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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the strangest elements of going to sleep is losing consciousness. The person we are seems to just go away for a while. The person who wakes up isn’t quite the same consciousness. So are we the same person we were the day before?
Whether this holds true as we study the way consciousness works is, to me, irrelevant to the application of it to art and to making. It may be useful to think of ourselves as always renewing, always arising with the potential and promise of a new person—who still holds pretty much the same ways of thinking, goals, and student loan debt.
It’s easy to get caught in the quicksand of self-doubt and worry, of course. The negative “what-ifs” that catalog all the things that can go wrong. The critic telling us we’re not good.
But we also can decide to think of ourselves as new beings, and there are all the things that can go right. Maybe you’re not the same person: you’re someone else stepping into the place of the one who was in your place yesterday. Someone who has the memories, but doesn’t have to take on the baggage of yesterday
Tomorrow, we are different people. We can start our making again, and maybe not beat ourselves up about how good it is because, well, we’re new.
Art, of course, art isn’t a competition. There areoccasional exceptions, as when someone wins a first place at the fair, say. But in general, we aren’t here to win any games or contests. We’re putting stuff out into the world because of loving the making.
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.
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.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.