I feel as if I’ve said this before. Which is a strange thing for me to mention, because I know I’ve repeated things a few times on the blog, but it’s really a foundational idea about artists: the way you work is meaningful, and it’s worth thinking about. You want to craft and build in a way that supports the finished work, because in grand zen tradition, the journey is the reward, and the teacher, not to mention the greater part of your time.
And time is the most important thing you own. It’s going to be spent. Make sure you spend it in ways that support you and your work. If it doesn’t, time to change something.
I’ve Been Obsessed With This Song, Since I Tend to Obsess
For the past couple days, all I can hear in my internal soundtrack is Kacey Musgraves’s “Slow Burn,” from Golden Hour.
It’s a terrific album, on many Best of 2018 lists, and for good reason. There isn’t a bad song on it. But this one in particular feels very close to me. Late bloomers and older artists can tend to get caught up in negative spirals of feeling like we aren’t getting anywhere, that our time has passed. But it’s always possible your time hasn’t yet come, at least where recognition or attention of some kind that will expose you to a new audience or group.
It’s a precious message: it’s okay to do you own thing and let whatever’s going to happen, well, happen in its own time.
The thing to concern yourself with in the moment is that you’re doing your best work and it’s filling some need within you. You need to be okay with slowly burning while you wait for the fire to spread.
The thumbnails I usually put at the top of these posts turned into a series of connected works recently. I started giving them titles, and the imagery I saw in them made me think of folk tales or myths. I called them New American Mythology along that line of thinking, imagining each image could be part of a larger set of stories that remake the world in their telling.
It’s pretentious as hell, of course. But I tend to gravitate to such grand scales, and I decided to run with it, for now.
But it’s clear to me that most of them are about conflict, and danger, and skullduggery—to be perfectly pirate about it. These are elements I see prominently in the corridors of power at the moment, in government, business, and in people. And one’s feelings tend to come through in one’s work.
I’m hoping I’ll feel like making more hopeful, generous, and open-feeling work next year. Counterpoints to the negatives we see around us are always useful.
If you’re lucky, some of them like to write, and they’ll put that out into the public sphere, too. It’s helpful to have a broader picture of the artists you admire.
Sometimes, they’ll disappoint you. That’s okay, it happens to our family and friends now and then. Once in a while it’ll be so far from your personal beliefs, you lose respect for them and won’t want to support them. That’s also useful to know.
Mainly, though, following along with a few artists you enjoy gives you an inside perspective on art that art history rarely will. We study works in isolation, much of the time. We hop around in time at a dizzying pace. But it’s like waiting for the next album from your favorite band when a painter you love announces a new show or upcoming project.
It’s the view from here, in real time, and it puts our own work on the same scale. We can be motivated and inspired by artists working right now in a way that is immediate and visceral. Uncle Paul (Klee, for any new readers) and Georgia O’Keefe are great and inspiring. But we see all their best work at once, and the scale and temporal connection is gone, just as they’re gone.
We learn a lot from the masters of the past. But the future masters who might arise from the ones we admire today can teach us just as much.
Maybe Repetition Is the Way Forward When Nothing Comes to Mind
Think of it like a generic writing practice: we’re told that we just need to keep writing. If that means writing the word “solo” over and over, so be it.
But that doesn’t last long. Thoughts come. Ideas meander. You feel like writing them down. It’s the same in other media. You can only doodle or play a C7 so many times before you’ll think how to change it. And that’s moving forward.
Winter Holidays Exert a Kind or Manic Weight on Many of Us
It’s not that Christmas and Hanukkah and the rest are oppressive, thought for some they are. We have the joy of the season, but there are some amount of blues that come along with cold air and holiday music.
Our job is to keep shifting those feelings into our work. Once anything is a part of your process, whatever you’re feeling is your new platform. Stand there and make the new thing.
There are a lot of moments in art where I have an idea for a project or series of things, but I don’t know if it’ll result in anything fully realized or not.
Creative life is full of false starts and failures. Sometimes there are successes. You need some of the former to discover the latter. I remember thinking a particular series of paintings I was working on in art school were going to be received well and progress in a predictable path. But then they ended up not going anywhere, or the execution didn’t match my vision. Sometimes, a project that became one of those little triumphs or breakthroughs wasn’t much of anything until there were two of them.
You just have to trust your instincts and your dedication, and keep moving forward, that’s all I can gather. And then you see where it’s gone when it seems like it’s finished.
Upping and Downing Is the Normal Course of Life…and Art
We like to think of our progress as a diagonal line moving ever upward. But that not how we experience change and growth. There are plenty of moments we regress, stumble, forget, and falter. Looking back over a long series of projects or experiences, we can see we’ve come a long way from where we started. But if you get into the details of the actual days—even weeks or months!—there are some plateaus, sometimes backslides, and occasionally valleys.
Those times, we feel like our work is stagnating or moving in the wrong direction. The insight or breakthrough happened and then, for a while, it’s like we got worse again. This is normal.
Try not to sweat it. The important thing is to keep going. You can only really see the massive improvements you’ve made when you look back at a big section of what you’ve done and where you’ve gone.
Not Having the Answers Is Also Not Knowing What You’re Doing
I thought—actually said—this evening, “I have no idea what I’m doing” with these things I’ve been digitally painting. It’s a common feeling—and saying—among artists. It’s okay. The feeling is part frustration and part bemusement. But certainty doesn’t necessarily lead to breakthrough or even satisfaction. A little mystery is helpful.
Doing at Least One Thing in the Spirit of the Ideal
Just the image, and a mindfulness of what I’m after, here. I think the thought of giving helpful advice can toughen after a while. I’m not sure how much more wracking my brain for different things to say about making art is than keeping on making a brand new image. I’m
Not sure that isn’t just the nature of this dualistic mash-up that I’ve started.