March 21, 2014 Repository 131: Bon Mots | 6 Tests of Originality | Who Cares About Cool Posted In: art practice, bon mots, community, contemporary art

Image of Eva Hesse, 1959 by Stephen Korbet

Image of Eva Hesse, 1959 by Stephen Korbet

A short post as I prepare for major travel to NYC next week. I had another moment recently (these moments are multiplying) where an artist friend was feeling flummoxed about art, the studio, making work, and doing art with a capital “A”. Art IS work, and art is an obligation not a hobby (thank you very much IRS). So to remind her of how to sift through the ideas in her mind and simply carry on, I include two pockets of wisdom below.

One from an unlikely source – someone I equate with the branding and advertising world. I had the pleasure of working with Marty Neumeir years ago when I was managing a major branding project at gay.com (this company was a publicly traded company in the US, ticker LGBT that was partially owned by Disney, really). He is quite a force in the branding world, so I still keep my fingers tapped on what he is doing.  Since we know advertisers borrow from artists, why not borrow from them? Here are his words of wisdom on how to figure out if ideas are great or genius – his top six tests of originality:

1. Is it disorienting? A great idea should be unsettling—not just to you, but others in your group. Some people may reject it on the spot. This may be a good sign, since the potential of a new idea is often inversely proportional to its comfort factor.

2. Does it kill ten birds? A good idea kills two birds with one stone. A great idea kills ten or twenty.

3. Does it need to be proved? If an idea doesn’t need to be tested, it’s probably because it’s not very original or not very bold. The skepticism that calls for a proof of concept is one of the signals of originality.

4. Is it likely to force change? Great ideas are not polite. They never say they’re sorry. They don’t try to fit in. On the contrary, they force the rest of the world to change in self-defense.

5. Does it create affordances? The measure of a great idea is the quantity and quality of affordances it throws off. Affordances are the opportunities inherent in an idea. The more affordances—for customers, a company, an industry, or society at large—the better the idea.

6. Can it be summarized? A great idea can usually be described in a sentence. It has a strong internal order, one that answers to a clear and compelling purpose. If you find it hard to describe your idea, stop working on your description. Fix your idea.

More bright ideas from Marty here. I especially like number 6, and would reword for artists – if you can’t explain what you are doing at the bus stop to anyone, revisit your ideas!

Sol Lewitt b.1928

Photo Sol Lewitt (1928-2007)

The second is a more obvious, artful and heartfelt choice – a letter from Sol Lewitt to a young and restless Eve Hesse (1936-1970). My heart hurts when I read this, and so thankful she made what she did when she did it. So matter of fact, I love it. I hope you enjoy too! Thank you for posting this Ula Einstein!

“Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping,…Stop it and just DO!…

Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety…

You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!…
Try to do some BAD work – the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell – you are not responsible for the world – you are only responsible for your work – so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be…
I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts. But when you work or before you work you have to empty you [sic] mind and concentrate on what you are doing. After you do something it is done and that’s that. After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going. I’m sure you know all that. You also must know that you don’t have to justify your work – not even to yourself.”

Strangely I told my friend something similar – while I didn’t use the phrase “make your own uncool”, I simply advised her to collaborate with her neurosis and not resist it. A topic which I will be attending to very soon.

Now back to work!!


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  1. Marina • March 21, 2014

    Another amazing post. Btw, I just met Alfredo Muccino a couple of weeks ago, I drove to San Jose to his Liquid agency for some reason or another.
    I continue to be impressed and inspired by your capacity to multitask your life as a person, mother, and professional. I hope your trip to NY is successful, and looking forward to our next meeting. :-) Reply

    • mindmarrow • March 21, 2014

      Thank you Marina!! I am missing you and my Bay Area friends, thinking of you often lately due to the seismic shift in galleries downtown, and artists being displaced. You too impress me my dear, and I look forward to collaborating on a project together perhaps, and seeing you of course!! Forze in Italia l'anno prossimo a Venezia?? xo-c Reply

  2. Üla Einstein, nyc • March 23, 2014

    You're welcome Catherine - 'Talkalert' let me know you shared the timeless letter Lewitt wrote to Hesse (who I consider my kindred spirit) from my creativity coaching site. I also included this timeless letter on my art site ulaeinstein.com/lewitthesse/‎ It is always moving to read. AND I wish you safe travels; and by that i mean inside and out! *) Reply

    • mindmarrow • March 23, 2014

      Thank you Ula!! The link is changed to reflect your site - keep up the lovely work, coaching and making etc. Indeed your work reminds me of Hesse's a bit;-) Reply

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