A few days ago, I was leaving work in a very light rain. The sidewalk slopes sharply down outside the parking lot of this particular strip mall, and I started to slip and fall. I caught myself, just barely avoiding falling or sitting down, hard, with a drink in one hand. A regular customer at my store, someone I’ve greeted and said goodbye to on a regular basis.
I turned, after catching myself, and caught his eye. I could see the concern on his face, then the relief, reflecting my own, that I hadn’t fallen completely.
This simple, very human connection seems to me the central concern of art. It’s essential to connecting the things I make to the people I want to see them (which, to be perfectly egotistically honest, is everyone). We can’t be creating things too far outside the relatable, because what makes art relevant is that connection to experience. Keep letting your thoughts run wild, but remember we’re making these things to express our common experience.
Vessel: Thomas Heatherwick’s New Point of Argument in the Art Sphere
There’s something exciting about art world controversy. Even in school, and getting angry about some sculpture or painting or exhibition I deemed “fake,” or “insincere,” or “pandering,” I still enjoyed the engagement those works provoked in me and in my fellow students.
So, anew, is the latest in back-and-forth arguments about the relative worth or meaning of a work. Heatherwick installed “Vessel,” a linked set of staircases, basically, in Manhattan, NYC.
For me, it most resembles one of those sets in sci-fi films where members of an alien tribunal gaze down on humans and condemn them to work in salt mines on some distant planet.
Now, whether getting a lot of art happening means any of it is stuff you like is another matter, but it does seem to hold true that if you make a lot, you get better and you end up with plenty of good stuff. I do apologize for using such generic language on the site. I’m trying to think of art in multimedia ways—not the 90s sense of web-based video and motion graphics presentations, but the literal multiple media—to include my friends who are musicians and writers, as well as visual artists.
But in reference to the title above, I’ve found starting things is almost always harder than continuing things. It’s much better to have a thing I worked on yesterday and can do a bit more of today than to think about planning, conceptualizing, choosing materials, and facing a blank canvas/screen/page. Like, ugh.
One more trick that has worked in the past, born of being handed projects in art school: starting another iron warming before you have to pull the first one out of the fire may be the low-anxiety method of choice.
Also, following up on yesterday’s post: more people than I’d have thought understand what a minor existential crisis contains. I appreciate those people more than they know.
Creating Your Way Through Your Own Recurring Existential Crises for Fun and Profit (but Mostly Fun)
It started to become clear to me earlier in the week that I was due for a downturn in demeanor, questioning the very idea of being and wallowing just a bit in the absurdity of human endeavor. These things come and they go, but it can be annoying and occasionally incapacitating.
I try to remember Camus and embrace the dumb doom, but there’s a new thing gettign in the way of despair, and that’s this blog. At some point the posting became a habit, and I have to write another thing and usually make a picture to go with it, disconnected though they are. It’s strange, but also nice to have such a thing to fall back on in moments when it seems things aren’t worth doing, or that I don’t have any motivation.
It’s a good time to revisit the value of a daily habit, then. Because as I go to bed, and when I get up the next day, I’ll have done a small act of creation, and absurd as that is in the face of a vast and uncaring and impossibly old universe, it feels good to push the rock up the hill just a little bit.
I spent a good while deleting old posts on social media. This sort of tedium is what I expect to attempt a lot in the near future. It’s not that I think I can erase my past presence, but the less there is available for bots to scrape, the harder it should be to exploit.
At least, that’s the theory currently, and I’m seeing how best to balance public and private information.
Strange Worlds That Exist in Half-Sleep and Dreams, and the Frustrating Difficulty of Bringing Them Into Reality
I often do these posts at the last shred of the day, when I’ve done everything I can for online classes and YouTube subs and there’s nothing to do but go to bed. Finishing the paintings and posts on my phone, though, often puts me in the twilight of consciousness. I’m falling in and out of sleep, sometimes, and it results in some amount of incoherent weirdness.
Harnessed properly, weirdness is a staple of art, and one of its draws. Mike Kelly’s installations come to mind. But on the edge of sleep and consciousness, it’s rarely anything more than half-formed. Things appear and disappear. My fingers type nonsense as I relax and rest them on the virtual keys. They make jagged strokes of color on the screen.
So the dreamlike weirdness that invokes or disturbs is, paradoxically, better created by the fully awake.
Sometimes it’s not easy. I feel tired, cranky, wishing I could get back home to keep working on projects, or more likely, reading a ton of articles and playing Minecraft. But these things are indulgent acts of self-comfort which, while soothing, aren’t very fulfilling.
Does that make sense? Acts that punch my dopamine button are addictive, and the feeling is a habit my monkey mind wants to keep getting. They’re easy, like getting drunk But the stuff that uplifts me more deeply, that gives me an abiding sense of satisfaction and accomplishment are hard. At least, they’re hard to start.
Similarly, withdrawing into my thoughts and flying on the autopilot of well-worn routines at work is easy. Engaging and supporting people around me is hard. But the former just leads to despair and ongoing dislike of my job. The latter can sustain me through a difficult shift and beyond.
It’s just like working on your creative thing: distraction is easy and a quick path to fun, but it doesn’t nourish you. It’s often harder to start working on creative work, but it nourishes you deeply.
A quick but perennial trope of art making: look at as much as you can, read as much as you can listen to as much music as you can. The eclectic approach doesn’t just feed your soul and demeanor, it supports your work with multiple sources, like a well-planned essay.
With deadlines always approaching of various degree, the best defense against both writer’s block and well-worn creative paths is a continually growing list of other creators we admire. And whom we want to steal bits from.
You Gotta Do Your Best, Except When You Don’t Know What That Is
It’s a simple equation, but not necessarily an easy one. You do your best work in any given situation—except when you exceed your expectations, or utterly fail to meet them.
What matters is that you dig dee enough to lose yourself in the creating. Flow will take care of both uncertainty and evaluating the past work. If you try to make something “great,” or similar superlatives, it’s a distraction. What you’re aiming for is to melt away judgment and doubt. That happens when you have a habit of falling into a piece and finding its soul, for lack of a more real term.
This takes time and practice. But it’s a common and easily understood phenomenon for creators of all types. You know when you’ve reached the point when you’re on the other side of it.