Friday, February 19, 2010

How much time did Picasso spend following other people?

From the age of seven, Picasso received formal artistic training from his father in figure drawing and oil painting. Ruiz was a traditional, academic artist and instructor who believed that proper training required disciplined copying of the masters

- Wikipedia

Most of the people reading this are from places like Hacker News, where we spend a great deal of time reading the thoughts and works of other people creating cool stuff. Of course we are also creating our own stuff, but have we found the right balance in how much following we do?

This question came to mind because on my recent trip to Ireland I noticed how little I missed checking Twitter, blogs, aggregators, etc. This isn't a rant about the value of these things. I know they are valuable and have been educational and inspirational for me for years.

But what does concern me though is that it feels I haven't figured out the right balance of following other people's work and ignoring everyone else completely, and many of us users and followers of Twitter/Hacker News/37signals/etc. are in the same boat.

Afterall, I see way too many people just debilitated into reading yet another book or article on success, or the next article on how great 37signals latest feature was designed, or the latest thing that Google has made that will "kill the competition".

I hear from too many folks who just can't get past the "I can't do X, because Google or so and so is already doing it" state.

Javan was telling me that his friend, an artist, said "the most important reason to study art history is so you don't inadvertently make something that looks like a copy of someone else's work".

But when does this start to work against you?

I'm curious what balance Picasso ever found in following other people's work and tuning them out completely. I imagine back then he probably would lock himself in his art studio for days at a time, never looking at what someone else was doing.

But in our internet life today, who of us turns off Twitter and other people's blogs for days at a time while we create our own masterpieces? I can definitely go hours cranking on things without those influences, but days or weeks? I couldn't remember the last time I tuned out like that until I took this trip.

I know there's probably not a magic consistent formula, and each of us has our own balance. But I'm positive many more of us need to detach ourselves from the influence of other people's work and accomplishments while we crank on our own.

Of course there are tools to measure activities online like RescueTime, and tools to block out distractions (I write my blog posts in WriteRoom), but nothing I have found that encourages me to find an optimal balance between education and influence and isolation.

What are your stories? Anyone turning off everything for a week at a time? Anyone find some kind of circadian rhythm like routine of influence and isolation?

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