Katie Paterson is a Scot who works in Berlin, and the above film is mostly about the creation of a light bulb meant to emulate moonlight.
Her web site mentions her work is often about time and change, but I’d say it’s time and what remains constant. It’s charming and thoughtful, and her morse code message sending Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata bouncing to our satellite and back is an exploration of both how we make the moon a kind of person, anthropomorphizing it in so many ways, and also of our certainty of its permanence in our strange, short lives.
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.
Lots of us have an idea of a perfect place to live, and getting that place is a major life goal, at least at certain times. I’m going to come out with it here: I thought I should be in the Pacific Northwest right now, and though I’m not sure there’s such a thing as perfect, I’m here, and it’s magical.
But even more so, I think, because I’m no longer in a place I was tired of, weary, even. My cynicism and charitableness toward the place I was had grown paper thin, and I think you need a good measure of those things to sustain you through the tough moments when your ideals aren’t met and the place slaps you across the face like a city-sized Joan Collins.
This is why I think there aren’t “perfect” places to live. Every place has advantages and drawbacks. You give the advantages your enthusiasm and give the drawbacks your charity.
Because it isn’t anyone’s fault that the place you live doesn’t always thrill and sustain you. At least, not usually. And I recognize it’s a privilege to be able to pick up and move a thousand or more miles away. I’m grateful I have that.
But I am enjoying the change, which is necessary and beneficial in and if its own right.
Distraction in your work is a problem. Distraction from your stressors can be a boon, and get you to the metaphorical table more often.
Usually, in any given moment, we aren’t fully present we’re not so good at—wait for iiit—being mindful of our surroundings, we’re thinking about a million things. Walking down a street like that isn’t such a big deal. Making art like that is a path to so-so work.
One corollary I noticed while packing all my earthly belongings this past few weeks is that rather than viewing a full move as a terrible weight to bear, it’s a chance to strip away some of the raw stuff that weighs us down. Marie Kondo is the current rage of the organizing aficionados, of course. She advocates organizing by keeping only what you truly want, not throwing out, donating, or selling what you don’t.
It seems a bit backward or inverse, but it’s very like artists who work in media like ink and stone do: chip and cut and scratch the raw stuff to reveal an essence. The focus isn’t on what you don’t want, contrary to the myth, it’s on what you do.
It’s helped make this particular process much easier for me, by transforming my idea of what it means.
In 12 days, I’ll be on a plane to Portland, Oregon, leaving 16 years of working and living in what the late Harlan Ellison liked to call Baghdad—before the first Gulf War made it a household word and usurped the literary mythos with a contemporary view of a city very far removed from its legendary past. At least, here in the West.
West Hollywood, specifically, meant tolerance and excess, and it meant a certain freedom from feeling like a minority, even if that was probably an illusion. Eventually it became a pain in the ass to get out of and back into, and changing times and fortunes necessitated a move to cheaper neighborhoods.
Change is inevitable. It’s in the details that everything is tweaked, resolved, and given meaning. Where we do our work is supposed to matter less than our vision and intent. But you’ll always be influenced by your environment. Setting matters. People matter.
I’m visiting some friends I may not see for a long time. I probably won’t thank them for whatever influence they had on my work, that would be too weird. But it is there.
It’s part Idon’tEvenKnowHowMany in a series of existential-type questions that have no succinct answer but I’m nonetheless compelled to give you advice about.
What I’m thinking about are changes. Big ones. Life-altering events that you’ve set into motion yourself. You’ve gone about your patterns and routines for so long it seems like the things you’re planning can’t possibly happen. They’re dreams, plans, chimeras of ambition.
Anxiety is close at hand.
This is me, of course, in this very moment. I’m moving, but not just across town to a similar place. I’m moving hundreds of miles away to another state after wearing familiar paths 17 years deep.
What I think is important to hold to—if you too find yourself with this weight—is that not only is change inevitable, but if you ever left your parent’s house, your hometown, the state or country of your birth, it all changed for you at least once. It’s perspective, again.
And here’s a chance to understand what believing in yourself is all about. Apply the facts of the past to the present. You did this once—or if you prefer, it happened to you—and it’ll happen again. You set the ducks in line, you knock them down in turn. I’m not sure all this isn’t just a collection of eye-rolling platitudes, but maybe by convincing myself here I’ll help convince you. If so, I hope you feel better about the changes.
Change will come, whether you initiate it or not, so you might as well take a shot at shaping it to your vision and your dreams.
As you focus on process over end result, it’s good to remember to have an end in mind. You need a point on the map to head to, even if you change it midway through.
Lots of projects never gets done because there’s no specific point to shine the red dot of our attention on. Focus is good, and it helps get lots of things done. What’s less discussed is that you can always shift that focus.
Life is crazy sometimes. You never know what random chance will bring. It’s good to be able to seize opportunities when they present themselves. Sometimes that means starting over. But if the thing you’ve been working hard at isn’t coming together, move the dot, refocus, finish the thing now. Naturally, you can’t just do this for every whim. But sometimes you were wrong about what the work meant or what was important about it.
If you do art of any kind, you generally want to get better at it. You grimace at the state of your abilities and look longingly at those of the artists you admire. Even during the punk era, where a concerted effort to tear down the lavishly indulgent studio practices included sneering at the technically proficient and of famous musicians of the 70s, bands still worked to become better players.
Does it just happen? Sometimes, sort of, if you do it every day. You’ll end up with a more refined version of what you do, no doubt. But there are a couple simple things to think about if you’re not in art school. Because I like lists.
Copy the work you love now and then. Copying is like an anatomy class. You learn something about why a piece works when you recreate it. You start to figure out what makes it tick, how it was put together, why it works as a whole. You’re not putting any of this out into the world as your own, of course, but it’s excellent practice.
Change styles. If you’re used to working with abstraction, spend some time working from life. If you’re observational, translate what you see into abstracted forms and colors. If you work solely from imagination, learn a bit of life drawing, music notation, or journalism.
Break molds and keep your hands moving—if only metaphorically. You’ll get better at what you want to do faster.
I’ve been missing having so much time with traditional art tools since I graduated and started practicing up my digital ones. But there’ve been recent rumblings about the real stuff and I’ve begun questing for some quality pencils to go with the paper I’ve set aside to make my next sketchbook (Strathmore 400 recycled, if you’re in the market).
Writing and drawing—not to mention cartooning—with physical tools is as much hearing the graphite sizzle across the page as it is constructing sentences. We’re forced to slow down, be deliberate, get our fingers dirty.
Changing up tools is resetting your habits and breaking the ubiquity of screens and electronic devices we’re surrounded with. That can reconnect us not only with the past, but with slightly disused brain pathways.