The impact of scaring ourselves deliberately is a magic trick of the mind. We aren’t the only ones who do it: I’ve watched our cat pretend I’m terrifying just to get a good chase vibe going through the apartment.
But we should acknowledge the delight that a little fear can bring. It motivates and stimulates, and we can apply the same principle to the work we do as creators. Go scare up some magical art moments.
Nothing matters, everything is ultimately meaningless, all art is pointless effort.
So says a really powerful voice in my head that shows up with annoying frequency. I’m not going to tell you how to defeat that voice for good. I do not know.
But there’s a way out of any kind of defeatist spiral, and that is to understand that the opposite reaction is strangely as valid. It’s very human to observe and to create. It makes us who we are, in part. If it doesn’t matter whether or not we make art, we might as well keep making it because it speaks to our existential core.
It might be the case that the universe doesn’t care about our work. To be fair and frank, it almost certainly doesn’t, at all. But even if it doesn’t matter in an ultimate sense, it matters in the moment. It matters to us. And since we’re the ones who like it and are inspired by it, art has an arbitrary present value for both its creators and its experiencers.
The photo above is typical of German artist Konrads’ site-specific installations. They’re often transformations of space and concept, with everyday objects either flying apart in pieces or forming a new doorway into their surroundings. She remakes the environment around her pieces by alternately sinking objects into it and pulling them out of it.
It’s really amazing work that takes the most mundane materials and creates magical planes dividing reality. h/t #womensArt (@womensart1 on Twitter)
Keep to the things you can’t let go of, the obsessions you latch onto. The music, the films, the art—the fragments on any one of those or something else, that live and passion for some aspect of the creative work of others gives you chunks of raw material to mix into your own work.
This is where work comes from. It’s the seeds of inspiration that always wait, whether we feel like working or not, whether we’re ready or not, whether we think we’re good enough or not.
I haven’t finished this post until now because I got so into the Yes song “Starship Trooper” that I had to listen, not just to the whole thing, but specifically the section after “/Disillusion,” really just a cascading series of “aahs” that Anderson, Squire, and whomever decided to haunt me with. I have no idea how it’ll come through, but it will, somewhere.
Don’t resist your artistic obsessions, enjoy them as deeply as you can. They fertilize and feed your own stuff.
I’ve always liked Yes, from my discovery of prog in high school, through the spiritual strangeness of New Age fads in the 80s, and out the other side to a deeper appreciation of their musicianship. But Steven Wilson, an amazing musician himself, has done a bunch of remixes for some early Yes albums, and they’re beautiful.
Wilson brings presence and dynamics back to the music, contrary to the smashed loudness of many contemporary remasters (and production in general, let’s be honest). Highly recommended if you want to hear every instrument clearly and feel as if you’re listening to them play in the room with you.
Artist Rotraut Klein-Moquay explains how, among other wonderful connections and perspectives, we need to view our lives as part of the greater universe, and as large, as grand, and as long-lived as it is. Also that we should be careful about living a “good life,” meaning fully-realized.
Artists have little to be smug about. There’s nothing inherently so different about art that means it can only ever be done by humans. Maybe by definition that’s the dividing line: artificial creation vs. art, but in time the bots will get better by steps both small and large, and they have nothing but time. Or, at least, in theory they do. For now, we have to keep running and building them, but what’s the point of art at all if no humans can experience it?
From the illustrious kottke.org comes this bit, by Tim Carmody:
How long will it be until Robin’s “California Corpus” is writing novels of its own, when every book is a jazzy cover of a medley of novels we’ve liked before? When writers still get hired, but just to produce enough snippets to keep the synthesizing machines fed? The answer is… probably a very long time. But maybe not long enough.
The thrust of it is that remixing is appealing because it’s giving us things we already like, remixed, and AIs will become good enough eventually to produce art we want to experience, in abundance, instantly.
The thing is, art isn’t far from that now. We’ve always taken the stuff of the past and remixed it in different and new ways. Technology and shared knowledge adds a little to it now and then, but essentially we are all creative DJs. What matters, for as long as it can matter, then, is that we make things with as much humanity as we can muster. Emotional, often irrational, impulsive, desirous, loving humans. The more like ourselves, individually, we can be in our work, the longer it’ll be before bots can match it.
I’m sharing this because it’s one of the few artworks I find actually scary. Incredible and fascinating, but also scary. It’s not a sudden, frightening type, but a deeper, more primal kind.
We look through a tiny hole and are confronted with a prone, naked body, only partially seen and still, in the sticks and brush. It might be catching an intimate moment, or it might be something grisly.
Marcel Duchamp spent more than 20 years working on Étant donnésin secret. His hidden dedication is one of the components of the work.
Something else—I’m ever so salty when I see a piece I like a lot and want to know more about its making, but I usually see simply “mixed media” in the medium area of the title card with no elaboration. What did you use? Gorilla bones? Model airplane parts? Camel spit?? It’s so often frustrating. Duchamp made sure we know damn well what went into his last creation:
Mixed media assemblage: (exterior) wooden door, iron nails, bricks, and stucco; (interior) bricks, velvet, wood, parchment over an armature of lead, steel, brass, synthetic putties and adhesives, aluminum sheet, welded steel-wire screen, and wood; Peg-Board, hair, oil paint, plastic, steel binder clips, plastic clothespins, twigs, leaves, glass, plywood, brass piano hinge, nails, screws, cotton, collotype prints, acrylic varnish, chalk, graphite, paper, cardboard, tape, pen ink, electric light fixtures, gas lamp (Bec Auer type), foam rubber, cork, electric motor, cookie tin, and linoleum
Ai Weiwei posted this video on his Instagram account this past week. It seems to show a man on his cell phone obliviously walking into Weiwei’s installation of porcelain sunflower seeds on a museum floor.
As with most of his posts, there is no comment from Ai about it. Reaction from fans and followers are almost universally horror struck. A few are cynical about it being staged. Is it faked? Maybe. I’m not sure it matters that much.
We spend a lot of time making things. We spend much less time thinking about their ephemerality. That should be part of how we consider the things of the world. Nothing is forever. If we embrace the impermanence of it all, I think we might be able to laugh at the absurdity of things like our bestowing some kind of sacred status on finished work.
This incident with the Weiwei piece, or even actively destructive things elsewhere, are some kind of connection with that existential absurdity. I feel like that’s a bigger statement than we can make on our own. Maybe we’d have more fun and make better things afterward by emphasizing the intangible meaning of this, rather than the perfection of craft or the object.
I moved to Portland without a car. One of the things I wanted to do in this new place was to try to reassess my consumption and use of resources. Giving up driving—at least for a while—seemed like a good means to that end.
And it’s mostly been eye-opening. Not only have I been able to get around on public transit, I’ve been able to spend some time just looking around me as I move.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.