“Artistic thinking comes from attention, intention, and doing what you love.” – Darden Smith
Darden Smith is a singer-songwriter based in Austin whose thirty-year career redefines what it means to be a musician. In addition to fifteen critically acclaimed albums, Smith continues to break new ground using the craft of songwriting in education, entrepreneurship, and in service to others. He founded The Be An Artist Program in 2001, encouraging students in the US and Europe to discover their own creativity and passions. After a decade spent tapping the transformational possibilities of collaborative songwriting in a range of contexts—from homeless youth at Covenant House to HIV-affected villagers in South Africa and Botswana—Smith founded SongwritingWith:Soldiers in 2012, a nonprofit that pairs award-winning songwriters with veterans and service members in retreat settings to craft songs about combat and the return home.
Smith served as Artist-In-Residence at Oklahoma State University’s Institute for Creativity and Innovation and the Riata School of Entrepreneurship (2011–2013), exploring the connections between art and business thinking with students and faculty. He leads songwriting workshops in the US and the UK, and works with major companies in key areas (conflict resolution, team building, innovative thinking) using songwriting to inspire creativity and collaboration within the traditional work environment. Smith has delivered keynote speeches, contributes to Huffington Post’s Arts & Culture Blog, and has recently completed a book manuscript called The Trick: Surviving a Life in Creativity.
Smith has recently published The Habit of Noticing, a poetic collection of personal stories, memories, and advice paired with his own whimsical drawings and photographs. The book delves into the inspirations of Smith’s past and present and explores what characterizes the mindset of a working artist, but at its core this is a book that emphasizes the value of using creativity to find joy. According to his website, Smith writes: “The Habit of Noticing is my personal manifesto on the value of art and creativity. It is a statement on what I believe about myself and what I’ve seen to be true for others, and a guidebook for those seeking to bring more creativity into their daily life. I’ve learned a lot about the creative life — or rather, how and why to make a creative life –– from more than three decades of earning a living as a musician and songwriter. The ‘how’ is a mix of vision, talent, desire, drive, luck and perseverance. As for ‘why,’ it comes down to this: My life is better when I make creativity the driving force in my everyday world.”
Below is an excerpt from Darden Smith's The Habit of Noticing.
As a kid, I like to draw pictures. But being left-handed, stuck in those damned right-handed desks at school, I have a hard time making drawings that aren’t lopsided and weird. The other kids, being kids, tease me about the bizarre scrawls on my paper. So at the bitter age of 10, I figure out how to make the teasing stop: I quit drawing.
I make up a story, And the story is, “I can’t draw.”
In 1989, I’m in L.A. recording what will become Trouble No More. Sitting in the studio, bored, scratching on a newspaper with a pencil, I accidentally draw a tree. Immediately, I cover the drawing up, afraid someone will see it. A few seconds later, I move my hand. It’s still there. Suddenly I’m 9, sitting in the back of the class, Lost in the land of crayons and construction paper. It feels good. I start to teach myself to draw again.
Now when I travel, I fill notebooks with weird little black-and-white pictures. There’s not a straight line to be found, and it doesn’t matter. I don’t make these images to show people. I don’t need a gallery wall for proof they’re valid. The doing of it is all that matters now.
Sometimes I think about all those years I spend believing that story I tell myself when I’m 10: the story of no.
Because I listen back then, I miss out on a lot of joy, A lot of time dragging ink across a page.