May 1st, 2007
why gardening is the same as a career in design
while digging in the library once again i found another book i’ve been searching for, “the one-straw revolution” by masanobu fukuoka. it is one of these gems that sadly is out of print (though i did manage to find a used copy for $30 on amazon), but his ideas seem to me crucial and relevant to the world we are living in now. Mr. Fukuoka developed a method (or should i say “non method”) of “natural” farming. As the book describes it “farming as simply as possible within and in cooperation with the natural environment, rather than the modern approach of applying increasingly complex techniques to remake nature entirely for the benefit of human beings.” At some point he began using the term “do nothing”.
“My way was opposite. I was aiming at a pleasant natural way of farming which results in making the work easier instead of harder. “how about not doing this? How about not doing that?” –that was my way of thinking.”.
His methods advocate no machines, no prepared fertilizer, no plowing, no chemicals, non of the standard techniques employed in today’s modern agricultural world. And his farm would yield as much food as a modern farm of the same size, (but with much less effort). Masanobu believed and demonstrated that the land would provide rather easily if you did not upset the natural balance of things, effectively working with nature instead of trying to tame it or control it. He asked, “what is the natural pattern?”
It is important to note here that the Japanese language is much subtler than english, and the term “do-nothing” has no english equivalent. when he uses the term “do-nothing” it is not meant to be taken literally, there is in fact a certain amount of work to do on his farm, but that is to say much less work than would be involved using modern techniques. In this context I interpret “do-nothing” as “do-less” or “not controlling”.
So as I’m reading this book I am realizing that for the last few years this is the exact method I have been advocating and using myself with my approach to work. Without knowing it, I have been giving lectures based on a “do-nothing” approach to illustration and design, employing terms like “don’t promote”, “ignore your audience”, “fuck the money”. A recent interview I did goes into this a little more, (it’s not out yet). This is not to say I “do nothing” to promote my work, you do have to put things out in the world so that others can see and respond to them. But I do feel strongly that all of the techiniques, calculating, obsessing, entering contests, trying to get awards (annuals), wanting to be a rockstar in your field, trying to land “the” great job, trying to be like someone else who is successful, trying to target your portfolio, trying to be cool, and schmoozing, don’t actually help to move your career forward. If i look back over the course of my career so far, it is only when I stopped trying to do all of those things and focused on the work that the good stuff started to happen. only when I relinquished control to some extent and focused on the things that moved me did I start to attract some kind of success. And this method of “doing the opposite” of what I was taught required much less effort in the long run. (i think i wrote in the how article that instead of sending out hundreds of mailers, as the tell you to do in art school, i sent out a few here and there to places I really responded to.)
so i guess the questions that i learned to ask myself where, “what the hell makes me want to stay up all night so I can work on it, forgetting entirely about the fact that sleep exists as a possiblity?” “what makes you get up in the middle of the night to scribble something down?” “what is in my nature?” (NOT “what should go in my portfolio?”, “how do I target an audience?”, “how do i get more work?”) none of the artist’s whose work i respond try to ‘target an audience’.
What if we were to contemplate the opposite? What if we let the seeds grow on their own? Water them a bit if needed. leave the pruning shears behind.
“To the extent that people separate themselves from nature, they spin further and further from the center.”