Things We Try to Give Up

Sidebar—is it really a sidebar when it comes before the main text?—The recent “art” art has all been on my Insta, hence the preponderance of photos on the blog. I hope that’s okay. This is supposed to be mainly an art blog, for drawing and painting and such, at least in my non-dogmatic opinion. (I’m not a photographer of any training or much experience, but I know what I like, so you get photos, art recs, music, musings, and so forth.)

I decided to stop playing Minecraft for therapy/comfort gaming. I’ve been playing early-to-mid game elements for many years, now. It’s still the most effortless and rewarding return on $27 I’ve ever spent. It’s not that I don’t love the game, but I rarely have goals beyond getting the next string of crafting components to get the subsequent items for a particular mod in the pack. These things are singularly occupying and somewhat addicting, so they fill my anxiety-ridden downtime with satisfying play. But I’d rather try some new things and returning to the familiar is stopping me.

We frequently say we’d like to give up a thing that pacifies some troubling emotion, urge, or desire, but it’s rare we follow through. Do we need replacements? If we have a plan, does it include beneficial goals or skill improvement? For artists, I think it’s healthy and important to both refrain from harsh judgment and be unfaltering in questioning if the things we do help our work.

Tough decision, deciding to give up easy comfort. But if we wanted to be comfortable, there are simple paths to get there. We have to work at our thing, struggle sometimes to put form to feelings, and push metaphorical stones up steep symbolic hills. You just have to decide if that’s worth it to get what’s inside, you know, out.

Getting Started Reminder

Just a periodic reminder and pep talk, here, to say you can get started on your thing at any time without judgment or expectation. Your art is your own, and starting work is the hardest bit. Once you’re going, it gets easier.

Give it a solid five minutes, that’s all. Anyone can do five minutes on a project. The trick is that five minutes is hard to cut off. Once you’re even a little into the work, you can often keep at it for an hour.

But any creation is good. The important thing is to start.

Why Do We Like the Stuff We Like?

I’ve loved rain and fall my whole life. Since I was little, I’ve been ecstatic to see rain come along, and sorry to see it go. It helps, maybe, that I grew up in the Arizona desert and rain was rare, but even so, it was just always a der sense of affection for it. Many of my friends and relatives felt otherwise, but my grandmother and I shared this fascination and affinity for gray skies.

The things we like are ultimately a mystery. We can point to similar things and see connections, but there isn’t an ultimate explanation for why you love or hate Rothko, or Joan Didion, or Madonna. Sure, you can come up with superficial things, like finding something pretentious or puerile or weird, but others will disagree.

The best we can do is give things a chance—or five—and see if we can open up to what they offer.

Never Apologize for Your Taste

Ray Bradbury was fond of the sentiment above, that you shouldn’t feel ashamed or inadequate because of the things you enjoyed. The set of cultural memes and art you like are a fingerprint of your personal aesthetic, probably as unique as you yourself. There are far better and more worthy worries out there.

That isn’t to say we don’t grow and learn, and trying out new things is part of that exploration. But the taste judges don’t deserve space in your head to demean what you like. No guilty pleasures.

Through the Densest Forest, There’s Always Something Else

Mostly this metaphor is so I can post this photo of a nearby park. The metaphor is the work that seems so confining always has another vista beyond what’s in front of us.

But there’s something else, too. Before I took that photo, a couple and their two dogs were running around on the grass in the fading sunlight. We can’t forget that life goes on around us, and sometimes we need to enjoy the grass, friends, and sunshine before it’s gone. It’s good to keep working, but life feeds the work.

It Really Doesn’t Matter If I’m Wrong, I’m Right

Fixing a Hole, from Sgt. Pepper’s, rang through my head this morning while I was becoming awake, and then shambling through my morning routines.

“It really doesn’t matter,” says Paul, and that’s true when you’re overthinking your work. I tend to do that. But in art, as in few other pursuits, you can be wrong and right at the same time.

You can defy expectations, and you can overturn everything you’ve done before. And you can also start done a path that millions have gone down before. You follow your heart and your hands. Sometimes they need to be free of the rain that gets in.

Happy Accidents Are Made, Not Born

This isn’t to diss Bob Ross, because he’s a delight. But like everything in art, there is nuance and alternative meaning. When Bob talked about happy accidents, he was teaching his viewers not to break the flow of their work with thoughts about how they messed up. It’s a way of reframing the unforeseen.

Mistakes will happen. But whether your work is meticulously planned or completely spontaneous, it can be helpful to keep rhythm with them. It’s another Zen or Taoist concept applied to creation: it doesn’t matter if errors crop up, because they become part of the humanity of your work. It’s only more real for small flaws.

And sometimes they can take us in different directions we hadn’t thought of, or would never find in a perfect thing.

Always Be Close to the Edge When Experimenting

In fact, push yourself straight over.

To clarify, this isn’t an exhortation to be “edgy,” rather that we should be looking for places and times times to be wild with the work. To boldly go, and all that jazz.

Experimenting means looking for the wild places. It’s a time to be more free. We look for moments of flow, being open to possibility. We try not to judge what appears.

Be a mad scientist of making. Fail in explosions of paper and pixels. Turn yourself into an art mutant. You know, once in a while. Who else is going to get you to the wild places but you?

If You Need to Spend Your Time on the Work, Other Things Can Slip

Sometimes you just get obsessed. Sometimes this is flow, the zen state, in the zone, and your work is going well. But sometimes it might just be fascination and the puzzle of whatever you’re focused on, but that doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s a long thread on social media that keeps going in circles. It’s day-to-day coverage of politics.

It’s rarely necessary, but it’s addictive. If it keeps you from working on your thing, it’s probably better to treat it like a momentary thought in meditation practice. Notice, then let it go.

It does sound easier than it seems. The secret to meditation practice, though, is that you aren’t judging the distraction. You’re just noticing it exists. It’s okay that it comes back. We’re patient.

Acknowledge the obsession, then turn back to the thing you make. Repeat as needed.

In Love With Art Isn’t Necessarily In Love With Your Art

I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be making art if we didn’t love it. Maybe there’s some tortured genius out there who’s just ambivalent about art in general, but keeps making it because she’s really good at it. But probably not.

It doesn’t follow that because we’re fascinated and enamored by a few or thousands of artists that we appreciate our own. Artists as their own worst critic is more true than not, in my experience, and that can easily extend to bald hatred of their own work.

I’m here to ask you to go easy on yourself. Making art—creating at all, really—is hard. Our visions of what could be don’t match what comes out in the physical world. But there’s tremendous value in giving of yourself so deeply. Pulling the viscera of your inner being out into daylight is brave and revealing. You deserve gentle adulation just for that.