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Category: Creation

Little Unpleasant Tasks Can Contribute to a Bigger Creative Picture If You Own Them

Little Unpleasant Tasks Can Contribute to a Bigger Creative Picture If You Own Them

It’s a part of most retail jobs that employees have to do certain chores that may be gross or filthy. Cleaning bathrooms and floors, dealing with trash, wiping down fixtures and windows. These can seem demeaning, and I’ve thought so on more than one occasion.

They aren’t, though.

I was thinking about their place in work of all kinds, and it’s not just that you have to do them, I think they contribute, weirdly, to a bigger picture.

They’re small cogs in a larger machine, just like you, if you’re one of those workers. But you have to do the same kind of maintenance at your own house, and there’s no shortage of cleanup in art, either. These tasks relate.

They also interrelate. An attitude of reverence toward your tools and tasks carries over to the important work, the art itself. Working a job is valuable training in maintaining the harmony of everything unseen in the art you make. It supports and frames it. It makes it possible to forget about everything but the art itself.

Ideas Come From All the Other Ideas We Take In

Ideas Come From All the Other Ideas We Take In

If you find yourself at a loss for ideas, fill the fuel bins. Read furiously, watch feverishly, listen in awe. Art isn’t a game of making the most unique and unreferencable thing, it’s got to have connections. The more different art is, the harder it is to find people who can relate and resonate with it. Why stay remote and removed?

You won’t be able—at least, it’ll be a vanishingly small possibility—to create anything meaningful, relevant, and new unless you’re consuming other artists’ work.

If you’re a filmmaker, the film you want to make will be informed and enlivened by the film’s you love and are watching now.

A songwriter or composer needs to be listening to lots of music if they want to make more of it themselves.

Your own work is born of and flows from what you’ve seen and heard. It doesn’t even matter if you understand how or what bits got remixed into the new thing you’re making. A lot happens below the surface, subconsciously and organically if you’re regularly—or, better, constantly—fueling your soul with works already made by others. Very little that’s any good was made in isolation from other art.

We want others to connect with the things we do. It’s eminently human, and we need more deeply human things in the world.

Finding Some Minutes in Any Given Day You Have to Work Is Hard

Finding Some Minutes in Any Given Day You Have to Work Is Hard

I feel your pain, if you have to run a job and work on art during your free time. Jobs are exhausting, and the last thing you want to do, oftentimes, when you get home is more work, even if it’s fun and compelling, and, let’s face it, what you said you wanted to do.

This is where doing your thing as a daily habit works the best. I can only offer encouragement in a couple small ways. Here’s a list, because, as anyone who’s followed this blog for a while knows, I love those:

  1. If you just don’t have the time to set up for your main project (maybe you’re working in, say, oil paint), do some work in the same medium. Plan another stage on paper, do a fast color sketch, write chord changes, do a test video with the script you’ve written. Little bits add up to big bits, and that includes the project minutiae.
  2. Be easy on yourself. Be gentle. Be kind. Be furiously kind, for sure, but do not beat yourself up for not enough done. Some work is still work.

This is not the easy path. I believe in you.

One at a Time

One at a Time

We don’t do things in whole pieces, most of the time. Our work, like our lives, is done in bits, chunks, sections. It’s the accumulation of the small things that emerge as a recognizable cohesive one. Any one piece is probably unrecognizable or representative. It’s a stroke at a time, one line and then another.

So art, like life, is meta. In order to make something, you have to think of it as a distinct entity or concept. Maybe not at first, if you’re an artist who likes to create from a spontaneous start. But if you never focus or decide on a unifying whole, you’re left with a pile of pieces. Lego blocks scattered around vs. a castle or spaceship or robot or truck.

All it takes for something to come into focus is dedication to small things every day. Real time work isn’t grand, but it’s the only way for grand to gestate and come into being.

Independence

Independence

Declaring your sovereignty is both a goal and a rite of passage in creative circles. But it’s not necessarily a better way to get your work done and out in the world than working adjunct to a job of any kind.

Institutions and employers offer support you can’t generate on your own. It’s always a good idea to try to discount biases in making any decision to set off on your own. Concepts like “freedom” and “independence” have deep roots in our psyches, especially for Americans. It can block or hinder us to assume being on your own is always better by default.

Assuming such grand and fundamental tropes are not the most important isn’t a bad course of action. We get in our own way far too often to shrug off questioning assumptions.


The spark for these thoughts is this article by Dylan Matt, questioning if the American Revolution was the best path to take, or a mistake that prolonged slavery and genocide.

Shelley on Invention

Shelley on Invention

Mary Shelley wasn’t just brilliant, of course, she was also perceptive, and understood lots about creativity and art.

Every thing must have a beginning, to speak in Sanchean1 phrase; and that beginning must be linked to something that went before […] Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and his egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.

— Mary Shelley

Here’s the story of Columbus’s egg.

Here in the Humdrum

Here in the Humdrum

The usual state of things as an artist is to be working on something or somethings. If we’re honest with ourselves, the exciting parts, the beginning of projects and their finish, only exist in a brief window relative to everything else. Most of our time is spent between, when process is all there is. As Austin Kleon makes clear, this is how we should be thinking of our work, in general.

What seems endless, sometimes tedious to us can be fascinating from outside. Weirdly, you can sometimes look at your own stuff that way yourself! It’s a way of being kind to yourself by checking yourself out with new eyes, outsider eyes.

It’s about showing how you do your thing, rather than what you did. And you also might create a new sense of excitement among the people who like what you do. They’re in on the secret part of the path, and you’re the person showing them the way. It’s cool to not hide how you do things. Not to mention, it keeps you honest and looking for new ways, and that’s probably necessary in the age of YouTube tutorials and Instagram galleries.

What Are We Waiting For?

What Are We Waiting For?

We’re told—and often, by experts self-styled and acclaimed—that we need to keep doing our work and things will happen. Is that the goal? It seems a prescription, hoping for some tangible, recognizable event that tells us, “hey, you’ve made it, you’re now a success. Boom.” We tend to accept the advice from those who are famous or at the least, making rent from their work. Is it inevitable?

I’m not sure. What if, just suppose with me, here, that you never make a living from your art. Are you still willing to do it? Deciding that the dice won’t roll your way—not just that they might not, but they will not—does it seem worth it?

If not, why continue? Give yourself a few years to get discovered and have an exit plan. Easy peasy, little harm done to your well being and your life. But maybe you can’t handle that notion. Maybe you still need to get the work out.

If that’s the case, you’re in a different category, one where success has a different measure than popularity or wealth. It could well be self-defined, and you might not have the tools to quantify it, yet. That’s fine. I’m pretty sure I don’t have them, myself. I’m making it up as I go, trusting that my need to do the things I’m working on are enough to scratch the itch, to keep riding the wave of desire that an urge to create swells within. There are a couple things to keep in mind, I think.

Don’t discount the few eyeballs on you. They matter. It can seem like social media, particularly, is full of more views and likes than you’re getting. But even if you’ve only got friends’ views and listens to chalk up, they’re probably steady ones. It means someone is paying attention, and if they’re already your friend, they’re more loyal than the average casual viewer. Cultivate those views and appreciate that they keep liking the things you’re making. It’s good and humbling that they make the effort and take the time.

Also, always renew your sense of love for the work you’re making. If you don’t love it, it becomes tedious, like any other job in the world, unspecial. Your work needs to matter to you first. It’s what you alone can bring into the world that no one else can.

All these things mean we can switch from waiting for some outside force or entity to bestow success and meaning upon us to finding success and meaning in the everyday work as it happens. Keep doing the work and maintain the success and meaning. Boom.

A Little From Uncle Paul

A Little From Uncle Paul

In my productive activity, every time a type grows beyond the stage of its genesis, and I have about reached the goal, the intensity gets lost very quickly, and I have to look for new ways. It is precisely the way which is productive—this is the essential thing; becoming is more important than being.

— Paul Klee, Diaries, 1914