Vlog 002: What Can You Give?

Short Intro

This project's main mission obviously is to record creative minds from all fields. Another, easily unseen aspect is to make the content find its way to its target audience - to those people whose lives will be enriched by it. 

A direct result of this is that I'm spreading the content out to a variety of social media platforms (Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, ReddIt etc.) - I try to add one more of these every month. This expansion can feel ridiculous at times, but I whenever a single new person contacts me about being happy to have found this project, I know I'm doint the right thing.

The project's content travels through a variety of media: it started as video, now slowly includes a podcast-format; in line with this thinking, I now also wanted to write blogposts about the Vlog episodes - so that those that aren't into watching videos, can access the content in written form.

Think of it as customer care, about an ethical way of marketing: by having the content there in a way that best suits the target audiences. It took me a while to understand that with a project as diverse as this one (it's not about programmers, or musicians, or medical doctors - but about the meta of creativity), it will be a long, interesting journey to find the people who'll believe in it, support it, and simply like it. I can at least try to do my part of this =)

Vlog 002 Episode

Here's the Vlog 002 episode (released on Nov 16th, 2017), and the thoughts that went into it right below:

A Day in the Park with Richard Sennett

Some time ago I stumbled over a specific comic of a visual artist based on the island of Crete - Kostas Kiriakakis. It's called “A day at the park", and is a philosophical take on curiousity. A beautiful fable. It's so we'll drawn, and then with such eloquent words: I started following Kostas' work online, and eventually also reached out to him.

Sometime this winter, Kostas posted a tiny comic: just two images. A note about whether one would follow their passion if there wasn’t an audience. A Bill Watterson-esque nod towards ego, craft, passion and social media:

Because of this short, I wanted to talk about craft and ethics. Essentially, Kostas' comic here is about ethics. I remembered this book, “The Craftsman”, by philosopher Richard Sennett - I read it during my PhD research. Sennett writes about ethics becoming relevant only once a certain level of craftsmanship has been reached:

"All craftsmanship is founded on skill developed to a high degree. By one commonly used measure, about ten thousand hours of experience are required to produce a master carpenter or musician. Various studies show that as skill progresses, it becomes more problem-attuned, like the lab technician worrying about procedure, whereas people with primitive levels of skill struggle more exclusively on getting things to work. At its higher reaches, technique is no longer a mechanical activity; people can feel fully and think deeply what they are doing once they do it well. It is at the level of mastery, I will show, that ethical problems of craft appear".

As long as you struggle with your craft, there's just usually not so much holistic knowledge, and basic energy to properly address ethical questions.

Zen and the Art of Software Development

Since for the On Doubt project I'm interviewing creators who at times have been practicing their craft for decades, obviously most of them will mention ethics in the interviews. You can think of them as masters of their crafts - although they might not talk (or think) about themselves like that, they reached a level of understanding of their medium that let's them think and discuss ethics in their medium and processes. And once you reach this domain, it won't let you go.

What probably struck me the most in this regard, in the last couple months, was game developer Jonathan Blow (Braid, The Witness) talking about ethical failures in software development - specifically about young developers in tech being excited about tech and themselves, ultimately risking huge negative externalities: EGO. Publishing crappy software that’s used by the masses, and whose sloppy code will be bad for loads of people - because it was more important to release work, than to care for its mistakes.

Here's a snippet from the interview I recorded with him this autumn, in Seattle:

Independently of your craft and medium, you always ultimately want your work to be seen - and often, you want yourself to be seen. We all want to be relevant, to be influencers. We want to matter and to be loved. Because of these dynamics, working on any craft or medium also has these weird aspects of egoism, where mental balances come into play - and who'd have thought that craft and mental sanity were a yin-yang sort of dynamic? Few talk about this.

One person that famously did so, obviously is Robert Pirsig, in his 1974 "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values":

"Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all."

I doubt that a lot have read it, because it doesn't offer any direct media-based advice; instead, it's the story of Pirsig searching for a humanistic essence towards living. It's still one of my most favorite reads - because it takes things slowly, and doesn't offer easy answers. There's little you can apply directly to your world, but a lifetime of questions to ponder:

"The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.

Now back to Kostas, who wasn’t explicitly talking about ethics; but since his words resonated within me this way, that's how I'll talk about it. After I read his two-panel comic, I reached out to him and asked him: What kind of timing would be best, to start gaining visibility for one's work?

Here's his answer, which feels a lot like something that a "master" would say to their students - it's an answer that you are unlikely to get from someone that's still on their 10000 hour path towards mastery:

Believe in yourself, and stay humble

To wrap it all up: work on your craft. By doing so, over time you'll deepen your understanding of your individual approach to that craft. Put the hours in - because that will get you closer and closer to mastery. And don't forget: Mastery is not an on-or-off thing: instead, it's something gradual.

Take your time, work on yourself and your self-esteem in regards to your craft; because that will make it possible for you to think about ethical dimensions of what you're doing - which in my opinion is sorely needed at all times. 

In addition: if you make your work public, if you reach out to ReddIt, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, special interest forums: BE HUMBLE. Know that nobody owes you you anything. Your work will not magically matter to anyone at first.
This is the hardest part: to be humble, while at the same time believing in your work, your work's qualities and yourself. 

Here's Seattle-based creative entrepreneur Siolo Thompson (an amazing painter and illustrator who's most famously known for her Linestrider Tarot deck, but whose original background is in Comparative Literature); Siolo has been featured in this project a few times already. In this Vlog episode there's a snippet that hasn't been published elsewhere yet, with her talking about the challenges of understanding one's craft and work deficiencies (you can click here to start the Vlog episode at 6:55, with Siolo talking; don't be misguided by my happy-smiley face being there again - clicking will start right with Siolo):

Don't get discouraged

Don't get discouraged though: show your work, because doing so is so relevant. If you don't do it, your motivation will drop, probably also resulting in your work not being as good as it could be. It's OK to be intimidated at first, and it's OK not to know how to navigate today's social media world - with its endless possibilities of showing work to people whom you might never get to know.

You have to try nevertheless. Accept that your work might not matter to a lot of people at first, and that in comparison to others, your follower numbers will be low. If you put the hours in, this will change over time. By being humble and caring about an ethical way of showing your work, you'll make the world a nicer place. Because your work won't get a lot of appreciation at the beginning, it might feel to you as if it didn't matter. As if you didn't matter. That's not true: your value as a human being is entirely independent of external appreciation. It's ego that wants attention - which is why showing one's work can be a huge lesson in accepting reality: because for the longest time, there will be so little external validation.

As with all other journeys in life, the process is rather straight-forward though: you start with the first step. You start, knowing that you'll reach places only you can reach.

It's ok to start.

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