Sometimes, when life matters become overwhelming, it helps—for a time—to indulge in some intense trifles to distract ourselves with stories, music, video, memes. As long as we don’t let that go on too long. Scott Thompson, as his Buddy Cole character in The Kids in the Hall, said in a sketch, “I believe in moderation. Within reason!”
Indulge completely and work completely. Too much of either can burn you out or waste time that shouldn’t be wasted. Once you’ve wasted some and fed the furnace with either energy of inspiration, it’s time to undistract.
Seasons Change and So Did I, You Need Not Wonder Why
Is it dramatic or overtly pretentious to use song lyrics as titles?
I’ve been pondering seasonal change now that I’m somewhere there actually are seasons. Do they correspond with changes in our work? Not usually, of course.
They’re inspiration, guidelines of timing, reminders. This sort of thing helps in planning and shaping. But the actual doing, I’m certain, isn’t changed by what’s around us. That happens no matter where we are.
And we always have to deal with inner change. It’s not a cycle, it’s a line beginning behind you and pointing ahead. View your work through that lens and be kind to yourself when it’s not what you thought. It will change again.
Good Art, Bad Art, It’s Hard to Tell the Difference If Your Definition Is Broad Enough
And I think it should be very broad, indeed. As in, not restricting it to things you admire or even like, beyond to what you find chaotic or obvious.
Because creativity is vast, and the things humans make are sometimes unexpected, and sometimes they look like a mess, framed.
But it’s hard to tell when someone is sincere and when they just have no idea what they’re doing. We praise a child’s exuberant stick figures, but disparage them when they come from an adult. Unless they’re funny! I’m that case, we can’t get enough of them (XKCD, Cyanide and Happiness).
Looking at Paul Klee’s work, there’s a childlike energy to it, and it’s still dismissed at a glance for being too simple or cartoonish. But there’s a deep symbolism within, sometimes invented, sometimes referenced to real world things. You can certainly dislike it, but it helps to look beyond the labels “good” and “bad.” Even in things you find gross or dumb, there’s often a lot of hard work that went into making it the way it is. Sometimes, even the fast sketches and drips contain years’ or decades’ worth of study and practice behind them.
It’s not that you can’t call a thing bad. Opinions are had by us all. But consider leaving it at the cursory or joke level, and always give a shit about looking deeper. It feeds and informs your work to be charitable and open to the stuff you encouter.
Two Amazing Things Ruled My Otherwise Insane Day, Today, and They’re 40 Years Apart
One is the Genesis song “Dance on a Volcano” from 1976’s A Trick of the Tail, one of those perfect albums pretentious muso nerds like me keep bringing up. Mid-period Genesis meant a lot to me when I was still on a path to becoming a musician. The technicality, the care in production, the aspiration, all was inspiring in exactly the opposite way that punk would later engender in me. [YouTube link for non-Spotify folks]
The second is this search for images on Tumblr for the hashtag “gregg rulz ok,” a reference from the gloriously affecting game Night in the Woods. My favorite character, he of the knives, crimes, and anarchy.
Finding Some Minutes in Any Given Day You Have to Work Is Hard
I feel your pain, if you have to run a job and work on art during your free time. Jobs are exhausting, and the last thing you want to do, oftentimes, when you get home is more work, even if it’s fun and compelling, and, let’s face it, what you said you wanted to do.
This is where doing your thing as a daily habit works the best. I can only offer encouragement in a couple small ways. Here’s a list, because, as anyone who’s followed this blog for a while knows, I love those:
If you just don’t have the time to set up for your main project (maybe you’re working in, say, oil paint), do some work in the same medium. Plan another stage on paper, do a fast color sketch, write chord changes, do a test video with the script you’ve written. Little bits add up to big bits, and that includes the project minutiae.
Be easy on yourself. Be gentle. Be kind. Be furiously kind, for sure, but do not beat yourself up for not enough done. Some work is still work.
The usual state of things as an artist is to be working on something or somethings. If we’re honest with ourselves, the exciting parts, the beginning of projects and their finish, only exist in a brief window relative to everything else. Most of our time is spent between, when process is all there is. As Austin Kleon makes clear, this is how we should be thinking of our work, in general.
What seems endless, sometimes tedious to us can be fascinating from outside. Weirdly, you can sometimes look at your own stuff that way yourself! It’s a way of being kind to yourself by checking yourself out with new eyes, outsider eyes.
It’s about showing how you do your thing, rather than what you did. And you also might create a new sense of excitement among the people who like what you do. They’re in on the secret part of the path, and you’re the person showing them the way. It’s cool to not hide how you do things. Not to mention, it keeps you honest and looking for new ways, and that’s probably necessary in the age of YouTube tutorials and Instagram galleries.
I write a lot about our work, and ways to get started on your art things. Those are primary components of our lives as artists. But just as vital is our relation to others. We don’t create for the universe. We create to connect, to describe the human condition, to explore deep mysteries within ourselves, to craft meaning.
We aren’t just islands apart from each other. We share responsibility for what being human means. There is no objective goal or blueprint to follow. We create it every moment, days to weeks to years. Therefore, our generosity of spirit and kindness elevate our own humanity.
The least among us, the children, the marginalized, and the vulnerable are important to who we are. For one thing, all of us have been all of those things at some point in our lives. Some of us quickly move past those states, and some remain.
I hope it will always seem worth it to remember my way isn’t the right way, just mine. I hope I keep wanting to help my fellow humans, to stay open to possibility, to keep reaching out to those who remain open to teaching back. People can disappoint individually. I still believe in us together.
Now that the olds among you have that eponymous hook stuck in your heads for the rest of the day, let me follow on from yesterday a little bit.
I said in yesterday’s post that the creative things we make are only shadows of the ideas in our heads. It’s been said by artists of all types—and often—that they only get maybe 10% of their original vision into the final thing. Whatever the number, that’s what I was thinking about, but to me it seems needlessly obfuscatory the way I phrased it all.
It just makes no sense to despair over this. Everyone has the same experience. Imagination is strong, but the flesh is weak. But if we all have the same limits, we’re all still at square one unless, of course, you don’t make the things.
In chats with a psychologist several years ago, I kept talking about things I did as normal or abnormal. He stopped the conversation, apologized, and said that, professionally, they didn’t use the word to describe behavior any more. Rather, “typical” is how behavior is referred to, since there’s something of a stigma around “normal.”
So what is normal?
Maybe nothing important. Maybe it’s our atypical behavior we rely on to see things differently, to make stuff that speaks to deeper things within.