There are things that matter to our emotional selves as relics of our own past. They are reminders of who we were and how far we’ve come, and sometimes of how others saw us.
There’s a lot of memento clutter, though, with things being saved as treasures that are really just footprints—they don’t have much intrinsic meaning and they’re everywhere.
Consider there are a few things worth holding on to, and see if you can let the footprints go: old text messages, emails, social media posts. You have memories of vital things, and probably some things to uphold the best moments of your life. Keeping most stuff as memories let’s you focus and care for the best.
There’s no shortage of creativity coaches out there. Advice abounds on techniques and tools, finding styles, getting inspired and so on. I don’t think it’s stated enough that you should finish your things. People really do get stuck in attempts to make the best thing they can make.
In art school, you often have no choice about finishing pieces, because there’s a bloody deadline breathing down your neck with a fearsome fiery breath, and you’re going to damn well get your ass in gear. I think this is an advantage to paying money for art school. You get a set of projects and have to complete them.
I tend to believe you should:
Work. Exercise your praxis. Do the thing.
Finish the stuff you begin.
Make another thing.
It’s totally true that a lot of would-be artists/writers/musicians never get anything done because they can’t start. They’re so wrapped up in the vision and their (imagined) inability to match it, fear stops them cold. They’re the Never-Good-Enoughs.
Then there are those who start a boatload of things because, hey, art! But they never finish them because it’s hard to get through the boring middle part where you realize it’s a hell of a lot of work to complete things. These are the Forever-Beginners.
One secret I learned pretty fast is that your finished piece will never match your vision—except in extraordinarily rare circumstances. The artists who get a lot of shit done are very okay with this fact, and by getting a lot of stuff done, ironically, they get ever closer to matching their vision to their work.
it happens gradually, but you need things to compare to, and there’s nothing that shows your progress more than the thing you made three years ago, if you kept making things along the way. This is being simply an artist. You’ll learn how long you should take on a piece the more you make.
The first thing you are asked to do in any drawing class for homework is to start a sketchbook. Sometimes there are specific things you’re asked to draw, but often the bulk of the pages are up to you as to what you fill them with.
Most working artists keep a sketchbook, too. It’s a repository for thoughts, lists, and…throwaway scraps of imagination and observation: ephemera. And they usually stay that way. The stuff we put in the sketchbook is just practice and things that occur to us in the moment, visually.
But having captured those fleeting shreds, every so often we’ll find a gem of an idea that’s actually a vein of possibility we can mine and turn into something big and meaningful. Keep an eye out, you never know where the scraps will reveal themselves to be more.
Nostalgia can be good. I’ve written a bit about it before. It can drag you into rabbit holes, too. This is usually one of its aspects we’re warned about.
But it can help your present life. It just matters how much time and effort you put into it. You shouldn’t live in the past. It’s gone.
But neither should you disdain the wonderful things that got you where you are, any more than forgetting the painful things that shaped you. The important thing is that you keep moving forward. We live in the present, always, but it helps to look where we’re about to step, too.
There are mostly disadvantages to getting ill. If you’re feeling particularly bad, there are scary (scarily expensive) doctor or hospital visits. But usually, it’s just a drawn out discomfort that leaves you disoriented and dazed.
There’s an advantage for artists: it can help you see in new ways and think new thoughts. They may not be coherent thoughts, but any chance to break out of patterns and routines of thinking is good. Try to write things down or sketch ideas. Usually, you’re too weak or uncoordinated to do real work, but getting the gist on paper (digital paper, too) can help you see different ways to make things when you feel better.
I don’t know why I haven’t ever seen Father John Misty’s music video for “Date Night.” It’s my favorite from his album God’s Favorite Customer, and this weirdness is all the better for racing by in under three minutes.
Jim Henson did a pilot for a proposed show in 1962 called Tales From the Tinkerdee. Typically brilliant and gloriously silly, it features Kermit as a minstrel who sings his lines as well as his songs.
Speaking of weird and silly, there are tons of Kids in the Hall sketches I think about now and then, and some I still am not sure I fully understand, but love them anyway. “Potato Salad,” a paean to domestic goddesses and the disorientation of daily mundanity resonates, but also makes me laugh really, really hard. Bruce McCullough’s recurring housewife character is both inane and charming.
We do long to have meaning in our lives. We yank it from our stories, the fiction, film, and memoirs we consume. We pluck song lyrics and apply them to our existence like bumper stickers.
It’s not always important to know what you mean with your work. People who read and listen to and look at the things you do will find something that applies to them, more often than not. That’s a good thing, but it’s also what humans are good at.
But, if you, in your struggle to find what to say and how to say it every day, it will help you to have a meaningful framework beneath the thing you’re working on. It connects the deeper parts of you with the physical world. You’ll be putting more of you into your work and thus into the world.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.