There are mostly disadvantages to getting ill. If you’re feeling particularly bad, there are scary (scarily expensive) doctor or hospital visits. But usually, it’s just a drawn out discomfort that leaves you disoriented and dazed.
There’s an advantage for artists: it can help you see in new ways and think new thoughts. They may not be coherent thoughts, but any chance to break out of patterns and routines of thinking is good. Try to write things down or sketch ideas. Usually, you’re too weak or uncoordinated to do real work, but getting the gist on paper (digital paper, too) can help you see different ways to make things when you feel better.
Rather, I got busy, with a changing schedule that finally caught up with me post-holidays. So I missed a daily post yesterday after a rare night shift. But that’s as may be. Life isn’t a factory where you set up processes and systems and they run on a timetable. Bits of it, maybe, but not everything.
Your art is the same. You’ve got goals, ideals, and maybe you’ve made resolutions to create more stuff in the new year. And—maybe—you’ve stumbled or missed. It’s okay. This is a year to be kinder to yourself about your work.
One of my goals in 2019 is to gently encourage, rather than berate, myself about mistakes and dropping various balls. Positive reinforcement is a hedge against so much toxicity and anger out there beyond your skin. C’mon. It’s time to be your own kindest critic, at least for a while.
I feel as if I’ve said this before. Which is a strange thing for me to mention, because I know I’ve repeated things a few times on the blog, but it’s really a foundational idea about artists: the way you work is meaningful, and it’s worth thinking about. You want to craft and build in a way that supports the finished work, because in grand zen tradition, the journey is the reward, and the teacher, not to mention the greater part of your time.
And time is the most important thing you own. It’s going to be spent. Make sure you spend it in ways that support you and your work. If it doesn’t, time to change something.
I’m at my brother’s house for Christmas. It’s great to be with family again, we missed it last year. Getting back together with your friends and/or family is one of the touted treasures of the season. But sometimes overlooked is the coexistence of winter holidays with the solstice, when the darkest days—of the northern hemisphere—turn back toward the light.
I’m never against a little darkness in the world. All those Darth Vader t-shirts and stormtrooper backpacks show that we kinda like it. We carry it within us and we use it to entertain ourselves and to teach good ways of being to others. But we don’t do well giving in to dark impulses or even weather all the time.
The light comes again, we experience renewal as winter fades and spring promises growth all around us. It just means more when we understand the cold and dark things and don’t shy away from exploring them and understanding them.
We like to think of our progress as a diagonal line moving ever upward. But that not how we experience change and growth. There are plenty of moments we regress, stumble, forget, and falter. Looking back over a long series of projects or experiences, we can see we’ve come a long way from where we started. But if you get into the details of the actual days—even weeks or months!—there are some plateaus, sometimes backslides, and occasionally valleys.
Those times, we feel like our work is stagnating or moving in the wrong direction. The insight or breakthrough happened and then, for a while, it’s like we got worse again. This is normal.
Try not to sweat it. The important thing is to keep going. You can only really see the massive improvements you’ve made when you look back at a big section of what you’ve done and where you’ve gone.
Getting sick is a strange sensation when it creeps up on you. I tend to run worst-case scenarios in my head, but almost always it’s not as bad as I think it might be.
Probably a lesson there for our creative lives, too. However bad we think our work is, there’s good in it, there’s effort and expression. That’s enough for a small piece of what you’re working to make and to be.
Polish artist Kwade is making lovely and ambitious work with her sculpture. It calls to mind the compulsive appeal of orreries. The work incorporates planetary physics, time, geology, and movement in unexpected but immediate and accessible ways.
It brings to my mind my love of science, of science fiction, and also of our very human need to understand our place in the universe.
Look, after all, maybe your day is at night. I think to qualify, it has to be something you’d rather do less than the other thing you wish could support you. This is why I think a lot of us spend time putting it down, telling other people it’s not what we really do.
But I think this isn’t being kind. This isn’t fair to the job. If you imagine it’s a person with feelings, they’re going to be hurt. On the other hand, if we don’t get something happening with the thing-we’d-rather-be-doing soon, we’re going to be hurt. I’m trying out a different way of thinking about it.
Rather than resent my day job for taking me away from art, I’m trying to think of it as partner to creation. Maybe there’s an element of that in the job, but I’d say usually there isn’t much. But focus on those little aspects—as well as on the things that make it different from art—make it easier to go to work every day. My job isn’t my enemy, it’s my partner-in-crime, secretly enabling me to work on projects that I’m not ready to ask for money for.
If you find yourself hating your job, it could be time to hunt for a better one, but if you’re just wishing you could spend the time working on the creative stuff, maybe this framing can help. I’ll try to remember to post a follow-up in a while.
Alex Lifeson from Rush, of course, which is really what I should call him up front. Titles are hard, sometimes. Rush isn’t really my favorite band any more, but I still have lots of time for them when the occasion arises.
He’s a largely self-taught musician, but managed to innovate in several ways, notably—to me, at least—his preference for creating color and texture in the spaces between his virtuosic, more showy bandmates.
Like Ringo Starr, another sometimes unsung hero of rock music, he always strives to serve the songs first and foremost. I think this is an admirable approach for any artist, striving to do what you think is best for the piece, not trying to show any particular skill.
It’s called “deaccessioning,” the reverse of acquisition. It’s also controversial in many cases, because the job of a museum is to preserve, and selling off pieces of their collections is the reverse of that. But it’s not all one thing, a monolith of bad policy used to shore up a sinking ship torpedoed by rash decisions. Sometimes there are good and healthy and right decisions that lead to the practice.
I’m mostly referencing this Hyperallergic article, and as they point out, some museums are deaccessioning works to diversify their collections beyond the traditional white-male-heavy stacks. Sometimes they’re honing their educational mission. As we patronize and contribute to museums with our time and money, we ought to keep the big picture in mind. What does the overall collection look and feel like? How are they living up to their values? And so forth.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.