The Lost Art of Quiet Contemplation

I have spent a lot of time just waiting around, this past couple of days, engaged as I was in long haul flights or waiting for them.  Waiting offers a unique and interesting opportunity for quiet contemplation, but in my quiet contemplation I’ve noticed something rather disquieting.  Quiet contemplation appears to be a lost art, or at least a fast disappearing one.

People have developed a nervous, involuntary tick that involves the prodding of a little screen on a handheld device.  You see them making little stabbing and swiping motions, while their gaze fixates on the screen just beneath their fingertips.  It’s an odd, jerky, disturbing movement, accompanied by a zombie-like stare and a complete disengagement from the real world around them, as they disappear into a mental bubble of their own making.  This is like a trance, except that it seems to agitate and frustrate the sufferers, rather than soothing and calming them, judging by their facial grimaces and responses.  These little screens have taken extreme self-involvement to new levels of incredibility.

Screen obsessives cry that they are bored, the instant they are not distracted by a continuous stream of utter vacuity.  If they have to sit still, they begin to twitch and fidget and reach for their mobile devices.  The reason they are so irritated is that they have literally lost the ability to be alone with their thoughts and to enjoy the benefits of a little enforced solitude.  They’ve lost their appreciation of the cessation of incoming marketing messages and interpersonal communications.  A life without interruptions seems to have become an intolerable void, in which the afflicted has no way of self-stimulating their own brain and thought processes.  It is as if any moment without the incessant pabulum makes people feel like they’ve ceased to exist.

I’ve written about the benefits of quiet contemplation before, but I think people are genuinely unaware of how much they lose, when they lose the ability to contemplate in quiet solitude.  If they knew what they were giving up, in order to participate in the narcissistic screen-obsession that has overtaken most of the civilised world, they might think again.  At least one hopes they would.  I think it’s a very sad affliction.  Here’s a little of what has been lost:

  • DaydreamingRegular readers of this blog know that I strongly advocate daydreaming and its ability to transport you to other places, times and situations, if only in your mind. Touring the extended, imaginative reaches of your mind is a fun thing to do, which is made possible by a little quiet contemplation time.  I think if we lose the ability to daydream, or lose the habit of it, we’re in danger of losing something that makes us fundamentally human.  When I see people wasting their quiet contemplation time, stabbing on touch screens, I despair a little.  If you cannot daydream then, when there really is little else to do, then when can you do it?
  • ObservingThere is something existentially satisfying in simply noticing the things around you, especially small things that would otherwise be overlooked as insignificant. When you are sitting in quiet contemplation, virtually anywhere you happen to be, there are infinite opportunities to simply observe the things around you.  Being acutely aware of your surroundings is a human trait that was necessary for survival, in the ancestral wilds of the Savannah.  In modern times, our sense of place and awareness of what’s happening around us has been muted and attenuated, as we tune out the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Being overloaded with things to notice has dulled the senses.  In quiet contemplation, however, when you are sitting still and waiting, you get the chance to study your environment in detail, taking note of everything there is to notice.  I believe this puts us back in touch with our ancient nature, a once familiar sense of being, where we had a heightened awareness of threats and treats.  Trying to discover the subtle visual delights of your immediate surroundings is a very nice way to spend some quiet time.
  • People watchingPeople are endlessly fascinating creatures and quietly, discreetly observing their faces, body language and interactions can be very entertaining. It’s also very life-affirming to realise that others are much the same as you are.  Foibles and grace are both on display for the avid people-watcher to observe.  You can connect empathically with people that you simply watch and admire.  There is amusement and wonderment available in equal measure.  Small children, learning and expressing their curiosity are as interesting to watch as are older people becoming frail and infirm with the passing years.  The egotistical preening, attitudes and postures of younger poseurs is also a thing to behold.  When you have some time to lose yourself in quiet contemplation, remarking to yourself at how the people around you unconsciously speak and behave is a very interesting and stimulating thing to do, provided you avoid being a creep about it.  Always respect other people’s right to privacy and space.
  • Just listeningSometimes, if you close your eyes and just listen, you can surprise yourself at the sounds you have mentally tuned out and ignored. Being aware of those sounds anew, tuning in on them and focusing on really hearing them is a nice exercise in awareness and a great way to intensify your aural senses.  We are bombarded by audible clutter, day in and day out, yet taking the time to really listen to one’s environment can give you a sense of heightened belonging to the world you inhabit.  There are both unpleasant and beautiful noises to hear, if you care to listen.  Seeing if you can zero in on a sound of interest strains your binaural sonic location abilities.  It’s a good thing to do.  In ancient times, human beings relied on being able to sense predators early enough to take evasive action and to hear where water was, at a distance.  Hearing is an important sense and using some quiet contemplation time to exercise it is good for you, I believe.
  • Organising your thoughtsIf you’re like most people, there are some matters upon which your mind is a clutter of disordered, disorganised thoughts and ideas. That leads to a sense of confusion and indecision, because you simply cannot tell what you think, given the conflicting ideas inside your own mind.  A very good use of quiet contemplation time is to sift those thoughts, methodically, or else in a gestalt fashion, to think about what you think.  Going through the pros and cons, or exercising the arguments in favour and against, can help you reach clarity and a deeper understanding.  There is nothing quite as satisfying as starting with a jumbled mass of poorly organised ideas and ending up with a lucid mental schema that organises everything comprehensively.  The “a-ha” or “eureka” moment is worth the time spent in quiet contemplation, organising your thoughts.  Often, the very attempt at doing so reveals underlying, hidden thoughts that were the obstacle all along and which you had suppressed or overlooked.  Clarifying what you think is a thing that few people seem to know how to do, anymore and it reveals itself in their confused, contradictory viewpoints and opinions.  I think intelligence relies greatly on spending at least some time organising your thoughts.  Time spent in quiet contemplation is the perfect opportunity to do so.
  • Imaginative rehearsalAlso known as pre-visualisation, the ability to go through the steps and motions, in your imagination, before the actual attempt, can have as much effect on subsequently properly performing a task in real life, as rehearsing it physically. The chance to rehearse, in your imagination, is valuable.  It lets you foresee and overcome potential obstacles and allows you to feel and savour your success, providing a tangible goal, in your emotions, for successfully carrying out the task in question for real.  Being able to feel like a winner, before the attempt, increases your odds of actually being a winner, when you try.  Being stuck somewhere, with nothing to do, is a perfect opportunity to engage in some imaginative rehearsal of some important future challenge or other, so that you can prepare yourself for it, ahead of time.  Squandering that opportunity, by stabbing on a little touch screen distractedly instead, seems like an egregious waste of a perfect chance.
  • Theoretical designJust as you can rehearse tasks, in your imagination, you can design things, too. Most people think of designers as designing their designs on pieces of paper attached to a drawing board, but that’s only one way to do it.  Much design work can be accomplished in your mind’s eye.  You can manipulate shapes and concepts as easily as one another and think about aesthetic and practical options in your imagination.  Some of the very best designs have been designed in a person’s imagination, exclusively.  You don’t need to commit a design to paper (or a composition to manuscript) until it is wholly constructed in your mind.  Thereafter, transcribing it to tangible form is akin to taking dictation.  There is little to edit and correct, if you can see the completed design, in detail, in your own head.  There are few better times to do intellectual, imaginative design work than when you are engaged in quiet contemplation.  Waiting for something to happen is a good time to do this.
  • Seeking inspirationSometimes, sitting quietly and alone, lost in your own thoughts, is the best way to seek inspiration. It’s amazing the things that draw your attention, which stimulate subsequent inspirational and imaginative thoughts and ideas.  Occasionally, when stuck for inspiration, the act of quiet contemplation can bring inspiration forth.  Of course, another way is to get on with doing whatever it is that you need inspiration to start, anyway.  In the latter case, the same process is at work.  By starting to do what you think you lack inspiration to do, your mind quietly contemplates things, while you are lost in the flow of actually doing the work, and so inspiration comes, because your mind has been stilled and calmed by performing the work itself.  Being in the flow is very similar to being in a state of quiet contemplation and knowing this duality gives you the opportunity to conjure up inspiration, seemingly from thin air, simply by quietly thinking about it.
  • Getting new ideasInspiration and new ideas, or innovations, are very closely related. Just as you can conjure up the inspiration to move forward with your imaginative or intellectual work, you can also allow your quiet mind to connect the seemingly unrelated and find patterns in observations, thereby spawning or giving rise to the thought processes that lead to new ideas.  Simply having a quiet think about a problem or challenge can be enough of a stimulus for your brain to work away at the issue, subconsciously, producing a breakthrough concept, seemingly out of nowhere.  The quiet contemplation that you have been engaged in has given your mind, especially your subconscious, the spare capacity it needed to be brilliant.  Indeed, brilliance is often a manifestation of finding a way to devote your available brain power to a specific problem, rather than dissipating it with distractions.  The act of engaging in quiet contemplation is actually the same as releasing some of your thinking power to use for coming up with bright, new ideas.  Stabbing your touch screen with your index finger is a way of disrupting that brain power releasing state.
  • Meditation (of a kind)They say that meditation is good for you and they are probably right about that, but the only meditation I really know how to do is just being alone and still, with my own thoughts. If that counts as meditation, then good.  It certainly produces a feeling of well-being and of releasing cares and worries.  I think proper meditation does roughly the same thing.  Given the similarity of quiet contemplation and what the mystics and gurus call meditation, I contend that sitting quietly, waiting somewhere, thinking about nothing in particular, produces the same effects and benefits as meditation and therefore, is a form of meditation.  Whatever the semantics, the feelings it produces are undoubtedly good for you and far healthier for you than dealing with constant incoming messages, minutiae and gossip.  For one thing, there is no requirement to respond emotionally.  You don’t have to get wound up and there is very little risk of confronting a troll, or having to deal with one of the inevitable misunderstandings that arise because of the brevity of our interpersonal communications, these days.
  • Being present in the momentAn important aspect of quiet contemplation is the ability to temporarily uncouple from and ignore the past and the future. You don’t have to think about them at all (though you can, if you want).  The benefit of imagining that there is no past or future, for a moment, is that you can focus all of your attention on the present moment, which all the psychologists and therapists claim is very good for your mental health.  You also have the chance to respond to other people, listening intently to them and engaging them in meaningful discussion and debate.  The ability to quietly contemplate gives you the opportunity to respond to other people’s attempts to connect with you, on a human level, with immediacy and sincerity, undiluted by needing to think about responding to incoming messages on your mobile phone.  You can be there, with them and experience the moment to the full, without having half your mind somewhere else, thinking about something else.  The best benefit of learning to engage in quiet contemplation is that it hones your ability to focus on just one person or one thing, right here, right now.
  • Practicing and practising gratitudeOne of the best things about quietly contemplating things is that you can choose to count your blessings. The more you put this gratitude into action, the better you get at it.  In other words, you both practise and practice gratitude.  They say that being grateful for all the good things you have in your life is a great way to prevent yourself from focusing too much on the things that trouble or dissatisfy you.  It allows you to restore a healthy perspective, by reminding yourself that, for all your woes and challenges, so much has gone exactly the way you would have wished.  Quiet contemplation, used for this purpose, is time well spent and a positive benefit to your mental health.  Playing with your iPhone apps probably isn’t as valuable, by comparison.
  • Feeling calm and relaxedThis is my favourite reason to indulge in quiet contemplation. There is a great deal of calm and relaxation that comes from sitting still, quietly, making little sound or movement, listening, watching, imagining and being lost and alone with your thoughts.  You will notice your heart rate will fall, so your blood pressure will probably tend toward stability.  You will experience a sense of tranquillity and a dream-like, almost trance-like state in which your senses are heightened, rather than dulled.  With heightened senses comes an aesthetic satisfaction, as you are able to see, hear and feel the things around you in greater emotional definition.  It is the same sensation as living a high-fidelity life, where every sound, colour, shape and sense is pleasing and saturated with meaning.  The ability to relax yourself is very important, in the high stress world we inhabit.  Being able to resolve perceived threats by calmly putting them to one side and sitting still, quietly contemplating happier, more pleasing things is a talent we should all cherish and retain.  It can be an antidote to frenzy, whereas interacting with your mobile phone simply adds to it.

We glorify looking important, in demand and busy, when the greater value is to be found, ironically, in finding the ability to disconnect from the immediate demands of the world and to inhabit our own mind purposefully, with the desire of contemplating things that we wish to think about.  Therein lays the route to accomplishment, betterment, intelligence and a satisfying intellectual life.  The fruits of the thinking that takes place, during periods of quiet contemplation, can materially impact our lives, for the better.  Through quiet contemplation, we learn to challenge, evaluate, analyse and visualise.  Our senses and our thinking are both sharpened and refined.  We become more intelligent, because of the time we spend engaged in purposeful mental exercise.  In contrast, the time we spend merely entertaining and distracting ourselves is our most valuable intellectual thinking time wantonly frittered away, for little return.

The time you spend in quiet contemplation can be extremely valuable, enjoyable, useful and rewarding.  Rather than looking for ways to avoid it, finding all the opportunities you can to engage in it is probably the more fruitful way of living.  It’s worth putting away the touch screens, losing the fear of being bored and plunge immersively, with enthusiasm, into being alone and lost in your own thoughts.

People that don’t want you to think for yourself, so that you become and remain endlessly docile, manipulable and pliable, have done their level best to get you to forget the art of quiet contemplation.  To stick to it, vehemently, is an act of defiance, an assertion of freedom and an expression of disobedience toward and contempt for those that hold the rest of us all in contempt.  Quiet contemplation is essential for the maintenance of human dignity.  I urge you to continue to practice quiet contemplation, for the sake of humanity.

 

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Trade Secrets

I had the rare opportunity to spend a delightful morning with two dear artist friends recently, a husband and wife, now in their early eighties or late seventies, that I have known all my life.  They both paint regularly, in a purpose-built art studio, made out of what was their garage.  It’s a nice space.  There’s a skylight, to let in the dazzling Australian daylight, an air conditioner, for those humid, languid summer days and crisp Australian winters and additional insulation, fitted to keep the studio comfy cosy.  One entire wall is peg board, where they can easily hang their paintings and move them around.  Their two easels face one another, so that they can paint all day, share cups of tea and biscuits and work on their paintings.  A table, holding their brushes, palettes and paints, sits between them.

My friends didn’t know I painted too, which is not surprising, given I only picked it up since I left Australia to live in England.  We spent the morning discussing tools and techniques, comparing approaches to canvas preparation, paint application and drawing.  It was a really warming discussion.  She paints landscapes and is what you would call “a natural”.  Both are largely self-taught, but he made a particular point of talking about his approach.  In his view, painting is only interesting while he continues to push forward, experimenting and learning.  You could see this in his work.  There were interesting textures and perspectives in all of them, but little repetition of subject matter, themes and even techniques.  A steady progression in technical ability was immediately apparent, as you viewed his paintings in roughly chronological order.

Neil remarked that he had found most artists he had encountered, over the years, particularly those that were better known or professionals, jealously guarded their trade secrets.  They were reluctant to discuss the mediums, grounds, tools and techniques they used and even less forthcoming about demonstrating how they painted, for fear of being copied or eclipsed.  That seemed strange to me.  Could copying have really been so rampant?  Was their self-confidence so low that they believed they needed to keep how they worked a strict secret?  Was it simply a lack of generosity of spirit?  Did they truly believe that their notoriety, fame and success depended crucially on not revealing how they went about creating their works?  In short, did they feel fraudulent, within themselves and were they afraid of being exposed as such, if their simple and straight forward techniques were revealed?  Did they think the magic, mystery and fascination would evaporate?

I’ve found the opposite.  I have encountered many artists only too willing to share their techniques and approaches generously, secure in the knowledge that the uniqueness of their works derives from their tastes and choices, not necessarily from the materials they use or how they are applied.  They know that you would have to have been a clone and lived a life identical to theirs, experiencing everything they experienced, to produce the same mind set, assumptions, inspirations and ideas.  Clearly the odds are against.  It is an absurdity to think that this is even a possibility.

The artists that share how they do what they do, I find, tend to understand that an original is an original and a copy is a copy.  It even looks like a copy, lacking the verve and commitment of the original.  “Pastiche” is written all over it.  There is something indefinable and distinctive about an original, which is rarely present in even the best imitations.  Knowing that, there would seem to be very little risk in showing somebody which paints you use and how you put them on the canvas.  The artists I have met seem more secure and comfortable with their artistic output.

I think it is better to bring the whole population of artists up to speed with new tools, techniques and experimental approaches.  There is so much to pick and choose from and the chances of anybody exactly copying somebody else’s technique and producing works that are better are miniscule.  In the end, every artist gravitates toward a unique, personal melange of techniques, sticking to the ones that work best for them.  I’ve never seen two painters paint in exactly the same way.  There have never yet been two identical collections of paints, brushes and mediums produced in any gathering of artists that I have been a part of.  Everybody uses something different.  The range of choices is practically unlimited.

Keeping your technique and materials a trade secret might seem like a very sensible and protective thing to do, but the price you pay is stagnation, because nobody shares their secrets with you, either.  It’s a give and take equation.  If you fail to give generously of your accumulated knowledge, you cannot expect anybody else to give theirs back to you.  In the end, you are left in ignorance of things that work well for others, which might transform your own works and take you that next leap forward.

Part of the joy of painting is in the community or tribe of like-minded people you share time with.  Those connections and communication can be lubricated and facilitated by the ice breaking effect of talking about brushes, palette knives, texture gels and paint brands.  Don’t miss the opportunity to bond with your fellow artists.  It enriches everybody.  The thing about ideas is that you get to keep them, even when you give them away, but now everybody has something more.

It is for this reason that I write, from time to time, about how I go about painting, making music and so on.  My ideas might not be the best and only ideas, but in sharing them, other people may be inspired to try them, modify and improve on them and they might share their findings with me.  They also might reject them entirely and be inspired to try something else.  It’s all good.

I encourage you to unlock your trade secrets and share them magnanimously with your fellow artists.  Good things will come back to you, if you do, I have found.

 

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Sleep

Health professionals, the world over, will tell you how important to health and work performance getting enough sleep is.  There have been countless studies and it is an accepted fact that not getting enough sleep leads to degraded performance in everything you do, a shutting down of your creative and imaginative powers and a general decline in your health and well-being.  Sleep is very, very important.

In the real world, however, legions of part time artists cut into their sleep in order to create.  They work day jobs and commute, which takes up most of their waking hours.  They do this to earn a living and give them the money they need to pursue their creative interests.  Feeling a pressing need to be creative and to build a life not completely centred around their work (a healthy thing to do, from a stress reduction point of view and also a good way to insulate yourself from the pain and devastation that the loss of your job can bring), artists of all kinds work late into the night, stealing their sleep hours, so that they can produce something that pleases them, all of their own, which asserts their creative and artistic identities.  No boss.  No orders.  Just the pure bliss of conceiving of an idea and realising it.

The trouble is: you cannot live without enough sleep indefinitely.  The loss of sleep will soon make it nearly impossible to continue to perform adequately, in your day job.  It will also affect the art you are trying to create by moonlight.  Pretty soon, both your work products and art works will begin to suffer.  You will feel terrible constantly and fight with fatigue, all the time that you are not actually asleep.  That’s a terrible tread mill to be on.

It turns out that if you can protect your sleep hours as sacrosanct and actually achieve a good quality of sleep (letting go of the frustration of not creating something), then your art improves, your state of mind and well-being improves and your work performance goes back to being satisfactory.  Yes, you might still be burning the candle at both ends and not creating as much art as you would like, but you are less dogged by ill health and don’t have to fear employment performance reviews quite so much.  You rediscover your muse, inspiration, imagination and creativity.  Experimentation comes more easily.  Your art is much better.

The balance is upset when you have a day job that is highly stressful, where the boss is a madman or where overtime is expected, donated from personal time usually.  Then, it becomes virtually impossible to rest and get a good quality of sleep, irrespective of the actual hours spent in bed and you lose the chance to create your moonlight artworks completely.  You are robbed of the opportunity to create any art worth a damn at all.  What could such a situation possibly be telling you?

Maybe it’s telling you you’re in the wrong job or commuting too far.  Maybe you should get a different job, work less hours or concentrate more seriously on your art, perhaps even to the extent of pursuing it professionally, as your main occupation.  If you find you are driven to create, that’s not an incidental thing.  That’s a vitally important message from your inner self, telling you that in order to thrive, as a human being, you need to be producing art.  If you must, then you should.

Not producing art, in such circumstances, is a violation of your every instinct and reason for being.  You should take your vocation and calling seriously and structure your life so that both your art and your sleeping hours feature prominently and are protected.  That might mean less money and far less security, but you will live a longer, healthier life, I submit, free from the frustration of denying what your heart most desires.

There is a lot of satisfaction to be gained from making art.  If you make it, having had adequate rest, your art will be the best it can be.  When and if the dictates of working life prevent you from making good art and sleeping enough, then your day job has taken over your life tyrannically and allowing it to continue to rule and dominate your existence indefinitely is a sure way to make yourself sick.  That sort of job is of no benefit to you.  The money might be good, but it is costing you your health and frustrating your dearest wish to produce creative things.  Why should anybody have to live like that?  What is the point of earning the money, if all it provides is a miserable existence, rather than a pleasant, fulfilling life?

You can be living an impoverished life, even if you have earned a lot of money.  Poverty is not only about having little money.  It’s about being without options and self-determination, subject to the whims and charity of others.  You can be poor, even when supposedly rich.  When spending your entire existence doing something other than that which your heart tells you that you must do, just for the money, you live a diminished, hemmed-in, controlled, constrained, unhappy life.

It’s not easy to find a way to make your art pay, but it must surely be easier than living with poor health and a feeling that you should have been somewhere else, doing something else, the whole time.  Dying with regrets must be the most painful and expensive thing there can be.  You might struggle financially, but at least you will have the satisfaction of leaving a tangible legacy of art you made behind, which you can be proud of and which might make people remember you, when you’re gone.  The stock of beauty, in the world, will have been increased and that’s a job worth doing.  Living every day feeling rested and with a smile on your face, because you are doing what you love to do most, cannot be priced in dollars and cents.

Sleep well, my friends.

 

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The Thing About Intelligence

Intelligence is a peculiar thing.  Some people obviously have it, but it is still a difficult thing to define precisely.  While intelligence tests can quantify intelligence, to some degree, there are people with various different kinds of intelligence who are sometimes overlooked by these metrics.  Intelligence comes in many forms.

Some artists are highly intelligent, but it’s definitely not a pre-requisite for being a great artist, or for making great art.  In fact, intelligence, as it is traditionally understood, can sometimes be a hindrance.  Over intellectualising, while failing to directly observe, can cause artists to paint what they think they see, instead of what they really see, for example.  Many a drafting error has been due to following an idea of what something supposedly looks like, instead of observing the shadows and lines as they actually appear.

While many artists might lack traditional literacy or numeracy, they may have highly developed spatial awareness or be able to see lucidly and differently.  Is that intelligence?  I submit that it is.  Any intellectual gift that derives from cognitive capacities, which manifests as an outstanding characteristic is, I would argue, a flavour of intelligence.  People who believe themselves to be stupid are often highly intelligent, if you broaden the definition in this way.

Other forms of intelligence, beyond pure academic or intellectual ability and related accomplishments, include very useful human traits such as emotional intelligence, empathy, having insight and intuition, being imaginative or having sensitivity toward others.  Even social skills, such as being able to interact with all sorts of diverse people, harmoniously, are a form of intelligence that is both valuable and sadly lacking, in people traditionally thought to be intelligent.

While people that possess intelligence often times think of themselves as superior to other people, the truth is that intelligence doesn’t entitle you to anything.  It’s a nice, one-dimensional advantage, in certain scenarios, but it does not separate you from the rest of humanity in any significant way, in much the same way as being pretty or athletic are nice traits to have, but don’t make you a better human being, simply because of your good genetic fortune.

Many of the people that would cleanse the world of the less intelligent, on the grounds of “improving the species” are talking from a point of view of a sense of self-superiority, entitlement and sheer, bloody-minded prejudice.  The root cause of their fervour is an extreme unwillingness to share.  Their ideas on intelligence are worthless.  What they demonstrate is their lack of identification with the common human condition and their merciless, calloused indifference to the lives of others.  Propagating these traits does not improve the species.

If you spend any time with extremely smart people, you soon come to realise that the very smartest people are nowhere near smart enough.  They still make horrible, human mistakes, just like everybody else.  Artistically, they also make some serendipitous mistakes, too.  Intelligence does not give you the ability to live a life without error, nor should it.  Mistakes are how we learn.  Believing oneself to be too intelligent to make mistakes is sheer arrogance and self-delusional.  It is the ego speaking.  Not only do the most intelligent people make the most catastrophic mistakes, they should make them, provided they have the intellectual honesty to put their mistakes right, where possible and to learn from them.

A manager I worked for used to characterise some people as “clever stupid”, meaning they were intellectually adept, but demonstrably capable of doing the most imbecilic things.  In some cases, they were deliberately going against their own intelligence, out of some form of misplaced spite.  I think there is some validity to the observation.  Not everyone that is intelligent makes good choices.

Intelligence, you see, does not guarantee integrity or intellectual honesty.  Intelligent people often lack the ability or inclination to own their own choices.  Intelligence and intellectual honesty are two very different things.

It has to be said that intelligence often invites persecution.  Intelligent kids are frequently shunned by their peers and preyed upon for being “geeky”.  It’s never easy being different and even more so in cultures that promote uniformity and which struggle with accommodating diversity (or deliberately decide not to, as a matter of doctrine or policy).  When politicians invite people to target minorities, through their vote-winning hate speech, some of the unwitting recipients of the hostility are the intelligentsia.  Intelligent people are deeply misunderstood, particularly by sections of the community who don’t share that experience of being able to grasp things rapidly.

Under dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, the intelligentsia are always rounded up and imprisoned or tortured, by the tyrants.  They are not persecuted for the views they hold, which are often sympathetic to the regime in power.  Instead, they are punished because of the potential power of their dissent, should they exercise it.  Tyrants know that the intelligent are able to construct rational arguments against tyranny and can be very persuasive with their words.  They are a danger to tyrants because they have the intellectual abilities to expose the truth and shine light on a lot of deceptions and lies, which tyrants rely upon to maintain their grip on power.  Intelligent dissidents can swing public opinion rapidly and decisively.

As great as the personal peril might be, the intelligentsia should always be prepared to speak out, despite the risk of persecution, because if they cower away and hide from tyranny, the tyrants run rampant.  Silence is the same as support.  As a consequence of their inaction, in the face of tyranny, the next generation, their children, inherit a more intractable mess, just as my generation did, because people of my parents’ generation were not prepared to openly question deeply embedded belief systems, doctrine and dogma.  It is important to survive (a dead dissident can’t change society very much), but if you can accomplish that, then speaking out helps to undermine the power of those who maintain it through violence and intimidation alone.  Cowardice is not a virtue, though having the cunning to choose one’s battles wisely and to survive to fight another day may be.

When intelligence is used for evil and other intelligent people do not speak out against it, there is a generational downward spiral, where evil begets still more evil, since tyranny becomes the accepted norm.  Ever greater levels of tyrannical excess are inevitable, if left unchecked by the intelligentsia.  The balance between surviving the vicissitudes of an evil regime and working to undermine it is a very delicate one, but also the most important work of the intelligentsia.  You have to make intelligent choices.

In my opinion, the bad behaviour of some intelligent people invites the general populace to regard all intelligent people unfavourably and with suspicion.  Intelligence can be used as a tool of deception and manipulation.  People are rightfully wary of anybody that can exert that sort of influence over them.  Because of this, intelligent people should be prepared for a life where one encounters prejudice and misjudgements regularly.

Indeed, it takes some intelligent people quite some time to adapt to the fact that most people aren’t quite as quick on the uptake as they are.  It is all too easy to become frustrated and impatient, or else to become self-important and arrogant.  Neither are attractive behaviours.  If having intelligence teaches a person anything, it is how to have patience and tolerance.  You should always be prepared to explain yourself again, slowly and lucidly and to allow the time it takes for less mentally agile people to catch the thread of your argument.  There is no guarantee that they ever will, either.

Although related, intelligence is not the same thing as cleverness.  The latter implies dexterity or facile skill, rather than sheer brain power.  Many people are very clever, though not particularly intellectually gifted.  By the same token, many intelligent people are useless with tools, a danger to themselves and others in the workshop and incapable of grasping how to perform simple, practical, manual tasks.  One can apply one’s intelligence to learning how to be clever, but a strange majority seemingly do not.

Because of the power of repetitive training and diligent application to the task, it is possible to become clever, in the sense of being skilled and adept, without necessarily being highly intelligent.  Intelligent people who do not think they need to apply themselves and that their intelligence will see them through, often fail to gain key skills.  It’s a sad fact that intelligent people often overlook these truths.

Intelligence does not grant the intelligent a monopoly on morality, ethics, insight and understanding.  Those intellectual elites and technocrats that feel they should be running things, ignoring the wishes and will of the majority, are unable to lay claim to legitimacy, because intelligence does not equate to having a sound moral compass, to being ethical and humane or to possessing unique insight and rectitude.  Technocrats that assert their power on the grounds of their superior intelligence are little more than violent bullies.  If a power structure has no legitimacy, it should be openly challenged and dismantled.

My view is that, on the whole, it is better to be intelligent than not.  In fact, it could be better (though not necessarily so) if more of the population were more intelligent, provided they understood the very real limits of being intelligent.  It feels good to be able to grasp and learn things quickly and to be able to understand and analyse situations with alacrity and lucidity.  Being able to express one’s deepest thoughts succinctly and eloquently is also a benefit of intelligence.  It also feels nice to live inside an intelligent mind, in your quiet, more private moments.  Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody could experience that feeling?

That said, I wouldn’t suggest, for one moment, that the eugenicists are right.  In fact, I think they are blatantly wrong.  Selectively culling and breeding, to raise the general level of intelligence in the population, is abhorrent and ought to be to everybody that considers himself to be intelligent.  It is, I imagine, equally nice to live a simple life, without intellectual cares and untroubled by thinking too much.  I’m fairly sure that everybody experiences moments of lucid insight, at some time in their lives, regardless of their nominal intelligence.  Such epiphanies can be life changing.

If you are intelligent and have the ability to see things more clearly, through having your intelligence, I believe you have a responsibility to make efforts to raise the ambient level of everybody’s understanding.  They might not believe or trust you, but you should be prepared to put what you know in front of them.  At least then they can make a more informed choice.  Keeping what you perceive to yourself denies others the benefit of your insight.

Bear in mind, though, when explaining your insights to others, that people who don’t fully understand things you understand in depth will insist that you don’t understand at all.  This is just one of those inevitable obstacles associated with seeing things that others overlook.  They’re pretty sure that their perceptions are acute and accurate, when they may not be.  Nobody is immune from self-delusion.

If you have intelligence, I think it should be worn lightly.  After all, there is so much to learn and to know and nobody can learn and know it all.  Having a little advantage, in one’s intellectual capacities, says nothing about how much knowledge and experience you can amass.  All of that takes time and application.  There will always be something you know next to nothing about.

Being intelligent doesn’t guarantee that you will also have physical beauty and dexterity.  There are a lot of ordinary looking, clumsy people that are highly intelligent.  Having physical beauty and dexterity can sometimes matter a lot, to the making of some forms of art.  They can also matter to certain people, who may be potential consumers of your art.  If you are intelligent, but not particularly beautiful, as determined and dictated by society’s current normalised ideas of what is beautiful, it can feel unjust and unfair.  For all your intellectual prowess, you are still overlooked and rejected.  That’s just the way it is.  Evolution works to preserve many diverse human traits.  Mother Nature does not have to agree with your assertion that intellectual ability is the only one worth preserving, or even the most important one.

What you can have, if you have intelligence, is a beautiful mind.  A beautiful mind is not exactly the same thing as an intelligent one, but you can develop an intelligent mind into a beautiful one, if you are prepared to work hard at it.  Anyone can develop a beautiful mind, regardless of their intelligence.  Physical beauty, in the absence of a beautiful mind, is not actually very beautiful.

Thinking deeply about things is still a choice, even if you are intelligent.  It doesn’t follow that, just because you are intelligent, you will necessarily ruminate on the big questions.  It is perfectly possible to be intelligent, but intellectually indolent and wilfully ignorant.  Some of the smartest people, that there are, offer valueless opinions and extremely limited insights.  They use their intelligence in other ways.  Sometimes those ways benefit humanity, but sometimes not.

Having intelligence is also not the same thing as having wisdom and experience.  Both of those take time to accumulate.  Intelligence can help with noticing what it is you must learn and add to your stock of wisdom, but you don’t get wisdom and experience just for having intelligence.  It’s not that easy.  People who have intelligence often mistake their intelligence for wisdom, but wisdom takes time to mature.  Young, intelligent people are rarely wise.

If you possess intelligence, it can tempt you into a life of unbridled control freakery, but no amount of intelligence gives you the ability to control and respond to every situation you will encounter in life.  If you think about it, why should intellectual abilities give you any leverage over external events that happen without anybody’s control?  Even if somebody else is controlling and causing events that impinge upon you, why should intelligence be the tool that can resist or reverse those events?  It might be, but equally well might not be.  In any case, why would you seek to control the lives of others, just because you possess intelligence?  How is that in any way legitimate?  Your intelligence does not trump anybody else’s right to self determination.

Some people don’t value intelligence at all; in themselves or in others.  They aren’t interested in it and don’t appreciate it.  If your identity is strongly associated with your intelligence, it can lead to painful rejections.  Some people will see your intelligence as nothing.  When your identity is bound up with your intelligence, seeing your intelligence as nothing is tantamount to seeing you as nothing.  It can be nullifying, very hurtful and can damage your self-confidence, but there is little you can do about it.  Some people just don’t respect intelligence.  Even if they value it, they may value other traits more highly.  If you don’t happen to have those other traits, it can lead to the same conclusion.

It is my fervent belief that you owe it to the rest of humanity to use your intelligence to help humanity and to better its condition, not to manipulate, deceive and humiliate your fellow Earth inhabitants.  Not everybody agrees and many use their intelligence to bamboozle, defraud and degrade their fellow man, but I think that is an irresponsible and inhumane application of one’s intellectual abilities.  When you are capable of doing so much that is beneficial, it seems particularly lazy and reprehensible to instead add to the burden of woes that humanity struggles beneath.  You might obtain some sort of twisted, perverted satisfaction from being able to exert your power, thanks to your intelligence, but it’s a very poor sort of victory that signifies very little.

Edifying humanity, through the application of your intelligence, is far more satisfying to far more people.  Those that don’t want to share, of course, choose self-satisfaction over maximising general satisfaction, but they sacrifice human connection in the process.  While they think this is not important, actually connectedness is at the heart of what it means to be human.  In shunning that, they become less human.

You can use your intelligence for good or for evil.  It is my heartfelt plea to you that you choose to do good over evil.  We don’t need any more megalomaniacal schemes or schemers.  The planet reached saturation point some time ago and there are more than enough already.  Do something worthwhile with your intellect.  Benefit as many people as you can, not just yourself.  Sharing your gifts generously and widely feels much better than keeping your gifts to yourself.

Everybody can learn, improve and be the best person they can be.  You don’t need a great deal of intelligence to do it, just some, though extra intelligence can help.  What it mainly takes is will.

Use your intelligence to make good art.

 

 

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Create While You Can

I know I have written about this before, but recently I have been confronted with the true reality of losing one’s creative powers.  There can be few things more heart breaking than seeing a previously creative person lose their powers of creativity, as they age.

My father, in his younger years, was prodigiously creative.  It was a priority for him to construct his creative space and to amass all the tools that would make his creative outpourings possible.  This was accomplished by a series of small, bootstrapping stages, until he had a well equipped workshop and the space to make whatever he wanted.  That space and all the tools are still there, but they have fallen silent.  Now in his eighties, my father has lost the strength, keenness of eyesight, steadiness of hand and the short term memory needed to make the things he used to make.

He built the house, the workshop and every piece of furniture in the house; by hand.  At the peak of his creativity, he landscaped our property, extended the house and workshop and grew vegetables in the custom built, five-tiered vegetable garden.  His woodworking skills were second to none and often used to earn additional income.  What he couldn’t build, especially with wood, wasn’t worth building.

There were seemingly no limits to his capabilities.  He acted as plumber, electrician, carpenter, joiner, plasterer, bricklayer, concrete contractor, landscape gardener, designer, painter and decorator, in order to realise his dreams.  All of those tools are still around.  Any one of us could move into his workshop and do any of that work, without needing to get a single additional tool.  He taught me a lot.

The truly tragic thing is that my father can still recognise excellence in workmanship and can marvel at the fine quality of the craftsmanship in the furniture in his house, but he has little sense that he made it.  His sense of accomplishment, upon which much of his identity had once relied, has diminished as the reality of his creations has slipped from his consciousness.  Reminding him that he had once built all of these things and expressing gratitude for what he taught me brought a smile of recognition to his face.  He was able to marvel, anew, at his outstanding feats of construction, design and finish and feel pride once more, at jobs well done.

My friend posted something on my timeline, on Facebook, today.  It was acutely relevant to older artists that lose their powers of creativity and who even forget what they once accomplished.  She said that all anyone wants in this world is to feel valued, to feel needed and to feel like they matter to someone.  They want to feel like they are still a part of something.  Never a truer word has been spoken.  As artists, we all long to feel valued and needed and that we matter.  We seek that affirmation largely by presenting the world with the best, most beautiful things we can make and we hope that they and we will, therefore, be embraced by humanity and permitted to belong.

I also feel that overlooked artists, who are undervalued and underappreciated, whose works are never viewed or praised, who might be misunderstood and misconstrued, suffer the indignity and loneliness of forever being an outsider – of never quite belonging and feeling that they are a part of something.  They make their best things and present them, but meet with indifference or ignorance.  That’s hard.  There are so many people out there in the world just craving a bit of human contact.  In their efforts to connect, their extended hand of friendship, via their artworks, is often shunned.  It’s a very cruel and hurtful rejection.

Denying those connections, on the arbitrary grounds of one’s peculiar personal aesthetic tastes, forgets that we are human and that the artist is human too.  Whether or not you like what the artist has made, you have no excuse to deny human connection and contact to somebody willing to expose their vulnerability, by offering their art for your enjoyment and approval.  All too often, critics reject the art, belittle the artist, deride their efforts and pour scorn on their claims to be creative.  Why don’t you just whip them?  Artists, by making art, are saying, in effect, “Please like me and like what I think and represent.”  This artistic ability fades all too quickly, in reality.

An artist, who can no longer make art as they once did, suffers the further torment of losing their means of extending their friendship to humanity and of asking to be included, valued, needed, wanted and appreciated.  That’s a significant loss of emotional communication.  Perhaps the only way you knew of seeking human contact and connection falls mute.  How else do you then express your desire to be significant to the rest of humanity, or at least accepted by it?

Like my friend, I am a big believer in giving big hugs.  Older people, artists included, often comment that they haven’t had a hug in ages.  We owe it to those that have created and communicated so much, in the past, to recognise their offerings, their fellowship and their importance to the cause of creating more beauty in what can be a very ugly world.  They deserve a hug.  We should remind them of their accomplishments, when their own sense of pride in their achievements fails.

It is up to us, who can still create, to ensure that retired artists, who are debilitated and enfeebled by age, are celebrated for the amazing, imaginative, glorious things they once did and grant them the sense of feeling valued, needed and wanted.  Make them know that what they created mattered and by implication, that they matter too.

What happened to my father will, inevitably, happen to me too, one day, I suppose.  Hopefully that day is in the relatively far future, but you can never tell.  I feel a deep need to create whatever I can, while I can, so that I extend as much of myself out into the world, through the things I create.   I need to feel valued and appreciated too, let’s face it.

I have not managed to create a workspace as satisfactory as his, nor have I amassed the tools to create everything I feel I must, in such a way that they are accessible and usable.  I’ve made mistakes and compromises.  However, like him during his bootstrapping period, I have enough at hand to create many of the things I need to create.  It is important to get on with that, because the opportunity fades away, in time.

At the same time, it is vitally important to do so, without sacrificing the vital connections and relationships with family and friends that I already have.  The point of making and offering art is to increase and sustain those human connections, not to sacrifice them.  It would make no sense to make art, in order to seek connections with humanity, but in order to make that art, to sacrifice the very connections that already sustain us.

Make art while you can and seek those human connections, by offering it to the world.  Also appreciate those fallen artists that can no longer do so.  Their contributions mattered more than most people recognise.  They made life more beautiful and therefore more bearable.  They also passed on their skills and inspired others to go forth and create.  Those are no small accomplishments, in a life well-lived.

Creating things is not such a bad life’s work.  Make the most of your chance to do that and appreciate those that made it their life’s work.  Hug an older artist whenever you can.  It doesn’t take much time, costs very little and it can transform how that artist feels inside.  If you’re wise, you will also listen, while they talk.  They have much wisdom and perspective to impart.  Mark what they tell you well.

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Order and Disorder

In art, which is better: order, disorder, or a bit of both?  How about in other human affairs?

Order implies uniformity, conformity and obedience.  Things are easier to control and regiment, when they are in straight lines and adhere to the rules.

Order assumes that effectiveness and efficiency derive from collective sameness, rectitude and a “one size fits all” approach to things.  Orthodoxy ensures compliance.

Order asserts that somebody has already decided what “good order” looks like.  Who is that somebody?

If somebody has decided what good order is, then it also implies that somebody gives the orders and everybody else must take them.  Why are they the ones to give the orders?  What gives them their legitimacy?  Who chose them?

Disorder, in contrast, is thought to be bad.  People fear disorder.  They equate it to lawless chaos.  They think it is ugly.  Further, they think the chaos is more violent than the violence required to impose order and to regulate.

If you tally the body count resulting from any large-scaled injustice, assault, extortion and/or murder that was a direct result of a collective belief in order, and the misapplication of authority, they far outnumber the deaths directly attributable to any large-scaled injustice, assault, extortion and/or murder, which was due to a lack of authoritarian power.  Making order causes atrocities.

Differences and diversity are merely variations, in truth.  We’re taught that disorder is bad, but maybe disorder is actually a healthy, evolutionary process, that lets things grow.  Variations are desirable.

Disorder might not be deviant at all.

It could be that variations are acceptable and even optimal.  Disorder represents a multiplicity of choices and solutions, instead of just one rigid one, imposed by those creating their “order” and giving their orders.

Expecting or demanding that people stay in line and never deviate robs them of dignity, autonomy, agency and power.  Disorder gives it back.  Artists need a little disorder to thrive.

Could it be that the love of power is all that underpins the love of order?  Order is not for your benefit at all.  It’s for the benefit of the straighteners and correctors that want to rule.

The prohibition of disorder and the imposition of order are techniques for asserting brutal power, not aesthetic imperatives, efficiency optimisations or a general benefit to humanity.

Order is a fraud.  Disorder is where the seeds of progress germinate.

 

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Complacency

It’s much easier to not bother.  If we don’t push ourselves to improve, to find truths and to be a model of the lives we’d ideally like others to be living too, if we fail to challenge wrong and don’t shape the world into a better place, at every opportunity to do so, then it’s an easier life, but only apparently so and only in the short term.  Our indolence condemns us to guaranteed long term misery.

Complacency is the enemy of good art.  Our inherent laziness and unwillingness to challenge ourselves, to live substantially outside of our seemingly safe comfort zones, sabotages our work, our art and permits stupidity and evil to flourish, in a world already saturated with both.

Better information and ideas are available.  They exist and we can find them.  Do we have the motivation to seek them?  Usually not.  Self-study and life-long learning are both possible choices, but so many people actively choose to not continue studying and to cease learning, once they have the requisite qualifications on paper.  Their minds and attitudes remain frozen in time, increasingly anachronistic and unimproved.

In large part, we choose bad outcomes because we obligingly, and almost by default, engage with that which does us all harm.  It’s the soft option.  It requires the least thought, morality and responsibility.  We opt for the bad things that are only too willingly made available to us, for profit, by people that don’t care about the consequences, because we aren’t sufficiently motivated to seek, demand or provide better alternatives.  We’re happy to choose the lesser of two evils, instead of steadfastly demanding or creating a benign option.  We hide behind a lack of choice when the absence of choice is due, in no small measure, to our own laziness.  We absent ourselves from blame, for that situation.

We’re told that ignorance is bliss, yet it is undoubtedly true that wilful ignorance is one of the most potent dark forces on the planet; one which permits Hell to exist on Earth.  Why should we care?  We can leave the problem to subsequent generations.  There is no need to preserve and nurture, when hedonistic pillage is the easier thing to do.  It requires no sacrifices or any tough decisions.

Engineers do their best to make medical diagnostic tools, like pulse oximeters, which measure your blood oxygen content, crucial for life, so that they work reliably.  That doesn’t mean they don’t fail.  As a clinician, you can either learn about how these things work, so that you can recognise when they are faulty, or you can blissfully ignore learning about their principles of operation and the limits of the materials used to create the device and blindly, uncritically believe the numbers they spit out, whether or not they are absurdly wrong.  You are free to make potentially fatal clinical decisions, based on bad data, emitted by a faulty device.  It’s your choice.  It’s alarming that so many healthcare professionals make that choice.

A better choice is to know how to test the device for trustworthiness, before life and death decisions are made on the basis of what it reports, but that would take study and effort, in a field of study unrelated to your own vocation.  You would need to be interested in engineering, even though your profession is medicine and patient care.  Remarkably, in our overly specialised world, few would bat an eyelid at the validity of remaining ignorant of the physics, engineering and materials properties that one’s clinical decisions hinge upon.  It’s thought to be fair enough and nobody’s fault if you kill the odd patient, based on data from a broken machine.   Well, I assert that it’s not good enough.  Complacency cannot be acceptable.

We all use computers and mobile devices these days, but few know how they work, or how to fix them, when they don’t.  The consequence is that we are, therefore, prey to those that would charge exorbitantly to fix simple things, or prone to wastefully throw away perfectly good devices, for want of the knowledge required to make them work properly again.  Diagnostic skills are woefully underrepresented, in the general population.  It’s easier to do the polluting and impoverishing thing.  You don’t have to learn anything, to spend more money and throw things away.  There are large organisations that want you do precisely that, so that they profit.  Your ignorance is their wealth.  We complacently play along.

It’s within our gift to demand durability, simplicity and elegance of design, so that ordinary people are able to understand, diagnose and remedy broken things, instead of throwing them away, but we don’t have the will to do the self-education, or to engage in the required consumer activism.  We’d rather leave it to self-appointed experts, who can tell us anything they like, knowing they will certainly get away with it.

We permit these computing devices to become tools of permanent and constant surveillance, because we don’t know how to stop them.  As a consequence, we meekly accept our shackles instead of rejecting them as illegitimate.  Our complacency makes us sitting ducks for those that would use our indolence against us.

The comfort zone is a deadly place.   It leaves us open to being cheated, lied to, manipulated and even killed, because we don’t have the intellectual self-defences to know when we’re being sold a pure fabrication.  More truths live outside our potentially fatal comfort zones than lie within, but we content ourselves with self-serving, self-justified, vehemently-rationalised falsehoods, instead of discomforting and challenging ourselves to find out the actuality.  Our uninformed choices kill people.  We even kill our own children, without even realising it, through lazy, complacent, indolent choices, made in the absence of any attempt at critical evaluation and investigation.  It’s easier to do what everyone else does and what has always been done.  It’s even easier to do what we’re told to do.

In popular culture, there is a distinct skein of hedonistic anti-intellectualism that runs through much of the art made for the genre.  We encouraged not to think too hard, to be ridiculed for questioning and inquiring and for curiosity to be reviled.  It’s cooler to be a bone-headed nincompoop, in fashionable clothes, making the right “statement”, with carefully contrived poses and postures, than to challenge what one’s government does, what the authorities are up to and whether or not you are being taken for a fool and cheated, at every moment of the day, by giant corporations.  What is the “selfie”, other than the most egotistical, self-centred expression of vacuousness and vapidity?  Who benefits most from all this anti-intellectualism?

Why do artists continue to make dross, in the service of the aim of dumbing people down?  It’s because they’re too complacent to do otherwise.  There is less stress and work involved in taking the easy money, to produce mind-numbing garbage, than to find a way to create worthwhile media messages, with meaning, that benefit the majority, not just the elite, powerful and wealthy.  It’s much harder to fund art, critical of powerful patrons, but it is the right thing to do.

Much of the art produced in support of popular culture glamorises superficiality and unthinking acceptance of the status quo, along with the requisite unquestioning obedience to corporate interests and authority.  You only have to turn on a news programme to see it for yourself.  Whatever horrible hardships are meted out to the most vulnerable in society, it is always justified on the basis of how the suffering helps businesses and the government.  We must accept and obey, supporting and enduring unconscionable human suffering, rather than question why we should accept and obey, or why the interests of business and government are paramount, compared to the privatised despair inflicted on millions.

It is a supreme irony that some of the most complacent people alive, those with the most dubious claims to intellectual supremacy, often set themselves up as “the authorities” and demand fealty, on the grounds of their pretend cleverness and fake insight, even though their claims are utterly bogus and empty, based on little more than sheer vanity and a sense of entitlement.  We feed these monstrous egos, when we are too complacent to challenge them.  When we are too intellectually lazy to separate our idealised, mythical construct of a holder of high office from the flawed, often criminal, human being occupying the leadership position, then we endow them with qualities they don’t have and rely on their wisdom, when there isn’t any.  We’re too lazy to conceive of other forms of human organisation.

Even when, by happy accident or happenstance, artists produce works that challenge entrenched complacencies, these works are banned by the rest of the population, via their “authorities”, in a determined effort to stop anybody from thinking critically about anything.  It seems that people would rather vehemently, vociferously and violently defend their most cherished and settled ideas; indoctrinated into them by people they trusted as children, rather than to examine them anew, in the light of fresh evidence or ideas about their beliefs.  Information that they may have (deliberately) overlooked is simply discarded, if it doesn’t fit with their decided world view.

Most people have a stronger desire to be entertained and distracted, instead of confronted with the uncomfortable truth.  As artists, we can play to that desire, like the most determined, controlling, profiteering manipulator, or else we can seek to teach, enlighten, edify, inspire and encourage.  The choice is ours, but the indolent, complacent choice is to give the audience what they want.  It might not be good for them, but we can excuse our actions on the grounds that the audience is too complacent to choose otherwise, thereby self-justifying our own complacency.

By our influence, artists can encourage fear, anger and selfishness, or the opposites of these.  One choice is harder to make than the other, though.  The better choice is to help people see what they truly need and what serves them better.  Politicians have used the instilling of fear, anger and selfishness as their stock in trade for years, but it is artists who have helped them deliver their messages.  We cannot shirk the blame.  Our unwillingness to challenge this behaviour has let it run rampant, to the detriment of society, the economy and the planet.

Artists can and should teach people why they should want something better than their own complacency, ignorance, indolence and tacit acceptance and approval of the things that diminish their lives, potential and environment gives them.  We prefer to stay safe and remote from the responsibility, obligation and opportunity to choose the harder, better option.  If we choose to reject our complacency, we’re responsible for the outcomes, aren’t we?  Well, we’re responsible for the outcomes anyway, even if we remain complacent.  Denying our responsibility does not absolve us of it.

What one complacent, lazy, indolent habit of thinking will you challenge today?  How about tomorrow?

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