A Whole New Yearrr

It’s completely artificial, the demarcation of the new year. We’ve already passed the actual renewal by the time Christmas Eve hits. But it echoes what I’ve said before here, that every day is a potential chance to start again, so why not?

The newsletter is coming, a weekly publication if I can manage such a thing. I haven’t figured how to treat the subs, but I think it’s only fair to let you have the opt-in if you’re a current subscriber to this blog. Image posts will commence quite soon, and we’ll see where it goes.

Thanks so much for ringing through the past couple years, it’s almost faux new year’s!

Getting Cozy With the Little Nonsenses

I was reading a bit from a newsletter about gesture drawing, and how they can, given the proper technique and direction, lead to refinement of your regular work in drawing. I mean, it can, sort of, but this is weird to me, because it isn’t how I think about gesture drawing, which I learned in a different way.

Gesture drawing, in the Nikolaides tradition, is a way to discover how something feels when you draw it. It doesn’t usually look like the thing you’re drawing, and it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t. Because part of learning to draw is learning how it feels to draw, to become connected with your subject. You end up drawing more accurately because you’re getting out of your own way, not drawing how you think something looks, but translating it into paper like it was a language.

Gesture drawings are quick, aiming for essence and motion, not likenesses. They’re bits of nonsense, scribbles with soul, and it’s ideal to make them your partners.

The Choice to Make

We always have a choice on whether to make art or not. I know it’s become a standard thing to say “I have to paint,” or write songs or books or dance, but it’s good to know you have to decide to bring something into the world. These are difficult thoughts to try to focus in on. It can feel like we have to create, and that intense, fiery desire makes it important.

But I think it’s more valuable to consciously—or deliberately—decide to make things than to hand wave away the choice. It’s definitely cool to believe someone is so monumentally driven by their artistic soul that they simply found themselves overtaken by its demands.

Cooler to me is the knowledge that it’s sometimes a struggle to come to the metaphorical drawing board and bring something new into the world made from small parts of it.

Spending All My Time Figuring It Out

Is it even worth it? The thing is, if it isn’t, how would I know? All I can tell is that I do—or don’t—enjoy the moment of creating something, and decide if I want to keep going. That might be all we can ask of life.

With that in mind, I’m figuring out where to go in the coming year, what plan to chart up and start, how best to make my way. The planning stage of anything is exciting, and a little unnerving, but it’s often the only way to avoid random floundering or too much time wasting. A little is good. A lot is fine, but not fulfilling. Given a choice, I’d rather work on a long hike with a spectacular view than an easy trail that circles back to the same place.

The Thing About Winter Is Its Ability to Cause Reflections

Though not mirrors, winters are time for reflection, pondering selves and directions. Who are we? What do we want?

How did we do this past year in becoming and doing? What can we change in the year to come, just around the other side of the solstice point of orbit?

I’m thinking hard, and I don’t know if it’s a deliberate choice.

Twinkles Decorate, Underneath Is the Substance

We finished putting up the basics of the “holiday” season, the month long run-up to Solstice—and by definition, the new year—festivals of all kinds. It’s fun and it’s pretty, but it reminds me of so much that’s underneath. Not only the living space itself and the trees, but family gatherings, friends celebrating, and a robust increase in kind feelings.

Those are the important and necessary bits. The rest is a reminder and flourishes. Bet I don’t have to mention how this applies to creative work.

Experiencing The Difficult Work

Mark Rothko, Four Darks in Red, 1958

I was reading a piece about a book I read ages ago, Dahlgren by Samuel R. Delany. It, like many works of literature, is a difficult book to read and to understand. Mostly, I interpreted it, because there was plenty I didn’t understand. The timeline is weird and almost mazelike. I wasn’t sure where the beginning really was. And that’s all by Delaney’s design for a post-apocalyptic world that’s lost its sense of history and progress and perspective.

I always think of Rothko when I consider tough or obscure art. Seeing that painting up there may make you think “ooh, that’s nice,” or “what a simple piece of junk,” but we aren’t really experiencing it the way it was meant to be seen.

Literature that’s difficult, like Joyce or Wallace or Woolf, challenges readers. The struggle to get through it, or to figure out what’s going on, or to understand what it means gives us a prize of accomplishing those things. The view from the mountain.

But we usually have to chuck a preconception or two out the window. Like Rothko’s paintings. They’re meant to be seen in person. They’re beautiful—to many—in photos. But they’re huge in reality. The one above is nearly 9 feet square. But you meet it head on in museums lucky enough to have one. If they understand it, too, it’ll be hung so near enough to the floor that you can get it to fill your entire field of vision. And then you feel your soul filling up, as well.

Yuko Takada Keller’s Medium Is the Message

Sort of, anyway. Yuko Takada Keller makes gorgeous and intricate tracing paper installations that often reflect natural dynamic forms. She does everything on her own, from crafting each piece to hanging them, which seems a massive task, and her care and personal investment make her sculpture intimate and more meaningful.

The size of her works masks the delicacy of each individual piece, like a drop of water is always at risk of evaporating or splashing out of its wave or pool, but can be powerful with many others like it.

Metaphors abound. Keller’s use of paper takes the thing most often used as substrate for other images—or to obscure them—and makes it the focus.

The Hard Days Are Most Instructive

It does seem like the cycles of life are unsteady, randomly faster and slower. The days are indeed long, and the years are, truly, short. One of the consequences of growing older is a sense of perspective. Looking back is a vast open field of texture and color. Looking forward is a shrinking window of potential.

A regular patron at my work place was on his way home this evening, when I happened to notice him collapse onto the sidewalk as he was being helped across the street. The shift lead on duty, expected to deal with emergencies of this kind went to see about helping him while I took care of the shop, though I’d have rushed along without hesitation. The man is someone I’ve know since coming to Portland. He’s quite old, rather frail, and I know his name and what he likes to eat and drink. I still don’t know if he made it. After the paramedics came, there was nothing else either of us could do.

These incidents remind us of life’s fragility. We will all die some day. If we’re lucky, it’ll be later rather than sooner, excepting some incapacitating or degenerative condition. The time we have, though, is all we have. Even granting reincarnation means a new cycle wipes the slate of memory—and along with it, experience, knowledge, and that hard-won sense of perspective.

It can sometimes seem art is not so important, given our tiny lives, burning through a spark of existence on a little blue marble swirling through the void. But it’s part of our attempts to make sense of the world, of death, of our search for meaning. It is, in the end, as important as everything else.

Returning to Form, Maybe

I’m back! Probably! It’s been a long, traumatic move. Being in a new place, with old stuff, is disorienting. Habits I thought I’d established are more easily broken. But still, change is usually good. It’s inevitable, so better to go the Taoist route and bend rather than break.

As easy as it is to blow off posting here, it’s also uncomfortable. I like the discipline of it, and I think it helps me, creatively. It’s also easy to beat myself up about missing days, but that approach only makes us want to stay away more. Whatever we do—our thing, our work—if it’s habitual, is valuable not just for its content, but also its ability to act as outlet, or creative hydrant. Its meaningfulness is deeply ingrained in the simple act of creation. We should continue.