Saturday, July 09, 2005

On Becoming an Artist

On Becoming an Artist
Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity
by Ellen J. Langer

Ellen Langer is a Harvard psychology professor. I've enjoy her previous books, Mindfulness and The Art of Mindful Learning. This latest book is as good if not better than those that came before.

Langer's theme, permeating each book, is that you have a choice in how you live, learn, and (now) create: you can either be mindful or mindless. You can be attentive, alert, and open; or you can go on autopilot, feel helpless, and let things happen to you.

Noticing new things about the world is the essence of mindfulness. Unquestionaingly accepting a single-minded evaluation of what we notice is mindless.* Our world is neither black nor white; it's always tinted in shades of gray. We spend much of our lives looking for right answers and in doing so give up control. There are no absolutes. If there is no doubt, there is no choice. If we recognize that doubt allows choice, we can become mindfully creative.

Our rather mindless aversion to mistakes is rooted in our belief in plans, that is, in our expectation that we should execute a plan we had previously set, with no deviations. I'm reminded to the saying that "Man plans. God laughs." When Robert Frost wrote poems that didn't work to his satisfaction, he called them "exercises." That is genius. Exercises carry with them the idea of improvement. Mistakes, by contract, suggest incompetence. I label more and more of my work beta. I am not sufficiently presumptuous to think it can't always stand some improvement.

When we don't expect to know something completely, we don't see ourselves as making mistakes, we see ourselves as learners.

Chapter TItle: From Reference to Preference.
That reminds me of times I've chosen to have Conversations instead of Presentations. A rich, creative life really is available to each of us, but only when we stop handing over control of our creative fives to the prejudices that tell us it is not available. To do so, we need to learn why it's important to reach out and embrace the world, to look at it with a fresh perspective and an eye to what is new and distinct about it.

We can choose to live our lives as artists or as victims. Duh. And yet the mass of men become victims by default, more comfortable to blame the system than to respond creatively.

I'd enjoy meeting this woman next time I'm back in Beantown.

*Text in this color is a direct quotation from the book.

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