I wonder sometimes what metaphors will fall out of use in the future. Most probably will, many have come and gone in the past. We’re (we in the West) reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and by consequence, the internal combustion engine, in general. Or vice versa, depending on how you view the push-pull of problem and solution. Time to really solve the big issues can seem short, indeed, at least to my sense of existential gloom.
“Gas” as a concept will likely go the way of the mammoth, and what then of phrases like, “man, I’m out of gas,” to mean, “I’ve run out of energy.”
That one struck me as I thought about the notion that we can feel burned out creatively. That we have no fuel, sometimes. Ideas are scarce or seem boring. Motivation to work something out is zilch. Time itself is leaking out at the seams when we need to get something made.
The difference is that we aren’t just machines. Not simple ones that operate on a no-fuel, no-run equation. There’s always something in reserve. If the gauge is truly empty, we cease to be, we are ex-parrots. But no, if you’re conscious, you can do something.
I like to keep reminding myself: something small is still something done, and many small things can add up to a big thing.
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.
Nostalgia can be good. I’ve written a bit about it before. It can drag you into rabbit holes, too. This is usually one of its aspects we’re warned about.
But it can help your present life. It just matters how much time and effort you put into it. You shouldn’t live in the past. It’s gone.
But neither should you disdain the wonderful things that got you where you are, any more than forgetting the painful things that shaped you. The important thing is that you keep moving forward. We live in the present, always, but it helps to look where we’re about to step, too.
If you want to get better at a thing—your thing, let’s say—you have to get out of any routine where you’re comfortable. It has to hurt a little, be annoying, a bit hard. The muscle metaphor is spread around a lot regarding this principle, by any number of experts in motivation or self-improvement: no pain, no gain.
But I’m not talking about being so sore you can hardly move. I just mean a small amount of discomfort. See, I don’t think you have to push your limits all the time. Steady progress can be had with the smallest nudge against your present abilities.
What matters is that you notice. That you recognize breaking out of easy routine, or you look ahead to where you’d like to be with your thing, your work. It can be discouraging to hurt a lot, even if you know the gains will come faster. I’m for whatever keeps moving you forward, and outside of the gym, it’s perfectly fine to go slow and get better in very small steps.
The rush of fresh year ahead of you is enough to get you started on new habits. But it doesn’t last. What matters isn’t how you start the year, it’s how you keep going when late January looms and you don’t feel like doing anything.
It can help to keep in mind that these concepts are just things other people made up. In reality, nature knows no months, it just goes through the regular cycle around the sun, perigee to apogee, and the 182.625 days in between are mirrored by the same number on the backswing around to the solstice.
Every day is a new start. No matter what, when morning comes, it’s yours to do with what you like. Start a daily habit or continue one, everything is always in motion. You might as well join in.
In the immediate human world, we can see the passage of time in seasonal change, at least, beyond the equator. We remember the past winter, we chop up time into moon phases and days. It’s easy to be hard on yourself for not being where you want when the new winter supplants the old.
But in a grander sense, there is no specific division of time. The illusion of time as a discrete thing is easy when it’s light and dark, cold and hot. Step out a million miles, and we’re all falling around the sun in a smooth curve, any moment like any other.
You could say there’s no starting point, or you could say every moment is a potential start.
So leverage the excitement of New Year’s to get started on new howls, or reinvigorate old ones. But don’t forget you always have a chance to start again, from wherever you are along the curve.
Say goodbye to 2018, and hello to a shiny new 2019. But in the end, it’s just another day in winter (or summer, if you’re south of the equator).
Every day is a new chance to create. Piggyback on the enthusiasm of the world’s love of arbitrary starting and end points. That can get you going on a daily habit or further toward a creative goal. But keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if you fail. Stumbles are part of life.
You always have a new year to start, every day, what matters is that you do start. And also celebrate. Putting new things into the world is a worthy goal and a benefit to you and to us.
If you’re lucky, some of them like to write, and they’ll put that out into the public sphere, too. It’s helpful to have a broader picture of the artists you admire.
Sometimes, they’ll disappoint you. That’s okay, it happens to our family and friends now and then. Once in a while it’ll be so far from your personal beliefs, you lose respect for them and won’t want to support them. That’s also useful to know.
Mainly, though, following along with a few artists you enjoy gives you an inside perspective on art that art history rarely will. We study works in isolation, much of the time. We hop around in time at a dizzying pace. But it’s like waiting for the next album from your favorite band when a painter you love announces a new show or upcoming project.
It’s the view from here, in real time, and it puts our own work on the same scale. We can be motivated and inspired by artists working right now in a way that is immediate and visceral. Uncle Paul (Klee, for any new readers) and Georgia O’Keefe are great and inspiring. But we see all their best work at once, and the scale and temporal connection is gone, just as they’re gone.
We learn a lot from the masters of the past. But the future masters who might arise from the ones we admire today can teach us just as much.
We’re getting pretty good at fake-scaring ourselves. Movies and series and books that terrorize us, temporarily.
But being scared of bigger things is kind of helpful. At least, it can be to your practice. Helplessness, stagnation, despair, apathy—I think these are worthy of our fear, if it leads to our doing something against those. Your practice is your expression of your humanity. It brings a part of your essence into being. Into the world comes a new thing, and we need it.