Art Isn’t A Result. It’s A Journey. Lessons From Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception

We all need mentors. People who teach us what we need to know, or remind us of things we have buried deep.

Seth Godin Icarus Start NowBut mentors don’t have to be physically present to teach us great truth and to help us change our lives. I have found amazing mentors in books and on blogs, as well as in real life, and one of my consistent mentors is Seth Godin.

His latest book, The Icarus Deception was created as the result of a Kickstarter campaign, which I (proudly) helped to fund as one of his Tribe. Here are some of the things I have learned in just 24 hours of its arriving on my doorstep.

The Icarus Deception: Make Great Art

Many of the corners of the book are turned over already and I have pages of notes in my Moleskine, but here are just a few of the insights I found useful. I’m not going to add my commentary, I’ll leave it to you to interpret, but I’d love to hear your reactions in the comments.

  • “Artists are people who make art. Art is not a gene or a specific talent … Art is the unique work of a human being, work that touches another … Art is who we are and what we do and what we need. Art isn’t a result; it’s a journey. The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of your heart and your soul.
  • “Creating art is a habit, one that we practice daily or hourly until we get good at it … Art isn’t about the rush of victory that comes from being picked. Nor does it involve compliance. Art in the post-industrial age is a lifelong habit, a stepwise process that incrementally allows us to create more art.”
  • “Doing a good job for a fair price is no longer sufficient to guarantee success. Good work is easier to find than ever before. What matters now: Trust, Permission, Remarkability, Leadership, Stories that spread, Humanity: connection, compassion and humility.”

icarus deceptionPick yourself.

  • Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission, authority and safety that come from a publisher … who says, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you … then you can actually get to work … No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.
  • “The joy of art is particularly sweet … because it carries with it the threat of rejection, of failure, and of missed connections. It’s precisely the high-wire act of “this might not work” that makes original art worth doing.”

This book is useful for writers, but I would also urge parents to read it in order to understand the world your children are growing up in.

“The industrial age, the one that established our schooling, our workday, our economy, and our expectations, is dying. It’s dying faster than most of us expected, and it’s causing plenty of pain, indecision and fear as it goes.”

The industrial world is disappearing. The old world of standardized exams, tick-box education and guaranteed jobs won’t be there for much longer, and people need to be creative to survive the future. But more than that, life’s too short to spend it doing something that isn’t rewarding. So aim to thrive and not just survive.

I spent 13 years as an IT consultant, a miserable cubicle worker, rewarding myself with sugar and alcohol in order to make it through each day. In September 2011, I finally broke out of that old life, and I couldn’t be happier. Sure, I have less money now, fewer trappings of (so-called) worldly success, but I am making my art, and this feels like real life.

I know some of you are struggling around the same issues, so as you move into 2013, I would recommend reading The Icarus Deception for some inspiration.

Surprise and delight your fans. The joy of physical product.

Box of Icarus deception goodiesThe book in itself is fantastic, but as part of the Kickstarter funding level I joined, I got a whole bunch of print and physical goodies and I couldn’t stop grinning as I unpacked the huge box (shown left).

It included an over-sized, gorgeous print book of the best of Seth’s blog posts, amazingly formatted and a collector’s item. 10 copies of Icarus Deception (you can win one by adding a comment below), 2 copies of ‘V is for Vulnerable’, an awesomely illustrated adult picture book on art and taking risks, an artisan, ceramic mug, all kinds of little extra things and I even cut up the box for the poster to stick on my wall (top left).

I now read 99% on my Kindle and mobile apps, so I am a confirmed ebook junkie and hardly ever buy print anymore. Part of the reason is that I had to leave 2000 books behind when I moved from Australia and now I live in a shoebox flat in London!

seth godin mugBut I was surprised and delighted by all this print and physical product goodness. It’s all serious quality and I am proud to be part of the Kickstarter campaign.

It also makes me far more interested in doing print at some point in the future, something I have sworn off for now as too time-consuming and potentially rights I want to sell.

But I am considering doing some limited edition, hand-made books, with pages of my own diaries in at some point. Artisanal book-binding interests me far more than mass-market paperbacks.

The book has re-fired my passion for creating art, and also brought up some dilemmas for me in terms of what I want to pursue in 2013. When I have something coherent to share, I’ll let you know what I mean!

I highly recommend you read The Icarus Deception and start your 2013 with some inspiration and passion behind your art.

For now, I will leave you to be inspired!

Do you consider yourself an artist? What is stopping you from creating? 

If you leave a comment below, you will also be in the draw to receive a free copy of the book. Entries for that will close Thurs 20 Dec 2012, so be quick!

**Update 20 Dec – The Winner of The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin is Sophia Ryan **

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  1. says

    I believe that both art and earning an honest-day’s-living is most fulfilling when you are doing it because you believe in it so much that you would do it regardless of whether it earned you any money at all. Currently that is still an aspirational vision for me, but it is a journey I gladly embark on, too. While the slow death of the industrial world may be painful for those caught unprepared for the transition, in my eyes, it can’t come soon enough.

    • says

      I know what you mean Helen – and I love that I am doing what I would do if I won the lottery anyway. I spent so many years saying “once I save X amount, then I can leave consulting”, but that X amount never arrived. Eventually I left with enough to buffer me through 6 months but nowhere near enough than I thought. We can all live on less if it means chasing a happier life.

  2. says

    I’m just beginning to think more seriously about what picking myself will actually mean as I decide whether or not to get out of the Army. I want to create and be a content producer, not just a consumer. Sounds like Godin’s new book would be an inspiring read!

    • says

      Definitely read it Elliott – it’s fantastic – and check out for lots of ideas on content production. It’s probably my favorite blog about blogging.

  3. says

    Thank you so much for this post Joanna, and thanks for sharing some of Seth’s ideas with us. I’m inspired!
    I remember how I felt when I left my professional job four years ago, to pursue a career in writing. I hated the routine, I hated the commute, the inflexible hours, the soul destroying tedium of being in the rat race. Now, having become an author and independent publisher myself, I couldn’t be happier.

    It was a necessary lesson I had to learn to “pick myself”. If I was still waiting for someone else to pick me, I probably won’t have made any progress with my creative efforts.
    (I hope you don’t mind if I share some of the quotes with my friends on Facebook and Twitter)

  4. says

    “Creating art is a habit, one that we practice daily or hourly until we get good at it” – I started a blog about two months ago. I’m surprised that anyone reads it at all. I was at a holiday party this weekend and several friends (who I did not know had been reading it) commented on how creative they found some of the post and images I’ve worked on for many of them.

    Blogging is easy but writing content that is thought inspring is hard work and requires a habit until you find your own voice. That’s where I find myself now…trying to develop the habit of writing each day, giving something to the world about my thoughts.

    “The industrial age, the one that established our schooling, our workday, our economy, and our expectations, is dying.” – I realized a many, many moons ago that I’m not guaranteed a job. I’ve been laid off 3 times now in the last 5 years. I keep having to reinvent myself, learn a new system, etc. It’s depressing. Yesterday filed my last unemployment claim, I have now new job prospects, and I’m owed $2K by clients I’ve freelanced for. This weekend I found myself lamenting inwardly telling myself I did everything I was supposed to and I still ended up in this place. This last layoff is what has pushed me back into being an entrepreneur. But lower barriers to entry means that there’s so much competition. I know the answer…Purple Cow, be remarkable/ridiculous and I’m looking for ways to do that.

    Thanks for the post…I can’t wait to get my copies of Seth’s new books.

    • says

      “I did everything I was supposed to”
      I know exactly what you mean Rodney. I got the great degree from Oxford, I went into management consulting, I earned 6 figures – I did everything that people said I should, and I was miserable as hell for way too long.
      It sounds like your creative vein is just starting to flow, so all the best with your next steps! The journey is the point :)

  5. Marianne says

    Wow, I just found out about Seth Godin, and now about you! I love when I discover mentors that I may never meet. Thank you for giving more detail to what Seth is offering. The visual is really helpful. And I want to win : ).

  6. says

    thank you so much for this – so inspiring!
    one of my scariest moments was the decision this year to call myself an ‘artist’ and to promote myself thus! Since then I have sold numerous paintings and had two exhibitions – but the first step was that moment of ‘naming’ and owning the name – rather than the awkward moment when someone says ‘what do you do?’ and I used to reply ‘well I paint .. or I dabble … or it’s a hobby’ – now I am learning to say ‘I am an artist’ …. scary – but exciting too!

    • says

      You’re definitely an artist Alyson – and I want to expand into visual art sometime, for my own pleasure, not professionally, but I think learning one area makes us want to try other things too. I adore sculpture so might try pottery or something … just for fun!

  7. says

    The points you illustrate in your post remind me often of the dilemma architects face in our profession. We all strive to create beautiful buildings, works of art, but we don’t often get to do that. Often, we’re just managers, making sure all the consultants get along to create a “meh” building that’s more useful than pleasant. I think the same holds true for writing and any other art. We want to create the prose and the moving stories, but sometimes in editing, we find ourselves more of a word manager. I guess it’s that Left-Brain / Right-Brain conundrum.

    • says

      I can see how architecture is difficult, especially as there are very few beautiful buildings created these days. I once started to retrain as a psychologist as I love psychology, the amazing human brain! but then I found out that the job was basically 80% depression and anxiety and most jobs were in prisons. So the reality of the job didn’t match my dream.
      Maybe you can design amazing things on the side – or design fantasy worlds :)

  8. says

    “Pick yourself.” Wow! So true! This is the year I decided to stop wasting my time waiting on agents and publishers and start life as an indie. I can’t believe the doors that have opened and the great people I’ve met. I’ve seen more success this year on my own than in the past 30 years trying to push my way through the traditional publishing slushpile.

  9. says

    kick-assss post, Joanna.

    Seth Godin truly is a linchpin, and I luv how polite he can be with his provocations.
    He’s edgy in a sophisticated way, wanting to wake you up and realize your own, true potential.
    I can’t wait to get my hands on his new book, because for some idiotic reason, I did not
    give him money during the Kickstarter campaign, probably because I listened to my lizard brain 😉

  10. says

    As with many others, this passage spoke to me:

    “The industrial world is disappearing. The old world of standardized exams, tick-box education and guaranteed jobs won’t be there for much longer, and people need to be creative to survive the future. But more than that, life’s too short to spend it doing something that isn’t rewarding. So aim to thrive and not just survive.”

    I’d like to find out more about that so I can understand the world my two grade-school children are heading into and how to help them express their own artistry in a changing world.

    I AM an artist, but I have to remind myself every day of that fact because of the workaday pressures that keep us from expressing ourselves creatively for the bulk of our working lives. Perhaps Seth Godin’s book could set all us artists free.

  11. says

    Funny that. It was while working as an IT consultant myself, letting work make me sick and unhappy that I realized that I was hiding. I quit my job and to just went for it. Standing up for myself and claiming that I am an artist – albeit with a wobbly, quiet voice at first – I finally understood that an artist is as an artist does: an artist creates. I picked myself. The journey is uncertain, scary at times, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt as in sync with myself as I am now.
    Thanks for sharing.

  12. says

    Oooh – oooh – pick me! Pick me! I’m an artist and I’m creating and it is very enjoyable and someday maybe after I’m dead someone will buy one of my ebooks. I’d like a copy of Godin’s book before then.

  13. says

    After reading your blog post, I felt compelled to hop on over to Amazon and order the book. I should have opted into the Kickstarter program when I had a chance. Oh well. You know what they say about hindsight. (Can you even sight a hind?)

    If I win the luck of the draw, no worries. My daughter is an artist and writer (as well) and would appreciate the book.

    Once I launch my novels via ebook format, I am seriously contemplating limited edition print runs which will include some other goodies along with the book itself. I am creative in all sorts of ways, but I’m also blessed (or cursed) to have a fair-sized analytical side to my brain. Certainly makes life interesting and provides me with all sorts of ways to approach a challenge.

    Want to think outside of the box? Flatten the darned thing!

    Thank you for sharing.

  14. says

    So wonderful to see a book dedicated to art for art’s sake, art that comes from within and isn’t just generated for an purpose that’s without, ie commercial gain! If I don’t win a copy I might have to get one anyway. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  15. says

    Love Seth’s ideas! He doesn’t hold things back and don’t excuse you for doing it either. By the time I realized his Kickstarter campaign, it had already ended, but what a great way to walk the talk with Icarus Deception. He’s using his own marketing techniques to sell his book – you can’t get better than that. His ‘tribe’ is all he cares about and now you have the tribe spread his initial ideas. Although I haven’t published any book (yet), I love his advice here and no longer think any of my excuses are valid. Looking forward to a productive 2013!

  16. says

    It’s official! I’m an artist… and after reading up on the Icarus Sessions I volunteered for one in my town. Yikes! I’m nervous and excited all at the same time. Thanks for the push, Joanna!

  17. says

    All my life I planned to ‘write a book’ – but does it matter?! I’ve got a filing cabinet full of handwritten journals dating back 40 years, and I LOVE to write! Now… what to do with the journals… hmmm (it’ll come to me). I shall write until I depart this life, that’s all I know! Thank you Joanna, I love your writing – and all the advice and info.

  18. Robert W. Hegwood says

    In this vein, you might like what the much lauded cinematographer, Andri Tarkovsky has to say in his classic work on art and the artist, “Sculpting in Time.” Here follow a smattering of quotes from this work that resonate strongly with me…perhaps with you and others as well:

    “The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good”

    “History is not Time; nor is evolution. They are both consequences. Time is a state: the flame in which there lives the salamander of the human soul”

    “Modern mass culture, aimed at the ‘consumer’, the civilisation of prosthetics, is crippling people’s souls, setting up barriers between man and the crucial questions of his existence, his consciousness of himself as a spiritual being.”

    “It is obvious that art cannot teach anyone anything, since in four thousand years humanity has learnt nothing at all. We should long ago have become angels had we been capable of paying attention to the experience of art, and allowing ourselves to be changed in accordance with the ideals it expresses. Art only has the capacity, through shock and catharsis, to make the human soul receptive to good. It’s ridiculous to imagine that people can be taught to be good…Art can only give food – a jolt – the occasion – for psychical experience.”

  19. says

    I guess what’s keeping me from writing is mostly my crappy office job which I hate. Besides, I have many passions and interests, so it may be hard to make room for writing in the middle of that, unless you have an iron discipline. I think I’ll try The Icarus Deception; the few passages you quoted comforted me in my opinion that I really need to quit that lame job, even though it’s scary and it will probably be hard at first to be on my own with less money.
    Anyway, thank you, Joanna, for this article.

    • Joanna Penn says

      Glad you found it useful Victor. I used to hate my day job too – and put a plan in place to get out. I started out writing at 5am before work, as well as evenings and weekends, eventually I moved to 4 days a week and then 3.5 years later, I left it to become a fulltime author-entrepreneur. It can be done!


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