Cusk is a writer, but what she has to say here about her creative process and her growth along the path of it can apply broadly.
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.
Work upside down, work with your left hand, or your right if you’re a lefty—with your feet if ambidextrous—with your whole face.
Try things. Work outside. In a window. On the floor. Do it differently. Even if you still think you aren’t going anywhere with this weirdness, you are. Because you’re still working, and you can’t stop for long.
It’s not that I pretend I don’t want my work to be perfect. I do. But I realize—recognize—it can never be so. Yet, I persist, if I’m not paying attention.
Sometimes, it’s good to let something go as it is. And sometimes it’s better to scrap the thing and start again, scrape the canvas, delete the tracks, crumple up the page.
How do we know when to stop? Deadline is a good full stop, but if you don’t have one, it’s an arbitrary point where you’re out of flow, getting stuck in fine details, with little or no progress or change to the big picture.
There will be no bell. No buzzer. You can choose the moment—but sooner rather than later is usually not a bad thing. Your time is all you really have, and making another imperfect thing helps more in the long run than approaching the logarithmic curve of perfect.
DISCLAIMER: watchmaker and Zen master mileage may vary.
I sometimes return to this video to remind myself how often it takes more than a few viewpoints and a handful of revisions to get the best version of a work of art.
It’s telling that it took multiple people multiple attempts to get to the finished initial Star Wars film. Most familiar, probably, is the advice to writers that the first draft is only the beginning of the writing process. Musicians’ demos are another example of an idea that was often made into something greater.
It’s not that art always has to be deeply refined. Sometimes the spontaneity is the reason for a piece. But generally, the idea is brought into sharper focus and more resonant emotional power by honing, tweaking, shifting, and occasionally rebuilding from the parts.
I spent some time trying to figure out why my Firefox extensions suddenly stopped working. I tried endless permutations of wi-fi, browser/computer restarts, until finally searching and finding I’m not alone. So now I wait for the fix.
Frustration is a common emotion in both internet work (and time-wasting) and art. The thing you’re working on doesn’t quite measure up to your vision. The idea doesn’t work as well in reality as it did in your head.
It is good to recognize that frustration is normal and we all feel it sometimes. It can be motivation to do something else, or work on the problem. But you do have to keep working on the thing, until it’s finally finished. Art bugs get worked out in process. Or not. At that finishing point, maybe the frustration is still there, but you can move on. Getting caught in endless frustration leads to nothing. Let it alone in the bug fix queue and keep moving.
There comes a moment in any ongoing project when I think I’m taking it too seriously and losing the loose qualities of early stages that made me want to continue the thing in the first place.
Overworked drawings are really a thing. Even meticulously crafted pen work needs some freeness about it.
There’s almost always room to free your work of too much control once you recognize what you’re saying and doing with it.
And, preferably, short.
Unless it’s been boring for a good while, then it’s probably time to dump it for something else. But I found I tend to start skimming when I’m not really focused on reading a book.
One thing that helps me fall back into a narrative or idea structure is to consciously slow down, wringing nuance and understanding from each word until I forget everything but what I’m reading. This helps re-focus, and if you’re not getting lost, metaphorically, you’re Somewhere Else.
Now apply the same principle to your work. Slow down. See if that lets you re-focus and lose yourself.
Think of it like a generic writing practice: we’re told that we just need to keep writing. If that means writing the word “solo” over and over, so be it.
But that doesn’t last long. Thoughts come. Ideas meander. You feel like writing them down. It’s the same in other media. You can only doodle or play a C7 so many times before you’ll think how to change it. And that’s moving forward.