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.
Losing it is a big deal for most of us, at least while we’re in the midst of it. Let’s talk a bit about it.
While failure is nothing to be ashamed of—I mean I’m in favor of it—and it’s only human, anyway, losing it is us coming to a compromising emotional state over it. Either we court it directly as an end in itself, because we’re despairing or self-destructive, among other things, or we obsess on it and bring ourselves to despair.
I’m not sure there’s an easy way to cure such a tendency long-term without professional guidance, should you find you’re a habitual self-sabotage, say. But there are two things that can mitigate it. Wait, three things.
Physical exercise: get out, away from your workspace into the outdoors. Walk around. Be brisk, breathe deeply. Stay out for a while.
Keep working. Just do the daily piece of whatever you do, even if it seems futile and terrible. Inevitably, creators who look back at what they’ve done can’t tell when the good days and the bad days are by what the stuff they made is like. Step #1 has an all-purpose steadier: breathe deeply, in. Out.
Be kind to yourself. Remember you have tomorrow and today’s piece is only a small part of the whole. As in #1, breathe.
It’s a perennial problem, that. Either you want to get a thing underway you’ve been half-dreaming about, or you’re itching to dive in and make . . . something. So why is it so hard to get going?
You have to have a specific idea in order to start, right? Well, no you don’t. However it shakes out for creative fields I’m not familiar with (glassblowing?), it’s very similar in two broadly major ones: painting/drawing and writing. I’ll use painting as an example, because I know that one. Probably it’ll translate, at least somewhat, to other media, but we’ll worry about that later.
You usually begin with a blank, white canvas. It’s clean and pure, almost holy—unless you’re not steeped in the Western European tradition, in which case that symbology starts to fall apart. But it is daunting, and voidlike. The way past this barrier is through it. How do you start? By putting something, anything, other than white on it. You can start by putting a tone on it: red, green, gray, or some wild eye-searing thing, like the orange I used on the detail of the blue-dominant painting up above.
There, you’ve started. One line, a new color, and you should be better able to build on what you have.
The same goes for the blank page. You start putting down the proverbial “I don’t know what to write, this is dumb, I can’t even,” and you have something to bounce off of. As long as you keep going, it isn’t long before you can drop into the flow and dig for something true. It’s in there.
You may think it’s a race. There’s a lot of pressure on us to perform and achieve and produce. You’re looked down on a bit if you aren’t concerned with improving your productivity. To see the flood of self-help business books is to know there’s a relentless push to get more done.
But there are two ways to approach the problem of not working on your thing, or finishing work. One is to let productivity gurus sell you on another system, new tricks to slash work time and grow the done pile. It’s fine if that appeals to you. But it’s stressful, and leads to burnout.
And it distracts you from just plainly doing the work, which is certainly what often suckers me into the shiny new system.
The other way is easy, because you need nothing extra: establish a daily habit of uninterrupted creation time and get a little further along finishing a project. It really does pile up faster than you think. It’s less stressful and unpretentious, but it lets you end a year with the done pile impressively high.
Looking away to the future isn’t always bad. If we were only ever concerned about the present, we’d never follow a dream of a possible future. Or better, an impossible one.
It’s a matter of balance. One viewpoint throughout your life isn’t enough for making art. It requires changing perspective, shifting ground, opening up to the unknown, the void of ideas.
Be present when it matters. But that can’t be all the time. I’d argue that the act of creating is a prime example of losing oneself and the present. We can’t Be Here Now when we’re deep in the moment of making. It’s only when we look as far as we can that it all falls into place, comes together, melts, thaws, and resolves to a dew.