First though, this is Nico! He’s a curious lad who often, to the chagrin of his caretakers, disappears for days on end, only to emerge mostly unscathed and with some new pet or treasure.
And now for a few thoughts…
Nothing New Under the Sun
An original idea. That can't be too hard. The library must be full of them.
― Stephen Fry
It’s a common admonition that, if we are going to distinguish ourselves, we need to find something new to put out into the world. We need to express something that our audience has never seen before.
The problem we face is that we live in an age where everything seems to have been discovered and all of humanity’s knowledge is a Google search away. The secrets that do remain seem locked away behind years of toil and sheer luck. There is hardly an inch of our world that has not been revisited time and time again. We are told that even the slopes of Mt. Everest are littered with the trash of the myriad tourists who attempt to climb its once impossible peak.
Everywhere we go, we are aware of the thousands of others who have gone before us. When we pick up a new novel, we find ourselves presented with what we thought was our own original idea, already fully realized. Our brilliant concept for a painting, we discover has been done, many times before, by people much more talented than us.
Worse, we find outselves in competition not only with the masses of living artists all over the world, but with every artist that has ever lived. Is it the best we can do to toil in the shadows of those giants of our chosen field?
The task before us seems impossible.
But perhaps it’s always been this way. As the author of Ecclesiastes lamented over 2000 years ago:
Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.
— Ecclesiastes 1:10 - 11
Perhaps the great artists have always understood the impossibility of the task, of looking into the unknown, working and hoping to find something worth bringing back.
The work is hard, and most of us won’t bring back anything that humanity will cherish for ages to come. Most of us will not become eminent artists or authors, because that goal is nearly impossible.
But by leaning into that impossible task, by attempting to see that which we cannot yet see. By trying and failing, and trying again, we come to see ourselves and our place in the universe more clearly. We find ourselves expanding beyond what we thought was possible and growing into larger versions of ourselves.
The point, we realize, is not to create something new, out there, but to create something new within us.
Here’s a fun read from the Oxford Royale Academy titled “5 Great Discoveries That Haven’t Yet Been Made”
For a glimpse of some of the fascinating animal life in our planet’s vast, yet to be explored deep ocean, here’s the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Research Institute’s (MBARI) Top 10 Deep-Sea Animals on YouTube.
Something to Try
Here’s a tool I’ve been using recently. It comes from David Perell, a writer, teacher and entrepreneur. The tip is to end your working session with a quick summary, noting:
Where are you stuck?
What are your goals for the next session?
What were you thinking about when you ended your creative session?
In this case, David is talking to writers, but I also have been finding this little discipline helpful for illustration, design, and other creative endeavors as well.
The next time you start your work, you’ll have this summary that helps you get back into the headspace that you were in when you last left off, which helps you get back into the flow more quickly.
Try it and let me know how it goes!
Nice work, Rob.
A wise owl once said to me, we tend to reinvent the wheel to ever diminishing circumference.
My academic career depends on coming up with original ideas that get reviewed by others so that an article might be published. The pressure, well internalised, is tremendous. No sooner is the work, which might have taken 2 years to research and write, published, something else already has to be in the pipeline. Thinking blocks are not an option, writing blocks least of all. At the end of each writing session I write a note about where to begin next time.
I survive by meditating twice a day and by playing the saxophone whenever I can, and because I have a loving partner and a couple of close friends.