Sunday, 25 September 2011

creativity & abundance

screen prints drying

I’ve been thinking a lot about consumption of late. More precisely, the fact that I don’t participate in much of it anymore. Not that I ever was a big shopper but lately I’ve noticed I don’t buy anything at all except for food. And books. And art supplies. That’s about it really.

Then these thoughts started connecting to stuff I've been thinking about in terms of abundance. This bubbled up especially while I was reading Daniel Pink’s book ‘A whole new mind: why right-brainers will rule the future’. Quite a good read for lots of reasons (more on that in another post). Dan emphasizes how we live in a time of abundance and how this allows people to have the time to, amongst other things, question the meaning of life and to focus on quality and beauty in our lives. It must be said that Dan is talking about abundance in relation to the wealthy West and not the whole globe. Abundance is clearly not something enjoyed by all.

Then yesterday I saw Kate Holden’s article where she tells a funny tale of realising she’s doesn’t have much stuff when it came time to fill out a home contents insurance form. As I read it I thought, yes! I know that feeling well. I too was overwhelmed when I had to fill out a similar form. Abundance gone mad. Every time I walk into a large department store these days I feel overwhelmed with all the stuff in the world. I wonder who buys it and why we need it all.

This theme is now being picked up in recent newspaper articles claiming that small houses are beautiful. Most of us don't need big houses. They're vast spaces to clean and heat and cool. And they're expensive to build and maintain. At last some common sense!

It's somewhat challenging and tricky then, as someone who prints, designs and illustrates to think about how I fit in with the consumption/abundance thing. I think anyone who makes anything and sells it (including skill) thinks about this at some time or another. The good news, if we're to follow Daniel Pink's argument, is that people with design and conceptual capabilities are going to be very much in demand in the future. This is starting to be the case already. Anyone with skills that can't be replicated by a computer will be needed as we move into an era dominated by abundance and automation. Pink explains that this means there will be a demand for clever design and beauty as abundance moves us away from a focusing merely on function.

Kind of heartening, don't you think?


  1. This is really interesting, I hope he's right! I often think about all the stuff in the world and sometimes feel quite guilty for making things that add to it.
    Janey :)

  2. Janey, I think lots of creative folk think about this topic and where they fit into it all.

  3. I read Kate's article and agree with both her, and you. My content insurance form does seem like a joke. I am sure the insurer's were asking, why bother. As you know, most of what's in my house is from an op shop or off the side of the road - but if the place did burn down, I would need to replace it.
    You start on the argument of making to sell and I think it's an interesting one because it's about the idea of beauty and bespoke and maybe even a smugness of supporting handmade - I think handmade is a brand in itself these days. But when I am making, and I did this recently, spent about four hours embroidering something useless - utterly useless - and I found myself wondering, as I often do, "what for". Part of the what for, I decided, was a challenge to see whether I could do what I set out to do and whether I could create what was in my head. I kinda did and there's room for improvement but it's really about keeping hands busy. I watched Jane Eyre (finally) last week and back then I'd have said it was about my accomplishments...
    Girl, I could go on but thanks, this post has been food for thought.

  4. I love your honesty Kate! I think we should talk more about this stuff. I wrestle with it quite a bit in my head. I know some textile designers do too because the traditional rag trade is so awfully wasteful and polluting. And then there's the whole fast fashion thing. Urgh. So, yes, I think it's good to ask why we're making.

  5. This is an interesting topic. You always get me thinking, Kylie! I love it.

    My background is in sustainability behaviour change and I have a good understanding of the effect that our consumption has on the natural environment (it's really the root of all of our environmental issues). I feel like I am constantly in a struggle between my desire to make and surround myself with beautiful things and the feeling of responsibility that comes with my knowledge and privilege to consume as little as possible.

    In my line of work I am surrounded with people who have made sacrifing their quality of life for the benefit of the environment into an art form. They deprive themselves of any pleasure because they feel so much guilt about consuming anything. I just don't feel ok about this. I get so much pleasure waking up to a particular artwork that I have hanging at the end of my bed, from listening to music while I write boring reports, from reading books. Life would be so dull without these things that I wonder whether I would even want to live without them. I try to practice 'mindful consumption', and this is what I try and encourage others to do through my work.

    From what I can see and am reading, Daniel is onto something. We seem to be at a turning point (in the 'over-developed world') where we are questioning the society that we have made for ourself and are looking for something simpler. We know instinctively that things aren't quite right and that our values are in the wrong place. It will take many years, but I think Daniel is right - people who have creative skills will be valued more in the future.

    It's a few years old, but if you haven't already read it I recommend reading Affluenza. It talks about this idea of downsizing and changing our working and consumption patterns.

  6. Posting this comment again as typos all over my last try!

    Belinda - I really like the way your frame it as 'mindful consumption'. I think that's spot on.

    I agree, small pleasures in life that aren't hurting others or the environment are so important to have.

    I've been meaning to read Affluenza for a while so will check it out.

  7. really interesting!
    whenever i think about the printing of textiles {and shipping things from the US} i cringe and wonder. as makers we are doing it on a small scale i guess but i think i go from an extreme state of worry to something along the lines of where Belinda is coming from.
    i know i would go nuts if i stopped making.
    thanks for bringing this up :)