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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Design, self expression, and the culture of (Groucho) Marxism

**Originally posted 7/6/12, but reposting today, because... well. I still believe what I said, and it still resonates... within me, at least.

I am often inspired by Seth Godin's blog, where he dispenses loving teaspoonfuls of business motivation, advice, and food for thought on a daily basis. His recent post on the decline of what he described as "(Groucho) Marxism" was a particularly brilliant one, and inspired some design-specific thoughts of my own.

He references the quote, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member...", famously attributed to Groucho Marx, to fortify his point that often people often feel that they don't belong, are inferior, or somehow lack the stuff to really be the frontperson in their endeavors. I agree. You probably don't need any particular proof to see that there are far more "retweets" than tweets (a 65:35 ratio, according to The Archivist), and more people re-quoting benign motivational statements as their Facebook status updates than are sharing their own thoughts. There are more spectators than performers, more followers than leaders... You get the idea.

The joy of being creative or original in some way, is the ability to create something completely unique to you, to the people who interact with or use your work,  or to your customer.  It is a great way to convey your "youness".

We all get advice.  Solicited or unsolicited, in our best interest or not, we all get it. Some of it is good advice.  The good advice usually resonates. How many times do you need to hear the same thing over and over again, before you really "hear" it? Before you really "use" it?

Whenever someone receives an award, or gets to step up on a podium and speak after achieving something really great, it seems that some version of the same advice is always given. "Believe in yourself", "March to the beat of YOUR drummer", "Follow your heart", yet we spend so much time copying, looking to others to tell us what is cool, or fashionable, or in demand.

Just today, I read an article on Valerie Steele, Fashion's first PhD, and curator of the museum at FIT, where she gives just that bit of advice at the very end of the article. Although her advice is fashion-specific, she emphasizes the importance of sticking with one's passion.

So, what is my bigger point here?

Knock-offs and copycat versions of everything popular abound, and while I understand why, I find that in my own experience, nothing gets more feedback than the things that came straight from my own head, hands and heart. I'll bet the same is true for you, too. Yes, creating/sewing/making is a laborious process, and sadly,  not always a successful one. It is fraught with mistakes, missteps, and wrong turns, but ultimately, a valuable process and opportunity for education.

Make the things you've been dreaming of.  Go to the Garment District, shop in the stores, and realize those things that live in your head and your sketchbooks.  Your contribution improves the visual and cultural mosaic surrounding you, and everyone else. I'm not just saying this.  I'm doing it, too.  Join me.

If you sell your work, the quilt artist Faith Ringgold, an inspiration to me, and one whose work I adore, says that you must do the following three things to be successful:
  • build a body of work
  • find an audience
  • THEN find a market within that audience 
For any of you who are in the early stages of your creative life, if you can really take in this advice, it will prove valuable.  So many people put the cart before the horse, immersed in endless research, while creating nothing.

Know that you will make mistakes. Accept that.

Okay, so let's say you make a mistake.  Or ten. Treat it (them) as a learning opportunity.  So, when you are further along in the process, and someone asks you, "What's the best mistake you've ever made?", you'll have a great answer.

Interested in hearing your comments...

4 comments:

  1. The first thing I teach while I'm teaching my students how to use the sewing machine is, Life isn't perfect, their sewing isn't going to be perfect 100% of the time. We have this lucky thing called do over when we sew. Oh how I wish I had do over in life. I often say life is like sewing, as you describe above. Keep making the same mistakes over and over again doing the same thing and you'll never learn. If you don't learn the lesson it will only repeat itself until you do learn it so try something different. There is no right or wrong way when you're being creative. And don't think something is so hard that you can't achieve it. You're never perfect the first time...

    I love your blog! Thank you!

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  2. "Whenever someone receives an award, or gets to step up on a podium and speak after achieving something really great, it seems that some version of the same advice is always given. "Believe in yourself", "March to the beat of YOUR drummer", "Follow your heart", yet we spend so much time copying, looking to others to tell us what is cool, or fashionable, or in demand."

    Unfortunately, it's not always that simple. Many successful people, even if they have originality, and a good work ethic, succeeded because they played the game the right way. They're not renegades and iconoclasts, and perpetuating this idea without a true behind-the-scenes look of what went down is a disservice to the ordinary person trying to get ahead.

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  3. Not meant to indicate that it is simple, at all.

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