I’m back! Probably! It’s been a long, traumatic move. Being in a new place, with old stuff, is disorienting. Habits I thought I’d established are more easily broken. But still, change is usually good. It’s inevitable, so better to go the Taoist route and bend rather than break.
As easy as it is to blow off posting here, it’s also uncomfortable. I like the discipline of it, and I think it helps me, creatively. It’s also easy to beat myself up about missing days, but that approach only makes us want to stay away more. Whatever we do—our thing, our work—if it’s habitual, is valuable not just for its content, but also its ability to act as outlet, or creative hydrant. Its meaningfulness is deeply ingrained in the simple act of creation. We should continue.
There’s a weird feeling when you’re engaged in a transformative action, like, say, moving, and also picking through bits of nostalgia. For me, the past week and a half has been littered with feelings of trepidation and elation, both brought on by the realization of moving possessions and location. But it’s also given me a strange desire for familiar media.
So, I’ve watched bits of Groundhog Day.The Empire Strikes Back. Also, much more obscurely, the Yogscast Jaffa Factory series on YouTube. While I’m wary of the dangers of nostalgia in general, I’ve kept a kind of distance from these things, unable to stop the perspective I’ve gained over the intervening years. Rather than try to recapture how I was feeling at those particular moments, I’ve been seeing some things with present day filters and world views.
It’s my hope that this is good for my work, to keep moving forward by acknowledging the past and things I’ve been influenced by, while crafting something new. I suppose that for others to decide, but it feels right and good, at the moment.
By the above, I mean profit creatively, not financially. One reason to keep old work around is that it not only gives you benchmarks for where you’ve been, it also informs your present work. Sometimes it’s inspiration, a kind of creation recycling that sparks new ideas from old. Some of the time, it steers you away from habitual mistakes. These things are worth experiencing and knowing.
Sketchbooks are the main thing artists keep. But as much as you have room for isn’t a bad thing to hang onto. Dominic Cretara, my main life painting professor, used to say we shouldn’t throw out anything for at least three years. By that time, you’ve progressed—if you’ve kept working, of course—and gained perspective and new skill.
Don’t look too soon at the bottom of the pile, but do look.
We’ve got a friend visiting who owns a car. My lack of knowledge about how to navigate parking downtown, where we live, including meter boundaries and cost are practically nil. In less than a year since moving, and giving up my car, I’ve remained virtually locked into public transit and walking.
I felt helpless to answer questions and solve problems. “Just keep driving around” was almost wholly inadequate. It strikes me that humans—for all we talk about history repeating and not learning lessons—are still eminently adaptable. Circumstances around us may change, but most of us can melt into the new mold quickly.
When I think about new directions to take my work, new media to explore, and new situations that restrict what I might do, I don’t keep this in mind. I get frustrated trying to recreate circumstances and methods of the past. While that can sometimes work for a lifetime (Turner), it might not be possible for some (Stella), and I could be doing myself a disservice, wasting energy needlessly.
Maybe just melt into the new mold first and the rest takes care of itself.
It’s a rather old story in internet terms, but in 2916, Wired published a long excerpt and many illustrations from Niemann’s monograph, Sunday Sketching. It touches on several aspects of what I talk about here, but offers a glimpse inside the insecurities and doubt that even successful artists harbor.
While working, I must be kind and forgiving with my fragile self. But sometimes I must try to look at my oeuvre with the eyes of an old and jaded misanthropic outsider (or a young and jaded misanthropic insider).
Twice today I had to admonish customers at my work for their antisocial behavior. This was completely unexpected and always makes me a bit anxious and upset. I thought back to when my main job was drawing and I hardly saw another human besides my co-creator—my cousin, working in the same room—for days at a stretch.
I don’t know which situation is weirder. Life is surprising in small ways, if we’re paying attention at all. I think that’s why I’ve spent so long here trying to encourage making art and continuing the work you’ve been doing or attempting. There will always be changes and surprising turns of existence, and you want to have a method of interpreting them.
I don’t think I’ve written about how much I love Budgie, but they formed an essential part of my musical identity as a young person. They were technically still a band when I discovered them, but only the bass player/vocalist remained, and the best stuff—in my opinion, of course—was behind them.
I bought Bandolier, which I consider their finest, on a whim at a Tower Records and it was the best blind music purchase I ever made. The title above comes from the opening track, “Breaking All the House Rules and Learning All the House Rules.” (Later shortened. Budgie were notorious for ridiculously long titles.)
I learned you could be both silly and serious from that band. That you could create with practice and precision but still be a little wild. They brought into sharper focus that the rules were good for structure, but now and then breaking them wasn’t so bad.
I’ve been re-evaluating my habits, including the daily posting here, and why I’m doing it. Considering what I’m working towards and the way I want to get there. This is advice I would give to artists: be disciplined, make your habit a daily practice.
And, also, don’t make me the arbiter of how you create. Break all the house rules now and then.
It’s a cliché that we shouldn’t wait for the world to recognize us for our work. So how do we get the attention? Instead of offering any how-to advice—because, hell, I don’t know, either—let me pose a couple questions you might ask yourself that I find myself returning to.
Why do I want recognition? Answer this and you’ll either spotlight your ego (“I’m a genius, duh!”), or realize you care less than you thought you did, or understand you don’t know why.
The first is shallow, for good or ill, and that might not be a reason to disavow seeking fame for your amazing thing, but you should own it. The second is a pleasant revelation, and you are now free to do whatever you want—but do keep sharing your work. The third is the hardest, and you can either engage a therapist, or think hard about it till you figure it out. Or both. Both would probably be good for you.
Does it matter if I don’t get the thing I want?
This can lead you back to the first question if the answer is yes, or free you to stop making art or forge ahead in sheer abandon, finally not giving a damn what other people think.
The idea that we have to overcome our fears and amxieties isn’t new, but the reality that simply living in the 21st Century generates some level of it is—by definition, even—very new.
Humanity moves from threat to threat, along its geologically short timeline. The big things we’ve done are still a scratch on the full line of eons. There isn’t just monkey mind to deal with, there’s lizard- and insect-level leftovers in there somewhere. It’s easy to dredge up trepidation and feel like we should just hide.
So along with that ongoing series of anxieties, I try to think about opposing feelings, and when I’ve felt them. We almost always have both in our lives. Some moments when we felt larger than life, loved, connected, part of a thing greater than our individual selves. It makes it easier to notice the small, ongoing fears and know they, too, shall pass, if we let them.
And our shadows are taller than our souls. Which I’m still not sure means anything, but it sounds damned good.
It’s Pride Sunday, an unofficial holiday that demarcates a lot of admonition and exhortations to be oneself, yourself, our true selves.
This is a day to celebrate differences, and particularly gayness with several allied associated bands of people trying to be their authentic selves. Celebrating as a marginalized group is empowering, and the history of Pride bears that out.
But I was reading an article in Scientific American on ways we either misunderstand or overlook what qualities we call “true,” or “authentic.” And there are multiple ways we fool ourselves into thinking we know what we mean by all of it.
But the article strikes an inspiring note by the end, even as it tears apart our cursory understanding of authenticity.
Healthy authenticity is an ongoing process of discovery, involving self-awareness, self-honesty, integrity with your most consciously chosen values and highest goals, and a commitment to cultivating authentic relationships.
We choose who we want to be as much as we reveal who we are by being honest, internally. We can be proud of that, too, and keep trying to become more of that ideal self, choosing the qualities we most admire.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.