Survival of the fittest

November 16, 2010

Dear Rodney,

"Darwin was an idiot," wrote subscriber Daniel Ashbeck. "All of his ideas have been 
completely discredited." This was in response to the term "Creative Darwinism," 
which I had so casually tossed into the rich ooze of our subscriber list. Not being 
able to get Charles Darwin over for dinner, I was rereading him. It was no great 
leap of faith to think he had something to say about creative evolution. Before 
someone discloses my monkey ancestors, I'd better explain.

You and your art need to combine into a distinct species--a different bird than all 
the others. This unique creature will be a product of nature and nurture both. 
Nature in the sense that the artist has some degree of innate talent--as well as a 
focused mind, curiosity and half-decent health. Nurture in the sense that the artist 
has gathered a range of techniques, processes, work habits, strategies and skills.

This new hybrid may just be fit for the job and have a fighting chance of survival. 
In our case it begins at the easel. Further, survival doesn't waste time. To survive 
in your work you must go hard to work and aim to thrive in it.

In the natural world, survival of the fittest has two main principles: One is 
natural selection, the other artificial selection. The first is where change 
happens more or less automatically by fortuitous accident, the second is where 
change is calculated and induced. In creative survival, the artist has to continually 
look around in his work for evidence of effective mutation.

Mutants are those things we do in our work that defy the ordinary patterns of "ho 
hum" and "same old same old." They are often anti-academic. Divergence in style is 
easy to spot because it's different than everything else in the jungle. This 
divergent stuff tends to thrive in what biologists call an "ecological niche." Sound 

We all have the raw materials at hand. Not all of us are able to see how elements 
need to be assembled. Needed is an evolved understanding that is a step further than 
just making art. This epiphany is the very key to artistic survival. 

Best regards,


PS: "A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life." 
(Charles Darwin)

Esoterica: The jungle paths are miraculous and often difficult to follow. On some 
occasions new paths are gladly cut. Here's a five part survival guide that would 
certainly appeal to Charles, and perhaps even Daniel:

Keep gathering.

Go to your room. 

Produce a lot of work.

Fall in love with your processes.

Keep a keen eye open for something different, and then go, if only for a while, 
in that direction. Don't be afraid of change or surprise. "Surviving," said Erica 
Jong, "means being born over and over again." "God," said Franz Kafka, "gives us 
the nuts, but he does not crack them."