— William James in Principles of Psychology (1890)
Art is lost upon America. The elitism and exclusivity of the art world and its seasoned patrons leaves young, aspiring connoisseurs feeling infinitely unenlightened and inferior. The art snobs among us make it a sterling point to establish their superior insight into the works of Cézanne or Chagall — as if they truly know better.
People who read our two-sentence Twitter bio often ask us what the phrase “democratizing art” means. To us, the democratization of art is predicated entirely on freedom—the freedom to appreciate, create and engage art in every facet of life. It has as much to do with encouraging individual tastes and preferences as it does with increasing access to art. By virtue of its traditional definition, ‘democracy’ affords people the luxury of making choices for themselves. Yet, in many realms, we are often uncomfortable standing by our choice of aesthetic expression. We’ve unwittingly learned to look to the standards set by an esoteric elite — namely our beloved celebrities and socialites — for clues on what to appreciate.
The democratization of art is also about coming up with ways to observe the art that already exists around us. It’s striking how complacent and conditioned we are about not seeking beauty in daily life. Art transcends all forms of media — one doesn’t need to frequent galleries or museums to find it. It’s hardly beholden to the walls of the MoMA or the stage of an opera house. There’s art in our homes, our workspaces and the products we use. There’s art in relationships, in business. There’s art in the way of doing things. These manifestations, too, are real and worthy of appreciation and reflection.
— Marcel Proust
Although clarity may come to us unexpectedly, it is hardly accidental. It is convenient to think that the people among us who seem to have greater judgment in their personal, professional or spiritual lives, have it because they are simply lucky. It’s more difficult to accept that their clarity is not accidental. It’s even harder to accept that such lucidity seems to come only to certain people because they’ve made considerable efforts to achieve it. We find greater comfort in attributing someone’s clarity (and success) to happenstance because it relieves us of taking responsibility for our own coherence.
Clarity is not esoteric. It isn’t reserved for a select, privileged few. It is limited neither to the psychiatrist’s couch nor to the philosopher’s circle. It can be achieved by the common man in his daily life. The fact that some days we’re thinking clear as bulbs and other days, we aren’t half as sharp points to the constantly evolving nature of clarity; if it can grow, so too can it decay.
Clarity in thought is not about simply memorizing facts or reading books. Knowing the name of cellular organelles doesn’t make one a biologist, knowing the laws of thermodynamics doesn’t make one a physicist. Data, figures and charts, no matter how well-developed, are of no use if one can’t make sense of them and draw his own conclusions. It’s more valuable to build an independent framework of understanding that connects pieces of information to each other and helps us integrate new ideas and observations as they come along. How cogent is our view of the big picture, how sensitive are we to the details? These questions force us to create our individual tapestries of knowledge where before there were loose threads of information. They become exercises for turning the opaque into the clear.
This brings me to the final point: clarity is neither easy to achieve nor easy to maintain. True moments of clarity, moments of insight that elucidate a problem that previously seemed impenetrable to our intellect or reasoning, are achieved not by going for walks or taking power naps, but through critical and creative thought and action. Walking and napping are not without benefit, but are hardly of sufficient help in achieving proper, compelling clarity. The challenge of achieving such perception in our lives lies in planning and preparing for it — with critical contemplation and self-debate. It may require rummaging through the ruins of failure at one time and combing through the streaks of success at another.
To believe that clear thinking is a product of coincidence is foolhardy, to think it’s an easy fruit to pick is delusional. Quite simply, clarity doesn’t grow on trees.
Many of us welcome each January resolved to put forth a better effort for the new year. Yet few of us are precise in exactly how we’ll manage to be more happy, healthy and productive. By summer’s arrival, oh-so-lofty resolutions of toned bodies, higher GPAs and less TV seem so obsolete that they might as well have never existed.
What we fail to realize is that to win the day, we must play for the hour.
Why be careless and imprecise with our precious goals? Why not distill our overwhelmingly disorganized resolutions down to actionable units of time? Instead of fumbling around with vague to-do lists, why not set hourly objectives? Think of this as more of a strategy than a schedule. You’ll soon discover that 60 minutes is a far more digestible time horizon for a focused productivity session than an entire unplanned day. Just as no wall is built without its first brick laid, no student, soccer mom or executive ever seizes the day without first seizing the hour.
What the few have, the many want. Boys yearning to be the men their ambitions tell them to be, girls…just being girls. The world still doesn’t move in one direction or another because we want it to. Dreams still don’t come true just because we’ve dreamt them.
Truth is: these dreams are hardly loyal. They are ever-so-ready to forsake us if we neglect to nurture them, protect them. They will leave us. Unless we tend to them with care and devotion. As with most beautiful things, they enjoy being temperamental and rash. And erratic. Even exuberant. Our dreams can get by without us, but we can’t bear living without them. And the price we pay to keep them with us lies in our effort, our toil.
Flowers need water, women attention and dreams doing. None of the former stay for long without the latter.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
There are degrees to our realizations. And these realizations…these truths, if you will, are rarely uncovered whole; they tend to reveal themselves bit by bit — much like everything else in life. Learning, loving, failing. Each is a process. Each evolves a bit at a time. Sometimes it’s quick and easy, and sometimes slow and painful. But it’s always there, obeying a cycle often unbeknownst to us. In our flares of excessive ambition and impatience (or stupidity and incompetence), we sometimes make rash decisions that alter (more specifically, degrade) the product the process is supposed to yield. The magic lies in a commitment to never rush the flow. Whether you’re high off a peak or wallowing in a trough, never rush the flow.
In times of conflict and disagreement, it may be easy to lose ourselves to rage and vengeance. It’s easy to get angry about the hurt others may have caused us. It’s far more difficult and virtuous, however, to maintain our forbearance. That others degrade their character in attacking us doesn’t give us permission to do the same in return. In light of the recent release of a defamatory and misguided film about Islam and the widespread outcry that has ensued in its protest, perhaps it’ll serve us well to revisit Dr. King’s words:
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The best retaliation isn’t one that succumbs to provocation. Instead, the best retaliation is one that is meted out with composure, kindness and patience.
— Friedrich Nietzsche
— Sheldon Adelson
Tumors are far easier to manipulate at a 10-cell stage than they are at a 100,000-cell stage. A hundred-barrel oil leak is far easier to clean up than a million-barrel oil spill. It’s far easier to shed five pounds than it is to shed 50.
Everyone has a nuisance, but not everyone is punctual in dealing with their nuisances. Early correction of a problem can save as much time later as it can dollars (and lives). The best cure is always prevention, but the obvious runner-up is playing a prompt game of Whack-a-Mole with whatever challenge we’re facing. Letting mishaps mushroom into what Law & Order calls “situations” are never worth the price we’ll end up paying for them. Suffer now, relax later.
And Allah would turn to you in mercy; but those who follow vain desires would have you go tremendously astray."
— Qur’an 4:27
— Dom Kennedy
— Jorge Luis Borges, On Exactitude in Science (1946)