Bag Like an Artist


I’m naturally pretty good with spacial things — I can imagine how physical things are in relationship to each other, how things go together, that kind of thing.

That eventually served me well at my first job, as as a bag-boy at a local grocery store. Putting things in bags was one thing; anyone could do that. Putting them in efficiently, maximizing how much goes in, keeping cold things together, putting fragile items on top, making sure the bag wouldn’t weigh too much –leveraging my spacial reasoning, these were things that came naturally to me. They still do.

To me it was as much art as it was work.

Which is how work really ought to be; certainly the best work.

I was recently asked to characterize one aspect of what I do as “art” or “business”. My natural response was “both”. Unfortunately that wasn’t one of the options, so I pegged it as the more traditional answer, “business”.

But the more I thought about it the more I realized that for a long time I’ve thought of most of my work as potential art. Not as art — not everything I do qualifies — but every task has potential.

There are lots of people who write mediocre software. But writing software that’s fast, efficient, reliable, and stable is art. In fact, writing it — literally the act of writing the computer instructions — can itself be a work of art in how it’s presented. Not all software I’ve created has been art, but some of it certainly has.

Almost anyone can write an article. But writing something that’s easy to read, engaging, understandable, and useful … well, that’s an art. Again, not everything I write is art, but some of it certainly feels like it to me.

Building a fence is work. It becomes a work of art when the person putting it together becomes a true craftsperson and makes it beautiful, solid, functional, and something built to last.

The mechanics of putting together a document — not writing it, but assembling it into something to be shared — can produce a work of art, or an incoherent mess.

You can throw things into a bag, or you can bag like an artist.

What makes the difference?

Art takes time. Art takes effort.

Art takes practice.

Art takes intention.

But the results are often worth it.

It’s quick and easy to throw things into a bag. It takes more thought, more intent, to do it artfully. The later is more likely to make it home in one piece with the contents in pretty much the same shape as they left the store. The former? Not so much.

The same is true for any work. I’ve certainly thrown together “quick and dirty” solutions for problems at hand that I wouldn’t consider art simply because I didn’t take that time, effort, and intention to make it more.

And, to be fair, not every work calls for art.

And yet, every work could be art.

The best work we do is, at its heart, art, regardless of what that work might be.

Strive to be an artist in all that you do; the results will serve you well.

Even bagging groceries.

1 thought on “Bag Like an Artist”

  1. Yes, writing software can indeed be art. No only is creativity often required to solve a problem, but the result itself can be art.

    What is art and what is not art is subjective, although many accept the declaration of others on whether something is art. As an example, I don’t see “modern art” as art. But I accept that it is art for many others and also that it is declared to be art by folks who are considered to be authorities.

    Stocking shelves in a store can be an art — the symmetry, the ability to select quickly and obtain the product without moving others around, even the stance and interactions with customers on the floor while the stocking is being done.

    Driving a cab can be an art — the conversation with varied types of riders, the driving, the collection of fares.

    Hmm, life itself is an art 🙂


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