What I Learned About Being an Artist
This piece first appeared in my newsletter. Subscribe here to keep up with my writing.
I usually release this newsletter on Monday but writing in the time of this pandemic, it’s tough man. I’ll keep up with the news and I can’t help but feel anxious and helpless to the point of inaction.
That’s when I chanced on Toni Morrison’s No Place for Self Pity, No Room for Fear. She penned this essay after the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush. She was talking to a friend about how depressed she felt at the time and how she wasn’t in the mood to write. Her friend then interrupted:
No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!
One of my biggest learnings these past few months is understanding what it means to be a writer, to be an artist. This is another lesson to add. The artist’s task, is to create art, especially in times of struggle.
It got me holistically thinking about what it means to me to be an artist. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Art isn’t pretty. Art isn’t painting. Art isn’t something you hang on the wall. Art is what we do when we’re truly alive.
- Artists push society forward by challenging the status quo. They challenge us to think critically and inspire us to dream.
- Art is the highest form of expression. To create art is to use a craft as a medium to express your essence.
- To create art means to put yourself out there, to be vulnerable, naked, for other people to accept or reject. That’s never easy.
- The artist learns that fear is not something to overcome, but rather it’s something you learn to dance with.
- To be an artist means to take creative risks. You don’t know what works and what doesn’t work until you ship it.
- Artists create when they are happy, when they are sad, in times of prosperity and especially in times of struggle.
- Art is what it is to be human. Taking an artist away from their craft is to strip them of their humanity.
Morrison’s piece served as a reminder to me that art, that writing is a form of therapy. Art heals our communities, but most importantly it heals us.
Now is the time for all artists, to get to work. Not to sit down and lament, but to create. Create businesses, create music, create stories.
Stuff I enjoyed this week
Toni Morrison | Essay (5min)
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.
I referred to this piece above, but I think it’s worth adding here for emphasis. In the midst of this pandemic, this piece was exactly what I needed.
Ray Dalio | Video (25min)
Two titans of completely different fields. One in hip hop, the other in investing. Here, Diddy is the student. It’s fascinating to see him in this light. It doesn’t matter that he’s reached the pinnacle of hip hop and he’s the second richest rapper in the world behind Jay Z. He understands that there will always be something new to learn and someone else to learn from.
Robert Iger | Biography
Bob Iger was the CEO of Disney for 15 years. Under his leadership, Disney’s value has quintupled. This book details his journey from his beginnings at the bottom of the ladder at ABC to the top of one of the most storied brands in American history.
Laura Gao | Comic
The city of Wuhan is now infamous throughout the world. Laura Gao, a Product Manager at Twitter, created this comic strip to tell the story of her hometown.
The New York Times | Photography Project
A team of photographers scattered across the globe documented the quiet desolation of their cities during the pandemic. The photos they took are breathtaking. Here are three of my favorites: