Drawing Is Being Human, and Seeing Reality

This article on Quartzy reviews D. B. Dowd’s new book, Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice. The article makes much of the idea that drawing is a kind of learning, which is somewhat true, but limited, I’d argue. Instead, I think there’s great value in championing the idea of drawing as a tool for many aspects of life, and not just the province of artists and fumbled attempts to imitate the pros.

Near the beginning, it says drawing should t be limited to the artists. But I’d say that misses the point, at least for me. Drawing is for all of us because to make art is human. We are all artists by nature. Most of us just lack refinement and practice in becoming connected to our creative cores and in utilizing various techniques of creation.

It’s well worth reading, and I hope it’s another bit of inspiration to start or keep working on your thing.

Okay, but Can You Not, and Then Will You Just?

I do these periodic posts about the habit—making a daily or near-daily creative practice part of your routine—as much for myself as for you. Because I’m not trying to teach or prescribe formula from on high or by edict, I’m just as crabby and fallible about getting to work as anyone. We all try, we all fail. There are times, and they come more than once, when you feel you don’t have the strength to make stuff.

It’s only in those moments you have to fall back on tricks and training to push through the wall. The daily habit gets you through because you’re used to it, and it’s too uncomfortable to not do a thing.

“Just do it,” Nike’s simple and best slogan, can work for easy dark moods. For worse blocks, there’s the 5 Minute Rule. You tell yourself you’ll just work on art for 5 minutes, and usually it kicks you into gear. It can’t fail, because even if you drop it after 5 minutes, you’ve worked on your thing that day. You win.

Give it a shot, and get used to denying your inner denier.

Run Away! Except Sometimes You Can’t!

There’s some bad news from the Yogscast collective, and a couple of its members have deeply disappointed me as a viewer and fan, as well as hurt women involved in those men’s predation of them. Zoey Proasheck has a post on their subreddit that’s well worth a read. It’s a bit like Harlan Ellison’s “You Don’t Know Me, I Don’t Know You,” which is hard to find but also worth digesting.

It’s tough to draw a line between my image of heroes and beloved artists and the unknown reality that they actually are. My image of others is fuzzy at best, ghostly in most cases. It takes time and close contact to understand what someone is like, and even then people can fool you, or just be closed and obscure, a web so thick and knotted it’s very hard to see through.

But as painful as it can be to acknowledge someone disappointing you, sometimes you can’t run, at least not immediately. Someone has to take charge of situations like this and confront the bad actors and abusers of their position. It’s easy to say we should all maintain self-care and take time out when necessary, but there are times it isn’t possible.

In a sense, no one has to do anything. But often we trade on our reputations and ethics. I tend to believe in very few things, but one of them is that we are often stronger than we think. The important thing is that we keep moving ahead.

The Anxiety of Small Moments Is a Reminder of the Joyous Big Ones

The idea that we have to overcome our fears and amxieties isn’t new, but the reality that simply living in the 21st Century generates some level of it is—by definition, even—very new.

Humanity moves from threat to threat, along its geologically short timeline. The big things we’ve done are still a scratch on the full line of eons. There isn’t just monkey mind to deal with, there’s lizard- and insect-level leftovers in there somewhere. It’s easy to dredge up trepidation and feel like we should just hide.

So along with that ongoing series of anxieties, I try to think about opposing feelings, and when I’ve felt them. We almost always have both in our lives. Some moments when we felt larger than life, loved, connected, part of a thing greater than our individual selves. It makes it easier to notice the small, ongoing fears and know they, too, shall pass, if we let them.

A Mystery Is Only As Good As the Characters and Clues You’re Given

Solving mysteries is something many of us (to quote Jean-Luc Picard) find irresistible. It’s very satisfying to figure out riddles and puzzles. And they exist in art, of course, whether intentionally put there or not.

I just finished Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It was good, especially for a first novel, I thought, and Hercule Poirot a compelling and endearing character. But most of the rest of the main characters were somewhat tiresome English aristocratic types, and even though I grew up watching these same types on BBC dramas my mom loved, pushing my nostalgia buttons, it was tough to care about them and their problems now. The tenor of our times is corruption, political and economic stratification, and toxicity in media, social and otherwise, and relying on parental favor for living the country club life is, well, quaint.

Additionally, the clues and facts of the case weren’t all in front of me. Poirot solves the case using facts Christie never allows him to reveal to the narrator, Hastings, and therefore to us. This is obviously my problematic penchant for the type of mysteries I like.

Art—the static, non-story-driven kind—is not so coy. Paintings and drawings are all there in front of the viewer. Nothing is hidden from view, it’s up to viewers to solve any puzzle that exists within. Sometimes, it is what it appears to be. But sometimes secrets are there to be found. And the possibility is irresistible.

Positive and Negative Thinking and the Value of Both

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.

Creating a Memorable Moment in Your Work, Which I Don’t Know How to Convey

This is another for the double category of “You Already Know How to Do This,” and “It’s Automatic.” Which I find funny, but isn’t useful to anyone else. Unless…

Unless it’s a way to recognize that people who try to sell you “how-to” instruction don’t always—often?—know how to create a system for doing these things. General advice is fine, but it tends to get bogged down in unique details, mainly the ultra-specific “well, here’s how I did it, this one time, anway.”

But systems have drawbacks, and a big one is the shift to someone else’s concept of how to make art. A little of that can be useful. A lot is a recipe to imitate for longer than it takes to learn a new skill.

When we learn to draw, or write stories and essays, or play instruments, or dance, we usually begin by imitating our heroes, copying the thing we love because we suck at the thing and it’s disheartening. But as we get better, we believe in our abilities, and the more seriously we take it, the more we begin to look inside for our own voices and expressions of unique self.

The more that happens, the easier it is to fashion memorable moments, and meaning, and a new voice. What becomes memorable is the connection we make by deeply engaging with ourselves. And because we are more like each other than different beings, those deep resonances automatically draw viewers and listeners in. We don’t have to follow any system or trick.

Opinion it is, but in my experience there’s no shortcut to memorability.

The Best Answer About Life and What Comes After From a Thoughtful Human Being

I spend considerable time every Mother’s Day missing mine. It is getting a little easier balancing that with remembering how lucky I was that she was so amazing.

But I couldn’t help sharing this small, profound moment from Keanu Reeves’s appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. It’s just a person who’s aware of our place in the universe and he tells the truth.

“What do you think happens when we die, Keanu Reeves?”

“… I know that the ones who love us will miss us.”

You’re Not Too Old: Sheila Hicks, Strange and Intense Work at 84 Years

A widening column of brilliantly colored ropes of fabric cascade into a heap at its base, seemingly floating atop a forested river.
Sheila Hicks, unknown work from the Horst Festival, Belgium 2018. photo by Jeroen Verrecht

It’s easy to think you’ll be overlooked if you’re no longer young, the stars of the art world mostly fawned and obsessed over in their 20s. But cheer up, most of us will be overlooked! But if you’re thinking you might be past it, Sheila Hicks is 84. She’s a fiber artist making some of the best work of her life. Yes, she started younger. As Mayer Hawthorne said: You’ll never be as young as you are today. It really makes no difference. The sooner you start, the sooner we get your work.

Sheila’s is beautiful, gloriously saturated, and it makes me feel like I should let my eyes take a nap from experiencing so much visual joy.

We aren’t making art to be a star. That might be a nice bonus, and have fun if you get that. But it’s in human DNA to make art, and if you’re alive you’ve got some of that. Do it. Sheila will be.

The Primary Audience Is You, but Art Works Better With an Audience > 1

I don’t like a lot of my individual things. I do tend to like my work in the aggregate, when I think of it or see it laid out together. But I’m my own worst critic. Sometimes I’m my only critic, because I’m the only one who’s seen the thing I made. This is normal, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to release everything up front.

But art never seen by any non-its-creator is incomplete. Art requires a second participant to be fully realized, to be whole. I think art is—in addition to being essentially human—a group activity when it’s “completed.” That is, once you’re done making a work, someone(s) else must experience it to finish it.

I know this is a bit convoluted. It seems like double talk. But as valuable as it can be to simply create on your own, your work is left unfinished until another person engages their senses with it.