Today’s post is from a great college friend of mine, Jeremy Doan. After Jeremy read 14 Reasons This Artist Doesn’t Need Cable TV, he and I had a stimulating Twitter conversation resulting in me asking if he’d share his thoughts with you.
And I’m so very glad he did. Enjoy…
Jeremy’s bio: “I am the husband of Superwoman and a father of four part-time devil children (with another on the way). By day I work as a software engineer. The rest of the time, I am an amatuer photography, a film-watcher, a book-reader, a music-listener, and a nature-experiencing. In other words, I am a short-talented Renaissance Man.”
Feel free to connect with Jeremy on Twitter.
I don’t completely agree Andrew’s post “14 Reason This Artist Does Not Need Cable TV”. After reading it, I considered writing a snarky reply entitled, “14 Reasons Why Every Artist Needs Cable TV.” That would have been fun.
However, further contemplation revealed that I did not want to provide counterpoint to each of Andrew’s points, but to add some nuance to the overall spirit of the post. I agree (mostly) with this spirit. I even agree with several of his points. I particularly appreciate points 9 and 10—you do not need Cable to get the really good shows.
Thus, I took a break from my YouTube viewing to write a psuedo-reply.
Walden Pond and Greenwich Village
A key factor, possibly even the most important factor, for creativity is discipline. As Andrew has pointed out on many occasions, inspiration does not come by accident.
We have to seek it out.
Creativity involves work.
Creativity takes discipline and intentionality.
Creativity involves action–we either peer through the distractions, or prune them from the path. Thoreau found inspiration on Walden Pond. Dylan found inspiration in Greenwich Village. To a great extent, inspiration and creativity occur despite our surroundings. As William Blake says:
“I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight: I look thro [sic] it & not with it.” (From A Vision of the Last Judgment)
Blake was a remarkable visionary. His aesthetic philosophy is very complex. I do not want to over-simplify what he is saying here. One (small) aspect of it is that we need to look past the surface. We need to look for the deeper truth–the eternal truth. Creativity goes beyond merely removing distractions. It sees the forest for the trees. More than that, it sees the fairies for the forest. G.K.Chesterton once said:
“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” (from Tremendous Trifles)
Beauty in the Banal
There is plenty of trash on TV.
I would venture to say that 51% of TV is worthless crap, 44% is harmless drivel, and 5% is highly creative artistic expression. A true artist can find inspiration in almost anything. Andy Warhol found creativity in a can of soup.
One of my favorite photographers is Henri Cartier-Bresson. He was able to find beauty, wonder, humor, and joy in the most mundane of situations. He had an eye for what he called the “decisive moment”. This is most brilliantly exemplified in his most famous photograph, “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932”:
I am certain Andrew would agree with me on all this. It is important to know yourself, to know what distracts you. That is precisely why Andrew felt the need to cut the cable cord. Yet, it is also important to discipline yourself, to force yourself to find beauty in the common. The one point in Andrew’s list that I do strongly disagree with is number 2:
“I don’t need to put my mind in neutral that many hours per week.”
You do not have to turn your mind on neutral when you are watching TV. Even if you are watching something foolish and completely unremarkable, your mind can be working. You can be asking yourself questions:
- Why is this so stupid?
- What storytelling techniques are they using/misusing?
- What, if anything, is worthwhile about the story they are telling?
- How can I tell this story better?
Even when out in nature, we can be passive consumers. How many people have visited the American West, and yet not seen the beauty that Ansel Adams saw, and effectively brought out in his photographs? When was the last time you looked for shapes in the clouds?
Beauty in a Slide Projector
I can illustrate my points with one of the best scenes from one of my favorite TV shows, “Mad Men”. You do not need much context.
The main ad man, Don Draper, is pitching his idea for the advertising for a new slide projector to some executives from Kodak. What amazes me about this scene is how expertly it is written, directed, acted, and photographed. The storytelling, particularly within the context of the show, is excellent. For our purposes, however, it demonstrates how a person can find something beautiful and astounding and life-significant in a slide projector.
Here are a couple of challenges to make TV watching more beneficial:
- Limit yourself to watching only those things that are excellent. Just because you have cable does not mean you have to watch whatever is on it. Do not waste your time with garbage.
- Find something beautiful, or interesting, or truthful in everything you watch.
- Watch something with the express purpose of finding a creative starting point. That is, whether you are a painter, photographer, writer, songwriter, filmmaker, etc., take something from what you watch, and use it to create something new and amazing.
Question: What are some ways that you have found beauty in the banal? How do you challenge yourself to find inspiration in the mundane?