I’m not a fan of the positive thinking movement as it’s usually presented to me. The push to constantly be and think positively seems oppressive. I think there’s value in seeing a positive side to things, and sometimes a positive attitude can turn a moment around for you when you’re confronted with shame or blame.
But your so-called negative feelings—cultural labeling, mind—are valuable, too. Our feelings are a deep part of our humanity. Sadness and anger aren’t the dark side. They just are.
It’s important to feel everything so you can interpret it through your work. Your set of emotions is a unique mix, and that thumbprint is more prominent the more you embrace it.
I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be making art if we didn’t love it. Maybe there’s some tortured genius out there who’s just ambivalent about art in general, but keeps making it because she’s really good at it. But probably not.
It doesn’t follow that because we’re fascinated and enamored by a few or thousands of artists that we appreciate our own. Artists as their own worst critic is more true than not, in my experience, and that can easily extend to bald hatred of their own work.
I’m here to ask you to go easy on yourself. Making art—creating at all, really—is hard. Our visions of what could be don’t match what comes out in the physical world. But there’s tremendous value in giving of yourself so deeply. Pulling the viscera of your inner being out into daylight is brave and revealing. You deserve gentle adulation just for that.
One of the strangest elements of going to sleep is losing consciousness. The person we are seems to just go away for a while. The person who wakes up isn’t quite the same consciousness. So are we the same person we were the day before?
Whether this holds true as we study the way consciousness works is, to me, irrelevant to the application of it to art and to making. It may be useful to think of ourselves as always renewing, always arising with the potential and promise of a new person—who still holds pretty much the same ways of thinking, goals, and student loan debt.
It’s easy to get caught in the quicksand of self-doubt and worry, of course. The negative “what-ifs” that catalog all the things that can go wrong. The critic telling us we’re not good.
But we also can decide to think of ourselves as new beings, and there are all the things that can go right. Maybe you’re not the same person: you’re someone else stepping into the place of the one who was in your place yesterday. Someone who has the memories, but doesn’t have to take on the baggage of yesterday
Tomorrow, we are different people. We can start our making again, and maybe not beat ourselves up about how good it is because, well, we’re new.
It happens. I say be destroyed by stories, shows, albums, interpretive dances. All that stuff that makes you feel so vulnerable is a piece of your being now, and you need that depth of feeling if you’re going to make sincere work.
Game of Thrones and/or new Mountain Goats album it up.
This goes for bosses, cow-orkers, friends, and family. Everyone likes to be recognized, and this is a small way to keep up with the positive ways they all impact your life. It’s also a little bit of a humility check.
None of us get to where we are alone, and we don’t just need each other for the big things. Lots of small acts of generosity, accommodation, and support go mostly unrecognized day-to-day. If you go out of your way to notice them and say something to the ones who make them, you’re ahead of the human game. It can feel like a more angry world out there. We need more love and more expressed recognition.
‘Ey, clever, huh? What I mean by the title is that we all have crises of confidence, and they aren’t limited or even able to be headed off. But your value and contribution aren’t limited to what the rest of the world notices. It seems like the human condition to doubt. I’ve written about confidence and your work before, more than once, and I think it’s interesting how this blog is becoming a little less dogmatic over time.
It’s my hope to be wise, but beyond that to be a sympathetic and understanding teacher of—well, something. We tend to listen to the voice of success, that is, the voices of the famous and those who sell a lot of work. But everyone who’s been doing their work for a long time has valuable and insightful things to say about how to do it and why you should.
I think it’s a common human good to make art and put it into the world. I think it expresses and enhances our collective humanity and enriches and informs your own life.
What you’re doing, whatever form of art it is, has value, and I hope you find ways to keep doing it.
That’s an old trope, made prominent by some New Age guru types. “It’s when you feel you aren’t making any progress that you’re growing the most!” It’s a good thing to tell yourself, especially when you’re feeling down about how slowly your work is going, or how terrible it all seems, right now. Conversely, it’s good to stay a bit humble about it when you think it’s brilliant (and I hope you do, sometimes!). An even temperament is the machine that drives a steady flow.
And there’s some truth to the trope, in my experience, but I’d say it’s more true that you don’t know how well your work is progressing in the time you make it. Look back on last year’s work and you can see good stuff and not-so-good.
But we are poor judges of today’s work, yesterday’s work, even last week’s work. It’s not important how you feel about what you just made. Remind yourself that future you gets to evaluate. Present you has one job: keep making it.
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.
Evaluating your potential for the work is a good periodic activity. It can tell you whether you feel you’re doing your best, or if you’re spinning your wheels and it’s time to move on to try something different. But beating yourself up because you didn’t get enough done that day or week is a self-abusing trap, and you’re better off without it.
I’ve been thinking about a truism that’s both obvious and insufficient. It’s any variation of “we all have the same 24 hours.” I’ve used it here, even. But it’s not an equitable truism. Some of us are more limited by circumstance than others. Some have a part time job and a short commute with no children. Some of us have twins and a sick partner and family obligations. Our free time is unique to us. We may be able to carve out the slices at the edges, but we don’t all get the same range.
So we do what we can with what we have. It’s time, here in 2019, to reject the alienation, fear, toxic rage, and impotent social feeding of the past. It’s time to be nice to ourselves and become encouraging, more so than critical. It’s time to be honest about our resources and recognize that starting a thing, a creative project, is worth a lot. It’s a foundation, a place to build from, and our pace will—at least at the start—be what it is, slow or fast.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.