I think that everybody, to get the screaming out of their heads do different things […] beautiful losers and genius lunatics […] there are people who make things that we really, really admire, and love and feel some kind of a resonance with because the work itself is fantastic, but there’s another level to what they make when you know the backstory […] There are a lot of people whose work I admire that I think partly what brought me to them, in some ways, is knowing that backstory.
– Merlin Mann, Back to Work Episode #84 - Every Genie is an Actuary.
As Feynman spoke once of the science knowledge of a flower,1 I restate here in another context. There are many interesting questions that come from the knowledge of the backstory of the work of those we admire, which only adds to the excitement and mystery of the work itself. I don’t understand how it subtracts.
Knowing the backstory makes a great deal of a difference. It sometimes shows you the human being behind the curtains, and in many ways I truly think that this is good thing.
There are times when I might bring forth a piece of work of by someone I admire. That standalone piece may well be beautiful and quite unique, it may even require no explanation whatsoever, because it is truly a work of art. But then, when you start to grasp on the knowledge behind the work, when you try to unravel the mysteries, it only gets way more interesting. It’s almost like trying to take a peek inside the mind of a grandmaster in the very exact moment he makes a move. I may be exaggerating a little, but it seems so fascinating to be able to get a glimpse on how that amazing idea came to be.
Whether it be demons or just plain madness, many artists2 struggle to get the screaming out of their heads, and some even succeed in translating such affliction into beautiful works of art. By trying to empathize with the people you admire, their work transcends to levels you couldn’t have foreseen. Their demons seem much more real to you, and some mysteries start fading away. The world is different, but it sort of makes sense. You feel like you’ve made a connection.
In getting to the backstory you appropriate the work, you make it part of who you are. It no longer is just another thing I read, saw, enjoyed, etc. Traditionally, the backstory to an artist was something not so easily accessible. Quite often I would find myself going through different sources, written posthumously and narrated with the voice of others to get a glance of the seemingly backstory. But things are changing, today I can follow someone in their true voice, in their first person narrated backstory. Today an artist can, and most, willingly convey their story via their personal platform: their web log.
I’ve gone into such length at writing this post because I feel proud of something. I feel proud of following a writer, a great guy by the looks of it, a self publisher,3 and a contributor to the general conversation and the greater good on the internet. His name is Christian Mihai and I really don’t remember how I stumbled upon his blog. But now he is on my favorite RSS feeds. This week he’s published a great book called “The Writer” (it’s on sale in amazon). I bought it and so far, so good. Here’s a exceptional quote from the book
All great men are misfits, yet I couldn’t help but wonder what was worse: to be like everyone else or to be entirely different. I could only think about the fact that I needed a tragedy in my life, just so I could feel alive, just so my heart wouldn’t stop beating.
Feynman originally said, “There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”↩
When I write “artist” I mean anyone that makes something he can be proud of. ↩
Which to me means a great thing.↩