Lots of film and visual media get criticized for being just plot. Simply story with no subtext or message.
But even simple story has value. I’m not advocating for stupid or ill-thought stories, but meaning can come from characters and their situations and conflicts that remain true to who and where they are.
Hang On to What Matters, and Let Memories Exist on Their Own
There are things that matter to our emotional selves as relics of our own past. They are reminders of who we were and how far we’ve come, and sometimes of how others saw us.
There’s a lot of memento clutter, though, with things being saved as treasures that are really just footprints—they don’t have much intrinsic meaning and they’re everywhere.
Consider there are a few things worth holding on to, and see if you can let the footprints go: old text messages, emails, social media posts. You have memories of vital things, and probably some things to uphold the best moments of your life. Keeping most stuff as memories let’s you focus and care for the best.
Searching for Words and Time, and a Sense of Purpose
We do long to have meaning in our lives. We yank it from our stories, the fiction, film, and memoirs we consume. We pluck song lyrics and apply them to our existence like bumper stickers.
It’s not always important to know what you mean with your work. People who read and listen to and look at the things you do will find something that applies to them, more often than not. That’s a good thing, but it’s also what humans are good at.
But, if you, in your struggle to find what to say and how to say it every day, it will help you to have a meaningful framework beneath the thing you’re working on. It connects the deeper parts of you with the physical world. You’ll be putting more of you into your work and thus into the world.
Why We Do What We Do Is a combo of What We Want and What We Need
I think art, as culture, is essential to our basic humanity. And I mean basic. I think the gap is pretty close to the survival levels of air, food, & water, and if it’s important to you, if it evokes teh feels, it’s no less valid than Tolstoy or Shelley.
Sometimes we’re surprised by those feelings, the stuff that touches us at a deeper “soul” level. And if we’ve thought about it as silly or trifling, I don’t actually mean to say we shouldn’t label them so, in context of unexpected connections, but that we shouldn’t be quick to separate the stuff we find personally meaningful from the stuff we’ve deified as Western canon.
Because art is vital to not just who we are, but WHAT we are. We aren’t fully human without it. The most downtrodden and desperate segment of people still tells itself stories and makes music and pictures. Because they—and we—need to. Art is life, we can’t be humans without it. There is plenty of clumsy, half-assed, disconnected art out there. But let’s not be quick to dismiss what touches us as lesser because it’s silly or simple.
Just a reminder here—because most of us need reminding, now and again—to keep looking at everything around you. Noticing things others don’t notice is part of being an artist. You have to be able to convey a vision to the world, either an internal or a translated external one (come to think of it, inner visions have to be translated themselves).
In order to fully convey your vision to us, you need to have seen and absorbed what you’re putting down for others. You can’t do that unless you’re really good at seeing stuff.
It’ll seem too simple at first. Then, as you keep noticing and looking deeper and longer, you start to see that it’s almost infinitely complex, and you could get lost in the most mundane slice of your day. But don’t stop. The idea for your next thing comes from what you see and how much and how far you see into it.
Fighting Nihilism May Be a Neverending Battle With Yourself and the World
Nothing matters, everything is ultimately meaningless, all art is pointless effort.
So says a really powerful voice in my head that shows up with annoying frequency. I’m not going to tell you how to defeat that voice for good. I do not know.
But there’s a way out of any kind of defeatist spiral, and that is to understand that the opposite reaction is strangely as valid. It’s very human to observe and to create. It makes us who we are, in part. If it doesn’t matter whether or not we make art, we might as well keep making it because it speaks to our existential core.
It might be the case that the universe doesn’t care about our work. To be fair and frank, it almost certainly doesn’t, at all. But even if it doesn’t matter in an ultimate sense, it matters in the moment. It matters to us. And since we’re the ones who like it and are inspired by it, art has an arbitrary present value for both its creators and its experiencers.
The Galaxy Within and Beyond Ourselves, Linked Together
Artist Rotraut Klein-Moquay explains how, among other wonderful connections and perspectives, we need to view our lives as part of the greater universe, and as large, as grand, and as long-lived as it is. Also that we should be careful about living a “good life,” meaning fully-realized.
Perhaps We Should Be Less Precious About Our Works
Ai Weiwei posted this video on his Instagram account this past week. It seems to show a man on his cell phone obliviously walking into Weiwei’s installation of porcelain sunflower seeds on a museum floor.
As with most of his posts, there is no comment from Ai about it. Reaction from fans and followers are almost universally horror struck. A few are cynical about it being staged. Is it faked? Maybe. I’m not sure it matters that much.
We spend a lot of time making things. We spend much less time thinking about their ephemerality. That should be part of how we consider the things of the world. Nothing is forever. If we embrace the impermanence of it all, I think we might be able to laugh at the absurdity of things like our bestowing some kind of sacred status on finished work.
This incident with the Weiwei piece, or even actively destructive things elsewhere, are some kind of connection with that existential absurdity. I feel like that’s a bigger statement than we can make on our own. Maybe we’d have more fun and make better things afterward by emphasizing the intangible meaning of this, rather than the perfection of craft or the object.