Updated: Nov 14, 2019
Have you heard the new James Blake album? I’m listening to it right now and I have most days since it came out in January, on a weekend that silenced New York with a thick blanket of snow. If Blake’s back catalogue sounds like January itself - introspective, enveloping, so intense - then Assume Form is pure August: a blissed-out wave of sound which tells us Blake is very palpably, very enthusiastically, in love.
I like Blake in winter mode, and I like him just as much in his new, high-summer state of mind. Listening to this album was a reminder of what it’s like to feel hopeful about everything – the sonic equivalent of the first real day of Spring, when you switch out your heavy wool coat for just a jacket. It’s a mood that has been absent from pop culture (and modern life) for a while. I've missed it more than I realised.
Does being in love make for better art? The idea of the tortured artist has lost credence in our relentlessly aspirational, Instagram-filtered age, but the stereotype prevailed for a long time. While feeling sad and lonely can occasionally have productivity-enhancing benefits, it’s interesting that we ever bought into the idea that misery might be an ideal precondition for creativity.
I once heard depression described as ‘an absence of curiosity’, and from my own experience it's curiosity itself - "a strong desire to know or learn something" - that always leads to the very best work. Blake has been open about his own struggles with depression, and has even gone on record to refute the problematic cultural correlation between sadness and creative genius. On Can’t Believe The Way We Flow (my favourite track on the album, if you were wondering) he captures the giddy relief of that darkness finally lifting.
'Flow’ strikes me a perfect way of capturing how love feels, and also how creative fulfillment feels: Fluid, buoyant, synapses firing at all cylinders. No coincidence it’s also the word used by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to define the state of optimal human performance. Flow state, as he describes it, is:
"[When a person is in the] completely engaging process of creating something new...he doesn't have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels, or his problems at home. He can't feel even that he's hungry or tired. His body disappears, his identity disappears from his consciousness." Sounds a lot like falling in love.
We are navigating an age that feels like it's glitching everyday, even if you are lucky enough to be living in Los Angeles with a newfound love. All the more reason to seek flow in whatever form you can find it, and aspire to make work that emits optimism for others. Or, failing that, to give thanks for art that generates beams of sun we can all turn our faces towards, and bask in their fleeting warmth.
LISTEN to Assume Form, if you haven't already.
APPLY these nine principles for achieving flow and happiness at work.