The Gaps, Crap and Gumption Traps in Creative Work


ThisAmericanLifeThe poster above reflects hard-won wisdom acquired and shared by Ira Glass, host of PRI's This American Life, emphasizing the importance of perseverance in developing mastery of creative production. While Glass focuses on storytelling for radio and television, his insights and experiences about the gaps between ambitions and realizations - and the connections between quantity and quality - relate to wisdom I've encountered from masters of the crafts of filmmaking and maintaining motorcycles. I believe this wisdom applies to any creative endeavor, and I would argue that storytelling is an essential ingredient in every creative enterprise, as the creative things we produce and consume comprise an integral part of the stories we make up about ourselves.

The poster is derived from a video interview posted in August 2009 (Ira Glass on Storytelling, Part 3 of 4) in which he describes both the frustration and importance of making stuff that is still "kind of crappy" as an unavoidable part of the apprenticeship required for the journey to master craftspersonship ... and, according to Sturgeon's Law, 90% of everything is crap anyway.

Being_Wrong_Kathryn_SchulzIra Glass is my favorite interviewer, and so I was intrigued when he was interviewed by another experienced interviewer, Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong. The interview, which appeared in a June 2010 Slate article, On Air and On Error: This American Life's Ira Glass on Being Wrong, offers some glimpses of the wisdom captured in the pithy poster above:

One of the reasons I was interested in doing this interview is because I feel like being wrong is really important to doing decent work. To do any kind of creative work well, you have to run at stuff knowing that it's usually going to fail. You have to take that into account and you have to make peace with it. We spend a lot of money and time on stuff that goes nowhere. It's not unusual for us to go through 25 or 30 ideas and then go into production on eight or 10 and then kill everything but three or four. In my experience, most stuff that you start is mediocre for a really long time before it actually gets good. And you can't tell if it's going to be good until you're really late in the process. So the only thing you can do is have faith that if you do enough stuff, something will turn out great and really surprise you.

WoodyAllen_AmericanMastersIn a recent American Masters documentary on Woody Allen, the prolific writer, actor and director shared a similar perspective on the need to produce lots of stuff. Although the documentary is no longer viewable online, an interview with Robert B. Weide, the documentary filmmaker - a filmmaker filming a filmmaker - is available, in which Weide shares Allen's Quantity Theory:

You ask him [Woody Allen] about his endurance and his longevity over 40 years, and how prolific he is, doing a film a year for 40 years, as a writer and a director, and in many of them, an actor. And he says, "You know, longevity and endurance have their place, those are accomplishments of a sort, but those aren't the accomplishments I care about, which is to make a really great film." He says that he's working on the quantity theory, which is that if you just keep knocking them out, one picture after another, just keep making them and making them, some of them won't be that great, but every now and then, one will come out good.

ZenAndTheArtOfMotorcycleMaintenanceAllen's Quantity Theory brings to mind the Metaphysics of Quality, and the idea of a gumption trap that Robert Pirsig described in his classic 1974 book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig uses motorcycle maintenance as a metaphor for life, and explores a variety of gumption traps - externally induced out-of-sequence reassembly, intermittent failure and parts problems as well as internally induced traps arising from value rigidity, ego, anxiety, boredom and impatience - and ways of addressing and overcoming them. I won't include the full text of Pirsig's hypothetical course in Gumptionology 101 here, but the following passage gives a sense of his perspective, and its relevance to the views shared more recently by Ira Glass and Woody Allen:

Throughout the process of fixing the machine things always come up, low-quality things, from a dusted knuckle to an accidentally ruined "irreplaceable" assembly. These drain off gumption, destroy enthusiasm and leave you so discouraged you want to forget the whole business. I call these things "gumption traps."

There are hundreds of different kinds of gumption traps, maybe thousands, maybe millions. I have no way of knowing how many I don’t know. I know it seems as though I’ve stumbled into every kind of gumption trap imaginable. What keeps me from thinking I’ve hit them all is that with every job I discover more. Motorcycle maintenance gets frustrating. Angering. Infuriating. That’s what makes it interesting.

Pirsig's ideas about gumption were part of the inspiration for this blog, and I have consciously and unconsciously encountered some of these traps when writing - and not writing - posts here. When I look back on my early posts, many of them now seem like crap ... and I don't think any of the posts I've written - or anything I've produced in any other realm - have ever quite closed the gap between my ambitions and my realizations. I suppose blogging gives me a channel through which to work out - or at least work with - the ongoing tension between striving and acceptance.

Finally, speaking of blogging, I first encountered the poster at the top of this post a few weeks ago at the top of a post at Tim Kastelle's blog (which I always enjoy) on How to Make Things Look Simple. Tim found it amid one of the longest chains of Tumblr reblogs I've ever encountered, but further searching suggests that it was originally created by Sawyer Hollenshead. In digging around for the source, I also found a plain text version of the Ira Glass quote on a blog maintained by NPR's Fresh Air associate producer Melody Kramer, which I'll include - and conclude with - here, as I find it more readable (though less striking) than the poster:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb

We are all interconnected and we have responsibility for each other.

I_Am_Because_We_Are_coverThis is the interpretation of the Swahili word, ubuntu, offered near the start of a short, inspiring interview with photographer Betty Press by NPR Weekend Edition Sunday host, Audie Cornish two weeks ago. The interview focused on the incredible photographs celebrating the lives of people in Africa compiled over a 20-year period in a new book by Press, I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb. The NPR web page for the segment, A Photographer Changes The Focus In Africa, includes a selection of 7 of the 125 black and white photographs from the book. The images are striking, but given that this was a radio interview - on NPR, no less - I was a bit disappointed that, with the exception of the quote above, the proverbial dimension of African Wisdom was largely omitted from the segment ... and, well, talking about photographs is like writing about music ... which, of course, is like dancing about architecture.

ubuntu_logoAlthough I have never been there, I have been interested in Africa since inadvertently becoming an unofficial spokesperson for Nokia's efforts to empower people in developing regions with mobile technologies at PopTech 2007 (and several subsequent events). And as a technology guy, I have long interpreted ubuntu as a reference to a Debian-derived version of the open-source Linux operating system. I was intrigued, though not entirely surprised, to discover the origin of the term, which does seem well-aligned with the philosophy embodied by this evolving software artifact. So after learning more about the broader - and deeper - interpretation of ubuntu from Betty Press, my appetite was whetted for more examples of proverbial African wisdom to be revealed during the course of the interview.

Unfortunately, there were no further examples of proverbs offered on NPR - during the interview or on its associated web page - and while the book's web site offers a gallery that include additional photos, there are no examples of the proverbs in the book ... although the its proverbial aspects are highlighted in the following endorsement by Joanne Veal Gabbin on the main page:

A wise one said Proverbs are the palm wine with which words are eaten. Proverbs, like poems, are concise, loaded with metaphors, wisdom, nuance, and the rhythms of life…

At $39.95, this is not an inexpensive book (well, at least, not in my book), and I wasn't sure I wanted to make the investment. As much as I am moved by visual images, words are my primary source of inspiration. The book cover says "Proverbs compiled by Annetta Miller", and so I don't know if the division of labor is, in part, responsible for the primacy of images vs. words in nearly all the marketing materials (I cannot find a web page for Ms. Miller, but her bio suggests she has been involved in compiling other collections of African wisdom).

Having purchased and now received a copy of the book, I can attest to the captivating imagery contained in the photographs. Many of the proverbs of the book reflect wisdom that I've encountered in proverbs arising in American, European and/or Asian cultures - perhaps reflecting the universal nature of many of the most meaningful insights and experiences we share as human beings - but a few stood out as particularly poignant pronouncements of perspicacity. I wanted to help compensate for what I see as a deficit of attention to the proverbial wisdom in the book by sharing a few of my favorites:

The world is a mirror; it looks at you the same way you look at it. [North African proverb]

Our children are living messages sent to a future we may never see. [Nigerian proverb]

What you help a child to love is more important than what you help her to learn. [Sengalese proverb]

If you educate a man you educate an invdividual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation). [Ghanaian proverb]

If you can talk, you can sing; if you can walk, you can dance. [Zimbabwean proverb]

These last two are especially resonant, after having recently attended a David Whyte poetry reading, in which he and representatives of a local organization, Young Women Empowered, shared some proverbial wisdom about the importance of empowering [young] women and for the need for all humans to courageously speak out in the world. Whyte also spoke of embracing different forms of beauty, and the images and words in I Am Because We Are are a powerful illustration of beautiful forms that arise in the people and places of Africa.

Blessing and Wounding: Longing, loss, pain and transformation

I was transfixed by an article in today's Wall Street Journal - In Praise of the Crackup: A novelist peers through darkness to find glittering gems in writing and art - by Jeanette Winterson, in which she explores "the collision of creativity and mental instability", digging deeper into the way that artists are often able [driven?] to transform personal pain and loss into works that offer great meaning and value to others. I was first struck by her illumination of the connection between blessing and wounding:

The French verb "blesser" means "to wound." Original etymologies from both Hebrew and Anglo-Saxon bind "bless" with a bloodying of some kind—the daubing of the lintel at Passover, the blood smear on the forehead or thigh of a new young warrior or temple initiate. Wounding—real or symbolic—is both mark and marker. It is an opening in the self, painful but transformative.

Rumi-225px-Mevlana This notion of wounding as opening resonated with one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets in an audiobook by one of my favorite modern authors. In Your Heart's Prayer, Oriah Mountain Dreamer recites the poem "Not Here", by Rumi, in which he celebrates the broken-open place:

There's courage involved if you want to become truth.
There is a broken-open place in a lover.
Where are those qualities of bravery and sharp compassion?
What's the use of old and frozen thought?
I want a howling hurt.
This is not a treasury where gold is stored; this is for copper.
We alchemists look for talent that can heat up and change.
Lukewarm won't do.
Halfhearted holding back, well-enough getting by?
Not here.

200px-Tagore3 It also reminded me of other ancient wisdom that I [also] first encountered through Oriah, a piece by Rabindranath Tagore, of which I do not know the name:

I see a light, but no fire. Is this what my life is to be like?
Better to head for the grave.
A messenger comes, the grief-courier, and the message is that the woman you love is in her house alone, and wants you to come now while it is still night.
Clouds unbroken, rain, all night, all night. I don't understand these wild impulses - what is happening to me?
A lightning flash is followed by deeper melancholy. I stumble around inside looking for the path the night wants me to take.
Light, where is the light? Light the fire, if you have desire!
Thunder, rushing wind, nothingness. Black night, black stone.
Don't let your whole life go by in the dark.
Evidently, the only way to find the path is to set fire to my own life.

220px-Leonard_Cohen_2187-edited And, just to round out a selection of relevant poems shared by Oriah, here's a segment she quotes from Leonard Cohen's song, Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in. 

Returning to the wisdom channeled by Jeanette Winterson, there were a number of other highly resonant insights and experiences, written with such elegance and poignancy that I cannot bring myself to do anything more (or less) than simply excerpt them here:

We know from 100 years of psychoanalytic investigation that an early trauma, often buried or unavailable to consciousness, is the motif that plays through our lives. We meet it again and again in different disguises. We are wounded again in the same place. This doesn't turn us into victims. Rather, we are people in search of a transformation of the real.

Creativity takes the heavy mass of our lives and transforms it back into available energy. Taking the mundane or the weighted, the overlooked or the too familiar, art is able to re-show us ourselves and ourselves in the world. Art holding up a mirror to life is commonly misunderstood as realism, but in fact it is recognition. We see through our own fakes, our own cover stories, we see things as they are, instead of how they look, or how we'd like them to be.


Art isn't a surface activity. It comes from a deep place and it meets the wound we each carry.

Even when our lives are going well, there is something that prowls the borders, unseen, unfelt. The existential depression that is becoming a condition of humankind, experienced as loss of meaning, a kind of empty bafflement, is different from the situational depression we all go through from time to time. Job loss, bereavement and catastrophe will throw us into situational depression, but existential depression is different. When life loses all meaning, we cannot live.


Longing is painful. Every work of art is an attempt to bring into being the object of loss. The pictures, the music, the poems and the performances are an intense engagement with loss. While one is in the act of making, one is not in loss, and one has meaning.

[Addendum: While Jeanette Winterson focuses on art and literature, in Wired's recent article on "An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All", Amy Wallace describes a transformation of a wound into a blessing in the realm of science:

To understand exactly why [Paul] Offit [inventor of the rotavirus vaccine] became a scientist, you must go back more than half a century, to 1956. That was when doctors in Offit’s hometown of Baltimore operated on one of his legs to correct a club foot, requiring him to spend three weeks recovering in a chronic care facility with 20 other children, all of whom had polio. Parents were allowed to visit just one hour a week, on Sundays. His father, a shirt salesman, came when he could. His mother, who was pregnant with his brother and hospitalized with appendicitis, was unable to visit at all. He was 5 years old. “It was a pretty lonely, isolating experience,” Offit says. “But what was even worse was looking at these other children who were just horribly crippled and disfigured by polio.” That memory, he says, was the first thing that drove him toward a career in pediatric infectious diseases.]

Thingamajiggr II: Attentionality, Surreality and Sexuality

I attended Thingamajiggr, "a party celebrating the innovative Pacific Northwest tech community", last night. The party - organized by Waggle Labs and O'Reilly Radar, and held at the 911 Media Arts Center - was fun, and the presentations preceding the party - by John Medina, Scotto Moore, Dan Savage and others - were very engaging ... as were the presentations preceding the main presentations.

Brady Forrest (O'Reilly Radar) was MC for the event, and he started things off by introducing some of the organizers and sponsors of Thingamajiggr, a few people who plan to run workshops at BarCampSeattle this weekend, and other friends. Adrian MacDonald (911 Media Arts Center and Editor of On Screen Magazine) gave a whirlwind tour of the projects going on at the 911 Media Arts Center [Note to self: see if I can entice my kids to enroll in one or more of their youth programs.]

Thingamajiggr-PeterAndShellyThingamajiggr-PathableBadge Brady then introduced Shelly Farnham (Co-Founder of Waggle Labs, and part-time consultant at Strands Labs Seattle) who gave us an overview of Pathable, a lightweight social networking tool for events where people are matched based on social tagging data that is printed on badges, which was being used at the party (and BarCampSeattle). Thingamajiggr attendees who preregistered could peel off their badge from the wall near the entrance (see left photo, with Shelly and Waggle Labs partner Peter Brown) and place it somewhere on their body - some placement sites offer better viewing than others, of course. The badges include attendees' names, title, affiliation, category, a few self-describing tags and a list of people who are "matches" and "opposites" (based on those tags and perhaps other profile information on the web registration form (see my badge, in the right photo). It's a great idea, but I do admit some nostalgia for the stamped round metal buttons they used last time I was a Pathable participant, at FOO Camp 2007.

We were then treated to a preview of the upcoming Seattle Power Tool Drag Race & Derby by Rusty Oliver and Jeremy Franklin Ross Divide of the HazardFactory. The event involves people reconfiguring power tools - some of which have been augmented with flame spewing attachments - to run on a race track. The videos of past events provide a much more effective sense of the chaotic fun than any words I could use to further describe it.

Book_brain_rules_smJohn Medina, author of Brain Rules, was the first of the headline speakers at the event. After making a wry observation about the brain having evolved to learn in outdoor environments, in near constant motion - and how most lecture halls (such as the one at 911 Media Arts Center), classrooms and office environments are thus antithetical to promoting learning - John focused our attention on what he called the attentional spotlight in the brain, and helped us understand why people don't pay attention to boring things (Rule #4). Demonstrating attention to attentionality, John frequently paused throughout his talk to ask us "Do I still have your attention?" - an unnecessary question, as he is an extremely engaging speaker.

The brain processes meaning before detail, and this meaning has evolved based on how the brain perceives the answers to three sets of questions:

  • Can I eat it? Can it eat me? (tastes and threats)
  • Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me? (sex)
  • Have I seen it before? (pattern matching)

He then went on to claim that the attentional spotlight in the brain (Brodman Area 10) is sequential - it cannot truly multitask (i.e., process tasks in parallel). Although frequent task switching (which many of us call multitasking) appears to be increasingly the norm - for example, he average computer user has 17 windows at any given time (I currently have 25 open, but it's early on a Saturday morning) - it is not very effective, at least as it can be measured with respect to time to completion and error rates on tasks. In experiments comparing task switching to uninterrupted time on task, the time to completion of a task in the task switching condition is twice as long as in the uninterrupted condition, and results in 50% more errors.

Thingamajiggr-JohnMedina Among the implications of these results are the dangers in using mobile phones while driving. John presented a chart - shown on the right - comparing the mean response time (MRT) of people under three conditions: normal, legally drunk (blood alcohol content of 0.08) and talking on a mobile phone (while sober). The chart shows that the MRT for a sober person talking on a mobile phone is considerably longer than for a person who is drunk. This is because when you talk with someone on the phone, you are visualizing them, in the same way as you visualize characters and scenes in a book by Faulkner or Tolkien (for example). Thus, your attentional spotlight is drawn away from your real world activity (e.g., driving) and into an imaginary world ... and this happens whether your mobile phone is in your hands or not (i.e., "hands-free" use of mobile phones). [I imagine that listening to audiobooks while driving would be just as dangerous as, if not more dangerous than, talking on a mobile phone while driving ... so perhaps we'll see some laws prohibiting this combination of activities in the near future.] John noted that talking with someone on a mobile phlone is qualitatively different from talking to someone next to you in the car, because in the latter case your brain does not have to visualize or imagine your conversation partner - they are part of the real world scene. It is also different from listening to music ... except when listening to really good music - what I like to call "goosebump music", but which John referred to even more evocatively as delivering a dopamine lollipop - that has strong personal meaning to (and effect on) you ... so perhaps we'll see prohibitions against listening to meaningful music while driving, too. Personally, I think that the most dangerous driving situation is a parent with small, unruly children in the back seat, so if we really want to make our roads safer, we ought to prohibit that as well ... but I digress (do I still have your attention?).

I'll wrap up this section by noting that in thanking John after his talk, Brady noted that his book was published by Pear Press, which walks the talk of uninterrupted task focus by publishing and promoting only one book per year (!).

Scotto_marquee_89081 Scotto Moore was next up, presenting Intangible Method, A Digital Fairy Tale [Scotto's talk held my attention so effectively that I never even thought to take a photo, so I'll insert an image from his web site.]. The fictional story - created in the summer of 2006, and set in the summer of 2008 - is about a woman, known only as sarah-in-motion, who's everyday activities are captured and posted to the web ... by someone referred to as IntangibleMethod. This starts off with a daily series of YouTube videos on "sarah's walk to work", each of which generates tens of thousands of views and hundreds of comments. The videos eventually move off the street and into her home with a series "sarah around the house". After she is BoingBoinged, she becomes totally immersed in the online postings of and about her, and things start changing for the worse, leading to her losing her job, her house, and eventually prompting a series of darker videos: "sarah sleeps in park", "sarah looks for change", "sarah spots new doorway". The ending brings the plot full circle again, with a provocative note from sarah-in-motion: ""my body was just an avatar. see you in second life." Scotto finished off promoting his upcoming play, Interlaced Falling Star, epic science fiction told on a budget of under $300, showing at the Annex Theatre from July 25 - August 23.

Dan Savage, author of the Savage Love column and blog (or slog), rounded out the evening presentations. Brady didn't remember the exact title of Dan's column during his introduction, and so Dan reminded him (and us) several times during the presentation that he has been writing this column for 17 years (or, as he frequently directed the reminder toward Brady, "longer than you've had pubic hair").

Dan led off by telling us that he sees his job (if not his mission) as "abstinence reprogramming" for college students, trying to undo the damage wrought by $1.2B in federal government funding during the Bush administration for sex education programs that promote ignorance as a virtue and amount to nothing more than "reproductive biology". He likened the way we typically teach sex education in our schools to driver's education that teaches students how a car's internal combustion engine works, rather than informing them about turn signals, traffic signs, how to avoid accidents and other rules of the road.

If John Medina's refrain was "Do I still have your attention?", Dan's refrain was "Any other questions?" After his introductory remarks, he spent the rest of his time in a question and answer session with the audience of about 100 people.

Responding to a question about how the Internet had affected the newspaper column profession, Dan complained that the web, and weblogs in particular, "ruined a sweet deal" for newspaper columnists: he used to get by working for two days, scrambling over the weekend to get the paper out, and then spend three days getting high and watching movies (telling his editors that he was trolling for materials). The news cycle is no longer weekly (as at The Stranger), daily or even hourly, but momently. And with the advent of web 2.0, it's no longer enough to simply write blog entries, with podcasting, everyone has to be a radio station, and with YouTube, everyone has to be a TV station.

However, there have been some advantages. Before the Internet, he was frequently asked for referrals or define terms - both of which are now easily accessible to anyone with a web browser. He also used to receive long, flowery descriptive letters of various genital sores, now he gets digital photos of them in email ... from people who are, ironically, too embarrassed to go see a doctor about treatment. He may turn these photos into a flipbook ... although there have been some drawbacks to these emails, as he related a funny story about a time when one popped up unexpectedly when he was on an airplane flight, and a woman called out ("Oh my god, he's masturbating!").

A somewhat less ambivalent advantage to the Internet is that it promotes his goal of deprogramming ignorance- abstinence-based sex education: as he puts it, "the web is sex education in America" (reminding me of Avenue Q's song, "The Internet is for Porn" ... which further reminds me, the show is playing at The Paramount Theatre right now). Now we just need to carry the message to the streets - Dan suggested putting up advertisements for the Scarlet Teen web site ("sex ed for the real world") on middle school buses.

DanSavageTheKid Interestingly, despite his promotion of openness, he reported that his son has never seen a computer, a copy of The Stranger or the book Dan wrote about adopting him, "The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Get Pregnant", despite the fact that many other kids his age have cable TV in their bedrooms. When people started clapping, he counseled "Don’t be smug Seattle applauders".

Dan also shared a funny story about an interview he conducted with a man who married his horse on his Savage Love Radio. At the end of the interview, he asked, "Are you married to a boy horse or a girl horse?" Drawing himself up rather huffily, the man replied, “I am not a homosexual!” ... even people who practice bestiality have to draw the line somewhere, I guess.

All in all, it was a great set of talks, and although I didn't stay long afterward, many of the people in the audience - seemed just as interesting as those presenting at the front of the room. I'm sad I am missing BarCampSeattle this weekend, as I'm sure many of these people will be leading sessions at the unconference, but I'm glad that I at least got o enjoy a little taste of the local tech community at Thingamajiggr!

Johathan Keats on Art, Science and Religion

Jonathan Keats gave a curiously engaging presentation on "Extraterrestrial Aesthetics, Divine Genetics, and Other Thought Experiments" at the Art, Technology and Culture Colloquium of UC Berkeley's Center for New Media Monday night. Jonathan noted that both art and science are too inwardly focused, so he uses art to tease out nuances in science, and science to tease out nuances in art, with a style of conceptual art that was introduced as a "purposeful rejection of pragmatism."

Among the projects he covered was the quest to pass a law that couldn't be broken (collecting petition signatures in Berkeley for Aristotle's law of identity), the creation of a futures market for neurons in his brain (a new type of brain trust), the founding of the International Association for Divine Taxonomy (an attempt to genetically engineer God) and the buying and selling of real estate in the extradimensionalities identified through string theory.

Jonathan has raised some interesting questions in each of the projects he has undertaken. What I found most interesting, though, were the more general insights Jonathan shared about art, science and religion. His observation that art is interesting for its ambiguity, its open-endedness and the questions it raises contrasts with the goals of science, which are more focused on certainty, decisiveness and the questions it answers.

These distinctions reminded me of themes raised by James Carse in his book Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility, in which the author notes that

A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continiuing the play ... Finite players play within boundaries, infinite players play with boundaries ... Finite players are serious; infinite players are playful.

At first, I pondered how science might be considered a finite game, and art might be considered an infinite game. But upon further reflection, this distinction breaks down. While much of science might be described as incremental -- filling in the details within boundaries (previously defined by other scientists) -- some scientific advances represent paradigm shifts where boundaries are shifted in signficant ways. And although the many notable works of art also stretch boundaries, I believe that much art is rather incremental as well.

Curiosity is a trait that Jonathan emphasized several times during his talk, a trait that is shared by both artists and scientists. The differences may lie more in the way that curiosity is channeled, and in the perspectives that people adopt in facing the unknown(s).

Jonathan's observations about openness and embrace of ambiguity suggest that the distinctions are largely attitudinal -- how one goes about creating art or science ... or religion, which seems much more closely aligned with science, and its quest for certainty, decisiveness and answering questions, differing primarily on what constitutes a basis for declaring victory ... the kind of declaration that is absent from art and other infinite games.