It’s a cliché that we shouldn’t wait for the world to recognize us for our work. So how do we get the attention? Instead of offering any how-to advice—because, hell, I don’t know, either—let me pose a couple questions you might ask yourself that I find myself returning to.
Why do I want recognition? Answer this and you’ll either spotlight your ego (“I’m a genius, duh!”), or realize you care less than you thought you did, or understand you don’t know why.
The first is shallow, for good or ill, and that might not be a reason to disavow seeking fame for your amazing thing, but you should own it. The second is a pleasant revelation, and you are now free to do whatever you want—but do keep sharing your work. The third is the hardest, and you can either engage a therapist, or think hard about it till you figure it out. Or both. Both would probably be good for you.
Does it matter if I don’t get the thing I want?
This can lead you back to the first question if the answer is yes, or free you to stop making art or forge ahead in sheer abandon, finally not giving a damn what other people think.
This isn’t to diss Bob Ross, because he’s a delight. But like everything in art, there is nuance and alternative meaning. When Bob talked about happy accidents, he was teaching his viewers not to break the flow of their work with thoughts about how they messed up. It’s a way of reframing the unforeseen.
Mistakes will happen. But whether your work is meticulously planned or completely spontaneous, it can be helpful to keep rhythm with them. It’s another Zen or Taoist concept applied to creation: it doesn’t matter if errors crop up, because they become part of the humanity of your work. It’s only more real for small flaws.
And sometimes they can take us in different directions we hadn’t thought of, or would never find in a perfect thing.
Richard Dawkins conceived the word, and his original concept was a nebulous musing, specifically that it was
[…] a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.
And I wonder if our ideas and concepts aren’t mostly a collection of these cultural chunks that swirl in consciousness. When we create, perhaps we are reforming bits of the meme stew into new concoctions.
It’s not so much standing on the shoulders of giants as it is feeding on their substantive meals and making tomorrow’s dinner with combination plates of the leftovers. Tomorrow’s artists will be making their own things with pieces of ours.
It’s a short step from there to wondering if the “I” that thinks about these things is itself a self-replicating, seething mass of cultural chunks. If I’m feeling disturbed, I picture it a bit like Tetsuo’s out of control mutations in Akira. But it’s all inside.
You’re making art. You get sucked in. You forget the universe outside the one you’re making.
It happens, and you don’t have to feel bad about it. Sometimes if you’ve fallen into the work, and there is no time—for a blissful, weird micro-infinite period—its the best moment you could hope for, and a good reason to keep trying to regain a foothold in that pocket universe of your own creation.
The phone, the TV, and the news of the world, as Chrissie Hynde said. The outside will always press in on our sacred spaces, taking beloved things away and pushing unwanted things in. What to do about it?
I think one of the best skills to cultivate is simplification. If you know how to draw, you’ll always be able to work on something if you have a pencil and some paper. If you’re a musician, you can sing, or drum with your hands. Dancers already have basically their own bodies to work with.
This isn’t the only way most people will want to make art—though for some, it’s their stock in trade—but I notice it’s easy to become discouraged when I’ve been working with more involved tools, oil paints or digital surfaces, when those aren’t available.
When circumstances take those tools away (you’re on a plane, there’s a power outage), do the simplest version of your practice at your regular or habitual work time. I bet you’ll get some new ideas out of it as well as keeping up the momentum and rhythm of your thing.
Thom Yorke’s Anima, the album, is an expected delight, moody and strange. Unexpected was how delightful this new short featuring music from the album is, from Yorke and director Paul Thomas Anderson. I wouldn’t ordinarily share a link from a paywalled/subscription site, but if you have Netflix, it’s worth a watch.
I don’t quite agree with the blurb that it’s “mind-bending,” as weirdly wonderful as it is, but perhaps my mind is already pretty bent. Also, we have trouble finding ways to categorize and label contemporary dance works. Maybe we all need to watch a lot more of them to get more familiar.
By “paper,” I mean “in the waking, physical world.” Which ZenTaoist masters might have a field day with, given various definitions of awake and asleep, but grant me the metaphor, please.
Our dreams are mostly uninteresting to anyone but us. For most definitions of them. They’re amusing, sometimes, to discuss briefly, but their tricks on memory and disconnected narratives get tedious quickly. This goes for visions of accomplishment, too.
But things that are dreamlike are another realm.
Giving your work, or the thing you happen to be working on now, at least, a dreamlike quality can be resonant and evocative. This is because we can consciously shape them to be so. We can edit them in a way impossible for the sleepified version to be, lucidity notwithstanding.
Control is usually frighteningly absent in a dream. But in art, it’s the control that turns it into a story or a mood for everyone else. It gains power beyond your own subconscious and penetrates ours, too.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.