Upping and Downing Is the Normal Course of Life…and Art

Upping and Downing Is the Normal Course of Life…and Art

We like to think of our progress as a diagonal line moving ever upward. But that not how we experience change and growth. There are plenty of moments we regress, stumble, forget, and falter. Looking back over a long series of projects or experiences, we can see we’ve come a long way from where we started. But if you get into the details of the actual days—even weeks or months!—there are some plateaus, sometimes backslides, and occasionally valleys.

Those times, we feel like our work is stagnating or moving in the wrong direction. The insight or breakthrough happened and then, for a while, it’s like we got worse again. This is normal.

Try not to sweat it. The important thing is to keep going. You can only really see the massive improvements you’ve made when you look back at a big section of what you’ve done and where you’ve gone.

Not Having the Answers Is Also Not Knowing What You’re Doing

Not Having the Answers Is Also Not Knowing What You’re Doing

I thought—actually said—this evening, “I have no idea what I’m doing” with these things I’ve been digitally painting. It’s a common feeling—and saying—among artists. It’s okay. The feeling is part frustration and part bemusement. But certainty doesn’t necessarily lead to breakthrough or even satisfaction. A little mystery is helpful.

Doing at Least One Thing in the Spirit of the Ideal

Doing at Least One Thing in the Spirit of the Ideal

Just the image, and a mindfulness of what I’m after, here. I think the thought of giving helpful advice can toughen after a while. I’m not sure how much more wracking my brain for different things to say about making art is than keeping on making a brand new image. I’m

Not sure that isn’t just the nature of this dualistic mash-up that I’ve started.

Too Many Choices Stops the Choosing, or, How We End Up Doing Nothing Because We Can Do Everything

Too Many Choices Stops the Choosing, or, How We End Up Doing Nothing Because We Can Do Everything

The internet is the ultimate in potential for choice paralysis. Endless reading, gaming, shopping, viewing. It’s amazing and wonderful to have such bounty available. But it’s in our limitations that we find not only creative ways to solve our problems, but also a certain comfort.

When we have too many options, we spend time deciding among them. It’s time that could have been spent working on your thing, or enjoying some other art. Sometimes, the overwhelming nature of possible things to do makes us shut down and just spend our time with the familiar. Films we’ve seen a dozen times, music we could sing along to in our sleep. That’s fine. But when we say we want to try new things, it helps to have fewer options.

I don’t, unfortunately, have a consistent methodology for narrowing internet choices, but I think it’s probably worth working on, if even in a deliberate, manual, conscious way.

Lower Your Expectations, but Not to Zero

Lower Your Expectations, but Not to Zero

It can seem—and it has to me—that if happiness studies show lowered expectations are key to the relatively greater happiness of, say, The Danes, why not drop them altogether?

But expectations of some level can keep us motivated, expecting just a little consistency or even decency can hold the cads and careless on our lives accountable. Even holding ourselves accountable is one small reason to have a base level of expectation. So, not the moon, but some kind of light, however small.

Not Yet With the Best Ofs, there’s Still Year Left.

Not Yet With the Best Ofs, there’s Still Year Left.

Every year in December—or earlier!—there’s a mad scramble for people to craft and publish their top 10/20/100 best Somethings.

There’s a lesson in patience to be snagged. We should have patches like the Boy Scouts for artists’ achievements. Pushing away the instant gratification monster/monkey/monkey-monster.

Always discipline is applicable, and your work is better for it. Keep your best-ofs till after New Year’s. Sometimes the last minute gift is the best.

Changing Your Mind Is Good for Your Soul

Changing Your Mind Is Good for Your Soul

I used to really dislike the song, “Santa Baby,” in its many variations. But after hearing the original Eartha Kitt version and reading the lyrics, I’ve turned it around in my head. It’s a grossly materialistic plea, for sure, but it’s also a cute bit of fun, if you don’t take it too seriously.

And, of course, that’s not a bad lesson for life, and for your art. We cringe a little at artists who are really earnest about the value of their own work. Meh. Artists with a sense of humor, and perspective, make me want more of their stuff. It’s a more enjoyable way to experience life and art, both.

Change is all around us. It’s baked into the nature of the universe. Maintaining a little openness to change gives you some flexibility in other areas of life, not to mention your work. It’s the cross-cultural principle that appears in The Talmud, Aesop’s Fables, the Tao Te Ching, and others: be flexible like a reed or a willow, not hard and unbending like a dead branch or a hardwood.

Stopping and Looking Around Once in a While So as not to Miss It (And by “It,” I Mean, Y’know, Life)

Stopping and Looking Around Once in a While So as not to Miss It (And by “It,” I Mean, Y’know, Life)

The wit and wisdom of Ferris Buehler? Probably could have been a bestseller if they’d had the stones to publish it during the 80s when Ferris was hot. But still. It is true, I believe, that you need to keep looking around you at your world and your life. It does move pretty fast. We can easily get caught in our routines and drudges and overlook the weird, the exciting, the beautiful things that just seem to appear right next to us.

I put up a photo on Instagram a few days ago, showing a gorgeous yellow field of ginkgo leaves next to the freeway near my apartment. Now, just days later, it’s not so amazing—just another patch of bare dirt and some piles and patches. Keep watch: beautiful and strange stuff just shows up, briefly, and you need to be ready for it.