Benjamin Franklin was a master innovator, politician, and businessman, but he had one famous experiment that didn’t turn out the way he hoped. More on that in just a moment.
Here on the blog, we oftentimes look at logical plans and modes of thinking in order to tackle artistic problems and barriers because, well, I’m a guy. Guys love straightforward logic, right?
In all seriousness, I also like to talk about plans and strategy because they’re concrete. They present a clear way to take action, and we can jump right into them.
At the same time, I realize that plans and strategies are not enough.
I’ve been facing this in my life as I’ve been working on some various artistic projects (including a new manifesto for this site – hopefully next month!). I know the plan of attack. I have the schedule down, but life isn’t as simple as that.
What Benjamin Franklin Couldn’t Do
I’m not a huge history buff, but I’ve always found Benjamin Franklin a fascinating man. This guy was by far one of the most innovative of the Founding Fathers of the United States. (Check out his list of accomplishments on Wikipedia; they’re astounding!)
Franklin was clearly not a man who struggled with motivation. He somehow managed to be a foreign diplomat, an inventor, the publisher of a newspaper, an author, and many, many more things. He even went so far as starting an experiment to live a morally perfect life. If the scientific method and mountains of motivation were enough to solve other problems, then surely they could be applied to his own behavior. He carried a notebook of charts to evaluate his behavior, making a mark to notate every failure.
Despite his best efforts, Franklin never achieved moral perfection. He later said that he believed the effort made him a better man, but still, one of the most brilliant and productive men of his era was not able to use systems to solve all of the inconsistencies of human behavior.
Artists Need More than Systems, Too
The idea of stressing systems and productivity methods on artists would seem laughable in some circumstances. I could just imagine someone walking up to Jimi Hendrix and saying, “Listen, Jimi, I appreciate your enthusiasm for the music scene, but have you spent your required three hours in the rehearsal room today?”
But, for busy people with jobs, kids, and loads of other responsibilities, we have to find some way to balance it all if we are ever going to get back to our art. Systems are helpful, but we cannot ignore the emotional side of our art.
When we’re excited about our current project, it’s easy to keep churning out finished works of art. We’ll keep going long past our designated practice times, sometimes to the extent that we’ll entirely throw off our sleeping habits for the glory of an accomplished work.
Other times, the entire process is an uphill battle. We allow discouragement to seep into the process, and the emotional barrier between starting and finishing a project seems insurmountable.
My first thought is to turn to productivity systems. If I can break up the project in smaller pieces, then I can make it. If I can rigorously schedule out my time, then I can do it. If I keep an idea journal, I’ll always have a brilliant plan.
Art is not a factory. It’s not a straight line. We don’t simply start in one place and keep moving with a certain amount of energy to arrive at another.
Art is nuance. It’s an experience of learning and exploration as we create. And, sometimes, it’s really hard.
Finding Our Support Systems
We have an unhealthy view of work and the creative process in the United States. Our presumptions are certainly being tested by the rapidly changing world around us, but we have this notion that we have to do everything ourselves.
I must find a way to power through this discouragement.
I have to push myself harder to complete this painting on time.
I have to get people to notice my efforts and reward me for my hard work.
Sounds kind of exhausting, doesn’t it?
And it is. I know. This is my default mode of living if I’m not careful, but being a part of a community makes all the difference in the world.
My first community is my family. They love and support me in my efforts. Sometimes, work and art gets in the way of the family, so I have to make important decisions as to what will get priority. Choosing to embrace my community not only keeps essential relationships in my life on a healthy level, but it also helps to reinforce me in my times of doubt and discouragement.
My second community is online. I participate in various forums and talk with people through social media to the point that we know each other’s names. We know what other people are trying to accomplish, and we encourage them along the way. It’s not the same as being there in person, but I can promise you it makes a difference.
Here’s the difference about getting involved with an online community: you have to go and find it. Communities, for the most part, won’t accidentally find you. If you want to participate, you have to find a site that resonates with your interests. Look for social media users on Twitter, Google+, Tumblr… whatever communities work for you.
Just remember that you need to be the one to take initiative. Relationships take work, but I think you’ll be surprised by people’s giving nature once you get to know other artists.
It could be the difference between the courage to finish your artistic project or simply having another project that didn’t make it.
What About You?
Do you have a favorite online or offline community that supports you?