It's All In the Wrists

Josiah_Robertson,_artist_at_work_-_NARA_-_559223

I use to spend a lot of time worrying about people stealing my ideas. In fact there are a lot of things I have missed out on because I spent so much time sheltering my good ideas that I never got to use them. I have only recently come to understand that this is not only harmful but pointless. If you have a successful idea people are going to steal it.

So why did I stop worrying about this. It is because I embraced an idea called "gesture". Gesture is an art school term for how an artist manipulates their material. Jackson Pollok had a frenetic gesture. Van Gogh had a very heavy one. The way I think of gesture is like terroir for people. It is the combination of personality, environment, technique, materials, limitations and emotions that create a "youness" in what you make.  I feel that learning to identify your gesture and then develop it is the single best thing you can do for yourself and your business.

It can be really hard to focus on this. We live in a society that values innovation. It seems like everyone is trying to come up with the next big idea. The problem with this plan is that as soon as you put that new idea out there, people will begin to replicate it, and suddenly it's not that big of an idea anymore.  I think it is more important to spend your time thinking about how to develop your gesture. 

Take DaVinci. You could spend your whole life trying to be DaVinci. You cloud learn his techniques, replicate his materials, move to Italy, buy a fancy hat, and paint similar subjects as DaVinci, but he'll trump you every time. That is because he could paint something that any stranger could walk past and say "that looks like a DaVinci." It's not because of his technique, his materials, his subjects, or his location but because of all of these things plus the unique thing that made DaVinci different from everyone else. 

When I am making a wallet (I'm seriously not trying to compare myself to DaVinci here) I try to think about all of the subconscious gestures I make while creating it. I'm left handed. I work in a poorly lit basement. I'm probably listening to music. I apply dye clockwise. I always start at the front and work my way back. I like it when the dye doesn't apply evenly.  I'm going to use a natural finish rather than acrylic. If I were to take just one of these, say uneven dye, and try to capitalize on it I might be successful for a moment, but other people would catch on eventually and I'd be out of luck.

Finding your gesture can be really hard and worse yet, it can't be forced. The only way to find it is examine how you do things and why you do them. Continually ask yourself what works for you and reenforce that. Work that really speaks of you is something that can never be copied. I think that this is the real value behind an item that is handmade.