The material and bits that make the Art
What intellectual capital is
Everyday, write one joke. Then draw an X on the calendar. Don’t break the chain.
That is Jerry Seinfeld’s process.
50 years of jokes, written and re-written somehow fit into a single accordion folder. During the pandemic, the whole thing was made into a book.
Everything that made up this mans career is a result of the material in that folder. In total it’s about 6 hours of jokes.
Reconfigured into different acts and shows this could be made into a comedy special.
Add a few actors and situations and this could be made into a sitcom.
Even the latest talk show ‘comedians in cars getting coffee’, is about comedians talking about the material in the folder and what Jerry has done with them.
Material is a technical word in comedy. It’s the funny idea that gets refined into a bit.
A bit is another technical word to mean a portion of comedy.
So it goes like this:
Material → Bits → Act/Product
The magic trick
Before comedians like Jerry revealed their process, you would be tempted to think some people just went on stage and started talking to you and they were very funny. It’s a reason they call that an Act. And it’s very convincing when it’s done well.
Apart from comedians, writer also seem to do this trick. When they deliver sentence after sentence perfectly placed in paragraphs. Upon investigation you will find this similar process of;
Material →Bits(drafts) → (Act)Product
Illustrations are also made that way:
Material → Bits(Sketches) → Product
The focus is always on the product, occasionally we take it apart and look at the bits. But the real value lies in material. The most prolific creators rely heavily on a well organised stock of material.
Collections of ideas and images carefully collected and ready to be fashioned into bits and products.
I fear we live in a generation that does a poor job of collecting and organising material. Instead they rely on algorithm based internet searchers. Ideas that are paid for and influenced by advertisers and tech companies are becoming the source material that our products are made off.
I think this has the risk of turning creators into part of a machine.
I think the way out is to build up a body of material through thoughtful curation. This will mean the time to get from nothing to final product will be slow in the beginning. But there is a threshold a point when the compound effect of having good material will allow you to create a consistent flow of quality products.
Jerry keeps his material in accordion folders. Others might have bullet journals or sketchbooks or diaries or Pinterest boards or digital files or baskets or drawers or index cards.
Work on the material, not just the product.
I’m becoming obsessed with this idea of building up a library of material. So obsessed I started a new newsletter on the topic. I called it ‘intellectual capital’. Since then I’ve realised that the management of another newsletter will actually take time away from writing. So I’ll be writing about this topic more and more here. And I’ll be using the terms intellectual capital and material interchangeably.
I refer to material as intellectual capital because I truly believe that building up a collection of ideas that are valuable and easily accessible is the capital that creatives can bring to any project get a share of the return.
I appreciate if you will leave a comment:
What do you think about this topic
Do you have a system for collecting material
Do you have questions about material
Do you have examples of artist who collect material
Do you have ideas on organising material