I was talking with someone today about drawing. It started off a bit dry, acknowledging the mechanics of leaning and teaching, but I noticed the more I talked, the more excited I got. I was caught up in the spell of artmaking, unable to keep my emotional connection to it out of the conversation.
I can forget easily how it feels to do the work. There’s a lot of discussion and analysis, and plenty we do in art school. But to connect the two is a great gift. Artists who write about what they do aren’t always the best at it. Read Jerry Salz, the art critic, and it’s bursting with love for art. Similarly (uncle) Paul Klee, though with less abandon.
I must remember the massive seas of feeling inside that connect me to art when I talk about it in an analytical way. I think our passion is the best connection we can have when we try to get others to understand or participate.
It’s standard practice to enhance photos for social media. Some rebel, using #nofilter to indicate a shot straight from the straight from the lens with no embellishments or alterations.
I don’t, however, adhere to the same practice in my drawing and painting very often. Though I find many initial sketches to have life and power, I spend a lot of time refining drawings on top of or referencing them, fussing with paint for hours, erasing, redrawing, slowly putting lines and shading in.
If I had more confidence, maybe I’d make the best sketches and spontaneous drawings my work. But I’m trying to get the life out of the thumbnail, to extract and apply its loose coolness into a refined piece. It’s a bit like rewriting: the first idea may be strong, but it has limitations, too. It’s the difference between a funny anecdote and a comedy film. Ideas are sometimes worth refinement.
Involved in a tabletop game the other night, I had a chance to hold forth—probably too enthusiastically and vociferously—on John Cage’s iconoclastic piece, “4′ 33″.” There’s plenty of analysis on the work, but what struck me at the time was the following: Claude Debussy is supposed to have said (among other similar composers/musicians), “music is the space between the notes.” Cage simply expanded the space until that’s all there was, metaphorically making a silent composition music, not the lack of music.
It’s always hard to work my routines into such a big anxiety- and stress-inducing event as moving house, but I’ll still be giving it a shot. There’s value and relief in hanging onto whatever steadiness can be had on a metaphorically stormy sea.
One of the reasons for keeping a sketchbook on you at all times (or whatever notebook you’re drawn to—ha! Drawn!—for your medium and your thing) is to be ready to work on creation or making when its time. Not just when inspiration strikes, but to order.
It’s well demonstrated that creativity can be made to order by habitual attempts. Even when your best equipment is all boxed up, a moment to get out of the world and into your vision is good for you.
I spent some time trying to figure out why my Firefox extensions suddenly stopped working. I tried endless permutations of wi-fi, browser/computer restarts, until finally searching and finding I’m not alone. So now I wait for the fix.
Frustration is a common emotion in both internet work (and time-wasting) and art. The thing you’re working on doesn’t quite measure up to your vision. The idea doesn’t work as well in reality as it did in your head.
It is good to recognize that frustration is normal and we all feel it sometimes. It can be motivation to do something else, or work on the problem. But you do have to keep working on the thing, until it’s finally finished. Art bugs get worked out in process. Or not. At that finishing point, maybe the frustration is still there, but you can move on. Getting caught in endless frustration leads to nothing. Let it alone in the bug fix queue and keep moving.
It’s easy to think you’ll be overlooked if you’re no longer young, the stars of the art world mostly fawned and obsessed over in their 20s. But cheer up, most of us will be overlooked! But if you’re thinking you might be past it, Sheila Hicks is 84. She’s a fiber artist making some of the best work of her life. Yes, she started younger. As Mayer Hawthorne said: You’ll never be as young as you are today. It really makes no difference. The sooner you start, the sooner we get your work.
Sheila’s is beautiful, gloriously saturated, and it makes me feel like I should let my eyes take a nap from experiencing so much visual joy.
We aren’t making art to be a star. That might be a nice bonus, and have fun if you get that. But it’s in human DNA to make art, and if you’re alive you’ve got some of that. Do it. Sheila will be.
Joan Jonas has an installation at Ocean Space, a new exhibition venue made to facilitate artists and scientists studying the oceans. It’s fascinating and eclectic. Jonas incorporates performance, sculpture, video, drawing, and painting into the work, which may not be fully finished till the end of its run in September.
She’s paralleling the natural ecology of the sea with a kind of ecology of artistic practice. Everything works together as a whole piece, no one element is meant to stand on its own. They feed and support each other.
A popular trope about writing mysteries is that the author starts with the ending in mind and writing the plot back to the beginning. It’s probably not used universally, at least not any more, but there’s a bit of a corollary to other art practices.
If you have an end in mind, or a grand vision of some kind, it’s easier to start moving toward it. The hard part is when your execution doesn’t match the image in your head.
I find if I start with that kind of overall vision, I can’t stay too wedded to the original concept. It’s easy to become disappointed and discouraged by my abilities, or to realize the original ending wasn’t really that great to begin with.
The thing I’m making may be better off going on another direction, entirely. It’s mostly about creating the map as you simultaneously make the territory.
Now, whether getting a lot of art happening means any of it is stuff you like is another matter, but it does seem to hold true that if you make a lot, you get better and you end up with plenty of good stuff. I do apologize for using such generic language on the site. I’m trying to think of art in multimedia ways—not the 90s sense of web-based video and motion graphics presentations, but the literal multiple media—to include my friends who are musicians and writers, as well as visual artists.
But in reference to the title above, I’ve found starting things is almost always harder than continuing things. It’s much better to have a thing I worked on yesterday and can do a bit more of today than to think about planning, conceptualizing, choosing materials, and facing a blank canvas/screen/page. Like, ugh.
One more trick that has worked in the past, born of being handed projects in art school: starting another iron warming before you have to pull the first one out of the fire may be the low-anxiety method of choice.
Also, following up on yesterday’s post: more people than I’d have thought understand what a minor existential crisis contains. I appreciate those people more than they know.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.