Keeping Things

There’s a point in Brian Jay Jones’s Jim Henson biography I knew was coming: Jim’s huge disappointment over The Dark Crystal’s reception, after spending years conceptualizing, developing, producing, and finally co-directing and performing in it. It might have seemed like years of wasted effort, even though the movie made its costs back and then some.

But it wasn’t what he wanted. The artist had a vision of how his work might be received, and that vision didn’t match reality. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have expectations, or that it’s even possible not to. It’s akin to asking us not to dream. But when we are disappointed with how our work is received, we can mitigate it. Or, sometimes, we can accept it with grace, knowing one thing:

The work still exists and it is ours.

Even when sold, the thing we made is attached to us. Jim, crushed by his disappointment, still had the thing he’d made, and it is forever his, for all its flaws and triumphs. Even though he isn’t here, his work lives on. There’s much wonder in it. I have a wonderful volume of Brian Froud’s conceptual drawings on my bedroom shelf. I marvel at the breadth of what The Henson Company was able to create out of mere ideas. I read that there’s an upcoming 4K screening of the film in February 2018 in selected theaters.

What you’ve made is yours, no matter what people think of it. Sometimes, if you believe in the vision you made it out of, it gets another chance, or two, or ten. Opinions change, and art can always be seen by new eyes.

Rephrase That

First drafts, like first attempts at anything, can succeed, even messily. But usually they don’t. When painting, we can touch up, fix wavering lines, or paint out the whole thing white again. When writing, we can cut massive sections, or tweak phrases and words in sentences till they look better, seem more true.

It isn’t in our first attempts that we deliver our best work, or our best selves, which is really at the heart of making art of any kind. Self-discovery is an essential part of our artistic growth, and parallels our (hopefully) growing skills.

Anxiety is natural, but so is a rewrite. You’re free to change your mind and your work as it gets done and you can see it more clearly.

Trappings as Trigger

Part of the reason we feel so strongly about Christmas and similar winter solstice events is that they come with attendant decorations, music, and themes. They repeat every year, rituals that defy cynicism and modernity, sometimes reaching autonomic levels of response to them.

You may enjoy these effects. You may hate them. What matters is that they affect so many of us in this way.

What are ways we can incorporate these feelings into our work? What elements and themes might make a piece so strong it evokes something like winter holiday nostalgia in its audience? Solve that deep problem and make a thing that is powerful and irresistible. Well, given the proviso that Xmas music fatigue is the flip side of the seasonal coin, maybe sprinkle a bit of balance in with that solution.


The iconic moment brought to my mind the most this year is this quotation pair:

“Happy Christmas, Harry!”
“Happy Christmas, Ron.”

Simple is usually best.

Going Fast

We live in a world that seems to accelerate with alarming regularity. Expectations of delivery and downloads is ever increasing, with every upgrade and iteration.

We can meet that expectation in our work. But there are advantages to going slowly: the pressure is lessened. We can gain perspective as we work, rather than in hindsight.

A daily habit, steady work, will always beat out frenetic flurries that require inspiration to kick them off.

Abandonment

Basically, it’s better to do than to not do. But there are exceptions.

Sometimes something just isn’t working. It’s sometimes better to stop that and do something else, start on a different idea. Finishing isn’t always the best option if it stops you moving to another project that flows.

But there’s always a paradox to resolve: do I need to stop working on this piece because it’s not working, or is it not working because I just want to start a new piece?

Continuing a little too long on something to be sure it isn’t going to work might be the only way to tell. But you’ll be able to.

Thoughtful Commentary

It’s in short supply. Social media is full of opinions, but a lot of it seems to be engaged in bashing others’ existing ones.

It can make me reluctant to express mine. I have been afraid of publishing sometimes because I could be wrong. It has stopped me from writing.

But, like anything you choose to present to the world, vulnerability goes with the territory. Artists of every kind trade their feelings for exposure of their work. Not knowing if you’ll be lauded or excoriated is frightening.

Perhaps those are our choices: stay silent and safe, or publish and expose ourselves. Staying safe, however, doesn’t necessarily help the work. What we miss by staying safe is the possibility of more easily shaping, honing, and sharpening our work. If our work is only ever for ourselves, I suppose that’s fine. But if we want to say something, if we want to make others feel something, it’s much harder.

Doing everything in solitary feels like I’m navigating a city blindfolded. We need to show our work. Public opinion isn’t always valuable, but enough is that it can allow us to steer a truer course, tack a different course, or pick another star to follow.

Creation is always a balance between how we feel about it and how others receive it. Maybe it will help to focus on that, the balance, rather than the fear. To do otherwise gets nothing done, and keeps us from growing.

It’s okay to be wrong. Say things—with words or brushes or cameras. Say more tomorrow.

When It Goes Wrong

It’ll happen. Despair and work from the depths of your being go hand-in-hand. From time-to-time. What can you do?

The stark option is to quit, stop working. Do something else with your free time. It’s an easier way, at least at first. The itch will be there at the back of your consciousness unless you channel it into another pursuit of making things.

The obvious answer someone with a blog writing about creation and art will say is that you have to keep working. It’s obvious because the idea surrounds us, culturally. I’m a big fan of “JUST DO IT™” as it applies to life in general, don’t get me wrong. But try something else.

Stop.

Not forever. Just for now. Look at everything you’ve done, and everything you want to do outside your routine. Breathe deeply, steadily. Try to imagine you aren’t attached to any outcome. Remember that you’re just doing the work and the process is your discipline. Discipline has its own benefits, creation has its own benefits, regardless of how bad it is, or how wonderful it is.

Then start working again. Just do it.

The Wars of Stars

There’s something magnetic about a richly detailed universe, full of adventure and magic. And history. After 40 years, George Lucas’s original gift to geekdom has no end of stories, art, technical specs, and lore attached, both in- and out-of-canon. So, yeah, no shit—why point out the obvious?

Maybe to say you never know how your ideas are going to be received, and sometimes they take over the zeitgeist. That is a tantalizing possibility, but it’s also a pretty long shot. I’m thinking past that, however.

There’s nothing obvious about the bare idea. It’s even silly in many respects: an advanced technological society of humans (and non-) “a long time ago,” and “far, far away” doesn’t make much sense, biologically, without much hand-waving. Never mind that the title has only the vaguest oblique connection to the story. That some people have figured out a way to have magic powers is a stretch further. But it wasn’t just the idea that mattered. It isn’t now your ideas that matter. Ideas are a dime a dozen, or cheaper than that. What makes possible the capturing of an audience’s imagination is the execution, the crafting, the details. It’s the seed versus the spreading tree.

Unless your ideas take over your consciousness, fill up your world view, and become another universe, they don’t even have the chance.

It doesn’t have to be big, some seeds are a dandelion, and some are baobabs. It can be a glimpse or an epic. Either way, plant that thing and cultivate.

Quick Work

Working to deadlines is often necessary. Time is the one luxury we can’t invoke more of with greater resources, it just gets reallocated.

But, as in every other aspect of creating that requires shoving other things and obligations aside in order to do the work, even a short time is better than none. Here’s where the habit comes in: it takes over when stress and lack of motivation are high.

And, sometimes, we can only produce a small amount of something. Some times are filled with despair and uncertainty. We can only trust that these are transitory. Everything passes by. What might make a difference is that it’s rare something has to be finished in one day. Mostly, work is done in stages, building on things that were done on previous days.

We trust that the pile we’re throwing today’s work upon is going to look better, eventually. It isn’t about today, nor tomorrow. And that holds true even during times we feel good about the shovelful we’ve made in any one day. When there’s flow and inspiration and a sense of insight, it’s still only a passing day’s work to throw on the heap, and it’s little different whether it’s hours’ worth or a few minutes. You won’t be able to tell when you got a little done or a lot, it’s still one big, lumpy pile of work. Consistency is always better. And the rest is editing.