Understanding art part 2: The difference between an artist and a painter

Jackson Pollock was one of the most influential artists of his generation.

What many don’t know is that he had an older brother named Charles. Charles Pollock was a painter, not an artist.

Charles insisted that his work be like his mentor, Thomas Hart Benton.

And if you look at a Thomas Hart Benton (left) and a Charles Pollock (right), their work is nearly identical.

Without a doubt Charles had put in the hours it takes to master a brush. But what he lacked wasn’t technical skill—it was guts

The guts to try things that might not work, to strain the boundaries of what’s possible, to show us how he sees the world.

And that is why no one remembers Charles Pollock.

Understanding art part 1: Art isn’t a picture hanging in a museum

There isn’t enough shelf space in all the museums of the world to hold the amount of art that is available to us.

Yet, we continue to insist on defining art as only paint on a canvas that we can hang on a wall.

Museums don’t define art (or good art for that matter), we do.

Art is anything we do as a human that brings emotional labor to make a connection.

No one chooses to go to the DMV, we have to go to the DMV. If you can find a DMV clerk that is delighting the people around her, I can show you an artist.

Looking for an interruption

It takes 23 minutes to get back into the flow of something after every interruption. This is astounding if you think about it.

But the problem isn’t the time it takes to get back on track, it’s the amount of times we get interrupted. During the typical work day, the average person will be interrupted 82 times.

How in the world is anything ever supposed to get done?

If you are looking for a significant advantage, here’s a tip:

Block out one hour a day of interruption free time. Turn off the phone, log off your email, shut the door.

What could you accomplish in a 60-minute sprint?

The second problem we run into is this, many of us are very uncomfortable with dead space, time to ourselves with our own thoughts. As a result, we seek distractions to fill the day, to give us something to do. Falling behind creates urgency and is a motivator to do the banal.

When is the last time you sat for five minutes and did nothing?

Sounds agonizing? Because it is.

We have to understand, there are selfish marketers that are working extremely hard to steal your attention. Facebook is designed to keep you on the hook. We are inundated with tens of thousands of ads per day.

Yet, there’s hope. The internet is a ratchet to help us leverage the wisdom of crowds, the means of production is in our hands. But too often, we use it to watch cat videos.

Attention is the most precious resource we can give. We can share it with the people around us to connect, we can give it to our work to make great change happen. Don’t squander it to pass the time.

If you say yes to this, you are going to have to say no to something else. You’ll never regret the decision to do work that lifts those around you.

Less Fortnight. More art.

Success and the excessive bank account

Recently, I went to an event and happen to speak to a cable news host about their program on success stories. Knowing absolutely nothing about the individual, his first response after asking what I do was:

“Come talk to me in a year when you are successful.”

Let’s be completely clear about this, because I think this is something that most people trip on:

Success is not achieved by a dollar amount.

Success is measured by the impact you make, the lives you touch, the change you seek to make. It can’t be measured, it can’t be qualified but it can be felt. It is a posture.

The single mom who works three jobs to help put their kids through college, that opens doors for her kids, to give them more opportunities than she had is far more successful than the capitalist who races to the bottom to squeeze more profit.


Success is not a popularity contest.

It isn’t measured by how many Twitter followers. That world is fake. And there are lots of things and decisions we make that are fake too.

Next time someone compares their worth to yours, kindly tip your hat and walk away. There are far better ways to measure your life than money.

Will this be on the test?

Two hundred years ago, factories were in short supply of factory workers.

The answer was to put kids in public school to train them to become compliant cogs in a machine. We did this by telling kids to sit at their assigned seats with their #2 pencil, ask for permission to use the bathroom, to line up when the bell rings…to follow instructions.

The standardized test was invented to help identify the students who exceled in school. (Of course, there is a difference between leadership/intelligence and schooling.) It was meant as a temporary solution. And when Horace Mann, the architect behind standardized testing, spoke against the continuation of testing, he was fired.

It’s clear, school is designed to help train a work force to become more productive—to do what you did yesterday but faster and cheaper.

We have been conditioned to memorize the “right” answer given to us rather than explore the edges, to seek the unknown in search of new possibilities.

The culture has been built around The Henry Ford Production Model. Which would be great, except now there is so much stuff. Production is almost instance, free and to spec. It’s (almost) perfect. It’s a race to the bottom, and soon it is going to end. Factory jobs are no longer short supply.

So why do we insist on feeding the machine?

Because that is what we have been told to do.

This is the most stressful workforce in human history. And there’s stress because we still produce students looking for the correct answers. Once school is over there is no road map, no step-by-step set of instructions to follow. Yet, we end up waiting (often quite a long time) to be told what to do next.

We operate as a bird in search of cage despite the open space. We continue to ask Will this be on the test?

The opportunity now, more than ever, is to lead. To learn how to make better decisions. The only way to learn how to make better decisions is by making them. Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. We learn to act. Act first. Act often. Over time, we discover this ability to make decisions was with us all along: Agency. Agency, the ability to choose.

Sure, it’s scary and tempting to give it away. We want everything to mapped out before we act. All the steps and pitfalls to be identified before we ship. We want the water to be calm, conditions to be perfect before we begin.

Except, that isn’t how life works.

So, the choice is yours. You can choose to take back your agency or surrender it.

The more screen time we have

Social media uses two traps to keep its players hooked to the game.

First, with pride: Why can’t you be more like me?

Second, by comparison: Why can’t you be more like them?

And around and around you go. Stuck. In a vicious downward cycle.

Here’s the thing, the more screen time we have, the unhappier we feel. And the more unhappier we feel, the more screen time we seek.

“The way you see someone is the way you treat them and the way you treat them is who they will become.” — Goethe

The crux of a sprint

The Race Across America, or RAAM, is the ultimate test piece in endurance sports.

This 3,000 mile race starts from California and winds its way through to New York.

Unlike the Tour de France, the clock doesn’t stop. Riders will often go for 22 hours a day for eight days straight.

Every rider who registers for this race knows they are going to get tired. The question is Where are you going to put the tired?

When you have nothing left to give, where are you going to find the strength to continue?

How are you going to put aside the internal narrative that you can’t go any further?

After moving as hard as you can for 22 hours, how are you going to start again tomorrow?

Of course, it’s not meant to last forever. The idea of a sprint is to go fast, to stretch for a short time period, to create forward motion.

Putting aside the noises in our head that says we can’t do it is crux of any sprint.

[I riff a bit about this at the beginning of my presentation at 1 Million Cups.]