Sometimes, when life matters become overwhelming, it helps—for a time—to indulge in some intense trifles to distract ourselves with stories, music, video, memes. As long as we don’t let that go on too long. Scott Thompson, as his Buddy Cole character in The Kids in the Hall, said in a sketch, “I believe in moderation. Within reason!”
Indulge completely and work completely. Too much of either can burn you out or waste time that shouldn’t be wasted. Once you’ve wasted some and fed the furnace with either energy of inspiration, it’s time to undistract.
The Galaxy Within and Beyond Ourselves, Linked Together
Artist Rotraut Klein-Moquay explains how, among other wonderful connections and perspectives, we need to view our lives as part of the greater universe, and as large, as grand, and as long-lived as it is. Also that we should be careful about living a “good life,” meaning fully-realized.
In the Future, All the Worrying Will Be Done By Robots
Artists have little to be smug about. There’s nothing inherently so different about art that means it can only ever be done by humans. Maybe by definition that’s the dividing line: artificial creation vs. art, but in time the bots will get better by steps both small and large, and they have nothing but time. Or, at least, in theory they do. For now, we have to keep running and building them, but what’s the point of art at all if no humans can experience it?
From the illustrious kottke.org comes this bit, by Tim Carmody:
How long will it be until Robin’s “California Corpus” is writing novels of its own, when every book is a jazzy cover of a medley of novels we’ve liked before? When writers still get hired, but just to produce enough snippets to keep the synthesizing machines fed? The answer is… probably a very long time. But maybe not long enough.
The thrust of it is that remixing is appealing because it’s giving us things we already like, remixed, and AIs will become good enough eventually to produce art we want to experience, in abundance, instantly.
The thing is, art isn’t far from that now. We’ve always taken the stuff of the past and remixed it in different and new ways. Technology and shared knowledge adds a little to it now and then, but essentially we are all creative DJs. What matters, for as long as it can matter, then, is that we make things with as much humanity as we can muster. Emotional, often irrational, impulsive, desirous, loving humans. The more like ourselves, individually, we can be in our work, the longer it’ll be before bots can match it.
The Creative Life is Lonely, Sort Of, but Not in Any Serious Way
I’ve had friends and cow-orkers muse to me—in that way that makes it clear they’re probing for confirmation, but don’t want to seem obvious about it—that if you want to be an artist, you must be okay being alone with your work. I mean, yes and no.
There are obvious pursuits like writing, where you can, if you choose, work in a busy coffee shop or the park. There’s music where, except for one-human-band types who do everything themselves and never perform, you tend to work with others in a band or during production.
Visual art is made mostly on your own. But that doesn’t make it a lonely life. The part you’re already striving to get is the state of flow, or zen, or harmony, or whatever label you give to the sensation of losing your self, your awareness of time, and your self-doubt chatter while you do the work.
Without an idea of time, it doesn’t matter so much that you’re alone. Further, here’s a bonus: any creative work you do has access to this feeling. Aloneness without loneliness is your goal, not something to prevent.
The Weighty, Considered, Symbolic, and Evocative Work of Alicja Kwade
Polish artist Kwade is making lovely and ambitious work with her sculpture. It calls to mind the compulsive appeal of orreries. The work incorporates planetary physics, time, geology, and movement in unexpected but immediate and accessible ways.
It brings to my mind my love of science, of science fiction, and also of our very human need to understand our place in the universe.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race, but Maybe Not *Too* Slow
It feels like something needs to change. And that’s after everything changed for me. If there’s one thing moving is good for, it’s taking over every other concern in your life with its alarm bells and insistent stress.
It’s easy to separate professional and personal lives, and day job from artistic practice, but you really only have one life. It flows with time, always moving forward, not giving a damn about our attempts to compartmentalize and section it off. It’s useful to organize time that way, don’t get me wrong. But ultimately it all runs together and is affected by every other part of a life.
So, when you feel restless, that things have stagnated, that wheels are spinning in place, it’s good to remind yourself to slow down and just keep working. There’s just one downside: you can get lazy and stop altogether. Careful of that. It’s easy to put off the stuff you’re supposed to be doing.
It was asking for it. I think my point was going to be that the thing(s) right in front of you are fine subjects to draw. It’s not enough to learn it once, you have to keep at it. As in, daily or near-daily practice.
It’s not much like riding a bike, honestly. It’s like going to the gym. And, unfortunately for my ego, I think my drawing muscles are pretty atrophied. Back to the gym.
Advice of the Moment Includes Waiting Till the Morning to Ponder the Details of Your Life
I arrived in a new city a bit of a mess. There was too much left undone, too few people bid goodbye, a traumatized cat on a plane. I felt a hovering sense of doom, weighed down by something like failure, but it wasn’t quite that.
I remembered reading someone advising not to think about your life too much after dinner. It was well after that.
The dawn came, as always, and with it a fresh sense of perspective, and openness. It felt exciting and just a little dangerous, the way you want any adventure to begin, no matter how small or mundane. Regret is for the night, but try not giving it too much attention then.
The Power of Words in One Enduring Ad Campaign That’s Applicable to Your Work
Nike’s “JUST DO IT.” branding (written about before, here) was powerful at its inception and it’s still powerful today. At least, it is for me when I’m feeling lazy about working.
In addition to the daily habit principle, it’s really good at cutting through elaborate excuses I have about why I can’t work on anything. Basically, simply, the phrase allows your determination to overcome your fear, if you hit yourself in the ego with it.
Sometimes it seems trite. It still can help get at least a little work done, and that’s what matters, day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month. Whether it’s the same project or several, well, you know.
Sometimes You Need to Go Slowly to Connect With Your Work
Social media is a huge element in the struggle to keep on top of your time. You only have so much in a day, and algorithms are very, very good at sucking it away in chunks. I’m certainly not excluding myself from the phenomenon.
Some things, many that are invigorating and fulfilling, take time to pay off. Regarding the internet, some of those things aren’t even particularly lengthy, at least in terms of a whole day’s worth of minutes.
I listened to a piece from This American Life that illustrates the point. It’s about how Teller—of (in)famous magic duo Penn & Teller—crafted and incorporated a brand new trick into his act from a very old source. I listened from a web page. I couldn’t speed up the sound, I couldn’t scan the transcript. I had to wait 28 minutes for the payoff, a little less than halfway through the segment. It was well worth the time, and I think we can say the same thing about art. Drawing, painting, writing, composing—they all take a lot of time to make, far more than it takes to consume. But when things do take so much longer than a tweet or a quick video to reach their peak, I think it’s insightful. It’s a window to the reasons we make things. It’s a new level of contentment, a moment of pleasure that measures up to happiness.