Constraints Will Set You Free

Prompt 1: Make anything you want, of any scale, with an unlimited budget and no time limit.

Prompt 2: Make a 2 minute long video, free of dialog, that conveys the complexity of love. It’s due in 3 weeks.

Sometimes we know exactly what we want to make. The idea is bursting out of us. It’s like something else is making our art, and we are nearly a medium.

But most of the time constraints will ground us and give us something to push against. They take the impossible off the table. They let us get started.

Make Your Soul Grow

A letter from Kurt Vonnegut to a high school class on the reasons for creating art of any kind.

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals [sic]. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

Source : Teacher Tom

Thinking is Easy

Thinking is easy. Doing is hard. Finishing is nearly impossible.

Thinking up bottled water was easy. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people thought it. But turning it into a manufacturing process, navigating legalities, convincing distributors and grocery stores; That’s hard. Then tying all the details together into a coherent and easy to find object and actually launching it; that’s finishing, almost no one does that.

Thinking about making some art is easy. Hell, it’s even fun. In fact, it’s addicting to enjoy the imagined version of your self as a person who makes/draws/writes/does. But, getting out a pencil and doing sketches, with effort and a critical eye; that’s hard and humbling. Drawing/writing/making/doing art every single day, with deliberate self expanding practice, again and again and again until you edge closer to the artist version of yourself that you had always imagined; almost no one does that.

People who finish add immense value to the world.

Bravery & Self Direction

Why is summer amazing? Is it because of what we do in summer? And if it’s about what we do, then why is summer so particularly ripe for the doing of things we love?

I want to get to the heart of why summer is amazing. Why we hold it in such high regard. Why we wax nostalgic about summers past and why we look forward to the always not-too-far-off “next summer”. (See Part 1 here)

Part 2 – Bravery & Self Direction

With all that space and time outdoors summer is also where we, no matter our age, practice being brave. It’s a time to wander a little farther from our parents. It’s a time to jump out of higher trees and off taller sand dunes. We wander further down the nearby trail and ride our bikes past where our parents say we are allowed too. And we need this. We are always growing and changing. Even as adults our physical and mental limits are shifting. How will we ever know what we are capable of until we try? With success our confidence grows, and in the face of failure we gain important reference points against which to measure growth, and decide our next challenge. Scraped knees injure us and calibrate the understanding of our limits. But they also heal swiftly and remind us we can recover from our failures.

Summer is a time of scraped knees.

Inherent in the expansion of bravery is self direction. Self direction is terrifying. Young or old, we crave it and we fear it. Left to our own devices what will we do? A question that is both thrust upon us (given all that space) and also seems much easier to answer during summer. It’s when we read the books of our own choosing, immersed with whole afternoons flittering away. It’s when Athletes practice their sport, scientist play in the mud and artists take their sketch pads out to tackle challenging subjects. And, between all that excitement, self expression and personal challenge, we face the threat of even more time and space. And soon boredom sets in.

Bold, beautiful and painful, boredom is an essential feeling. It’s a time to wrestle with who we are, what we want, and how we will hold ourselves accountable when no one else will. Boredom is an important step along the path of self discovery that gives us the opportunity to figure out the difference between what distracts us and what engages us. Even more deeply, it reminds us that in so many ways, engagement is a choice we must make actively, for to continue to wait for engagement to come, is to continue to be bored.

With room for mistakes, experimentation and boredom, summer is where we find out who we are, what we can do, what we love, and how we express ourselves. When we are young we are learning this about summer, as as we grow we long for it, look forward to it, and reflect on all it’s been for us.

Space to breath

Why is summer amazing? Is it because of what we do in summer? And if it’s about what we do, then why is summer so particularly ripe for the doing of things we love?

I want to get to the heart of why summer is amazing. Why we hold it in such high regard. Why we wax nostalgic about summers past and why we look forward to the always not-too-far-off “next summer”.

Part 1 – Space

Summer starts as the time of year we spend outside. From birth it’s the time when the sun is out and there is room to explore. Our parents want to take us to the beach and funny hats are worn to bring our love of sunshine and our fear of melanoma to a peaceful and personally-shaded middle ground. Adventures into the forest for a hike, or to a field for a picnic leave us a little freer than before. The scolding after we brake a mantle piece at home is replaced with the normalcy of a broken twig. The hushing and reminders to use an “indoor voice” are replaced with the power and joy of an outdoor voice (which never needs a reminder to be used). The worn and tired knowledge of our predictable toys is replaced with the endless new discoveries found in natures ever variant gifts.

There is room in summer. Enough time is the assumption. Defaults modes fluctuate between lazy and without rush, to all the time we ever needed to finally go camping.

And as we grow up, summers become even more important. As school starts as some half-day exploration full of friends and play, it marches straight towards back-to-back classes and short lunches. Play is replaced with work (which is a tragedy because play is such good work), recess with PE, free-time with homework, and questions with answers. Eventually summer becomes the essential space to breath between the hurried, exhausting and mentally taxing rest of the year.

Then as we get older summer starts to fill up. Slowly at first, but persistently. Reading assignments tax the resting mind with a looming obligation and a persistent feeling of incompleteness. Life’s costs demand a summer job (which for many is just a full-time version of the part time job they where working during the school year) and summer starts to run out of space. Eventually we get a get a big-kid job and the very notion of summer vacation is taken away from us.

But even here, as burgeoning “productive members of society” summers are where we carve out space. Its when bosses care a little less about stepping out early, or if lunch runs long, or if on Friday it seems like half the office is out. It’s still when we camp, head to the beach, and sit in the park reading a book or talking to friends. As life feels like it’s losing space to breath, and every bit is about to fill up, summer is where we take our stand. And for reasons habitual, cultural, and environmental, it works; summer lives on as the time in our life with a little more space, a little more room to breath.

I build things

I build things. Simple things like a nice desk, or a good system for making sure I do what’s on my check list. Complicated things like summer camps for kids, systems for following through on complicated projects, workshops for adults, or environments where my staff feel safe enough to kick-ass and try new things.

I love making stuff. This blog is most likely going to be about the things I have made or am making, and how I made them or am making them. To be clear, while I do make physical things in three dimensions, I spend most of my time creating workshops, systems and environments that let other people create physical things in three dimensions.