It feels good to paint again, even if just digitally. I’ve been buried in black and gray and white for a month, and color is knocking me out, again.
In reality, “real life,” the stuff outside of art—and who wants to deal with that?—the coming winter has put me in a mental whirl. I’m excited to work on projects, but I’m also desiring more time to sit and ponder and be bored. I’m not sure which will overcome the other.
I think the next year will be all about disrupting patterns and habits. I’d like to get more out into the world, and I’m feeling more settled into the city, finally. Prospects abound.
In another nod to getting out and enjoying/supporting the local stuff, I went out to a Halloween event on Portland’s east side. I tend to forget how fun it is to see bands at a small point in their trajectories, seeing the promise and ability, thinking they’ve got something. Being able to congratulate them after their set and say to their grinning faces how much I enjoyed their playing.
It was good to go, despite being soon after work, when the last thing I usually want to do is run out to see a thing. But it’s usually worth it, I reminded myself.
Ray Bradbury was fond of the sentiment above, that you shouldn’t feel ashamed or inadequate because of the things you enjoyed. The set of cultural memes and art you like are a fingerprint of your personal aesthetic, probably as unique as you yourself. There are far better and more worthy worries out there.
That isn’t to say we don’t grow and learn, and trying out new things is part of that exploration. But the taste judges don’t deserve space in your head to demean what you like. No guilty pleasures.
That’s him, lying in wait for an unsuspecting leg to pass by. He’s a curious boy, natural for a cat, of course.
But he does something with his curiosity. It’s easy for us to have whims, to imagine just checking something out on impulse, and sometimes it’s the real world around us, but now and then it’s a creative idea. Easy to imagine doing it, harder to get to work.
But for the cat, everything is potentially play. The closet seems mysterious when someone opens it unexpectedly, and even though he’s been in there before, he starts a game of it: the tiny room is rife with possibility. There could be anything in there, you never know. It’s brave to walk in and explore it, somehow.
Try approaching that creative curiosity the same way. It’s a game, it’s mysterious. Maybe others think it’s just a piece of paper. For you, it could be anything.
Work upside down, work with your left hand, or your right if you’re a lefty—with your feet if ambidextrous—with your whole face.
Try things. Work outside. In a window. On the floor. Do it differently. Even if you still think you aren’t going anywhere with this weirdness, you are. Because you’re still working, and you can’t stop for long.
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.
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.
One of the advantages of moving is gaining new perspective in a new place. Whatever routines and stagnation you might have gotten used to or stuck in, say bye-bye, pal, they’re gone and you have to establish new ruts and habits.
One of the disadvantages is that it’s not completely safe. Case in point, I fell down a few stairs and am very, very sore. Luckily, it’s mostly bruises, both flesh and pride. Care has to be taken.
But the small risks of breakage—both flesh and dish—are worth it, since breaking the old routines and changing spaces are good food for creating things.
Somebody linked Holly Herndon’s Godmother on Twitter months ago, and I was an instant convert, sorry that I hadn’t found her before. Herndon recently finished her music PhD, and her sound is a kind of amalgam of vaguely recognizable traditional cultural forms of uncertain origin. It sounds weirdly familiar, but I can’t place specific influences.
There’s an emphasis on rhythm and voice. Herndon and her collaborators pile vocal tracks atop one another in a dizzying stack, though production remains remarkably unmuddied.
There’s also something disturbing, unnerving about both songs and video. Herndon uses programmed manipulation to chop up lines, in some cases letting a trained AI feed impressions back into songs. It’s all heady and fresh, and I’m very on board.
There’s one thing especially aesthetically appealing about the rooftop superheroes—Batman, Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Tick—to me: it’s a different perspective to see the world from.
This is valuable for your work, especially because it’s so easy to get stuck in routines and forget to keep trying to find new ways to look. It’s easy when you’re a kid: it’s all new and different. Once you’ve seen a bunch of the world, your internal imagery is mostly settled.
Getting on the rooftops, though, is weird and scary and strange, looking every direction. The sky seems close, the ground is all strange angles and squashed perspective, the other buildings are flattened. It’s new imagery, and that means a chance to see things in a while new way for a while. Maybe the rooftop superheroes aren’t just trying to look for criminals. Maybe they’re onto something.