Mostly this metaphor is so I can post this photo of a nearby park. The metaphor is the work that seems so confining always has another vista beyond what’s in front of us.
But there’s something else, too. Before I took that photo, a couple and their two dogs were running around on the grass in the fading sunlight. We can’t forget that life goes on around us, and sometimes we need to enjoy the grass, friends, and sunshine before it’s gone. It’s good to keep working, but life feeds the work.
There will likely always be fads. We are social creatures, evolved to follow group aesthetics and patterns. It can be fun to get swept up in the wave of a thing lots of other people like.
As artists, we often walk a thin line between what is popular—or at least well-liked—and the strange, the avant garde, the dangerous. We want to take chances, to push boundaries, but we want to bring people along with us, to show them things we see and discover through our process. If we go too far into darkness or strangeness, we risk being irrelevant or obscure. If we go along with what’s popular, we can be boring.
I think the risk is more rewarding on the strange side. There will always be plenty of creators trying to ride the big wave. The hard part is finding one that suits your style and way of being, surfing just ahead of the break and between the rocks.
I keep thinking of ways to improve posts days (or more) after I publish them. They’re often incomplete. I feel this way about the art itself, of course. The images are always off in some way I can see to fix.
But there’s only so much time. You can’t just perfect a piece over and over. You have to finish things, or you’re stuck in the same place. You never get better at one thing, and you never fully move on to the next thing. It’s a limbo of perfectionism, a mania of improvement that leaves you and work static.
There are would-be perfectionist artists out there. Sometimes they produce the thing they’ve been perfecting in the studio, sometimes for years. Sometimes they’re beautiful.
Often, though, they’re stiff. There’s not as much life in them as less polished works. Life is movement, and it’s sometimes messy. But it’s got power and feeling. I think some of that can get drained away if you spend a lot of time making a thing as perfect as it can be.
And I’m not saying to go fast. I’m not advocating rushing anything into being. Life itself is slow, after all. Take some time to make the work. But perfection shouldn’t be the goal.
Kalkou is a Danish sculptor who often works in pure white, as well as making photographs. Her work is, on the surface, very stately, pristine. But there is something of a smirk, or more accurately, an impishness within.
I’m always on the lookout for humor in fine art. Sometimes it’s overt, sometimes it’s obvious. For Sophia, it’s more an undercurrent.
If you can find a subtle, artful humor, you can create air pockets in the seriousness.
Nostalgia can be good. I’ve written a bit about it before. It can drag you into rabbit holes, too. This is usually one of its aspects we’re warned about.
But it can help your present life. It just matters how much time and effort you put into it. You shouldn’t live in the past. It’s gone.
But neither should you disdain the wonderful things that got you where you are, any more than forgetting the painful things that shaped you. The important thing is that you keep moving forward. We live in the present, always, but it helps to look where we’re about to step, too.
Getting nothing done on a day off is often frustrating. It means I didn’t get enough done I was supposed to.
But deliberately doing nothing is good for your soul—metaphorically. It’s a delicious oasis amidst a chaotic project or work week. It’s a defiant middle finger to the productivity gods.
We need replenishment regularly, different states of mind than focusing on tasking, and one way to do it is to shove everything aside and try to get none of it done on purpose. Tomorrow, you’ll get to work. But just every so often, break the rules.
Don’t forget that breaks are your work’s second-best friend, next to habit. Before inspiration, before beauty, before structure.
If you don’t have time to step back and consider, or time to absorb new ideas from elsewhere, there’s going to be too much intensity or not enough—something.
You can fix things later, and there’s almost always time to, after the thing is finished, but you’ll have a better base and scheme for whatever it is if you’ve given consideration to a little rest between work sessions.
It seems like it’s become fashionable to make the amount of work we spend on a project the important part. If we’ve burned the midnight oil through and finished in one go, so much the better! But my experience is that a steady pace with time off between chunks of making is better for both artist and art.
Seems simple, but rare enough for those of us who are still trying to reach master status.
It comes out of nowhere, looming like a tidal wave. Or, less dramatically, the wistful reminiscences of your past. Either way, it’s only so good for so long. Too much nostalgia isn’t doing any of us any good.
It’s calming and sometimes inspirational to indulge our love of nostalgia. Memory is completely necessary to move forward in any way, not least of which is knowing your influences and which bits to steal from them. But keep turning to the past and it stalls us, makes us hesitate trying the new thing, because it’s not the way it was done. Indulgence in nostalgia is a bit of a sand pit.
Balance is the obvious key. Older and wiser, we can draw on a larger set of warm and influential memories to work with. It doesn’t matter that we feel nostalgic, but it does matter that we incorporate it into today.
To make things is to become emotionally involved. I’m not sure it’s possible to be dispassionate and produce things that are worth a damn. But my main concern with losing it is to find ways beyond or out of that state.
Breathing is always good for centering. Centering is the practice of withdrawing your attention back inside yourself. When you feel scattered and stretched, if you can pull back emotionally, you’ll feel better able to cope. It’s an easy borrow from meditation: close your eyes, take a deep breath, hold it for a half-second, let out the breath, wait a couple seconds, open your eyes. Sometimes that’s literally all it takes to become calmer and more focused.
Don’t take my word for it, it’s classic Karate Kid!
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.