I watched the Classic Albums mini-doc on the making of Peter Gabriel’s So, and yesterday spent some time on my day off watching interviews and clips of the remaining Pythons (Monty) preparing for their reunion tour and other various similar things. Terry Jones watching and commenting a bit on some Holy Grail outtakes was particularly poignant, having since lost his ability to speak.
It’s a bit of nostalgia, a bit of indulging in my past. But it’s also questioning what I think I know. It’s part of the overall attempt to figure out how things work in art, looking behind the curtain, opening the engine compartment to see the oily machinery.
We’re all getting older. There’s so much new work being made, it can feel like any time spent examining the past is a waste, or self-indulgent. But museums are shrines of the past. We remember it because we build on it, and it’s important to know where we came from.
And if there’s ever a How It’s Made for art, I’ll be watching every single episode.
photo: work by Sanya Kantarovsky, Modern Art gallery booth, original photo by Mark Blower
It’s nice to see L.A. start to be ever more seriously considered a center for fine art, despite my reservations about art fairs in general. As the population giant of the West, it’s inevitable that thousands of artists make their homes and studios there, with plenty of innovative and alternative ways of seeing and making.
It’s a bit like the zen koan “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” You need your influences, your artist heroes, and you stand taller on their shoulders. But you can’t focus on them too much or your own style won’t progress. Or, at least, progress will be slower. And life, as a wise philosopher once said, “moves pretty fast.”
Counterintuitively, the more you love your favorite artists, the more you have to dismiss them when you work. Steal liberally, but broadly, and the mix will become your own.
There’s a very popular trope that gets thrown around all the time—without qualification—that
you, a prospective artist, have 10,000 bad drawings in you, and until you get them out, you won’t be good.
But I’m here to tell you that you can always make a bad drawing. Or song. Or film.
It isn’t that artists are just good one day, after climbing the mountain of practice and forever rolling greatness down its slopes. You get to a place where you’re used to how it feels to be in flow, how your muscles work in concert to get things composed in a pleasing (or at least intentionally specific) way, and you know better when to stop.
But you can always, and will occasionally, make a crummy drawing. That’s perfectly fine, you can always make another. No one has to see the bad one.
This matters to know, because if you make a lame piece of work, and you think you’re past such stumbles, you’ll get discouraged and depressed, and it’ll be harder to make the next thing. Don’t worry about getting past your bad drawings. Just keep making things at all, and they’ll be few.
Lots of film and visual media get criticized for being just plot. Simply story with no subtext or message.
But even simple story has value. I’m not advocating for stupid or ill-thought stories, but meaning can come from characters and their situations and conflicts that remain true to who and where they are.
‘Ey, clever, huh? What I mean by the title is that we all have crises of confidence, and they aren’t limited or even able to be headed off. But your value and contribution aren’t limited to what the rest of the world notices. It seems like the human condition to doubt. I’ve written about confidence and your work before, more than once, and I think it’s interesting how this blog is becoming a little less dogmatic over time.
It’s my hope to be wise, but beyond that to be a sympathetic and understanding teacher of—well, something. We tend to listen to the voice of success, that is, the voices of the famous and those who sell a lot of work. But everyone who’s been doing their work for a long time has valuable and insightful things to say about how to do it and why you should.
I think it’s a common human good to make art and put it into the world. I think it expresses and enhances our collective humanity and enriches and informs your own life.
What you’re doing, whatever form of art it is, has value, and I hope you find ways to keep doing it.
It deserves as much longer post, or a series of them, but the Frieze art fair debuts in L.A. this week. It’s long been staged in London and NYC, and I’m glad the west coast is being recognized by the organizers as a worthy art center, but still have major problems with the concept in general.
As with the secondary market (auctions and such, the phenomenal prices of which are what make headlines), small, lesser-known, and—let’s face it, because it’s practically a detriment—living artists are often paid less attention. It’s true lots of contemporary creators get to showcase through their galleries who pay a high entrance fee to exhibit, but the fairs are there to make money, primarily.
This is fine. But it leaves out a vast section of artists who may feel, well, frozen out. I don’t have a ready solution, except to say I think we should be thinking more about what art gives to humanity, and the capacity we all have to make it.
There’s a tendency for the organized—even slightly organized—to spend lots of time designing the plan for a project or schedule. It can be really satisfying to see a detailed layout of your time, and how it’s supposed to get used.
But life is tricksy, and tends to defy our expectations and demands. The detailed scheme is like an oil painting you spent weeks on, perfecting the details and carefully mixing colors and layering. It’s sometimes fulfilling and valuable to make something with the full force of your skill and intention. But the plan isn’t that time.
The plan benefits from a little flexibility, like a charcoal sketch you can erase and blend as you go. Unless you’ve got a trust fund and a studio and all the time in the world to yourself, life inevitably throws curve balls and monkey wrenches into the works with regularity.
Adaptability and an openness to small changes in the plan means you can keep the main effort for your work, and your time spent where it’ll be most satisfying.
Anderson has long been one of my favorite artists, hard to pin down, stylistically, and spanning multiple media. Here, she breaks down the need to change our perspective to embrace the changing humanscape, where cultures meld and millions have to absorb either an influx of new people or being thrust into a new society.
These thought patterns have implications for thinking about and moving forward with your work.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.