Am I going to keep writing? – Brown sauce, anyone?

The particulars concern myself. The argument might have some use to you.

In the past couple of months since leaving my chemist job, I have embarked on a series of overly ambitious, and probably destined to fail projects. Inspired by some big Youtuber chemists, I decided to start my own channel. I found so far that people do not want me to teach them chemistry, and only marginally better would they rather watch me try to improvise lab equipment. With the current growth rate, I will be eligible for monetisation only after my projected lifespan ends.

I have spent a lot of time making art, and also tried selling it. Initial disappointment aside, I can’t say I am surprised. I have seen much better art not selling. I want to keep developing my artistic side, but I think it is best to scrap the idea of making a living this way.

What I present as a backup plan, and ‘excuse’ for my ridiculous self-employment plans (I need one of course, people judge you more or less openly), is the idea that if it all fails, at least I have learnt new skills, improved my CV, and taken some much needed career reorientation time.

As of this week, I started a blog. I have previously dabbled with the idea of creative writing, and even started a Youtube channel around it. I would like to believe the idea might not have been fundamentally flawed. This is no longer online. Until now, I was a fan of the ‘scrubbing your mistakes and failures out’ approach. People call this ‘improvement’. Now, I take immature pride in leaving them there whenever I can.

The problem with all these attempts, beside having spread myself out too thinly, is that the amount of time required to succeed far exceeds the amount of time it takes me to get bored. And this brings me to question whether I will be able to stick with writing, even if only for a hobby?

Boredom does not make me give up. I have sure wasted a lot of my life working on things I had long given up caring about. In order to increase the rate of progress, as opposed to just making progress, I need to be motivated.

Chemistry offered me early on, from my school days, things I wanted and needed: occupation, the chance to be good at something, approval and appreciation, and positive (as judged by others) career prospects. Writing, literature, philosophy, and art offered me none of these things. They had a rigid school system, family, and society thwarting the efforts of even their able proponents. As for their incapable proponents..

All this made me early on decide to cover my eyes, shut my ears, and put a heavy pair of boots on to dig a channel to navigate my life. I occasionally remember moments when people tried to tell me that I don’t need a channel; the terrains are not so bad and there are other ways to sail than by boat. I also committed another error: covering my mouth. Mi-zaru, kika-zaru, iwa-zaru. I still like chemistry. I just don’t think working it as a job is sustainable for me.

Having studied science, the prospect of academic writing seemed sensible. Experience has turned this into a less than ideal option on my list. My skills were not good. But writing about something I didn’t find exciting and being criticised for my writing when I needed help with content are things that put me off so far. The problem with having something corrected without being given a chance to understand what it was you did wrong, is that it leaves you with the feeling that ‘this’ had to be written a certain way. The way they wanted it.

Unfortunately, I feel creative writing does not work for me either. I make connections, I play with words, but I don’t seem to have the ability or the desire to create worlds. I tried. I picture ideas, plots, the meaning behind a story. But I struggle to paint the picture in words. Maybe that’s what painting is for; ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. Maybe I will try again.

What I seem to be enjoying is this kind of writing: a mix between analysis, reporting, and some literary ‘condiments’ (brown sauce, anyone?). That is probably what has long held me back: the lack of ‘structure’ that people crave.

Am I going to keep writing? Yes, as long as I keep getting ideas and feel like the words come out easily.

Why the Perfect Job is an Unicorn

The mythological creature we imagine as a horse with a narwhal horn is to me not the symbol of the inexistent, but rather the undefined. This clarification will probably not do much in terms of calming the discomfort caused by the title metaphor.

Deep down every person believes they know what the perfect job looks like, even if they temporarily have to call their lost naivety into action, and furthermore allow themselves to occasionally dream of it. Let’s all be naive for a moment. What is this perfect job? Surely it must involve minimal or no effort required to obtain a pay large enough to fund even the most ridiculous desires. Basically, being paid without actually doing anything. And the less you do, the more you get paid.

I believe this is not actually what anyone wants. The rest of this article deals with figuring out what it is then that one could reasonably expect from their dream job.

  1. Power. Commanding people without having to offer them reward or threatening punishment is what real power is about. Few things come to mind as granting such power: love, worship, loyalty. Employees working without pay (monetary or otherwise) or fear of redundancy still work in fear. It’s just that it’s not their leader who they fear. The perfect job will not bring you power.
  2. Prestige. Having people believe you have the power, even if you don’t, is what prestige is about. No job exists in a vacuum: you lead a company, you own it, you work for the best company, you are the best in your company, field, etc. Respect people have for you is never unity. You always have to share it with something or someone else. The perfect job will not bring you undivided respect.
  3. Achievement. Seeing your actions as the direct and sole cause for a successful outcome brings a sense of achievement. We have a contender. The perfect job could bring you such a feeling. It would make sense to desire it.
  4. Entertainment. Never underestimate the devastating effect saturation can have on the mind. Saturation causes exhaustion, boredom, and losing motivation. The saturated mind is like a speeding car without a running engine. Any number of factors could prevent this threshold being achieved: progress, variety, challenge, practical limits (the avid skydiver doesn’t get bored because there is only so many times they can jump out of the plane in one day; or their adrenal glands give up before they do). It would be sensible to ask for your perfect job to be entertaining.
  5. Companionship. I am probably stretching the use of this term. Not everyone wants human presence, even less so when working. What I mean is that ‘company’, even if only that of your own thoughts, is what brings out the sense of purpose in your work. I can imagine Sisyphus would have had to find this ‘company’ while rolling the boulder up eternally in the classical myth. It makes sense to ask for your dream job not to leave you feeling estranged.
  6. Purpose. Finding a sense of purpose is as much as you can expect from your job, or life for that matter. You can make your life and work meaningful, but don’t expect to find its purpose. Real purpose does not exist.
  7. Meaning. Following from entry 6, meaning certaintly should make the list of perfect job virtues. The perfect job has meaning and helps create meaning.
  8. Independence. Some people just don’t like being told what to do. Better said, they don’t consider the authority figure competent in their role. Whether this judgment is correct depends on the situation. It is anyway irrelevant for our analysis because complete independence does not exist. The perfect job would offer you such independence only if it was in no way needed and could cause no harm. This contradicts point 7, which makes independence a no go.

What should you hope for in the perfect job, if there is such a thing? According to me it is: achievement, entertainment, companionship, and meaning. Is the perfect job still a unicorn? Yes! Because there is no such thing as perfect.

If there is any situation of a perfect job existing, I think it is the one depicted in the title picture (illustrated by yours truly). The unicorn pushing the boulder back down after Sisyphus had rolled it up the hill fits the description. Each of them has guaranteed achievement (that’s how myths get set up). Every turn makes them feel like they are making progress on a never-ending job. We have entertainment. They have each other for companionship. And as mythological entities both of them find meaning in passing the ball to the other side.

The Value of Art

What determines the market value of a piece of artwork? I believe there is no escaping the principle of matching supply to demand that economy uses to set price. When it comes to art, supply can vary greatly. On one end of the spectrum we find unique, handmade masterpieces. On the other end come mass-produced reproductions, which have never been graced by the hands of the artist, or more recently, digital art, which although in principle available in infinite supply, is the object of the ongoing NFT bubble.

Demand and the underlying desirability of a piece are more difficult to quantify. Let’s start with quality. Quality refers to the skill and attention that the artist invested in making the artwork, and if applicable, the physical materials. I think it is instructive at this point to consider the scenario of the artist selling the newly-made piece first hand. They might be relying on the profits for their livelihood and therefore consider the returns per time spent (alas, bills must be paid) and any other expenses (materials, hardware, software). It is a rather common image, up to the point of becoming a stereotype, we see when thinking of the ‘starving artist’. And some artists promote this themselves. Not to say they do not perhaps have it hard, but being furious with the buyer who is trying to minimise expenditure (I am thinking of commission work for areas of art beyond ‘fine’: illustration, advertising) is not all that productive. Bob ‘the builder’ who needs a logo for his business will not care how much time and effort it takes to make the vector art, no matter how much the artist tries to drive the point home. And the public probably doesn’t know. They might however be willing to listen. My point is, artists explaining their efforts in an understandable way cannot hurt them. And it will at least win them the sympathy of the public.

And this brings me to the next point: how the public judges quality. The buyer looking for something ‘that will look nice on the living room wall’ will not appreciate the accuracy in the still life, the subtle and fine rendering of light and shadow or the quality in the composition. There is one caveat I find curious. In the 21st century, when almost everyone has a rather advanced camera in their pocket, people are still largely attracted to photorealistic and therefore highly accurate work. I think this is for two reasons: by having something to compare to in real life, they can judge the artwork without artistic training and by imagining the tedious work the artist puts in, they develop appreciation for the work. I am not a trained artist. But personally I feel the most exquisite rendering of a real life scene can be terribly boring. And a rough work made by an amateur can be very exciting if the subject is picked well.

On this point, I understand the frustration of the artist community: it is not only financial, but fundamental. Art is about more than the paint on the canvas or the bronze in the statue. Selling something that does not mean much to you, or conversely, not selling what means the world to you can leave you feeling desperate and betrayed. And then the anger gets vented on the public.. Everyone deserves to have their work appreciated, subject and proportional to their ability and putting in the effort. It is therefore essential for artists to find an audience that appreciates their work and is willing to spend the right amount for it.

But what about the public then? Do they only need wall decoration and business promotion? Art can be traded, but it can also be cherished. For the present article, I think it doesn’t matter. But in order not to give the public a bad image, I will discuss briefly. I was brought up in an artless environment, a culture which denigrated artists and their work. Conditioned, but also naturally resulting from the hardship of life. As far as necessities go, art is lower on the list, below food, housing, and money. Not surprising that the situation of people, regardless of where they live, not having enough money, looking at the ‘starving artist’, who has even less than they do, and not understanding what art is about leads to art being demonised.

The world works by people trading and forming interdependence relationships. Someone needs art, someone makes art. To go full circle, let’s go back to the issue of supply. Another way of looking at supply is through the question of originality. I feel this is important because, as mentioned, people deserve their efforts appreciated, and by tagging each work with the right name we are making this possible. Can overestimating the value of art (or anything else for that matter) be detrimental? I surely believe so, and that is why I think the NFT bubble is ridiculous, as is overpriced art in general. To summarise, an NFT (‘non-fungible token’) is a digital construct meant to identify the ‘original’ of a digital piece of art that is otherwise infinitely reproducible. My metaphor for explaining this is as follows: the NFT owner has a photo of the moment the artist ‘signed’ the work, and who the owner of the photo is, is recorded on a public database. The photo is the one with provenance, not the artwork. Here’s two examples of what I mean by overpriced (but not to say lacking value): digital art on Foundation App and physical works by Mark Rothko. I am sure some of the digital work being sold took great skill and effort to make. I am not a fan. I have seen the Seagram Murals in person. I am not a fan. The problem with such works, which have their immense price derived from status or pure financial drive, is that they drag art away from the general public and into the sphere of a minute fraction of the population. People can appreciate art without owning it, but a ridiculous price tag puts people off and creates a mental barrier: ‘Art is for the rich’. A practical one may exist as well: if the physical work of art is not in the public domain yet, the owner can choose to make it essentially inaccessible.

I think people need to make their own judgment when it comes to the value of art in general, and of particular works. I just hope this article will make them broaden their list of considerations.