Update 1st August 2023: The Artists' Manifesto was a good idea, it was available digitally for a while, and I had fully intended to publish a paperback version. But the idea was incomplete and needed development so I held off. Since that time, my thoughts and ideas around daily work have developed and, with the addition of my time studying psychology, are more rounded, and less rough. Today I am an Organisational Psychologist and lecturer in psychology. I continue to share these ideas on work and life in my newsletter, Sunday Letters.
The Paradox of Work
In today's Sunday Letters article, I'm taking a look at the paradox of work. We need it, but we seem to resent it. Given the choice, if the need for money was not the prime mover, we might not even do what we do. We can't wait to get away from it. We look forward to Fridays and dread Monday mornings. There is the belief in us that somewhere in the future, it will get better, we'll have more money, and life will be easier. Meanwhile, we wish our lives away and spend our so-called spare time engaged in frivolous activities that offer no complexity or lasting satisfaction. We are lost in the paradox of work, but perhaps there is an answer…
We've got a bit of a difficult relationship with work, don't we?
We need it to provide us with income, to pay bills, to buy stuff – much of which we don't need. We take holidays and pretty much everything connected with the modern way of life.
Of course, work has many positive social aspects. We find friends there, and build relationships, personal knowledge and expertise through its daily execution.
But many of us dread work.
We go to our workplace not because we love it, but because it provides us with income.
We're compelled to go.
In that respect, it has become a means to an end, and as such, it has developed many negative connotations. It seems that we have become caught in the paradox of work.
I wonder, if money was no concern to us, if we had everything we need to live a fulfilling life, would we still choose to do what we do for the majority of our waking hours?
The Insanity of The Working Life
When we stand back and look at the how and why of work, it may be plain to see the insanity of how human beings across Western industrialised cultures practice this daily routine.
Between 7 am and 9 am every morning, the roads are crammed with lunatics driving white-knuckled to office blocks, factories and warehouses.
Then from around 4 pm, we do it all again in the opposite direction.
When we get home, assuming that we actually get home at a reasonable hour, our relationships, in anticipation of doing it all again tomorrow, are transactional and absent of real connection.
Our children are reared by other people while our focus is on making enough money, and meeting the demands of the companies and the bosses for whom we work.
A couple of years ago, as I sat outside an office building waiting to enter a meeting, I saw something that made me see this clearly, perhaps for the first time.
Three guys were walking along the canal, laughing and joking.
They could have been drunk, but that didn't matter.
What struck me was the sharp contrast between those three guys and everyone else around them.
Hundreds of neatly dressed grey-faced people walked zombie-like along the street to their work and here were these having fun.
It was almost 9 am, and it was obvious to me that none of these grey-faced people were having, or even anticipating having fun.
I wondered why we do this, and I thought; I need to make a change.
It wasn't long after this experience that I began to write my ideas about life and work. Those ideas ultimately became the basis for The Artist's Manifesto.
Introduction to The Artist's Manifesto.
The Artist's Manifesto is a creative philosophy for life and work that encompasses a set of principles, the execution of which brings about results known as Purposeful Accident.
Purposeful Accident is the inevitable coming about in our experience of favourable circumstances when we set out on purpose to engage, playfully but intently, in our chosen work simply for the sake of it.
The Artist's Manifesto does not attempt to convert you to a particular system of belief or ask you to hang your potential for worldly success on arbitrary concepts.
Rather, it asks you to let go of potentially damaging preconceived ideas of personal worth, of creative success, and the need to have results turn out in a particular way.
It points in the direction of a universal truth, one that underlies all creativity and artistic endeavour.
My wish for this book is that you will find the truth behind these ideas somewhere in its pages.
In May 2017, I wrote and published the first draft of The Artist’s Manifesto as a short ebook on my website.
Like all first drafts, it was rough, but it captured something that had been with me for a long time.
I have since edited and refined that original document perhaps a dozen times or more, but the core principle remains the same.
That is, to outline the imperative for all human beings to engage in our work primarily for the sake of it without the need for applause or recognition.
In doing so, the book proposes a philosophy for life and work whereby creative people everywhere and in all domains can realise happiness, fulfilment and creative success.
The principles in this book are of a fundamental nature, but I do not claim them as my own.
They have been said many times and by many people before me in many different ways. What you’ll read is merely my interpretation.
In a world that demands our attention and immediate response, a world that is dominated by data, information and constant stimulation, it is a significant challenge for us to remain focused and dedicated to one thing.
Those of us who do are in the minority, often castigated, and seldom celebrated.
In our contemporary society, being busy is right and proper.
To be productive and efficient in our daily work is paramount, and it is upon this we are deemed suitable members of society.
On the inside, there is safety in numbers, conformity, sameness and mediocrity.
On the outside, there is danger, isolation and failure.
We are measured, and we, in turn, measure each other in economic terms. The more we get done the more we are considered valuable.
The more bright shiny things we own, the better off we are.
It is from this flawed perspective of work that the dominant state of mind driving human behaviour in western industrialised society is expressed.
The Lure Of Future Reward
Ultimately, this mode of thought and behaviour is damaging to human beings.
Our constant attention to environmental stimuli and our emotional reaction to events and circumstances creates an always-on mind incapable of finding lasting peace and happiness.
Stress, anxiety and depression are our constant companions in our perpetual pursuit of happiness.
In desperation to feel positive emotion, we choose short-term gratification from shopping, entertainment, drugs and alcohol.
En masse, this behaviour drives economies, but at what cost to us?
Ironically, the work we often despise so much, the work that provides a means to an end, cash to buy stuff we don't need and pay off debts, is often the very thing that can provide us with a route to the long-term fulfilment and happiness we crave.
If we could only move away from our transactional, future-reward-based relationship with work and engage with it for its inherent enjoyment, we might realise that thing we are striving for is already here.
By encouraging complete dedication to our craft solely for the enjoyment that it brings us, the Artist's Manifesto may provide that route.
Favourable circumstances, events, experiences and apparent coincidences found at the opposite end of dedication and commitment to a given craft or art, are what I have come to term, Purposeful Accident. You will read how Purposeful Accident is not something that can be forced, coerced or fooled into being by shallow surface-level motivation built on the outside influence of others, societal or peer group demands. Rather it comes about by itself, by the natural consequences of being present and engaged in complex work without ulterior motives or the need to have results turn out a particular way. This Artist's Manifesto attempts to communicate its message through a philosophy encompassing the principle of Purposeful Accident and other related ideas and concepts.