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.
We don’t do things in whole pieces, most of the time. Our work, like our lives, is done in bits, chunks, sections. It’s the accumulation of the small things that emerge as a recognizable cohesive one. Any one piece is probably unrecognizable or representative. It’s a stroke at a time, one line and then another.
So art, like life, is meta. In order to make something, you have to think of it as a distinct entity or concept. Maybe not at first, if you’re an artist who likes to create from a spontaneous start. But if you never focus or decide on a unifying whole, you’re left with a pile of pieces. Lego blocks scattered around vs. a castle or spaceship or robot or truck.
All it takes for something to come into focus is dedication to small things every day. Real time work isn’t grand, but it’s the only way for grand to gestate and come into being.
Declaring your sovereignty is both a goal and a rite of passage in creative circles. But it’s not necessarily a better way to get your work done and out in the world than working adjunct to a job of any kind.
Institutions and employers offer support you can’t generate on your own. It’s always a good idea to try to discount biases in making any decision to set off on your own. Concepts like “freedom” and “independence” have deep roots in our psyches, especially for Americans. It can block or hinder us to assume being on your own is always better by default.
Assuming such grand and fundamental tropes are not the most important isn’t a bad course of action. We get in our own way far too often to shrug off questioning assumptions.
The spark for these thoughts is this article by Dylan Matt, questioning if the American Revolution was the best path to take, or a mistake that prolonged slavery and genocide.
We’re told—and often, by experts self-styled and acclaimed—that we need to keep doing our work and things will happen. Is that the goal? It seems a prescription, hoping for some tangible, recognizable event that tells us, “hey, you’ve made it, you’re now a success. Boom.” We tend to accept the advice from those who are famous or at the least, making rent from their work. Is it inevitable?
I’m not sure. What if, just suppose with me, here, that you never make a living from your art. Are you still willing to do it? Deciding that the dice won’t roll your way—not just that they might not, but they will not—does it seem worth it?
If not, why continue? Give yourself a few years to get discovered and have an exit plan. Easy peasy, little harm done to your well being and your life. But maybe you can’t handle that notion. Maybe you still need to get the work out.
If that’s the case, you’re in a different category, one where success has a different measure than popularity or wealth. It could well be self-defined, and you might not have the tools to quantify it, yet. That’s fine. I’m pretty sure I don’t have them, myself. I’m making it up as I go, trusting that my need to do the things I’m working on are enough to scratch the itch, to keep riding the wave of desire that an urge to create swells within. There are a couple things to keep in mind, I think.
Don’t discount the few eyeballs on you. They matter. It can seem like social media, particularly, is full of more views and likes than you’re getting. But even if you’ve only got friends’ views and listens to chalk up, they’re probably steady ones. It means someone is paying attention, and if they’re already your friend, they’re more loyal than the average casual viewer. Cultivate those views and appreciate that they keep liking the things you’re making. It’s good and humbling that they make the effort and take the time.
Also, always renew your sense of love for the work you’re making. If you don’t love it, it becomes tedious, like any other job in the world, unspecial. Your work needs to matter to you first. It’s what you alone can bring into the world that no one else can.
All these things mean we can switch from waiting for some outside force or entity to bestow success and meaning upon us to finding success and meaning in the everyday work as it happens. Keep doing the work and maintain the success and meaning. Boom.
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.
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.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.