What Matters: Tony Pinto on Being in the Flow and the Curse of Creatives

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Debbie Millman has started a new project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an ongoing effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer 10 identical questions, and submit a decidedly nonprofessional photograph.

Tony Pinto is a designer, artist, and educator. He is currently working on a book of his photos from the 80s, aptly titled, Photos from the 80s.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Doing something artistic/creative and being completely focused on that one thing—being in the flow. That might be doing a design project and getting lost in it or working on a painting and then realizing that I’ve listened to several podcasts while working on it.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

Lying on the floor of my grandparent’s house, drawing in a Little Golden Book. Now that horrifies me, as I treat books very respectfully, like precious objects. Speaking of books, I can never understand people who write in books or even bend the corners of the pages. Barbarians!

What is your biggest regret?

First, I don’t actually believe people that say they have none; anyone that has experienced life and made decisions will have some regrets, so, therefore, all adults have regrets. Here are a couple of mine:

I regret that I didn’t understand that I had depression issues sooner and sought help. Ideally, this would have been when I was in high school. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but it never occurred to me to speak with anyone about it. Certainly not my immigrant parents. It wasn’t until decades (and many regrets) later that I did so. Regarding depression, I think of it as “the curse of the creatives,” as most artists I know also have depression, anxiety, are bipolar, etc. I’ve often wondered if creative people’s brains are just wired differently, making depression much more likely. Or, conversely, if tending towards depression pushes minds to be more creative. It’s a chicken and egg scenario.

I regret that I didn’t wear earplugs for the many hundreds of rock/punk concerts I attended, plus my own very loud band practices and gigs I played. I never thought about protecting my ears, even though many of my older relatives had hearing aids (yes, I was that oblivious). Consequently, now I also need to wear hearing aids. When asked about how my hearing got so bad, my standard answer is, “it was a combination of heredity and stupidity.”

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

It just takes time. I think the deeper the heartbreak, the more time is required. I don’t know of any shortcuts, unfortunately.

What makes you cry?

I don’t cry much, but all the usual stuff—sad, manipulative movies, some pieces of music, a particularly moving passage in a book, and the horrifying way people treat each other, animals, and our planet.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

Not very long at all. Not nearly long enough. Minutes. I always want to do the very best that I can do and be proud of it, but when I look back, I invariably wish it was better. The longing for improvement is permanent, and the pride and joy of accomplishment are fleeting.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

No, there is no proof that anything else exists, so I believe this is all we have.

What do you hate most about yourself?

Today it’s my inability to stick to a diet and exercise plan. Tomorrow it may be something else that I do that drives me (and sometimes others) crazy.

What do you love most about yourself?

My curious, creative nature. I get interested in something and obsess until I know everything I can about it.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Not a meal, but I love chocolate, especially chocolate and peanut butter (Reese’s). That flavor combination is the pinnacle of humanity’s achievements to me.