Artwork by James Victore

Op-Ed: In The Particular Lies The Universal

It’s no coincidence that brilliant creative minds are rarely witnessed. Steve Jobs, Tina Fey, Banksy. Mavericks and renegades — telling their stories, spilling their guts, and divulging themselves for our progress, our enlightenment, and our entertainment. Like us, they feel the heat of failure, defeat, humiliation, and financial ruin, but they do it anyway. They do whatever it takes to put their lives and ideals into their work. They have to. And the world loves them even more for it.

Most folks never have a chance of even knowing the power of their talents and gifts. Others lack the confidence, or possibly ignorance, necessary to share their ideas with the world — afraid to stick their heads out of the foxhole for fear of the potshots from naysayers and hole-pokers. We’re scared, so we stop trusting ourselves. This creates a bad habit — instead of looking inside for an answer, we ask “What do THEY want?”  Thus, we pander. We regurgitate standard, acceptable levels of crap — mediocrity with a laugh track.

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Like individuals, companies are risk averse. It’s in their business plan to be so. The commercial world or the larger society generally accepts greatness only AFTER witnessing it in others. One unique voice airs a beautiful work first, then it becomes socially acceptable. Case in point: Anthony Bourdain’s bestseller Kitchen Confidential was written purely out of love of his craft. His work was an expression of himself. His business model was, literally, “I don’t give a shit.”

Bourdain wrote only for cooks, and thought he would be excommunicated from the restaurant business for it. But, because he told the ugly truth, in his own voice, in his own aggressive style — on his subsequent book tour, he was received by cooks and chefs the world over with the phrase, “You wrote my life, man.”

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We recognize that any truly new idea is met with fear, will never pass “marketing” or the Nielsens or Hollywood or even the Joneses. But the few brave ones, both companies and individuals, who risk comfort and safety for a chance at beauty or being able to move someone — they have a potential to gain so much more. Loyalty, respect, and awe.

And that’s why we must push ourselves to ask the harder question. Not “what do THEY want?”, but “what do WE have to say?” We must do the work of looking inside ourselves to find what is beautiful and tremendous within us and summon the courage to put this out. As James Joyce said, “in the particular lies the universal.”

The meaning of all this is that you, your opinions and intelligence and history matter. But you gotta do the work. To pull from the most personal areas of your life, your opinions, your stories, your experiences — by doing this you create something meaningful not only to yourself but to those who see it. The work, the fear and struggle, the constant worry of whether your gift is good enough, the small critics both inside and out? Fuck ‘em. The world awaits your gift. Isn’t that what life is all about?

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More insights on: Career Development, Risk-Taking

James Victore

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James Victore runs an independent design studio hell-bent on world domination. He is an author, designer, filmmaker and firestarter. James has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is represented in the permanent collections of museums around the globe. You can buy tickets to his latest live event Take This Job and Love It here.
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