I spent the better part of last year reading volumes, of interviews and conversations with people I admire. Many of those people belong to a revered class of creatives throughout history — the masters. My two favorite books in this canon were “The Eye: How the World’s Most Influential Creative Directors Develop Their Vision” and “Henri Cartier-Bresson: Interviews and Conversations (1951–1998)”. Both are structured in a way that makes them easy to digest, almost like daily devotionals. In “The Eye…” each chapter focuses on a different Creative Director — just scratching the surface of their histories, inspirations, processes, and legacies. While Cartier-Bresson is met, in this particular book, in conversation with his contemporaries and critics of the time. What struck me about everyone of these creative masters was that, first and foremost, almost to the person, they are obsessed with a whole knowledge of their craft, as well as that of any and all possibly adjacent crafts.
That is their super power — a curiosity and appetite for the whole picture. The same is consequently, as children of the digital age, our Achilles heel.
I set out this year pretty determined not to have any goals. I had no words, or intentions. I didn’t want to be “better” this year. At least not in the way the self-improvement industrial complex and its cabal of make-better myths and potion peddlers want me to be “better.” New year same me! The pages of journals from early ’20 and ’21 had taught me a hard lesson in being too generous in ambition. However, as my wife recovered after quite literally being throat punched by the Omicron variant, trapping us at home for 10 days, I wrapped up the final pages of my 2021 creative devotionals and reluctantly found my ’22 intention inscribed in invisible ink on its back blank pages:
This year I want to consume creativity more consciously and more wholly.
When was the last time you listened to a whole album? A whole album. What about the last time you sat down to listen to a whole album? I don’t mean the passive backdrop of sound we employ while we carry on doing the hundreds of things we fill our days with. Listen — I mean carving out time to which you devote the entirety of your attention to one artist’s crafted and curated collection of melody, prose, and rhythm, in the succession it was intended. I’ve been a musician most of my life and am ashamed to say that prior a couple of weeks ago my answer to that question would have been, well, a long long time.
(More specifically 2017’s The Search For Everything by one John Clayton Mayer. Which in my humble opinion is the single best breakup album ever constructed.)
I’m no Luddite. I don’t see much benefit in waxing nostalgic about days gone by. Much of the past needs to stay exactly where it is. But I do think we’ve lost something in this our age of screens, and subscriptions. I suppose lost isn’t the word because, though it may have been a subconscious act for some, it was no accident for most of us. It seems we’ve willingly relinquished our attention spans. Content is king, and there’s just so much of it that we now trust a series of algorithms that very few of us understand, to not only know us better than we know ourselves, but also to sort through all of it for us and discover our future selves. *Double back and reread that last sentence* It’s quite terrifying if you really think about it. We’ve slowly given up ground in both knowing, and discovering. Our impulse to consume as much as possible, as quickly as possible — the same one that makes fast-fashion profitable and builds islands of garbage in the Pacific— has made its way into our understanding and practice of art. It’s a strange gluttony of our time. Engorging ourselves on everything we can get our hands on, while managing to savor approximately none of it. Leaving us simultaneously bursting at the seams and completely empty — inflated and exhausted.
For those of us with a creative call or mandate, it’s a particularly dangerous short fall. Because ours is a call to beauty, not aesthetic. Ours is a pursuit to pour out from a place of fullness, abundant with wonder, not a bloated half knowing.
This year let’s borrow a practice from the greats. Let’s, look for longer, and listen for longer. Let’s assume there’s more than we can possibly know from hearing a piece of it once on NPR, or half reading someone else’s ideas about it in The Atlantic. To be fair, both wonderful resources, yes. But just a starting point, a spark. Let’s not allow ourselves to be satisfied by its fleeting glow, when its intended purpose is to light a curious fire within. Be insatiable, for the whole album, the discography, the unreleased, basement mix tapes. Let us never settle for just a song or two. Read the whole book, then read your favorite parts again. Stare at that picture, that painting, until it comes alive behind your eyes and begins to speak to you. This year let’s not blindly consume. Let’s savor, with all our senses wide open.
This year let’s eat well — whole meals with multiple courses, wine pairings, dessert, an aperitif or coffee to help us digest. Tomorrow, we’ll do it all again. In pursuit of beauty.
By Obiekwe "Obi" Okolo ,Bittersweet Creative Creative Director