Care > Power

Kurt Vonnegut, 1979 in New York City

Kurt Vonnegut, 1979 in New York City


Kurt Vonnegut wrote in the introduction to "Mother Night":

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

This is similar to what it means to get better at something.  We're all students in our fields in some capacity, which recognizes we'll get better over time.  If being an artist or designer provides a power of sorts, we've made a degree of commitment to the desire of that power to some end.  As students first, we owe it to ourselves to understand the importance of our context in history, as we relate to other fields and the audience we serve.  Our understanding of our audience can influence the work we do more than anything else.

The part I enjoy most about Vonnegut's quote is the word careful; there are two meanings:

  1. making sure of avoiding potential danger, mishap, or harm; cautious.
  2. done with or showing thought and attention.

The first is the most associated meaning, one avoiding risk.  The second expresses thought and attention.

If we are to be artists and designers, we should be those who are not afraid of taking risks; who understand the context of our work, especially as it relates to our bias and audience.  If we are to create at such a capacity and shape the future of the field, the responsibility is not just a power, but a gift and a weight that should humble us.  Anyone who abuses power can easily be recognized as arrogant.  Our duty is to serve our audience and our field at our greatest capacity, just as we believe people in their respective fields do the same. 

If we care not only for how our work addresses our audience, the form of our lens must comprehend history, be capable of being reformed through self-reflection, understand the present clearly, and be capable of projecting a contribution for the future.

If we care, that care will make us better at what we do over time.  If anything, caring is more important than power because it shows respect for others, ourselves, and our field.  The potential for doing our best work is still ahead of us.  If we are to contribute, our thought and attention should be aimed toward the responsibility of becoming the best we can be; not the power that comes from getting there.