On Becoming An Artist, Part 2

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“Order To Disorder” by Matthew Courtney

“All it takes to become an artist is to start doing art.” 

With these understated and at the same time profound words, my friend Dr Ellen Langer began her 2005 book ‘On Becoming An Artist”. It is an instructive and inspiring book I have read through cover to cover about four or five times now. Dog-eared and underscored, this book provides a reflective conversation that lives up to its subtitle: “Reinventing yourself through mindful creativity.”

I first met Ellen in Toronto back in 2007 when attending a conference at Rotman Business School. Roger Martin who I knew from attending the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship had invited me to participate in a conference he was convening about thinking. I knew there were great thinkers in Toronto before I arrived for that conference, but it was when I was attending I saw how alive that city is with fresh thinking, design and creativity. It was for that reason I decided to run there during the 10 City Bridge Run, and especially why it will be included as part of the Design Forums that will follow later this year.

Ellen is a big thinker, but not your usual academic or thought leader. She is an elegant woman who would seem to be more at home at Largerfield’s next Chanel showing in Paris, but she is just at home with big ideas and the opportunity to ask you to stretch your mind more. I was fortunate to spend time with her again in Melbourne in 2011 at the Australian Davos Connection ‘Future Summit’ which I am alumnus to.

She is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, and is qualified to speak on matters concerning the mind. The book is a case study of her own experience from picking up paint brushes through Untaught Art and becoming an artist. She uses the writing to paint metaphorically a discussion beyond her earlier writing about how rampant and costly living a life mindlessly can be, to address how mindful creativity enriches and enhances your life.

Re-reading the book now, I find at this is our intention as we set about the Design Forum for the 10 City Bridge Run to ask “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” We will together tap into a process of engagement that will enrich our own lives, and through doing so we will be helping to literally save the lives of millions of people over the coming decades as part of a broader collective effort.

The photo is from a friend in New York, Matthew Courtney. He too is an artist with a colourful past I know little about. He lives in Brooklyn, and travels into SoHo to sell painting and drawings he has made. Most people are too busy to stop and look or to talk. Much like existing conversations that sometimes overlook dysfunction in making change happen in child survival, Matthew experiences a phenomenon that Ellen writes about observing people and critics flocking to “official art” with excessive emphasis on evaluation. Ellen writes:

“People don’t give up their current preferences or ideas easily.”

These are big ideas Ellen is playing with. It is not suggesting you throw away your bible, figuratively or literally, and I for one would encourage you to hold onto your values and beliefs. But importantly, learn to look anew, see with fresh eyes, and think again. This is the process we will embrace during the Design Forum. Please join us on this journey!

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