One of the advantages of moving is gaining new perspective in a new place. Whatever routines and stagnation you might have gotten used to or stuck in, say bye-bye, pal, they’re gone and you have to establish new ruts and habits.
One of the disadvantages is that it’s not completely safe. Case in point, I fell down a few stairs and am very, very sore. Luckily, it’s mostly bruises, both flesh and pride. Care has to be taken.
But the small risks of breakage—both flesh and dish—are worth it, since breaking the old routines and changing spaces are good food for creating things.
I do these periodic posts about the habit—making a daily or near-daily creative practice part of your routine—as much for myself as for you. Because I’m not trying to teach or prescribe formula from on high or by edict, I’m just as crabby and fallible about getting to work as anyone. We all try, we all fail. There are times, and they come more than once, when you feel you don’t have the strength to make stuff.
It’s only in those moments you have to fall back on tricks and training to push through the wall. The daily habit gets you through because you’re used to it, and it’s too uncomfortable to not do a thing.
“Just do it,” Nike’s simple and best slogan, can work for easy dark moods. For worse blocks, there’s the 5 Minute Rule. You tell yourself you’ll just work on art for 5 minutes, and usually it kicks you into gear. It can’t fail, because even if you drop it after 5 minutes, you’ve worked on your thing that day. You win.
Give it a shot, and get used to denying your inner denier.
By the above, I mean profit creatively, not financially. One reason to keep old work around is that it not only gives you benchmarks for where you’ve been, it also informs your present work. Sometimes it’s inspiration, a kind of creation recycling that sparks new ideas from old. Some of the time, it steers you away from habitual mistakes. These things are worth experiencing and knowing.
Sketchbooks are the main thing artists keep. But as much as you have room for isn’t a bad thing to hang onto. Dominic Cretara, my main life painting professor, used to say we shouldn’t throw out anything for at least three years. By that time, you’ve progressed—if you’ve kept working, of course—and gained perspective and new skill.
Don’t look too soon at the bottom of the pile, but do look.
We’ve got a friend visiting who owns a car. My lack of knowledge about how to navigate parking downtown, where we live, including meter boundaries and cost are practically nil. In less than a year since moving, and giving up my car, I’ve remained virtually locked into public transit and walking.
I felt helpless to answer questions and solve problems. “Just keep driving around” was almost wholly inadequate. It strikes me that humans—for all we talk about history repeating and not learning lessons—are still eminently adaptable. Circumstances around us may change, but most of us can melt into the new mold quickly.
When I think about new directions to take my work, new media to explore, and new situations that restrict what I might do, I don’t keep this in mind. I get frustrated trying to recreate circumstances and methods of the past. While that can sometimes work for a lifetime (Turner), it might not be possible for some (Stella), and I could be doing myself a disservice, wasting energy needlessly.
Maybe just melt into the new mold first and the rest takes care of itself.
For a huge portion of those online—and in my experience, many outside of it—the notion of getting together to do something is often usurped by claims of being too busy. And far be it from me to call out anyone using that as an excuse for not exposing one’s social anxiety to crowds. That’s valid, and I do that.
Having kids used to be a reason people gave for not being able to do things beyond basic work and home activities. But fewer people (at least in the West) are having kids, and even endless new tools of tech simplifying creativity seemingly aren’t enough. Many of us are feeling overwhelmed. A never-ending string of stuff we gotta do is hovering over us at all times, demanding we pay attention.
Have we agreed to do too much? Or are we just indulging the feeling? The world expects more from artists, from a robust social media presence to constantly evolving work. Or at least constant churning.
I’m trying to give myself permission to step aside, now and then. To let the stream scroll on when I’m searching for something new to say. It’s all right to be quiet and watch, the world will always be moving.
If it’s never too late to start, it’s never too late to restart.
I recently latched onto an old memory of the band Brand X. Phil Collins was the drummer and co-founder of this jazz-rock fusion outfit, and his prodigious skill is on full display. He grooves, hammers, drills, and shreds in ways that would surprise most people who were only familiar with later work in Genesis and his solo career.
This is a valuable gem of the arts. A person whose most popular work is fairly straightforward, hiding the mastery of their craft. Discovering this phenomenon the first time is revelatory. We are astonished, perhaps, but tickled and abloom with joy to see someone really put their abilities through their paces.
But going back later can be unexpectedly delightful. It’s still a wonder, but now we have some familiarity with the work and can anticipate and appreciate nuance. When we find out a minimalist has painted intricate landscapes, or a detailed portrait artist makes enormous abstract sculptures, it’s like a twist ending. But introducing someone else to the lesser known bits or looking up the old piece is rewarding in a different way. It’s like your favorite grandparent’s story, that you revel in even when told it for the tenth time. Rediscovered surprise.
Fixing a Hole, from Sgt. Pepper’s, rang through my head this morning while I was becoming awake, and then shambling through my morning routines.
“It really doesn’t matter,” says Paul, and that’s true when you’re overthinking your work. I tend to do that. But in art, as in few other pursuits, you can be wrong and right at the same time.
You can defy expectations, and you can overturn everything you’ve done before. And you can also start done a path that millions have gone down before. You follow your heart and your hands. Sometimes they need to be free of the rain that gets in.
Twice today I had to admonish customers at my work for their antisocial behavior. This was completely unexpected and always makes me a bit anxious and upset. I thought back to when my main job was drawing and I hardly saw another human besides my co-creator—my cousin, working in the same room—for days at a stretch.
I don’t know which situation is weirder. Life is surprising in small ways, if we’re paying attention at all. I think that’s why I’ve spent so long here trying to encourage making art and continuing the work you’ve been doing or attempting. There will always be changes and surprising turns of existence, and you want to have a method of interpreting them.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.