I mean your creative work, the stuff you’re making and thinking about outside the job that occupies your work day. And I don’t mean to the point of not doing it, no. That’s too slow.
Artwork, art-work, art –> work is different than other tasks. It’s the hole in the paper. It’s flow. It’s a time warp. The world around us is bursting with improvements in media tech and a lot of it messes with our attention spans and focus. It’s how it’s being designed. The cure, or at least palliative, is creation. It forces us to both slow down and to focus.
Art isn’t just a pleasant way to pass the time. It’s a vital human pursuit.
NBC News, of all places, posted this article on books, which is somewhat related to this post. It’s one of those mid-length articles so jammed with links it feels meticulously researched, even if many of the links point right back to NBC itself. I agree with a lot of the points, though, and can’t say it better than this header:
STORIES ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE TEACH US TO BE THE TYPES OF PEOPLE WE WANT TO BE
I’ve written before about how poetry is a too-often overlooked literary form, so it was with NO END OF DELIGHT that I feasted my eyes on Trefology, which popped up in a completely unrelated web search.
And This Day in Music is one of those nice listy landing pages that sparks the feels.
Every bit as genius as several of the abstract expressionist leaders was Thai painter Tang Chang, and his work is the subject of a retrospective at The Smart on the U of Chicago campus. When I look at Chang’s work, including “concrete poetry” (I need more of that in my life), it’s easy to see how narrow my view is—even with some significant effort, both in school and out of it, to broaden it—of what works and artists are important and need to be remembered, versus what we’ve been told.
It’s not that the wacky bunch of brooding white dudes didn’t do amazing things. It’s that they weren’t the only ones, and weren’t always the best or first doing them. There’s always a massive pile of feverish creation going on at any given moment. We share the same penchant for art, all of us humans.
Chang was halfway around the world from Jackson Pollock and de Kooning. If we’d had the internet in the 40s, would his stuff be exhibited with theirs? Would his name be mentioned alongside theirs? I think it’s important to keep searching for an expanded view of art history, and who has languished in obscurity while we lazily hold up the same set of dudes as our important icons. There’s a lot out there to know, discover, and understand.
But they were nonetheless beautiful and bright. This one of the Faber-Castell Jubilee Box Set is basically art supply porn:
The other was the Pacific Ocean, which I’ve lived next to—relatively speaking—for the past 17 years or so, and will soon move much further inland (not to mention shifting latitude) from. It’s strange how sticking your feet in its vastness feels like a primeval connection to the earth itself. (NOTE: the sound is terrible in this one, maybe a mute is in order)
If you’re a working artist, it probably doesn’t happen often to you. Go away and make more stuff, we need that. But if you haven’t established a clientele, or audience, or patronage, there are times when it feels like you’re getting nowhere.
If you feel like your work is the same, it’s time to step back—metaphorically—and realign your hands and mind.
If you feel like things are stagnating, be sure you know what you want first. You can’t head in a direction before you know where you’re going. In small ways, that can be good! It’s exciting to start a work with only a vague idea of where you’ll end up. But I’m talking about a bigger picture (no pun intended).
You have to know what kind of work you’re going to be making. It’s better to have structure for your ideas before you start trying to sell—or give—them to the world. This helps with procrastination, too. It’s really easy to indulge in cat videos and Twitter memes when you’re not sure where you’re going, because the brilliant coders at every social media company can more easily capture your eyes and ears. It’s hard to creatively wander with no goal or structure.
It’s fine to feel this frustration. You’re recognizing you’re not where you want to be, showing self-awareness. Stop flailing, think deeply about what you want to be and do. Once you have a direction you can start a path.
Then you can meander around while you’re headed east or sideways.
When you live in New York or any big city, it is easy to fail at growing up. The city is designed to keep you in a state of perpetual adolescence. You never need to learn to drive if you don’t want to. And even if you do drive you can go back to that bar you went to when you were twenty-one, and it will still be there, and it will still be called Molly’s, and the older waitress there will still remember you and let you sit where you want. And feel be years later, when she is no longer there, when there is just a picture of her above the bar on a place of sad honor, and you know what that means and you don’t want to think about it, guess what: you do not have to. Because no one is driving home, and you’re back again, listening to “Fairytale of New York,” which is still on every jukebox, falling into the same conversations you had with the same friends in the ’90s: about how the internet is going to change culture, and what you are going to do when you grow up.
One is the Genesis song “Dance on a Volcano” from 1976’s A Trick of the Tail, one of those perfect albums pretentious muso nerds like me keep bringing up. Mid-period Genesis meant a lot to me when I was still on a path to becoming a musician. The technicality, the care in production, the aspiration, all was inspiring in exactly the opposite way that punk would later engender in me. [YouTube link for non-Spotify folks]
The second is this search for images on Tumblr for the hashtag “gregg rulz ok,” a reference from the gloriously affecting game Night in the Woods. My favorite character, he of the knives, crimes, and anarchy.
A recent episode of Note to Self (I highly recommend subscribing) was a repeat, but also a really, really good one. It’s an overview of the ways social media companies are driven to manipulate us, honing algorithms that ever more selectively push our buttons.
Our psyches are exploitable, and even with no malice intended, we’re taken advantage of without even knowing it. It’s more important to take time out for perspective, for reflection, for people face-to-face and hand-to-hand.