124 - Responding to culture. Responding to life.


Hello and welcome to the The Spark & The Art creativity podcast. Thank you for subscribing to our weekly podcast, where we alternate between interviews with creative folks from all different career levels and insight and inspiration episodes. All with the intention you’ll get what you need to get your creative projects started and, more importantly, finished.

I’m your host Tucker and this week were talking about observing and responding.  

Stand up comedians are observers and commenters of culture and society. The best ones put those observations of culture in clear words so we can see them ourselves. Sometimes, with the great standups, we can not just see our culture but we can see ourselves.

Any art has the illusion of driving culture but really it is just crystallizing what is happening. It translates culture from ephemeral to solid. From feelings to words. From the observable to the understandable. The elusive to the tangible.

At the very end of my talk with Illustrator Michael Grills in episode 119 he says this:

“[Artists] talk about how we’re the drivers of culture but that’s not really true. The drivers of culture are the people who are living in it. We are the responders to culture and we should learn how to respond to it properly.”

Michael’s belief is that an illustrator should be what the client needs. He describes how he has developed several styles that can work with different clients because they communicate their meaning in different ways. It’s about getting what the client needs to say in a way the audience can understand. 

It’s the illustrator’s job to respond to both the audience and the client and act as translator between the two. 

When you do a painting or photo or song or short story you are responding to something. Something you’ve seen. Something you’ve heard. Something you’ve felt. 

You translate that feeling and take it from the inside and put it out into the world. Now others can observe and respond to that. In a sense art is driving that piece of culture forward but it can’t drive what it hasn’t observed. Art on it’s own won’t drive a new idea. It can only translate and clarify existing ideas. 

In the book Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi he talks to poet Mark Strand about observing:

Mark Says

“We’re only here for a short while. And I think it’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention. In some ways, this is getting far afield. I mean, we are — as far as we know — the only part of the universe that’s self-conscious. We could even be the universe’s form of consciousness. We might have come along so that the universe could look at itself. I don’t know that, but we’re made of the same stuff that stars are made of, or that floats around in space. But we’re combined in such a way that we can describe what it’s like to be alive, to be witnesses. Most of our experience is that of being a witness. We see and hear and smell other things. I think being alive is responding.”

I like that last bit, I’m going to say it again: “I think being alive is responding.” 

Whatever your creative work when you show it to someone you are letting them observe a little bit of yourself. When they respond, whether it’s laughter, tears, fear, anger whatever that response you have given that to them. When things work best the response you intended and the response you got are aligned. That can be the catalyst to continue your work. That can be, as Dulcie Foo Fat says in our last episode ‘the crumb of a reward’ that moves you forward on a certain path. 

When it’s not at it’s best you elicit laughter when you expected tears. This can derail you for sure. When this happens you have to look at the response and see what you can learn from it. What can you tweak or change to keep you going. Maybe you change your work so that you eventually get those tears you intended - or perhaps you change your own expectation and work for the laugh next time. Or perhaps you decide that any response is just fine as long you aren’t met with apathy. Whichever it is I’d hope that you can keep moving and you don’t get shut down.

Your work may not drive culture but it should respond to it. And the only way you can respond to it is to observe it. Is to live in it. Your work time however short a time you have should be the time you synthesize and crystallize all you have observed from all of the fullest life you live. Then it should be shared so that others can respond to it.

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Thanks for listening and remember: you won’t get the art without the work and you won’t do the work without the spark.