With some regularity, the song “Changes” by Yes fills the phantom ears in my brain. Just the memory, of course. It’s sad and jarring, as much as I like it and the way they made it. Sort of like an Anselm Kiefer painting.
It reminds me that nothing stays the same for long. We move through time, or the other way ’round, and there’s always a new way to look at our work and the world we interpret through it. It should be humbling, at least enough to get us to keep practicing, trying to see the new stuff.
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.
The opposite of what’s commonly thought of as “good weather” can be the sought after and enjoyable type to some. Specifically, to me.
Today was rainy for the first time in a couple of weeks. For me, growing up in the deserts of Arizona and California, rain is like a strange and beautiful prize. I can’t get enough, or at least I don’t know what my limit is. If this love of cloudy days and speckled windshields defies expectations, good.
We all—me included—need our assumptions challenged regularly.
I spend considerable time every Mother’s Day missing mine. It is getting a little easier balancing that with remembering how lucky I was that she was so amazing.
But I couldn’t help sharing this small, profound moment from Keanu Reeves’s appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. It’s just a person who’s aware of our place in the universe and he tells the truth.
“What do you think happens when we die, Keanu Reeves?”
“… I know that the ones who love us will miss us.”
Joan Jonas has an installation at Ocean Space, a new exhibition venue made to facilitate artists and scientists studying the oceans. It’s fascinating and eclectic. Jonas incorporates performance, sculpture, video, drawing, and painting into the work, which may not be fully finished till the end of its run in September.
She’s paralleling the natural ecology of the sea with a kind of ecology of artistic practice. Everything works together as a whole piece, no one element is meant to stand on its own. They feed and support each other.
Aging comes with a few characteristic abilities, many of which seem to be complaining—about the weather, what hurts on your body, these kids today (DISCLAIMER: I’m firmly in the the-kids-are-alright camp and expect to continue to remain).
And the cost isn’t cheap. Bodies break down and get slower. It’s nothing unusual, it happens to everyone who keeps living. It’s ordinary stuff.
But there are definite benefits to getting older, and the biggest one is simple, accumulated experience. True, wisdom isn’t inevitable, but it’s a lot easier to harness. Appreciation for beauty and recognition of darkness is easier, too. There’s a wealth of years that lets us understand the world better and how it all fits together.
If you’re an artist getting older, this is your advantage. “Write what you know” becomes a massive toolbox, which for a young person would tend to be a small, spare tray. You can use this in your work: put everything you are into it, because the ocean of accumulated life inside you is very big, indeed.
It’s only everything. Everything you were and are, all you’ve seen and heard. It’s all in the stew. It’s all past that fuels and lays the foundation for the future, and the act of making funnels it through a venturi tube of consolidation.
I’ve finished Mark Doty’s enthralling Still Life With Oysters and Lemon, underlining and line-marking as I went. A book ostensibly about Dutch still life painting from the 17th Century, it folds in an increasingly deep examination of art and personal experience bit by bit. It’s a lovely book on its own, but it’s also instructive on the ways art encompasses the things of the world and our inner interpretation of it.
It seems to me there’s no shortage of advice to imbue your work with meaning, and to understand what your work is about. Some say because if you don’t know what it’s about, joe will other people know?
The better advice, I think, comes from those who say you don’t have to know what your work means, and I say, further, you may never know fully what it means.
That’s mostly because we’re only half the equation of art. The audience or public in general are the other half, and everyone brings their own experience and insight to what you make. Art is open to interpretation by its nature. Even if you purposefully craft a particular meaning, there will be different ways to understand it.
It’s fine, even good, to have a subtext. As long as we aren’t to attached to it or dogmatic about it when we send it into the world. Part of the wonder of art is in that relationship with the ones who take in the things we make.
It’s not often the artist’s journey™ feels like a short walk to success town. Usually it’s a Frodo-level exhausting slog, that nonetheless comes with many rewarding stops.
But you can’t see a long journey ahead unless you’ve been working on things for a while. And when you feel overwhelmed with how far there is to go, there’s a good bit of stuff you’ve already done. In reality, there isn’t a place to end, there’s always somewhere new to travel to, further along your particular road. In that sense, you’re always at the same place looking forward, but looking at how far you’ve come will build for as long as you make art.
Games can give us new perspectives, always good for new ideas. The way we at things should be different than the typical.
I’ve always loved strange, artsy video games that mess with tropes or conventions. Everything, by David O’Reilly, is one of those. I’ve just begun, but it’s already my favorite game experience of the last several months.
The movement is odd, especially when you’re animals and objects. Flipping end-over-end to get around is a little jarring—disturbing, even. But that’s part of the charm.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.