Provocations on Art: Reading Seth Godin’s _The Icarus Deception_ Final Part . . . (Portfolio Penguin, 2012)

In this week’s closing post on Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception, I want to focus on his argument that the new criterion for art is “connectedness.” I think of an Alice Munro short story, where metaphor and diction connect (yoke together) the most apparently different people and things—not to deny difference, but to consider contrast, distinction, and paradox. The world economy (now that Industrialism is long-dead) demands that we create art that connects with others. But what does Godin really mean by that?

The Internet is a connection machine, he notes, and he says that “the connection economy rewards the leader, the initiator and the rebel” (13). The connection economy “enables endless choice and endless shelf space and puts a premium on attention and on trust, neither of which is endless” (13-14). And above all, a connection economy has “made competence not particularly valuable and has replaced it with an insatiable desire for things that are new, real and important” – “three elements that define art” (14).

Bridges that connect people are built by art. And this, according to Godin, is where we should be doing our creative work.

Assets that matter are “trust, permission, remarkability, leadership, stories that spread and humanity (connection, compassion, and humility)” (39). Suffering and trauma may well be involved, as stories are often about standing out and “not fitting in” or merely copying what has come before.

Godin argues that you cannot connect with a device or automaton. But you can connect with a person and acknowledge their dignity. The “safe place” is no longer where we got a good wage from the Industrialist, but where we look others in the eye and see them (57), with all of their complexity and difference.

If you want to go on creating, Godin says, you have to change the worldview that you bring to your work. You can’t stay in a comfort zone and overlook the reality that the safety zone has moved (15).

Whereas the Industrial economy was all about chasing scarce items and coveting resources, “the connection economy has an abundance of choice, connection and knowledge” (45). That abundance leads to two races—the Internet-powered challenge to lower prices and find ever-cheaper labour (cf. Royal Bank in Canada, in April, 2013; WalMart, etc.). The better race is the race “to the top,” and “flying high,” that focuses on delivering more for more, making choices that favour originality, remarkability and art (45).

The cost of finding out what will connect is less, and the chance of doing that connecting is more easily available, than we may fear.

Godin fills the appendix to this book with examples of artists from every discipline and walk-of-life imaginable, each of whom takes great risks to connect what they feel passionate about with other thinkers, believers and consumers.

When your perspective changes, what you see and find valuable changes, too. When the picture changes, or the door opens, you have a new opportunity to connect, a new framework to explore, he says.

The courage to create art is needed, because opening a door allows others to speak to the true self that you have revealed. There’s no progress in moving backward.

The artist needs to expend emotional work, work “without a map, and driving in the dark” that is “confronting fear and living with the pain of vulnerability” (66).

The new connected economy will sometimes make us feel sorry about the vulnerability and unpredictability and repeated failure” of our art. But that feeling of loss will be combined “with the joy of connection, breakthroughs and humanity” (35).

Even “if you connect with six people, you are changing them,” offering them the chance to become something else (70).

“Everyone is lonely,” he says: “Connect” (72).

Are you ready to take Iscarusian risks as you explore your next project?  How high will you fly and what will you share from that worldview that connects with others? What creative way can you find to express your art through Godin’s concept of connection?

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