If rabbits is the thing that you keep returning to, then let that happen. Lately it seems that’s what I do. And it’s okay. Repeating yourself until you find the next thing or new path can lead to wonderful discoveries.
We don’t always have to be working toward the new thing. Sometimes we need to exhaust the possibilities of a path or subject we’ve been working on. The important part is that we’re continuing to do the work and sincerely exploring ideas.
Laurie Anderson on the Changing, Mass-Moving World, and Needing to Embrace It
Anderson has long been one of my favorite artists, hard to pin down, stylistically, and spanning multiple media. Here, she breaks down the need to change our perspective to embrace the changing humanscape, where cultures meld and millions have to absorb either an influx of new people or being thrust into a new society.
These thought patterns have implications for thinking about and moving forward with your work.
Expecting and Assuming the Best Both Work Out in Your Favor More Often Than You’d Think
There’s a choice in your daily interaction with someone, whether they’re a stranger or friend. You can’t change what they’ll do or say. But you can choose what you assume about them when you come together. It’s easy to jump to conclusions if something goes wrong, or it seems like they said something weird.
Your reaction maybe isn’t as much in your control as you’d like, but setting yourself up for confrontation, sarcasm, or annoyance is. And before you have to react, you could just as easily assume the best of them.
Assume they have good intentions and most of the time, you’ll be right. I’m aware of the road-to-hell cliché, but I’m just talking about the very small, in-the-moment things. Times when you could be working together on a problem or even a disaster to resolve something. It seems a small or silly thing. But it puts you on a more equitable level.
We’re usually the heroes of our own stories. We’re the one in-charge, the one who knows what’s up, and it’s easy to forget most others are the same. But assuming the best of someone—that they’re trying and sincere and engaged—means a mutually beneficial result of whatever you’re doing together most of the time. Be kind. We’re in this together.
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.
Sometimes, it’s just about the strange image being made. These sketches or doodles often seem to me to have little to do with the content of the post, but every now and then I’ve messed with them to the point I feel they should just carry the post on their own.
I know, it sounds convoluted to me, too. What I’m pondering is how the mindset we have when we encounter something, “an art,” affects how we experience it.
From personal anecdata, pushing aside as much as I can any preconceptions about it. I’d like to think we experience an elevated state from accepting and examining a work, in other words giving it a chance to be its best.
This probably deserves fleshing out further, later.
Good Art, Bad Art, It’s Hard to Tell the Difference If Your Definition Is Broad Enough
And I think it should be very broad, indeed. As in, not restricting it to things you admire or even like, beyond to what you find chaotic or obvious.
Because creativity is vast, and the things humans make are sometimes unexpected, and sometimes they look like a mess, framed.
But it’s hard to tell when someone is sincere and when they just have no idea what they’re doing. We praise a child’s exuberant stick figures, but disparage them when they come from an adult. Unless they’re funny! I’m that case, we can’t get enough of them (XKCD, Cyanide and Happiness).
Looking at Paul Klee’s work, there’s a childlike energy to it, and it’s still dismissed at a glance for being too simple or cartoonish. But there’s a deep symbolism within, sometimes invented, sometimes referenced to real world things. You can certainly dislike it, but it helps to look beyond the labels “good” and “bad.” Even in things you find gross or dumb, there’s often a lot of hard work that went into making it the way it is. Sometimes, even the fast sketches and drips contain years’ or decades’ worth of study and practice behind them.
It’s not that you can’t call a thing bad. Opinions are had by us all. But consider leaving it at the cursory or joke level, and always give a shit about looking deeper. It feeds and informs your work to be charitable and open to the stuff you encouter.
Let’s Have Another Quick Look at the Day Job, or, As Most of Us Call It, the Job
Look, after all, maybe your day is at night. I think to qualify, it has to be something you’d rather do less than the other thing you wish could support you. This is why I think a lot of us spend time putting it down, telling other people it’s not what we really do.
But I think this isn’t being kind. This isn’t fair to the job. If you imagine it’s a person with feelings, they’re going to be hurt. On the other hand, if we don’t get something happening with the thing-we’d-rather-be-doing soon, we’re going to be hurt. I’m trying out a different way of thinking about it.
Rather than resent my day job for taking me away from art, I’m trying to think of it as partner to creation. Maybe there’s an element of that in the job, but I’d say usually there isn’t much. But focus on those little aspects—as well as on the things that make it different from art—make it easier to go to work every day. My job isn’t my enemy, it’s my partner-in-crime, secretly enabling me to work on projects that I’m not ready to ask for money for.
If you find yourself hating your job, it could be time to hunt for a better one, but if you’re just wishing you could spend the time working on the creative stuff, maybe this framing can help. I’ll try to remember to post a follow-up in a while.
There are plenty of reasons to celebrate the stuff you like that is critically acclaimed or praised as best. What about the things others disparage that you still love?
The answer is still to celebrate them. Ray Bradbury once said (probably more than once, as he gave plenty of talks over the years), “Never apologize for your taste.” Indeed. The things we like are an essential part of who we are. And, as artists, they color and flavor our work.
You can definitely benefit from trying new things and expanding the possibilities of what media you experience. But never be ashamed of what sparks love and excitement in you. We should be trying to become ever more truly ourselves, and that includes everything we enjoy reading, watching, and listening to. The set of things that influence you are unique to you.
Losing it is a big deal for most of us, at least while we’re in the midst of it. Let’s talk a bit about it.
While failure is nothing to be ashamed of—I mean I’m in favor of it—and it’s only human, anyway, losing it is us coming to a compromising emotional state over it. Either we court it directly as an end in itself, because we’re despairing or self-destructive, among other things, or we obsess on it and bring ourselves to despair.
I’m not sure there’s an easy way to cure such a tendency long-term without professional guidance, should you find you’re a habitual self-sabotage, say. But there are two things that can mitigate it. Wait, three things.
Physical exercise: get out, away from your workspace into the outdoors. Walk around. Be brisk, breathe deeply. Stay out for a while.
Keep working. Just do the daily piece of whatever you do, even if it seems futile and terrible. Inevitably, creators who look back at what they’ve done can’t tell when the good days and the bad days are by what the stuff they made is like. Step #1 has an all-purpose steadier: breathe deeply, in. Out.
Be kind to yourself. Remember you have tomorrow and today’s piece is only a small part of the whole. As in #1, breathe.