Robert Indiana died yesterday. His depiction of the word “love,” reproduced up there in sketch form, was both commercial and personal. Its cheesy, but sentimental. It’s a command, and also a concept.
To make something so iconic is a dream most of us have. But this thing, the Indiana Love piece, possessing so many contradictions and overtones and ideas, is just something you stumble upon and get lucky for having tripped.
Robert Indiana did a ton of other work, Google up his name and switch to viewing images for more. His was a great artistic arc.
I’m reading a book consisting of letters, supposedly written by the author to someone back home from the places she’s traveling to, around Italy. It’s a strange way to construct a novel, because the plot forms slowly, in pieces, and can be patchwork or incomplete. I’ve enjoyed collections of letters by famous literary figures—my mom allowed me unfettered access to her sizable shelves of the same growing up—for their own merits, and they’re glimpses into the real thoughts, fears, and hopes of people who did amazing work.
They might be real, these letters. I can’t tell. But it doesn’t even matter whether they are or not. They still have the power to hand you insight.
The somewhat rambling form of handwritten letters is charming, but also more meaningful than email, which the author discusses in her letters now and again. And meaning is always gold in your creative work.
Anyone can make something beautiful. If you then add truth and meaning, you’ve stepped above the ordinary into the extraordinary.
I’m pretty late to the Star Wars Day party by nearly two weeks, but I just discovered this clever thing and had to share. It’s a wee reminder that every time you think it’s all been done with a certain kind of art, somebody finds a way to mix it up with something else and give us a new thing.
One more thing following on from yesterday: punk isn’t the only area where its participants don’t care about putting on airs or carefully crafting extravagant works. Kids have the same mindset. They only want to draw, doesn’t matter much or at all that they have no idea how you’re supposed to make it. It’s “just do it” as a creative philosophy.
SOME KID CREATION PRINCIPLES
You do the best you can with the tools you have around you because you *need* to make some stuff. RIGHT NOW.
There’s no time to spend worrying you don’t make lovely robot hands—or form a Gsus4 chord—you let it flow out of you until it’s time for dinner.
Be proud of your stuff and hang it on the fridge. It’s something new in the world and you put it there.
In some recent researching for my podcast, I went on a tangent into punk rock for an hour or two. It was fun when I was introduced to it in my teens (I never listened to rock music as a kid, and in some ways I’m still hungrily trying to recapture those lost listening years), and it’s still appealing to me now.
There were memories and discoveries aplenty from ThoughtCo’s list of most influential albums. But that one is all over the place in time, and a few of my personal favorites were missing—specifically, Bad Religion and X—so there’s also the L.A. Weekly’s excellent top 20 West-Coast-centric albums. (Although, how you gonna have a top 20 without Fear: The Record?)
What’s the big deal? Much of the punk aesthetic is a reaction to the pretentious studio practices of the 70s, as I mentioned yesterday, and the idea that anyone can—nay, should—make rock ‘n’ roll. And don’t get me wrong, I love Alan Parsons, Earth, Wind & Fire, Fleetwood Mac, and Steely Dan, too. There’s something deeply inspiring, though, about three or four musicians just quickly tearing it up with no flash, letting the power of the songs speak for themselves. So it is with visual art. Jackson Pollock creating something new using house paint on a plain, unstretched canvas on the floor. Basquiat doing the same with cheap oilsticks and spray paint over fencing.
Sometimes you just want to make things, and you don’t have time to be careful or make it polished and elaborate. Simple is compelling and evocative, too.
If you do art of any kind, you generally want to get better at it. You grimace at the state of your abilities and look longingly at those of the artists you admire. Even during the punk era, where a concerted effort to tear down the lavishly indulgent studio practices included sneering at the technically proficient and of famous musicians of the 70s, bands still worked to become better players.
Does it just happen? Sometimes, sort of, if you do it every day. You’ll end up with a more refined version of what you do, no doubt. But there are a couple simple things to think about if you’re not in art school. Because I like lists.
Copy the work you love now and then. Copying is like an anatomy class. You learn something about why a piece works when you recreate it. You start to figure out what makes it tick, how it was put together, why it works as a whole. You’re not putting any of this out into the world as your own, of course, but it’s excellent practice.
Change styles. If you’re used to working with abstraction, spend some time working from life. If you’re observational, translate what you see into abstracted forms and colors. If you work solely from imagination, learn a bit of life drawing, music notation, or journalism.
Break molds and keep your hands moving—if only metaphorically. You’ll get better at what you want to do faster.
You’re still running out of time, but the culprit isn’t your motivation, it’s your schedule—how can you keep working on your thing if your work hours change every week? It happens to your humble chronicler, and has for years.
You’re going to have to schedule your creative time. Not at regular times, but around your job hours.
It’s best if you can get work in—and when I say “work” in this context it’s about the important stuff: art—before you head off to the job. Ideally the first thing you do when you get up in the morning. After the gym or morning exercise, if you do that, might be best, since I find I’m more lucid and motivated to get stuff happening then, rather than before when I’m still a bit groggy. Conversely, if you’re a poet, it might help the imagery to have the cobwebs of some dreaming hanging about. Try both.
An hour is great, two is better, but even 20 minutes a day is a couple hours a week, and it can pile up just like anything else. Get it on your calendar, shove your tantalizing social media and video services to the side for your work time. Tell yourself it’s just for a little while, you’ll get to it in just a bit.
This isn’t easy, but it can help establish a habit, and you can use the nagging itch to work on stuff to your advantage, because everything else in the world is conspiring—unwittingly—to distract, divert, and transfer your attention to literally everything else that seems easier and more fun. The world offers you endless ice cream. But your soul can’t survive on that, and in the long run, you get a lot more life out of the bread you bake yourself from scratch.
I hear you. I’ve felt the same. But we all have the same amount of hours, and beating ourselves up over seeing a few of them slip away is just eating up minutes. Once you get the initial anguish expressed, it’s time to shove it aside for a bit so you can get a little something done.
Or, if it’s truly—let’s just hypothetically say—almost midnight and you haven’t finished that blog post, maybe it’s time to shift the goal forward and go to bed so you can get up a tiny bit earlier tomorrow and work it out. This ties the “be kind to yourself” mantra together with the “begin again” trope. I hesitate to say, “start over,” because my larger goal is to think of your work (thanks, Austin) as a process, not any one object or finished thing.
It doesn’t matter that much that you missed a day. Life isn’t doled out in discrete packets, it’s a firehose of experience that’s aimed at your face, and rarely turned down. It’s cool, you’ve got something happening, get excited to pick it back up again when there’s a bit of daylight.
This doesn’t address the creeping small voice telling you to indulge feeling tired and worn out, that it doesn’t really matter, and what’s one more day of missed work on your creative thing—but that’s a different post I should get to at some point.
For now: it’s no big deal, you’re in the middle of the process. Begin again.
It comes out of nowhere, looming like a tidal wave. Or, less dramatically, the wistful reminiscences of your past. Either way, it’s only so good for so long. Too much nostalgia isn’t doing any of us any good.
It’s calming and sometimes inspirational to indulge our love of nostalgia. Memory is completely necessary to move forward in any way, not least of which is knowing your influences and which bits to steal from them. But keep turning to the past and it stalls us, makes us hesitate trying the new thing, because it’s not the way it was done. Indulgence in nostalgia is a bit of a sand pit.
Balance is the obvious key. Older and wiser, we can draw on a larger set of warm and influential memories to work with. It doesn’t matter that we feel nostalgic, but it does matter that we incorporate it into today.