.
  5. Stop working for the pathocracy’s controlled media.
  6. Be emotional, emotionally affective and passionate.
  7. Make a lot of passionate, emotionally charged music.

The presence of people wholly unable to sense or feel emotion has become a pressing problem for humanity and all life, because of the amplification of harm available to these individuals (via nuclear weapons, the ability to impose severe hardships by force or rule of law and through the insouciant destruction of the environment).  We must, as a species, discover a method of living with, but neutralising the effect of the psychopaths among us.  It won’t be easy.

Some useful links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91wuk_mWEYQ

http://www.pathocracy.net/

http://www.ponerology.com/index.html

http://www.ponerology.com/evil_2b.html

http://ponerology.blogspot.co.uk/

Note:  I have used the British spelling of “inflexion” in this article.

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The Artist’s Role in Consumerism

Compared to earlier times, most of the Western world’s middle classes are now drowning in stuff and in debt.  Their houses are too small to store it all, even as real wages have stagnated, over a period of decades.  There has been an explosion in the provision of off-site, lock-up self storage – an industry that barely existed, in earlier times.  Many people own more books than they can ever read, have access to more TV shows and DVDs than they can ever hope to view, possess more music than you can ever listen to and have more apps on their mobile devices and computers than they can ever hope to use.  Some people solve the problem by simply throwing away perfectly serviceable, usable stuff, at intervals, but it’s a recurring issue.  Why have we become such churners of stuff and why do we spend so much of our money on fuelling this aberrant behaviour?

The answer is consumerism and it has to be said that artists have played a significant role in the rise of this phenomenon.  Our art has been used to create the products that people throw away and to increase desire for those products in the first place.  Our art, far from being appreciated and valued for its own qualities, is increasingly valueless, unless it can be pressed into the service of creating short lived consumer products, or advertising to promote the sale of these.  Our art is becoming (or has already become) a disposable commodity.

As artists, do we strive to make the world a happier, more beautiful place, or do we deliberately (or accidentally) amplify misery and harm?  Shouldn’t we care about how our art affects people, our society and our environment?  Do we want to be agents of environmental and cultural destruction?  Are we mere hucksters for banksters that loan the consumer credit to buy all this stuff, at onerous rates of interest?  Are our actions, as artists, merely increasing wealth inequalities, through the seductive, attractive appeal of the art we produce being used to transfer net wealth from ordinary consumers to the producers of all this tat?  Is our art being incorporated into meaningless, valueless objects of sheer, lustful desire?

We’ve had planned obsolescence since the 1920s, when all manufacturers of light bulbs conspired to shorten and limit the life of the electric light bulbs they made and sold.  It increased their profits by double, over a period of only five years.  Who lost?  Well, the consumer now had to buy and throw away two and a half light bulbs, for every one they previously had to buy.

Things have only intensified, since those days.  Planned obsolescence has now reached its zenith, with many high priced items now cheaper to throw away and replace than to repair.  We have been encouraged, by a relentless bombardment of ads and media commentary, to change our things annually, as fashion statements.  Items that still have utility and value to somebody are, instead, destroyed or discarded.  You can find recycling plants that are destroying brand new printers, for example, still in their boxes and never having been sold or used, in preference to selling them at discounted rates or giving them away to the needy.  By destroying brand new items, they protect the market for their new products.  A discount or a giveaway is thought to simply prevent a sale of a brand new, more profitable one.

Our throwaway society is now officially out of control.  Landfill sites are full, incinerators are difficult to establish and the emissions are hard to detoxify and we damage the planet as we draw more raw materials and resources from it, just to return them as junk, in a very short time.  We’re chewing through the environment and turning it into worthless, useless shit, at an alarming rate.  Our consumption results in the production of mountains of toxic, noxious waste, using non-renewable energy in the process and producing needless waste heat, where there was previously only unprocessed, innocuous dirt and buried, decaying dinosaur slime.

In order to pay for this manic churn, people are increasingly borrowing money to fund their insane purchases.  The debt burden causes long term hardship and unhappiness.  People’s freedom is hampered by their obligations to repay their debts, at alarming rates of interest.  By submitting to fashion, we are destroying our environment, our wealth and our happiness.  How can this be rational?

The answer is that it isn’t rational.  In fact, we have been made mentally ill on purpose.  Corporations have spent billions to manufacture fear and dissatisfaction in our minds.  These are feelings that would not have existed at all, or have been rather more attenuated, had it not been for the deliberate, systematic, relentless, orchestrated, cradle-to-grave campaigns of marketing to make you feel this way.  You have been programmed to consume to increase the profits of the corporations.  They don’t care about you, your environment, your freedom or your happiness.  All they care about is emptying your pockets.

What is the net effect of this almost century long campaign of cultural influence?  We have a population increasingly prone to anxiety disorders and ill health arising from the stress of constant dissatisfaction and fear.  How have we responded to the epidemic?  We’ve seen it as an opportunity to sell more prescription remedies.  Statins, blood pressure pills and antidepressants.  We eat them like sweets.

What we haven’t done is addressed the root cause and asked whether we want a world that is constantly programmed to want more, regardless of how much they already have and to buy products the manufacturers tell them will alleviate, or insulate them from, the fears that these companies, themselves, have inserted into people’s consciousnesses.  Is that the life we want our children to lead?

We’re conditioned to consume from childhood, because we’re easiest to influence when we are innocent and trusting.  We also have unique leverage over the family’s finances, because parents are keen to make their children happy.  By inserting dissatisfaction and unhappiness into young minds, it is possible to make parents spend more, in a futile attempt to create happiness and satisfaction instead.  It never works, of course.

A consequence of our programmed relationship with the artefacts of human ingenuity is that we never develop a reverence for made objects and the makers that created them.  We think of everything as worthless, temporary, breakable and disposable.  We never develop a meaningful relationship with the durable tools of creativity – paint brushes, pianos, block planes, chisels, etc.

The most powerful tool of creation ever invented, the computer, is itself a disposable, short lived item that needs to be replaced at intervals of less than three years, taking our data, software and our relationship with our actual tool of creation with it.  We have to buy a new computer and get to grips with that one, as if we were just born.  We never experience the feeling of the tool melting away, as we get into the flow of creating with it.  It’s always a slightly foreign object, in our hands.  Instead of becoming familiar and comfortable with our tools of creation, we succumb to insatiable desires to collect and consume, then discard and replace.  This harms our own creative efforts immeasurably.

We’re infantilised by consumerist marketing.  Having discovered how to sell to children and turn them into pre-programmed, but avaricious, rapacious consumers, the same techniques are used to cause adults to behave as children, impulsively indulging their own whims and narcissistic desires.  Imelda Marcos, with her rooms and rooms full of barely worn shoes, is no longer a bizarre exception.  She was merely a forerunner.  By turning adults into childlike consumers, it influences our general behaviour and our relationships with others.  We’re no longer able to relate to each other, as mature, thinking grownups.  Instead, we become overgrown man-children and shopping obsessed women.  We organise our lives around obtaining more stuff and then showing it off, up until the point, reached too soon, where we need the next fix.

Even the artefacts of our culture (pop or otherwise) have been commoditised and turned into valueless, disposable, temporary items.  All music and film, fashion and art is sold as if it were disposable and replaceable.  The back catalogues of artists are considered passé and worthless.  We forget last year’s films, albums, bands and models as soon as this year’s offerings are available (or pre-released).  Bands and artists come and go, enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame and then consigned to obscurity.

Record companies are no longer interested in developing an artist over a long career.  Instead, they want television tie-ins and disposable heroes that allow them to rake in quick returns on their investments.  We first bought our records on vinyl, then bought them again on cassette for our Walkmans, then we bought them as CDs for our new digital music listening environments and finally in MP3 format, to use in our iPods and iPhones.  Now, we’re being asked to buy them all on vinyl again, for retro nostalgic reasons, but it’s all just churn.  More stuff to throw away.  More ways to pay multiple times for the same thing you already used to own.

We constantly encouraged to notice and buy the products of the new, new thing and expected to discard our old tastes.  In embracing the new and discarding the old, our collective memory is foreshortened.  We no longer learn the lessons of history.  Old wisdom, hard won and fought for, is thrown out and forgotten.  Ask the average twenty-something who Nixon was and why Watergate had significance and you’ll be met with blank stares.  You’ll struggle to get them to watch “All the President’s Men” or to even find a copy.  Getting them to understand the connections between that Whitehouse behaviour and current events is simply impossible.

Artwork is not seen as having intrinsic value.  A painting doesn’t count at all unless you can buy the image on a t-shirt or mug.  A movie doesn’t have much value, unless you can buy the action figures and licensed lunchboxes tied-in with it.  Art has become something that is only valuable and valued to the extent that it can cause consumption and sales of something else.  Its utility is purely commercial, not aesthetic.  Far from increasing the store of beauty in the world, much art serves only to transfer wealth from consumers to owners of capital.

The marketing is seductive and deceptive, too.  Computer games with names like “Call of Duty” or “Medal of Honour” appear to encourage and uphold what were usually regarded as positive moral values to which we should all aspire.  However, the content of these games is not positive or moral.  They present a dystopian world, where morbid fantasies about killing and destroying can be indulged and played out, at least in a virtual sense, pandering to the most brutal instincts of consumers.  We promote and enable the desire to act in anti-social ways, without conscious thought, penalty or consequence.  Is the bringing to life of this wholly destructive fantasy not disturbing?  Are we not changed in some material way, in our psyches, if we vent our basest instincts and rehearse them on a regular basis?  Why not create a rape game, if not?  I think that’s a fair question.  I don’t think that engaging your mind in anti-social fantasies, on a casual, recreational, careless, emotionally-detached basis, is actually healthy.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

Who brings these games to consumers?  Artists do.  Animators, sound designers, programmers, engineers, graphic artists, character designers, storyboard artists, writers and musicians collaborate to create a product that plays as a computer game, on a console, computer or mobile device.

In the name of increasing consumption and profits, we’re being entertained to death.  We are being distracted from the important things in life, such as self actualisation, relationships, learning, nurturing a family, increasing the stock of beauty and wisdom in the world and taking care of our environment, so that future life remains viable.  These are the things we don’t do at all, while we’re entertained.  We’re entertained by artists.

Take a look at any group of people in a restaurant or train station platform.  They all have their heads in their mobile phone screens, with their ear buds in.  They don’t communicate or interact with people in their immediate vicinity.  They don’t even make eye contact.  They’re isolated and alone, even in a crowd, insensate to the sights and sounds around them.  Our distraction is total.

Our distraction, of course, leaves a vacuum in our lives to be filled by still more manipulators and profiteers.  They see our inattention as their opportunity to further shape reality to their own benefit.  They know we won’t lift a finger in protest or resistance.  They take advantage of the submissive void created by our preoccupation with consumption.  Profitable wars can be contrived, by war profiteers, but if marketed the right way (appealing to fear), we consent.  Our public finances are drained in a transfer of wealth from all of us to the providers of war materials, but we don’t care enough to notice.

It’s a very short step from playing computer games to online gambling, where our wallets are under attack as never before.  We neither feel alarm nor care about the attack.  We’re fulfilling our pre-programmed role.

As creators, even our relationship to our creative tools has been distorted.  Because we consume impulsively, we buy one of everything we think we might need.  We present ourselves with too many tools and options, failing to master any of them.  It degrades the quality of our creations, if we never develop an intimacy with the extensions of our hands and intellects, our creative tools.  In fact, you very quickly learn that you have to limit your options, bring only a few brushes and putting only a limited number of colours on your palette, to make any meaningful creative progress at all.  Less is more.  You have to leave some of the tools at home and work your way through your options, slowly, deliberately and methodically.

The thing is that, if your art is used in support of increased consumerism; you’re part of a deception.  You’re an accessory to a thinly disguised and dishonest attempt to cause people to spend their money on things they don’t really need, without really knowing why they are doing so or for what purpose.  In participating in this deception, you become dishonest, predatory and your actions are not harmless.

If your art is used to seduce people away from the things that would really make them happy, you’re hurting them.  Why is your art co-opted to serve such a purpose?  For profit.  That’s all.

As artists and coders, myself included, you can easily fool yourself into thinking you’re doing one thing – making your art in a pure way – but actually doing another – serving the profiteers at the heart of consumerism.  It’s an easy mistake to make.   We’re as programmed to consume as the next man, after all.  You think you’re being paid to produce art and for creating, but your creations and art are pressed into the service of influencing consumers to consume, or to produce seductive products that nobody really needs.  We’re willing accomplices, prostituting our art to earn a living, so that we can continue to create.

We don’t like to think that our work causes consumers to be more effectively and efficiently preyed upon.  The story we tell ourselves is that these pre-programmed consumers are willing accomplices too, but are they?  Do they have any free choice left at all, if their entire existence is organised around training them to spend irrationally?  Do we have any free choice left at all either, for that matter?  It’s not a very savoury or comfortable idea, when you come to think about it.  We think we’re rebellious artists, taking a stand against the man, but often we’re just fuelling more consumption, with all the ills that this brings.

The way that adults were encouraged to act like children was by making everything feel like it’s a game.  They call it “gamification”.  Gamification caused us to come back to buy more, that we didn’t want or need, just so that we could succeed in the game.  For example, the Monopoly scratch promotion that is run annually at McDonalds is worth three quarters of a billion dollars in increased sales, such is the draw of completing the Monopoly board and winning prizes.  We consume more burgers, not because we’re hungry, but because we want to win the game.  Meanwhile, McDonalds takes our money for the privilege of playing.

Gamification has even infected corporate life.  Rather than just doing your job, in an honest way, employees and partners are now encouraged to participate in rewards and leader boards, incentives and games of relative performance comparison, often organised on line in the company’s intranet, to encourage you to produce more on behalf of your employers.  A significant portion of your real working life is now governed by the need to beat your colleagues at the game.  This distorts your relationships with colleagues and customers alike.  Your challenge/achievement dopamine is constantly stimulated so that the corporation can extract more value from you for relatively little additional compensation.  All they want from you is more for less.  The constant competition is exhausting for all of us.

The effects of overstimulation of your brain’s dopamine producers and receptors, over a sustained period, are largely unknown, but desensitisation is suspected strongly.  The more you are gamified, the less you will respond to it (hence you will feel like and be treated as a failure on the job) and the less pleasure you will derive from other aspects of your life.  Your ability to feel pleasure is being bled dry.  You are, effectively, being deliberately burnt out.

As consumers, we all pay more for everything to support gamification.  The costs of gamification are included in the prices we pay.  Artists, of course, make the games and the game artefacts for gamification, in which the house always wins and the consumer is always made yet poorer.  Consumers are, in effect, exchanging more of their labour for nothing very durable or substantial.  The opportunity cost is that they have even less money available to buy things that can help them create and earn.

Under consumerism, we’re busy converting our sweat and even our future sweat (via credit cards) into disposable, ephemeral, narcissistic impulse purchases of disposable junk or evaporating, momentary experiences.  Credit defers the pain of parting with your cash, which represents your hard work, but it amplifies the pain, because you owe the interest as well as the principal, in the future.  More and more of your future income is assigned to previous purchases, many of which have already broken or been thrown away.

Artists have been complicit in selling their work relatively cheaply, to aggressively market sugary cereals to children at premium prices, using fun cartoon characters, slick ads, toys hidden in the box and in-store displays.  Tony the Tiger was made by artists.  The consumption of these sugar-saturated cereals has resulted in a generational epidemic of obesity and related morbidities.  Why did we participate?  Did we really need the money?  Couldn’t we have done something better with our art?

It used to be the case that the movie was the story and the piece of art that was made to convey certain ideas and morals.  Then movies became vehicles for licensed merchandising.  Now, the need to sell merchandise has begun to subvert the story of the movie, so that the actual entertainment value of the movie is seriously degraded and compromised, just to sell more tie-in stuff.  The Transformers franchise is a case in point.  The story lines no longer even make sense and the continuity with previous episodes is broken irretrievably, so that new toys could be made and sold.  In so doing, the movies themselves have become unwatchable, stupid junk.  The story has been hollowed out and becomes meaningless, the more the movie becomes just one big advertisement for merchandise.  Why should anybody waste their precious, finite and scarce time and attention on this?

The introduction of children-only television channels such as Nickelodeon saw the cannibalisation of “Watch with Mother”, slaughtered on the altar of monetisation for profit.  Who participated in this loss of an intimate moment between mother and child, in which bonding, sharing, care and comfort could take place, only to be replaced by He-Men and action figure ads?  Animation artists, voice actors, musicians, storyboard and background artists, editors and compositors did.  You name it.

Ironically, even as we throw away the stuff we’re told we’re supposed to throw away now, we’re nostalgic for it and the moment in our lives that it represented.  Consequently, we wind up overpaying for retro collectibles, which somehow escaped their own obsolescence, often miraculously.  Everything retro is flimsy, though (it was made with built-in planned obsolescence, after all), so we have to treasure these old artefacts and treat them as some sort of shrine, not usable objects.  If we actually used our new old stock, it would wear out prematurely, become unrepairable for want of old parts and be gone forever.  We have to worship old stuff, because we have nostalgia for it, not because we want to use it.  We can’t use it.

We have to ask ourselves, as artists, some fundamental questions.  If we get involved in the activities of licensing our art in the service of selling, in creating disposable products, if we voice, produce and animate the advertisements, design the packaging, provide graphic design services to push more consumption or participate in the product design of thousands of meaningless, nearly identical,  fashion statement items, are we part of the problem?  Are we culpable in producing ever more waste, fear and dissatisfaction, through consumerism?  Are we electing to become accessories to mass bamboozlement?

It’s notable and ironic that all of the people that most enthusiastically participate in the orgy of consumption encouragement live in lavish, substantial, old houses and they have expensive cars.  It tells you what their real priorities and interests are.  Invariably, the high priests of selling disposable, planned obsolescence, through the manufacture of dissatisfaction and fear, to you and I, choose a Rolls Royce or similar vehicle, renowned for its hand crafting and durability.  They buy differently to what they sell.  It has become the case that only the wealthiest can afford to buy things of lasting value and quality.  It didn’t have to be this way.

What’s the solution?  How can an artist eschew fear and dissatisfaction being imposed on the general population and all the harm that results from planned obsolescence, frivolous design, marketing, advertising, jingles, sales-pitch voiceovers and playing along with the one-hit-wonder culture?  There are no easy answers.  Being outside of this system is a recipe for not earning, because our culture and economic system is so geared up for consumption that no other alternative activity is valued or tolerated.  We can only solve this as a unified body.  I wonder if we have the courage and will, or the awareness of what’s really happening with our artistic contributions.  Are we creating the world we want, when we create our art?

As tainted as artists are in the century old story of consumerism, what I hope is beyond dispute is that we will need to reclaim our mental and physical health by stopping the constant daily assaults on our self esteem and our capacity to work.  I also hope we recognise that ceasing the rape of the planet and the production of unconscionable waste is beyond argument.  We will have to take action, as a community and society, to curb the excesses of consumerism.  We have no choice.  It’s not sustainable.

We’ve been seduced into believing that the accumulation of money is all that matters, that ownership of stuff is the highest goal and that surrounding yourself with conspicuous consumption is the only way to care for your ego.  In fact, the only currency that matters is life.  We are threatening life itself in meaningful and significant ways, while we remain wedded to these erroneous notions of what matters most.  We have to reorganise our society around the enhancement and nurturing of life, not around producing death and dead things, in a mad frenzy to have more.

It’s time we took a long hard look at ourselves as artists and our participation in the consumerism culture.  Are we doing any good, through the use of our art to stimulate consumption, or are we doing inestimable harm?  Is a successful artist, these days, anything more than a consumer brand?

If we tacitly support the idea that art has no intrinsic value, unless it can be used to make people spend on other things, we devalue our own work as artists and the intrinsic value of our artworks as things of standalone, lasting, aesthetic value.  We assign a price of precisely zero to aesthetic enrichment and viewer delight, if our art is always seen as just a part of an elaborate deception to convince consumers to exchange their money, which represents their effort, into disposable, temporary, worthless junk.  Knowing you’re doing harm eats at your integrity and soul.

What are we going to do about this?

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Because They Think It’s Easy

If you are an artist, I have some terrible news for you.  If you think that writing, drawing, painting, animating, film making or music production take skill, application, years of training and a good deal of creativity and discipline, you’re sadly mistaken.  I have to tell you that there is a very large constituency of potential customers and audience members out there that fervently, honestly, sincerely believe, with all their hearts, that you don’t have to do any of that, anymore.  The software and/or technology does it all for you.   All you have to do is the equivalent of pressing “play”.

For this reason, they feel no guilt in stealing the content you made.  After all, they believe you didn’t make it.  Your tools did.  They also think that electric drills and routers make furniture and guitars and that kitchen appliances and cars are made by robotic factories, not people.  Things, in their way of thinking, ought to be cheap, because there is nothing to it.  The making of content, art, and physical things is all done by machine, these days.  Don’t you know?  None of what you thought was hard work is real work at all, apparently.

How did this nonsensical notion take root?

Marketing, corporate self interest and lack of education are to blame.

Marketing

A convenient, but utterly false myth, propagated by those that want to sell you power tools, music synthesisers and desktop software applications, is that their tools do all the hard work and everything you make with them is “limited only by your imagination”.  The idea is that imagining things is free and effortless and something everybody can do.  However, the tool they’re selling is, in contrast, very valuable (i.e. worth more than the list price), because it does the real work.

This is why software development, as an industry, is becoming (or arguably has already become) such a disaster zone.  Everybody has been encouraged to believe there is nothing to it.  The abstractions and processes, disciplines and insights have been de-emphasised as being at the core of the task, because you can’t easily sell or profit from those.  Only shrink wrapped or boxed products have value, because that’s what the marketers want you to think and it’s what they have to sell.  They’ve been telling this story since before many people that believe the nonsense were even alive.

The truth is that the tools are a bit crude and limited, in actuality.  You cannot simply purchase one and become an instant expert.  The tools actually get in the way of the highly skilled, who reach the limitations of them regularly.  Like any skilled craft, you have to learn how to get the best out of your tools and how to work around them, when they become a limitation, over a period of years, ensuring that you keep your hand in regularly.  All human creation is this way, irrespective of the tools used.  Yet, the marketers have sold the lie that somehow, through the magic of their products, there is a short cut to getting results of acceptable quality, without putting in the effort, the learning or the practice.

It’s a lie and they’re liars.  You can’t.  Buying Microsoft Word doesn’t turn you into Shakespeare.  Buying Pro Tools doesn’t turn you into Mozart.  Owning the tools doesn’t create a single thing for you.

Corporate Self Interest

The idea that artisanal skills are not to be valued highly dates back to the Industrial Revolution, when thousands, if not millions of workers were thrown out of their sole-trader, craft-based businesses and forced into the mills and factories, to provide a source of cheap labour for the owners of capital.

The idea that musicians and artists were not valuable dates back to when they were in the employ of wealthy patrons, so that the patron could look good, co-opting the art and music as their own, while treating their indentured artists on the same level as mere servants.  Clearly there was a divide between somebody capable of shining the patron’s shoes and another person capable of composing a mass for the patron’s private chapel every Sunday, but no such distinction was recognised or acknowledged.  In a class ridden society, the true value of everybody outside of a small circle of elites was artificially denigrated.  That’s how the wealthy kept power and control for themselves.

Keeping skilled workers cheap, by de-skilling some of their tasks and telling them their non-automatable skills are replicable, abundant and easily replaced is an old trick and one that is still applied by movie studios, online retailers, record companies, software start-ups, factories and other similar tyrannical, totalitarian hierarchies.  It means that, as an owner of the factory or machines, even if those machines are servers in data centres, you get to keep more of the earnings of the collective effort of your skilled people for yourself.  It’s a pure con trick.  People working for such tyrants could easily overthrow the management and keep the earnings for themselves, in a co-operative organisation, but the lie has been so oft repeated and people divided, so ruled, that the rebellion is never likely.

As part of this lie is the denial of the role and value of humans and human ingenuity in the production process.  The machines are worshipped, but the machine makers and operators are denigrated.  This is why corporations are so brazen about co-opting design ideas and intellectual property as their own.  If it wasn’t for the facilities and machines they provided, they claim, there would be no innovations.  Of course, innovation doesn’t work this way at all.  Ideas are literally bullied out of the people that have them and then exploited handsomely by those that take them, for little consideration.

To take just one example, does anybody truly believe Jeff Bezos has the technical skill or enough life time to construct a web site the size, complexity and scale of Amazon?  Do they believe that the ownership and monies that accrue from it are distributed amongst those that really conceived of it and brought it to life in proportion to the importance of each engineer’s contribution?  It’s like the old adage.  Somehow, the gold mine is in somebody else’s country, the gold is mined by miners and yet the gold belongs to the mine owner.  How so?  Just because of a few pieces of paper saying he is entitled to it and because he bought the picks and shovels?

The truth about capital is that you can’t make practically anything by machine alone.  Capital won’t get you there.  Owning the machines and the software doesn’t produce a thing.  Even if your machines do produce something in a fully automated fashion, somebody keeps the machines running and topped up with raw materials.  There is no machine yet made that can install itself, provide its own raw materials and maintain itself.  These things are human activities and everything made has human input.

You certainly can’t let the software loose to make good art.  Even with the current sophistication of some software tools, you can’t get good, interesting, high quality art out of them, simply by turning them on and walking away, any more than a finely made hammer can design and build a house.

The myth of mass production, by automation and of machines replacing the necessary skills and intelligence of people has been propagated so that the owners of capital can appropriate the profits made from the application of the skills of “their” workers for themselves.  They consistently assert that ownership is what matters, but ownership on its own does nothing.  Try it for yourself.  Buy the best Digital Audio Workstation software you can find and push the play button.  Did you get any new and original music?

At the same time as the owners of capital were telling their workforce that the machines don’t need them and to be grateful for any crumbs the owners deign to throw them, they were telling customers that their products were superior to handmade items, consistent in their quality, uniform in their dimensions and characteristics and not easily replicated by any other company.  They were inflating the value of their goods to customers, while telling the employees that produced them that their contribution to the production of these goods was negligible.  In accounting terms, this is called “margin” – the difference between production cost and selling price.  Whatever you can do, including lying, that makes the production cost low and the selling price high is more money that the owner of the corporation can retain in their own trouser pockets.

If you’re really fierce and brazen, you don’t have to provide expensive machines and premises at all.  You can simply demand that the producers furnish their own materials, tools and premises and promise to buy their output exclusively and take it to market for them.  Thus, the weavers of tweed cloth were paid a pittance, but the cloth was sold on in major markets like London, by monopolists, at high prices, as if the goods were luxuries.  Pretending that demand is low, to the producers, so that the production can be obtained for a song, while telling consumers that production is scarce and rare, thereby commanding a premium price for it, is an age old margin manipulation.  It’s a wheeze.

It’s not always the case that consistency and uniformity equates to better product, by the way.  If all music was consistent and uniform, or all paintings and books, that would make for a pretty dull world.  What people actually want are personalised, individualised items.  They want something new, fresh and interesting.  That sort of customisation takes people, somewhere along the line.

The low returns made by artists, musicians and makers is a consequence of centuries of effort and narrative to keep the people under control, in thrall to their employers (corporations) and dependent on corporations for the provision of every necessity or frivolity in life, so that corporations and their owners make all the money.  This is nothing short of a con trick.

There are modern corporations whose entire business model and revenue streams depend on co-opting creative outputs from individuals very cheaply (or ideally, for free), but selling that intellectual property cheaply, but in massive quantity, so that they make all the money.  Spotify’s claim to fame, for example, is that it’s cheap enough to deter outright theft, but they make sure the lion’s share of the money earned from distributing other people’s creations goes to themselves, not to the creators.  They can do this because they aggregate the customers and the content and act as gatekeeper between the two constituencies.  By the same token, each consumer and artist is treated as a powerless unit of one, in any negotiations on terms.  These aggregators leverage the accumulated product offerings and customers for their own benefit, simply by standing in between the two groups.  If any customer could find any artist and obtain a license to enjoy their music directly, what would be the value of an aggregator?

Corporate self interest dictates that they spend time, energy and money on ensuring you don’t get any inconvenient ideas like “handmade is better”, or that the makers deserve a bigger share of the profits, that anybody skilled enough can start up as a competitor and that people should be anything more than passive, stupid, complacent, docile consumers and workers, who keep the money flowing upwards to the rentier.  That’s their narrative.  It’s the story they tell to keep things the way they are.

By never attempting to make or create anything, most people have no idea what the task involves.  It’s relatively easy to get vast populations of passive consumers to believe that making and creating are no work at all and that it is all done by software and machines.  The proposition is never tested.  People that have become passive consumers never attempt to create or make a thing, to confirm their beliefs.

People that think factories make things feel no guilt about wasting them, stealing them, throwing them away, breaking and not repairing them and buying new ones, needlessly, as a fashion statement.  This is good for corporate bottom lines, but disastrous for each consumer’s retained net worth and for the environment.  It’s not hard to imagine why people that benefit most from this aberrant consumer behaviour might be busily reinforcing the notion that factories make all things.

Similarly, people that think computers make music and art, without knowing how that could even happen, are content to value it at zero, appropriate it for their own use at no cost to themselves and regard artists and musicians as disposable, replaceable and in endless supply.  The reality, though, is that artists and musicians are unique, we can’t live without art and music and while there are many artists and musicians ready and willing to try to live on thin air, just so that they can create, each individual artist or musician creates something that nobody else can replicate.  The supply of their particular art is exceedingly scarce, in fact.

This is why paintings by Van Gogh are so highly prized today.  Nobody is making them anymore, despite the queue of competent artists willing to give it a try and the presence of so much capital and so many sophisticated software tools and machines that a factory ought to be able to do it.  While factories could (and do) slavishly reproduce Van Gogh’s paintings, no amount of capital can create a brand new one.  History tells us that Van Gogh was not disposable, replaceable or in endless supply.  Rather the opposite.

Lack of Education

If you go through an education system that values only the passing of exams and the three “R”s, with only a derisory amount of education in art and creativity, you could be forgiven for being an idiot.  If you are never taught art, music, making things or how software actually works, or taught that these things don’t really matter, then it’s easy to bamboozle you into thinking it’s all about buying the right software and/or machines and suddenly the products worthy of buying magically appear.  You never learn to value the products of art and creativity, because you have no idea about what’s involved in their production.

Education has discouraged or under-valued free thinkers and creativity, because the education system, funded or politically influenced as it is by the owners of capital, has been concerned with producing compliant workers to slot into industry, like interchangeable parts.  We’re taught to be convenient fodder for the owners of capital to exploit at their leisure.  This is why we think that form filling, administration, office work, financial and property speculation, accountancy, advocacy and production line work is real work.  That’s mostly what we train people to do.  Ironically, it’s not very valuable and people are easily replaced, so employment security has never been lower.

You are never expected to strive to dig out original and challenging ideas or creations from the depths of your soul.  If you learn to do that, it’s by accident and not encouraged by the education system very vigorously.  It’s treated as an aberration and you are screened out from access to higher accomplishments and rewards, in academia.  Arts are not treated as seriously as Maths and Science, yet without creativity, Maths and Science stagnate.

The Result

The result is that people who do make and create are thought to be fraudsters and their creations worthless by a large sector of society who do not make and create things.  Art is thought to be a waste of time – an idea that is confirmed by the lack of money earned by artists as a group.  They see the poverty as a confirmation of their prejudice, not as an artefact of a widespread manipulation.

The artists’ tools are thought to be doing all the work and this is never tested, because those that think this way never try to make or create anything.  They think factories, software and machines make everything, so trying to make anything at all by hand seems illogical to them.  Why would you even do it manually, when machines can do it so much more cheaply and better?  Artists and creators that claim they work hard on their creations are either lying, or taking the long road needlessly.  That’s the common myth.

Artists, makers and musicians are condemned, by their nature, to pursue making and creating things, because they can’t be any other way, yet they are forced to endure the punishments of an economy that is rigged against them and their intellectual property and in favour of the owners of capital and physical property.  Their potential audience and customers, the general public, has been taught that the contribution made by creators is not real work, that their contributions are valueless and optional and that if they stopped making and creating, it would be no big deal, because machines could easily do it instead.  The lies have been effective.  The proof is in the royalty statements of musicians and authors, for example.

I don’t know what to do about this regrettable state of affairs other than attempting to explode the lies and distortions.  Unfortunately, the lies and distortions are such ingrained, widely accepted assumptions, after centuries of reinforcement, that any narrative to the contrary is viewed as insanity.  Yet the undeniable truth remains.  Art and creativity are hard work, they are necessary for humanity to thrive and only the makers can truly own their means of production.

The owners of capital hate those facts a lot.

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Just Going For a Walk

I read something interesting this morning, from Michael Moore.  It was about the benefits of just going for a walk.  To be honest, I didn’t even read the whole thing, because something resonated with me about what he said and I didn’t feel the need to read the entire post.

It’s an amazing thing.  We live such sedentary lives and we’re so pressured to get things done, to cram a lot into our hectic lives and to meet the required standards of physical appearance, weight, health and fitness.  It’s crazy-making.  The thing that makes you resist doing something good for yourself is that it comes with all this baggage.  If you go for a walk, we’re encouraged to believe it has to be for a reason.  It’s either to accelerate weight loss, or to tone up or for some other entirely utilitarian purpose.  With so much pressure in your life already, why would you want just one more pressing obligation, deadline and requirement to perform as directed?  It makes you feel inadequate and doing what you’re supposed to do just reminds you that you were supposed to do it.  It brings into sharp focus how far away from the ideal you currently are.  It’s an admission of not coming up to par.

The thing that Michael Moore said that struck a chord with me is that you can just go for a walk for no reason.  Just walk.  Smell the flowers.  Take in the sights.  See what transpires.  Taking a walk doesn’t have to be for any reason other than the sheer existential pleasure of ambling about.  There’s enjoyment and pleasure in simply moving, breathing and relaxing.

I’ve come to understand that one of the reasons I didn’t like going for a walk was because it was, at least in my mind, for the purpose of going and thinking about things deliberately, so that I could make plans for projects and actions that I could come back and throw myself into.  Sod that!  I already feel exhausted.  Why would I want to come back with a head full of ideas to expend more mental and physical energy than I have?  That feels, to me, like just one more pressure.  Why go for a walk, only to come back with another impossibly long addendum to an all ready out of control “To Do” list?  Why embark on a walk at all if you are not supposed to come back until you have the answer and the solution to the problem du jour?  Too daunting.  It’s like being told to go and stand in the corner and think about what you just did.  The feeling is almost that it’s a form of mental punishment, in fact.

So, for me, the idea of taking a walk for no reason is an epiphany.  I simply hadn’t thought of it that way before.

Now the odd thing about doing anything life-affirming like taking a walk is that there are benefits anyway, only you don’t have to care about what they are.  You will improve your health, in all likelihood.  You are likely to stave off insulin resistance and increase your aerobic capacity and stamina.  You might lose weight.  None of that, though, is the reason or point of taking a walk.  You shouldn’t even be aware of those side effects.  They’re side effects.  The main attraction is that you are going for a walk.  If anybody asks you why, the answer ought to be, “for no particular reason”.

For those with a creative bent (us artists), there are even more benefits to just taking a walk.  Exposure to beauty is conducive to creation.  You will probably gain inspiration, or momentary stillness of mind that lets your best ideas come to the fore, unconsciously, because they aren’t crowded out, for once, by all the noise that usually occupies our minds associated with keeping it all together, staying on schedule, paying our way and making sure our obligations are met.  When you carve out some time to simply walk, your mind is given the serenity and space to do what it does best, which is to come up with new and refreshing approaches, brilliant new ideas, concepts and to find ways of doing things you might have been stuck on.

You learn your local area, when you walk.  You find all the nooks and crannies and hidden gems that are right under your nose, as you routinely and insouciantly breeze past them every day in your car, never noticing them.  You might even meet people or find that your neighbourhood is really interesting.

Going for a walk is an opportunity to be kind to yourself and do something nice for yourself, for a change.  It stops you reading the ads and feeling like you are less than acceptable, unless you buy whatever product is being sold to you in order to fool you into believing that you temporarily belong.  When you go for a walk, you can stop admonishing yourself for your failure to be ideal and start accepting that there is something rather nice about just moving, being and being able to move.  You can take the time out for a walk without carrying the feeling that you should have been doing something else more productive and creative instead.  After a good long walk, you might even sleep more soundly, both from being a little more physically tired and because you have taken the time to still your mind.

I feel motivated to go for walks, armed with this perspective.  I can walk because it’s a beautiful day and let things take care of themselves for a while.  I don’t need to be thinking about how to cause the outcomes I want all the time.  I can just let it all go and simply walk.  It will all be there when I get back, anyway.  Walk because it’s good to be alive.

 

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Delusional

I’ve heard it said that artists are all delusional.  If they think they can make it as an artist, earn a decent living and support a family on what they make through their art alone, they must be away with the fairies.  Clearly, they have no grasp on reality.

Well that might be so, but how delusional is the general population, by comparison?

Most people are blissfully ignorant about the manifold ways in which their health is assaulted on a daily basis, their environment is despoiled, threatening their very existence, they are bamboozled and cheated, the institutions they believe are there to protect them do nothing of the sort, ideas are cynically implanted in their heads which are knowingly false, for profit and that they are entrapped in a perpetual cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat.  They don’t know and they don’t care.  In fact, they’re defiantly proud of their ignorance.  It’s a badge of honour to claim only the most superficial and trivial knowledge of genuine threats to their existence and that of their children, to condone mass choices than materially degrade the quality of life for all and to play along with games that only benefit a very small minority of humanity.  We support the imminent risk of environmental catastrophe and nuclear holocaust because we refuse to face these realities and deal with them effectively.

Most insidious of all the beliefs implanted in their heads is that there is nothing they can do about it.

I’d call that delusional.

At least artists, in their delusional states, produce something of beauty.  The act of creation is healing for the mind and the soul.  Some artists are even aware of the threats to their existence and incorporate that message into their art.  OK, that might be quite an impotent statement of defiance, but it’s not quite as delusional as sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and wearing a self-inflicted blindfold.

Pointing fingers at artists and claiming their choice to pursue their art is delusional, while arguably accurate in the current economic system, is ultimately unfair because all people are somewhat delusional.  Why single out the artists?  It’s the mass delusional state that perpetuates an economic system in which it becomes impossible to even exist, while doing no more harm than producing art.

If most people weren’t quite as delusional about the real and present dangers imposed on us all by the choices they have collectively made, then it wouldn’t be a delusional choice to be an artist.  The fact that it is delusional to believe we can all survive as artists is an artefact of a much bigger delusion – the delusion that we must pay for the right to exist on the planet and that to earn that pay, we must fall in line with what some magical, more powerful people say we must do.  Some people are deluded enough to think that it will all turn out fine, if we simply play along.

Delusional thinking is the default, for humanity.  If artists can make any meaningful contribution whatsoever to life on the planet, it’s in being able to awaken as many people as possible from their mass, psychotic delusions and get them to begin imagining better outcomes.

It’s the ultimate delusion to imagine we can keep going on indefinitely, as we have been doing.

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