In another nod to getting out and enjoying/supporting the local stuff, I went out to a Halloween event on Portland’s east side. I tend to forget how fun it is to see bands at a small point in their trajectories, seeing the promise and ability, thinking they’ve got something. Being able to congratulate them after their set and say to their grinning faces how much I enjoyed their playing.
It was good to go, despite being soon after work, when the last thing I usually want to do is run out to see a thing. But it’s usually worth it, I reminded myself.
I get annoyed at the Captcha grid often, but I’m also trying to figure out how exacting to be picking squares with the tiniest wedge of crosswalk or traffic light. Does it make me more likely human to the algorithm to err on the exacting side or the casually sloppy side? No idea. I don’t know if I’m training the AI or failing its quiz. Either way, it’s slightly embarrassing.
I have wished for robot like qualities at times. Being more disciplined, remembering specific sequences of line, pressure, stroke, not to mention exact amounts of color to mix paint. I try to remember the human sloppiness and forgetfulness, as well as our ability—tendency?—to wing it is apart of who we are. Trying to express more of myself is expressing more humanness. Probably the bots should have to be proving themselves merely code to us.
It was a small thing. But today, I got to share one of my favorite painters to someone who had no idea they shared the same name: Per. Per Kirkeby is, of course, the Danish abstract landscape artist (not that it’s a niche for him).
There’s something vital about sharing the things we love. Sometimes it’s a show, often an album or song, and here and there a visual artist who captures our souls to the point we feel like we’ll explode if someone else doesn’t share the explosive potential with us.
It’s human to be so excited by art. And it’s human to want to experience it in some social way, too.
It’s standard practice to enhance photos for social media. Some rebel, using #nofilter to indicate a shot straight from the straight from the lens with no embellishments or alterations.
I don’t, however, adhere to the same practice in my drawing and painting very often. Though I find many initial sketches to have life and power, I spend a lot of time refining drawings on top of or referencing them, fussing with paint for hours, erasing, redrawing, slowly putting lines and shading in.
If I had more confidence, maybe I’d make the best sketches and spontaneous drawings my work. But I’m trying to get the life out of the thumbnail, to extract and apply its loose coolness into a refined piece. It’s a bit like rewriting: the first idea may be strong, but it has limitations, too. It’s the difference between a funny anecdote and a comedy film. Ideas are sometimes worth refinement.
I’m writing this from the bus, on my way to my day job. It’s a decent one, with some benefits and good cow-orkers. The only drawback is that it takes me and my focus away from art and writing.
I love the eternal struggle with art, puzzling out ways to bring vague ideas and feelings into perceivable forms, digital and physical. But it’s isolating and insular. If I stay inside too long, I don’t have the human input I believe enhances and sustains us.
Both sides of work have their gifts. Both have their own downsides. But together, they give me things I wouldn’t have with just one. Most of life is similar, very few events and things are all good or all bad. Even in terrible situations good can be had. The ideal job can have moments of tragedy.
It’s easy to label situations and things with a simple word. But we can look deeply. See a bigger view.
Ray Bradbury was fond of the sentiment above, that you shouldn’t feel ashamed or inadequate because of the things you enjoyed. The set of cultural memes and art you like are a fingerprint of your personal aesthetic, probably as unique as you yourself. There are far better and more worthy worries out there.
That isn’t to say we don’t grow and learn, and trying out new things is part of that exploration. But the taste judges don’t deserve space in your head to demean what you like. No guilty pleasures.
Humans are social creatures. We have advanced knowledge and achievement collectively by being able to interact. Humans don’t do well in solitary confinement, and we need some measure of contact with others to stay healthy and sane. To this end, we have parties.
Long story short: we had a party tonight. Friends came, some were shy, they engaged in the end and made a new experience for everyone by doing so.
Parties exist to lubricate networking and enhance acquaintanceship. They’re the place to let loose and freely express yourself. Hm. Sound familiar?
Well, of course, these metaphors applied to creation are what we expect to find when we work on projects, when we practice our craft. But you can’t force it. The stuff happens or it doesn’t. The piece comes together or you spend the evening in the corner watching the tv. The cool thing is, there’s always another party. And another day to work on a thing. Don’t sweat it if it doesn’t happen the first time.
There are a many small things that keep me from doing things i want—or in some cases, need—to do. One is looking foolish to others, and I’ve overcome that in large part. Another is worrying I’m not adequate to the task. And that one’s a bit harder to deal with.
Feeling “not good enough,” or imposter syndrome, or any other inferiority fear is common, and for artists it seems to afflict even masters. There’s something to be said for humility. There’s also failing to start or finish projects because of this fear, and that won’t do.
What’s seemed to help me is to not fight the fear when it comes. But also not to immediately distract myself with something else it avoid it. Just exist with it for a bit and tell myself it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to try. What matters is that a thing is brought into the world, not that it’s great. Usually I can start, at that point.
It’s a bit like those mysterious lit windows across the street. I can’t help looking. They’re beckoning, portentous, strange, compelling. I want to know what’s in there, who’s in there, what are they making?
The never ending feed of information is available to look at like that all the time. It’s not easy to stop once I start. But if I can turn my back on it, just long enough to start a drawing or a painting, maybe, I can give myself over to the much more satisfying process of creation.
There’s always going to be more tweets and upvoted posts. The trick is distracting from the distraction.
I’ve been in love with Allan Holdsworth’s guitar playing and composition since I discovered him obliquely through a few more famous guitarists in the mid-80s, who praised him as one of the best of the best. If ever I start watching a video with him playing or call up a track I suddenly recall, I’ll often keep following links to more of it.
The above video is a window into Allan’s musical origins. He taught himself to understand the guitar by math and visual patterns, figuring out how to make his understanding work within the framework of mainstream—more or less—music. It’s complicated and unusual, but it’s all his.
His music is strange, even now, not easy to decipher, endless melodic lines coming at you with great speed and transition. But it’s worth digging into, rewarding in a way the most deeply connected artists can convey. Like the best literature, it can be a bit of work and persistence to absorb and penetrate, but his music rewards close attention.
His speed and wild runs is what gets the most attention, but there’s equal, aching power and beauty in his quiet, airy chord voicing that so often precede and follow those blistering passages.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.