The words of John Bender (he bends the rules! Get it?) in The Breakfast Club come up when I think of either the word “social” or the word “demented.” I’m not in the general habit of enshrining John Hughes lines, but sometimes they stick like duct tape to butt cheeks.
One thing about the city, you don’t lack for activity. Not all of it is good to participate in, to be sure. But there are things to do. That is, things to do outside one’s home.
Something about artists and never ending projects: either we’re working on them, or we’re talking about working on them. Procrastinating is it’s own art form, and Things To Do™ are sometimes the barrier, rather than the path.
With none of this in mind, I attended two social events this past week, rather than my preferred zero. It’s not that I don’t have a good time while I’m in them, it’s that I know I’ll want to leave to go back home to read or study or create sooner than most of the people in attendance.
The other drawback is I can’t leave things like this blog to the last minute, because I’ll likely be home very late and need to work the day job the next day. So being social takes over the art stuff. It’s a strange paradox, wanting to do the former even though it means pushing aside the latter. More of the fear coming through. The best course is to work the rule of 5 ASAP, and get even a little done. That’s the goal for the next social event, and if I remember, I’ll report how successful (or demented) it was.
The photo above was taken during a D&D session at a friend’s place. I’d been rolling fair to terrible results, and this combo—a 20 to hit and 6 for damage—meant an automatic kill and success for a fight. I wanted to document it, because it’s the first time I can remember such a gaming success in many years, and it’s unlikely to happen again anytime soon.
But then, it is a success, and was a delight and thrill to experience. Had I not played because I might fail, I wouldn’t have felt it. That’s worth it to me.
Art is a game, in a lot of ways. It’s often described as play, as good fun, and there are any number of possibilities within a given set of rules. Losing isn’t so bad, it’s not the end of the world. You can always play again. But winning is exciting and inspiring, and the chance is always there.
There’s a general sense—in the United States, particularly—that negative emotions are objectively bad and need to be countered immediately with positive thoughts. The drive to improve our health, status, income, and productivity is relentless. At least, it seems so to me.
But I think there’s an unappreciated world in dark moments, down days, moody patches. Being human is a spectrum of emotions, and being an artist requires being open to possibility. How can we be effective interpreters of the universe if we shun a big part of ourselves?
It might seem scary at first to just let some shadow feelings alone when they show up. But there isn’t anything inherently dangerous about them. It’s what we do with those feelings that makes the difference. I think suppressing or ignoring our emotional spectrum is a problem, and I doubt it makes for good art. Affective, relevant, insightful art is what moves us, both to shape our view of the world and to better connect with each other.
Every so often, the thing you’re doing loses steam. Sometimes you can work through it: just keep going and hope it’ll turn out okay by the end. It usually does.
But not always. For those times when inspiration is tumbling out of the mouths of friends and colleagues alike, I like to keep tabs on the next thing I’d like to do, future projects, and continually feed that cycle with new work.
It sounds like an oversimplification, I know. But I feel like this simplistic method is pretty solidly apt. Keep a space at the back of your mind as a workshop for poking around with the next project(s), and always have an incoming feed of other works by people you admire.
And by “we” I’m referring to the elephant of a state in the room that will hugely influence the rest of the country in this.
And by “this” I mean independent contractors vs. employees and who decides which you are. Lots of art teachers are treated as 1099 type freelancers. That may change soon.
The Teaching Artists Guild has a rundown on the bill expected to be signed into law. I’m a bit worried about budget cuts, but agree with those who say that even taking a stand on the importance of worker protections for teachers, we’re just standing on a shrinking island of funding with even more weakened advocacy for art in general.
We, the digital set, the technorati, the first world era, are castigated for looking down at our phones constantly.
But there’s a world to notice down there. On the ground, the street, the road. It’s all strange and overlooked colors, bits of stone, stains, scraps, fluff, fragments, trash, cracks, critters, patterns, paint, plants, paper, pools, plastics.
If your habit is to look down at your feet as you walk, spend some time looking up. But if you’ve been on your phone or staring straight ahead on your commutes, check out the view below.
I attended a housewarming last night. I knew almost no one. These occasions are cause for me to greet my social anxiety like an old friend, or more like a sadistic Ghost of Christmas Present, full of boisterous merriment that seems rather malevolent. But that’s my problem.
If I can figure out a passable excuse, I’ll stay home. If not, well, I’ve been known to bring a book to parties and read in a corner. But I’ve tried very hard to curb that introverted instinct. To not withdraw, to be more present in the moment. It’s good to push against your boundaries, at least regularly. Social gatherings are prime opportunities to observe. As artists, we are supposed to be doing that more, to see and to listen and to feel as deeply as possible.
So, I went. As most often happens, I had a good time for longer than I’d thought. Most importantly, I met new people, saw new places, and listened to an impromptu music jam started by a few musicians among the bunch. People danced. Conversations bloomed. I soaked in life.
10 of the streetcars in Portland were made in the Czech Republic
The short answer—the general, universal answer—is that things come from all over. I saw the above plate on the inside of a streetcar tram in my city. It was strange to see, but I was more disappointed I hadn’t noticed it right away. It took several trips, even sitting close to the front wall, before I read the plate. Stuff arrives near you from everywhere and anywhere. That isn’t the point, though.
The point is that we don’t often care or even notice where things come from, but beginning to pay attention, whenever possible, is another way of opening up to noticing the things we often overlook. And noticing more is key to growing as an artist. We need to see clearly, and find details in ordinary things. That’s a puzzle piece that completes a big section in the overall creative jigsaw.
I know, I know: we all revert to 10-year-olds when told something is “educational.” But no, really, it’s the next best thing to drawing yourself. In the video above, Dzama and Pettibon collaborate on some large drawings. It’s beautiful and inspiring.
It’s good for us to observe art in action. And, if you never watch other artists, you’re often struggling in a vast ocean of possibility. Maybe you’re getting better at staying afloat, but it takes a long time and is exhausting.
I’m back! Probably! It’s been a long, traumatic move. Being in a new place, with old stuff, is disorienting. Habits I thought I’d established are more easily broken. But still, change is usually good. It’s inevitable, so better to go the Taoist route and bend rather than break.
As easy as it is to blow off posting here, it’s also uncomfortable. I like the discipline of it, and I think it helps me, creatively. It’s also easy to beat myself up about missing days, but that approach only makes us want to stay away more. Whatever we do—our thing, our work—if it’s habitual, is valuable not just for its content, but also its ability to act as outlet, or creative hydrant. Its meaningfulness is deeply ingrained in the simple act of creation. We should continue.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.