From talented consumer to an artist

This tweet grabbed my attention this week:


A “talented consumer?”

A clever turn of phrase. Multiply a negative connotation word by a positive connotation word and get a negative connotation expression. I’ll pause while you check if this word arithmetic holds more generally.

Back to our gut reaction to the tweet. There’s probably a spectrum of responses amongst you. I’d bracket the range between these boundaries:

  • Didactic and pompous. Screaming on the internet. Trying to sell a book (he is)
  • I need to watch less Netflix and get off my bum

Predictably, the truth is somewhere in the middle. There’s no reason to get aggro if you thought he was too preachy after all Twitter is a 280 character playing field. Nuance and caveats come after the game. The reason this tweet resonated with me is that it surfaced a tension I’ve always had:

Analysis vs action

I took a much broader view of his use of the terms “creation” and “consuming” than the tweet probably allows for. We consume for entertainment and for learning. There’s overlap. Love Island is more the former. Your latest hardcover is more the latter. Nature documentaries are a guiltless way to watch TV. Eating at Per Se or hitting a distillery tour can be rationalized to skew more towards learning than hedonism. Different strokes, no judgment.

For me the distinction of how I use my time isn’t concentrated on the value of what I’m consuming but whether I’m consuming or doing. Am I just onboarding, or am I deploying? There’s always a balance and you may feel that you aren’t in your sweet spot. Are you moving too fast and need to stop to backfill, or are you consuming too passively and need to make more impact? The tweet is a status check. I used the discomfort as a chance to locate myself on the spectrum.

Consuming is great and necessary but it scratches a different itch than seeing your efforts play out in the wild. I don’t mean that in a ‘give back’ kind-of-way since the impact may simply be on yourself. The point is that the ‘creating’ enzyme binds to a different receptor than the ‘consuming’ enzyme.

Watching Chef’s Table vs serving your own custom Manhattan cocktail. Listening to Hendrix vs trying your hand at ProTools. Reading Wired vs writing your own automation script. Attending a lecture at your community library vs hosting your own purposeful gathering.

The get-off-your-ass starter manual

If you have ever shared my pang of being too inward, too ‘in your own head’, too much ‘analysis paralysis’ then the antidote is to see your mental energy manifested in some physical outcome in the world. Maybe it will be a piece of art. Maybe it will be a financial plan with a spreadsheet. Maybe it will exist by proxy — you have planted a seed in someone else who in turn produces something you end up consuming. A virtuous, recursive loop that you set in motion.

If you want a push I strongly recommend Austin Kleon’s short book Steal Like an Artist. I read it on New Year’s Day 6 years ago and just re-read it on vacation (twice!) last week. It takes about 30-45 minutes to read. It’s the kind of book that every reader can really take something different from because the ideas apply to creations of all kind.

I don’t want to influence your own lessons if you choose to read it but if you were curious, I did post my own.

And going back to that original tweet for a moment — I could not help responding:

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