Tuesday, 29 November 2011


Hmm. Yeah.  Flashmobs.

A phenomenom of the past couple of years.  They're pretty awesome and inspiring.  Like this one:

Makes you smile doesn't it?  You can't help it.  Yeah, sure - it's sentimental and a bit 'chocolate-boxey' but it touches something.  When you're watching it, you forget everything.  You don't even need to evaluate what's happening.  There's no judgement going on - you're just grinning and marvelling at it.

And d'ya know the recent trend of flashmobbing is a potent pointer to the latent but irrepressible creativity of people.

It's a perfect antidote to the selfish, grabbing, limiting M.O. of current Western culture and society.

Because it's given freely, utilising people's natural talents with no other motive than to surprise, delight and entertain.

Jesus - it's about one of the only demonstrations in the current consumerist society of an example of talent and effort freely given. Just because.

It embodies everything in total contrast to what we're all used to.

we expect to pay for what we get.  In other words, there's a trade off.  That trade off doesn't really have any basis in reality anymore.  If we were to evaluate everything we buy in terms of the time it takes us to earn it, I think we might make different decisions about what we buy. 

Try this experiment for just one week. Take out the amount of money you can actually afford to spend in one week.  Break it down into your hourly rate: i.e. £200 = 40 hours work at £5 hour (adjusted for compulsory tax and N.I.).  Then spend according to that - for example, if you fancy a BLT from Sainsbury's for lunch at a cost of £3.50 - that's about 45 minutes work.  Perhaps you consider that a fair exchange?  What about a magazine at about £2 - approximately 24 minutes of toil... hmmm, why not?  A packet of fags - about £7 - so that's about 1 hour 24 minutes.

Let's add that up - you've bought a sandwich, a gossip magazine and some fags = 2 hours and 34 minutes.  About 1/3 or your working day.

You haven't even factored in breakfast, a couple of lattes, dinner, drinks with friends, sky rental, broadband, mobile phone rental, the latest handbag, today's newspaper, rent, energy bills, water bills, rates, insurances, petrol or travel costs... haven't.  even.. started.

But you don't think of it like that do you?  You don't convert it into an exchange.  You don't think "well, after I take out all the 'have to' expenses, those things that I can't exist without (rent, power, water, tax, N.,I. - in other words the things you HAVE to pay), I'm left with £X and that equates to 'so much per hour of my time.'  And the reason is, you don't deal in cash.  You don't even deal in numbers and figures - you just deal in a plastic card - a card that says "Pin OK".

You don't even get to handle or feel the transaction.  It has no reality.  It's a plastic and virtual transaction.  And as long as it is - then what you're spending isn't real, what you're buying isn't real.  None of it has any real value.  Until you're able to translate what you buy into the effort you have to put out in order to purchase that stuff, it will never have any reality.

I used to have a cafe down a side-street.  And we engaged in bartering with the other local businesses.  The art gallery 2 doors down gave us a damaged picture (which is magnificent) for 1 months free food and coffee.  The bar over the road gave us free drinks for free food.  The local cab driver ate and pledged to pay us later and when we needed a cab, he'd put us first regardless of the time of day or night.  Our nearest competitor recommended us when he was full and vice versa.  It was collaberation in the true sense of the word.  There was a trade off - but the point is; there didn't need to be.  Many times, people ate and drank and paid later, when they could. And a certain young man had a very public and graphic breakdown and his business was kept going by local people who had become friends and empathised with him, until he could come back and carry on. You don't get that working for Curry's or Sainsbury's.

Because the over-riding dynamic in all of that is collaboration - and that collaboration can only come from connection and ...... generosity.  And that only comes from a desire to create and share.  Creativity isn't only about art and writing and music; it's about whatever someone can do that doesn't involve sacrifice.  It's about that which you do because you love it. Because when you do it, you're no longer neccesary.  When you do it, it's apparent after that it was never neccessary for there to be an idea of 'me' doing 'this'.  In fact, it's totally selfless.  Literally.

You don't just lose yourself in the doing of it... you realise that that's the only reality - which is why it feels so alive and invigorating and energising and authentic.  Because the erroneous overlay of 'me' doing 'this' is dropped.  Isn't necessary. 

Most of the time; although we think otherwise,  everything IS selfless, but most of the time, there is an IDEA of self - me 'doing' this.. and it's only at those times when  action happens without the idea of 'me' doing 'this' that it is completely creative and carries with it no expectation of trade-off.

Which brings me back neatly to the flashmob.  The original impulse was just to entertain, surprise, and delight for no other purpose than because they could.

It's the same as pissing into the ocean.You know that it doesn't really make a difference, but.. fuck, it feels good.

And it carries no cost, or monetary recompense, no reward other than the surprise and the delight and the smiles... the 'just because I can'.

And it's why I feel so mightily fucked off that the magnificent video above turns out to be an advert for a mobile phone company.  In the end, everything gets prostituted and corporatised.

And as we piss into the ocean; creatively and uniquely sprinkling our effort into the rollling sea out there, the roaring wave breaks and sprays back that piss into our face.

Whether we decide to stop pissing is up to us.......

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Naked Emperor

What really happened after the little girl pointed out that the emperor had no clothes on.....

Or: What do you really fear?

As the Emperor paraded through the streets surrounded by his entourage and flunkies, the crowd cheered and waved their flags.  And although some of them felt something wasn't right they couldn't quite put their finger on it.

For the most part, however, they were enjoying the event.  They loved the pomp and ceremony, the display of wealth and glamour.  This, after all, was their country, and it was proof of their abundance and wealth.  It was occasions like this that made them feel proud; proud to be a citizen.  To be able to work together for their future and for a stable and secure existence.  

They respected their emperor; how he ruled them, thought for them, decided what was in their best interests.  He deserved the riches and the privileges that he enjoyed, for he took on the responsibility of organisation, he made difficult decisions in their best interests; and it was those decisions that enabled them to live fairly comfortable lives, safe in the knowledge that they wouldn't be attacked or left to cope alone if they were sick, or had fallen on hard times. He made sure that his citizens always had just enough to keep them from death and starvation and that they had plenty to do to keep them occupied and busy - all working to keep their kingdom in a happy and stable state.

And here, today, was evidence of the importance, wisdom and superiority of their great leader.  Dressed in his finery, flanked by his flunkeys; exuding nobility and excellence.  There.  Right there, was the proof of their prosperity.  He had employed the finest tailors who had woven the most excellent of cloths in order to produce a magnificent suit that surpassed anything that had ever been worn by anyone.  It was proof that he was truly a great man of utmost discernment and insight.  This man knew quality, genius and artistry, so he deserved to enjoy the best of everything.

They knew that this was the truth because the emperor knew better than them; he was much more discerning and clever than they.  And only a truly stupid person would question the man and his brilliance; no-one would be foolhardy enough to call into doubt his suitability and right to such riches and privilege. 

However, here and there, some of the members of the crowd didn't cheer quite so hard or smile quite so widely;  there was a sparkle missing from their eyes; and every now and then a doubtful thought would flick across their mind and a slight frown would mar their adoring faces.  

Then, in the midst of all this, one lone little voice piped up and spoke what was clearly obvious "That man has no clothes on!".

This innocent child ran through the streets shouting and laughing "THAT MAN HAS NO CLOTHES ON!!".  And as the child called out, the odd person looked and saw that, indeed, the emperor was absolutely stark naked. And they joined in and shouted "What a pompous ass!", "What a ridiculous stupid buffoon.  Just look at him! Pretending to be someone important".  "He's no different to me - in fact he's even more stupid than I", "How could I have ever believed in him?".

Some of the dissenting voices in the crowd tried to make the people around them see that the emperor had not a stitch on. And occasionally as the protesting one or two repeated their assertion of the truth, they managed to jolt a few others out of the delusion.  

They looked in astonishment at the ridiculous spectacle.

Some of these shook their heads and headed home.  

Some joined in the small but growing group of the rebellers, but most people shrugged off their words with irritability, and annoyance that this wonderful day was being marred by such futile negativity.  So they went back to cheering, savouring this brief respite in their humdrum lives.  

For they were afraid.  Afraid that if their emperor really was naked they would have to face up to something much more uncomfortable than the ugly spectacle of his bloated body; they would have to make their own decisions and find their own way; or find someone to replace this man that ruled them.  And that was a scary and uncomfortable prospect, and didn't seem to have any point to it, because the alternative might very well be worse.

So they went on cheering; this time more fervently.  Their cries rang out, but even to themselves, there was just a  slight edge of desperation and hysteria, which they justified as being nothing more than wholehearted enjoyment of the holiday.  Because tomorrow there would be no cheering, little laughter or celebration; tomorrow they would return to their jobs and their routine.  But also to safety and security.

And those people that had seen the obvious?  

Well, some looked around desperately - terrified of being cast out and ostracised; so they chose to pretend that they could see the clothes - and it was these that cheered and applauded the loudest.  For now they had to try twice as hard; once to convince others that they believed the delusion and once to keep trying to convince themselves.  Their pay-off was inclusion and an easy life, even if it meant that the words they spoke were hollow and inauthentic.  They considered it a small price to pay.

Some of them grew angry and shouted and railed against the lies that they'd been told.  They were angry at themselves too - for being so stupid and believing the lies for so long.  Generally, either their anger wore out and they stayed on the edges of their society, neither able to believe nor able to walk away.  Or they spent their time and energy trying to show everyone else the truth that they had seen and which was so obvious.  Mostly they were ignored, laughed at or marginalised.  Sometimes, the very effective ones made some headway and then they were imprisoned or cast-out for being dissenters and traitors - a threat to the many.  For surely, if most people believed something that meant it had to be true - because the alternative was that something was really wrong with the entire structure of their kingdom and that couldn't be entertained as a viable possibility.

Some of the truth-seers turned and walked away. They left the kingdom and they found their own way of living; a way that was at times uncomfortable and scary, because it meant that they had to face reality and not take anyone else's word for what needed to be done.  It meant that they no longer could pretend to be something or someone that they knew they weren't.  And at times, it was lonely.  But it also meant that they didn't have to keep themselves hidden and that they didn't have to live amongst others saying one thing but knowing another. 

And they didn't need to be afraid that they would be ostracised or ridiculed.  They had nothing to fear, because they'd chosen to walk away with their eyes open.  They had made the choice to not be affected by the ridicule, because they had realised that the ridicule of the scared and deluded was a sure indication that they were on the right track; to want the approbation of people that believed a lie was pointless.

And the child?  Well, the child ran off into the fields and picked flowers, climbed a tree, watched the clouds and made up wonderful stories that they would one day tell to their children.  Stories of stupid men who believed they were something they weren't and of a lot of other people who believed it too and of an innocent child who wasn't afraid to speak the truth.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Art for Art's sake?

I have been reading a book called Linchpin by Seth Godin that essentially addresses the question of what it is to contribute in a meaningful and individual way.  He encourages and exhorts people to be artists.

If I've read him right, he defines art as being that which people do despite everything else.  Despite what you receive in remuneration.

What then is art?

Is it just creativity?  Does it apply to any walk of life?

Can an accountant produce artistic accounting?  It that the same as creative accounting ;-)?

Can a traffic warden issue tickets in an artistic and creative way?

The message is: Yes.  Art and creativity is adding value without any expectation of reward; a spontaneous expression of individuality, no matter what the medium.

Art and creativity are always personal . They have an individual spin - it is the antithesis of the collective, the normal, the average, the prescribed.  Particularly the prescribed.

That's why copies aren't applauded or lauded.  There's no individuality or originality in them.  They require no input other than reproduction.

But does that mean that all self-expression is art?

If you didn't have to earn a living, what would you do?  Nothing?  Or something bizarre?  Would you raise peacocks, or learn how to carve, or sing, or watch soaps all day while obsessing about your purpose without actually trying something.. anything?

If you could have a go at trying out your wildest dreams - would you? 

Apparently, the majority of big lottery winners end up miserable and unfulfilled.  You would think that the lack of imperative to earn a daily living would release people into the freedom to explore their wildest dreams and urges.  Perhaps they don't have any talents other than the suburban and parochial and the aquisition of wealth that releases from the obligation to be a drone, reveals nothing more than an ingrained conditioning that is too deep for them to be able to be able to express their individuality.

Perhaps.  That's a shame... if it's true.  No.  It's a tragedy.  To be released from the daily grind, but fail to use that freedom to create; to contribute.

It begs the question then - what is necessary for art and creativity... for individuality to flourish and express?

Art and creativity need no conditions - they pay no heed to monetary security or familial responsibility ... to cultural mores or restrictions - perhaps it's a human imperative that flourishes regardless.

Not because.

In spite of. 

So, if creativity is not dependent on individual conditions, what is the deciding factor in the definition of art; of creativity?  If one person loves it, is that enough to define something as art?

Is it just intention?  Is it when it is offered, or when it is received?

If no-one appreciates it, what does that make it?  Creative wanking?

Does it matter?  What is the purpose of creating?

The act of creation and the act of appreciation of the creation is its own purpose.  That is its own reward.  It's a closed and perfect system.

It creates connection.  And that is the purpose of art; IT CREATES CONNECTION.   A dialogue.  A dialogue that may not consist of words.  It consists of understanding.  Understanding that infers appreciation.

When you do something humdrum (or that you think is humdrum) to the best of your ability and effort, and it is unexpectedly appreciated by someone else, even though you consider it your duty, it transforms it from responsibility and duty into an act of creativity - just by the very fact of appreciation.

When someone notices what we do, even if we do it as part of the chores of the day, it focuses attention on what we thought we were doing as part of the ordinary and makes us consider the option of being able to deliver a bit more.  It lends a credibility to our efforts, sanctions our ability and encourages us to continue to deliver, and to take it a little bit further.  And really that's all it takes... a personal contribution that connects ... not just in one direction - from creator to recipient -  but a feed back from the recipient to the creator.  

Art and creativity is 'effort that is appreciated and valued'.  It needs no benchmark or standard - the very acceptance and appreciation of it creates its own benchmark and standard; reciprocity, appreciation.... flow.

Individual expression makes a difference, it matters - literally - it 'matters' - it makes real the intention; makes it something unique.  It holds no conditions and can't be predicted.  To be truly effective and impactful, it's produced without any expectation of specific feedback.

So the next time someone appreciates something you do, praises an act that you carry out, see it as a pointer to your ability to contribute in a unique way.  Take your inspiration from that - don't pass it over; appreciate their appreciation and allow it to feed your creativity.

Whatever you do, however you do it; make it art for art's sake.