When I started working on this, it came from a place of sheer creative desperation to find something, to make something. I’ve said more than once that the muses are capricious. The night I was making this, they were exponentially so.
I had first attempted to record a podcast, a process that is, under normal conditions, relatively easy. I usually record in one sitting, and in one take with minimal, if any, edits. But, I also live next door to a house that functions as an Air B &B. From time to time there are guests that are rowdy and boisterous. On this particular night, the Air B & B guests were also exponentially so.
I’m not sure if the noise actually came through in the recording or not but, it was certainly distracting. And, truth be told, I probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind to record anyway.
Needless to say the recording process didn’t go well, and it became abundantly clear that it just wasn’t going to happen. I set that project to one side (a seemingly healthy response) but, the frustration remained and lingered. I NEEDED to make something (perhaps, a not so healthy response).
I began experimenting with this piece after coming across a video on the Adobe blog. I decided to try my hand at do something similar. It didn’t go so well…
I suppose my drive to make something overtook my aspirations to throw my phone across the room, punch a hole in the computer screen, and give up making art forever. However, I should say that so far this year, I’ve only quit art forever a couple times a month. My therapist, if I was still seeing her, would surely this is as progress…I should probably give her a call.
After several hours, this piece made it to a place that I was happy with.
To a greater or lesser extent, the tension began to leave. For now…
Madeleine L’ Engle says that “An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith” – a faith that some minute piece of the manifold mystery will become material for a moment. A faith that some small substance of the things hoped for will become manifest albeit in an ephemeral way. A faith that we will uncover the evidence of things unseen, the evidence of the possible, and that the possibility will claim meaning.
We are full of secrets. We contain a multitude of mysteries. We are breathing inkblots, walking Rorschach tests. Perhaps, its in experiencing the weight of our own untold secrets that we are driven to create and compelled to keep creating.
Maybe art, itself, is an external attempt to touch our deepest secrets, the secrets buried so deeply that we don’t even know that they’re there. And maybe, these are the secrets fighting the hardest to be unearthed.
We stand poised upon the precipice of a sacred unknowing. We don’t know what comes next for us as a culture, as a society, we don’t know what our civilization will become, but we know that there are glimmers of hope in the kitchen, and maybe that’s the secret sauce.
At the time of this writing my kids are ages 14 and 11. Throughout their time in elementary school I’ve lost count of how many science projects we’ve had to do. It has to be 10 or more between the two of them, but that could also be the exaggerations of a frustrated parental brain talking. Regardless, it’s been a lot.
I think about how every project begins with a question, a question we may only moderately understand, and a theorized or hypothesized answer to that question. From there, the experimentation begins. We design a series of trials with changing or alternating variables and conditions, and we run the tests over, and over, and over, and over, and over, again, and again, and again, and again…because that’s the only way the data gets clear.
It is laborious and monotonous, and sometimes painfully tedious.
Yet, the interesting part is that, even though we are testing a hypothesis, our goal is not necessarily to prove whether we are right or wrong. The goal is to observe and gather data. The goal is to see what happens and to see what we can learn from it.
In order to truly learn something we have to be open and able to receive data that runs counter to our preconceived ideas. We have to be willing to go through what feels like countless trials, knowing that most of our experiments will “fail” most of the time. The more experiments we subject ourselves to, the more tests we can take, the more trials we can stand, the more data we can collect – the more we learn.
Tina Seelig reminds us that “All of our paths are riddled with small and enormous failures. The key is being able to see these experiences as experiments that yield valuable data and to learn what to do differently next time.”
The process of experimentation is indifferent to success or failure. “Failure” doesn’t matter. “Success” is inconsequential. The only objective is to learn something profound about ourselves and about the way the world works.
There are no clearly defined answers to our questions. No ready-made conclusions. No concrete determinations. Everything is just a theory until it has been tested, and that includes the results of another person’s experiments. We cannot accept the deductions of their data without question. We are variables unto ourselves. The results can and will vary. We have to get our own hands dirty.
We are making this all up as we go along. Everything is an experiment, and every result is a forward motion.
I think this is exactly why John Dewey says that “one of the essential traits of the artist is that he is born an experimenter”.
Dewey explains that
The artist is compelled to be an experimenter because he has to express an intensely individualized experience through means and materials that belong to the common and public world. This problem cannot be solved once for all. It is met in every new work undertaken.”
In fact, Dewey goes on to say that “Only because the artist operates experimentally does he open new fields of experience and disclose new aspects and qualities in familiar scenes and objects.”
To be an artist is to be in the constant throes of an experimental process. It is to be amidst a ceaseless series of trails and tests. It is to risk failure again and again and again.
Tom and David Kelley make clear that
“creative people simply do more experiments. Their ultimate ‘strokes of genius’ don’t come about because they succeed more often than other people—they just do more, period. They take more shots at the goal. That is the surprising, compelling mathematics of innovation: if you want more success, you have to be prepared to shrug off more failure.”
This is certainly easier said than done. I have grown weary and despondent. I have found my resiliency waning. The constant bitter flavor of failure, without the palate cleansing sweetness of success, has caused me to begin to lose my creative appetite. So this reminder is as much for me as it may be for you.
We must, as Jocelyn Glei suggests, “Mine [our] ‘failures’ for valuable data about what works and what doesn’t”, realizing that “As long as you learn from the process, it’s not a mistake.”
The risk of experimentation isn’t prompted by aspiring for successes but by the desires for discovery.
Our opportunities for growth are proportionate to our willingness to fail…
Liu Wei says that “a piece of art is never an answer to something”. The purpose of a piece of art is, rather “to pose a question” but, “the question is only the beginning”. To me, that says that art is the iterative attempt to ask better questions. It’s continuously attuning the questions expressed through the work directed at the audience, but it’s also the constant refinement of the way in which the artist poses questions to themselves.
I think that means asking ourselves questions not only about “what we have to say” or “what we want to say” in the work, but also asking ourselves questions about “how we say it”. In other words, I think it means examining and analyzing the creative processes we use that enable us to express our questions; questioning our methods of artistically asking the questions.
This kind of critical and creative soul-searching has been teaching me about myself and my own creative process. It’s becoming more and more obvious that, artistically speaking, I’m a writer before anything else. Such a realization is more an act of acknowledgement and acceptance than it is a statement of shock or surprise. The fact that I have a long held love of language is not a revelation. What is slightly more revelatory is how I’ve often neglected or ignored my predilection for literary expression purely out of vanity. In a culture that preferences the consumption of audio/visual arts, it simply isn’t as sexy to be a writer, a blogger, a poet, etc. And, rather than allow my writing to take the wheel, I have relegated it to the backseat. Sometimes even barbarously stuffing it in the trunk, bound and gagged.
But, no matter how much I try to place video, or design, or drawing, at the forefront of what I do, writing has been the tell-tale heart pounding beneath the floor boards, refusing to relent or subside.
Truth be told, when I’m being creative my thoughts turn to the language of the written word before anything else. That’s where everything begins for me.
Austin Kleon calls himself “a writer who draws”. Something about that feels right even for me. Maybe you could say I’m a writer attempting to make art, or maybe, a writer who makes podcasts, videos, and art. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue though, does it? I’ll have to work on it.
The point is that writing is the catalyst for all of my creative endeavors. Almost every podcast or video I’ve made has begun with a piece of writing. Even many of my art projects arise from something I’ve written. It’s like I can’t envision “imagery” or the “images” until I see the words. But, somewhere in the process of searching for the words, in sculpting the language, and guiding them from my head to the page, the pictures arrive.
For example, the picture at the top of this post came to me after I had written an essay called “Gratitude is Mutinous“. Interestingly enough, even the image I created for “Gratitude is Mutinous” came from another piece of writing as well. That’s how it happens for me. Sometimes the simple turn of a phrase is the key that turns the lock to the door of a secret I’ve never seen.
In a way that’s gratifying. When it comes to writing I’ve always wanted my words to paint a picture, and it seems like it does, if for no one else than for me.
Suffice to say, whenever pen gets put to paper, I’m home…
In the spirit of full disclosure, this is the second time I’m writing about this discussion. Having previously explored the topic, I didn’t intend to bring it up again. But, like the unexpected arrival of our discussion on “Integrity”, itself, this writing, too, is something of a surprise.
A couple days ago I wrote an essay called “Prototyping the Process“. As artists, creatives, writers, and makers, we have to be constantly tweaking and prototyping the work that we produce, but we also have to be constantly beta-testing and iterating the processes by which we produce the work.
Before writing that essay I began working on the art piece at the top of this post. It’s initial iterations took place in an app on my phone, while sitting in a retail store break-room. Eventually it found its way into Photoshop for further tweaks and iterations. For my birthday my wife got me a Huion Inspiroy Q11k Graphic Drawing Tablet. That’s what helped bring this piece to its final form.
It was a process of small changes, incremental adjustments, an interplay of various tools, an endeavor of consistent development. In other words, the process of creating this image embodies the quote it depicts. The art “is” what is it “about”. The medium is the message, one might say. The iterative creation of this collage unexpectedly illustrates the on-going consistency that demonstrates “Integrity”.
Creativity and integrity go hand in hand. Both are a commitment to truth; a commitment to the pursuit of truth, a commitment to truth-telling. Both necessitate the strength of reliability. Art and each entail consistency. Both are built over time.
The slow dependable process of carefully stacking brick upon brick, Art and Integrity are built upon “trust”; trust in the work, trust in the process, the trust you give to others, and the trust you receive in return.
This morning was a momentous occasion, well that’s probably an exaggeration.
I’ve been trying to get into the habit of writing every morning after I meditate and before I bring my daughter to school. Yesterday, I filled the last remaining pages of a notebook, which means that today was time to open a new notebook.
I took out a fresh journal. I always keep a few around, who doesn’t? Right? I pulled the cover back, cracked the spine, eager to enter the freshness of the notebook’s beckoning blank pages, I noticed two crisply folded $2 bills. What else could I think but “that’s weird”? I don’t remember when or why I put them there but, I’m glad I did.
I’ve often quipped that I’m religious but not spiritual. I don’t have an affinity for the “other-worldly”, the supernatural, or what some might call the transcendent. I think “this-world” has more than enough amazement and wonder to offer. I think the “natural” is plenty “super” on its own, and often my most profound experiences of “transcendence” comes from deep experiences of the immanent.
And yet, I have a relishing fondness for ritual. I think most creatives do. We are often meticulous and almost superstitious in the observance of our creative routines. We take great care to create at the same time and place everyday. We drink out of the same mug. Some of us are compulsively particular about the notebooks and pens we use, as well as the ceremonial ways in which we use and prepare them. It’s interesting that the near monastic ordering of our creative ritualizations becomes the opportunity for the expression of our weirdness.
In a lot ways I think that’s exactly what creative practices are, the routinized rites we methodically perform in honored observance of our weirdness; the ceremonious celebration of our peculiar strangeness.
On a daily basis we are bombarded by a legion of outside influences and forces all vying for a chance to smooth out the unevenness of our peculiarities, so that we can better fit into the current cookie cutter shape of normalcy.
We need to find, formulate, and routinely carry out rituals that remind us of our strangeness.
Today one found me…
I think from now on, whenever I open a new notebook, before I ever dot an “i” or cross a “t”, these $2 bills will be ritualistically paper clipped onto the pages of the journal to instruct me that no matter what happens here, no matter what you do…Keep it weird…
Nietzsche says that “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” I can relate. While I can’t say for sure if I’m actually able to “give birth to dancing star”, I can say that everything I create begins in chaos, an inner chaos that manifests itself into outward expression. That physical expression of an internal anarchy is what I call my creative process.
Everything that I make begins its life as a fever of a thought typed into Evernote, a jagged idea roughly hewn and scraped into a notebook or across a Post-It, like the photo above.
Today marks the beginning of National Gratitude Month. I am a person guilty of harboring a multitude of character flaws but, if there is one thing I am especially guilty of it is being an ungrateful @$$hole. There’s a lot that hasn’t been going “well” for me lately, and I am a naturally “Glass half-empty” kind of guy but, I still have so much to be thankful for. While I can’t hope to radically alter my deeply ingrained habit of ingratitude in 30 days, I can make it a point to create spaces and opportunities to be more purposefully and intentionally grateful.
“When a person views the world only through his own experience, he divorces himself from the polarized flow of existence, that persistent dialogue between self and other, familiar and unfamiliar.”
I am grateful for Eric Wilson’s writing. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned from it. Grateful that he was actually willing to be a guest on my podcast. And, I am so grateful for what I learned from the insights garnered from our conversation together.
When we fail to engage with the perspective of another, when we neglect the opportunity to see the world from an alternate view, we fail to see the fullness of the human experience, the fullness of the world, the fullness of “Being” itself.
Every one of us are on our own specific journey. Everyone knows something individually that we collectively don’t. Everyone has experienced something that I haven’t. Anytime we get to bridge the gap between ourselves and another person, it can only be fruitful, it can only be enlightening, it can only be insightful.
We live in an amazing time. The opportunities for connection and communication have never been more abundant, more alive, more vibrant, and more readily available. Kwame Anthony Appiah writes that “the worldwide web of information…means not only that we can affect lives everywhere but that we can learn about life anywhere”. Tim Harford explains that “the modern world gives us more opportunities than ever to forge relationships with people who do not look, act, or think the same way that we do.”
Every encounter with another person is an opportunity to get an insight that we didn’t have before, to get access to knowledge we wouldn’t have come across any other way.
The insight of the Other is insight into ourselves. Revealed in the portrait of the Other is a picture of who we are. To gaze into the eyes of the Other is to glimpse into the reality of Being. To begin to understand the Other is to begin to understand everything.
I am grateful for all the “Others” I’ve been lucky enough to meet and deeply encounter, people who have given me their time to have discussions that continue to teach me so much about myself. I am grateful for the insight of the Other…
I sat down with Rev. Jerry Maynard. Rev. Jerry is a Priest, activist, and Interfaith Minister. He works within the Int’l Church of Mary Magdalene, which is a ministry of the Independent & Progressive Catholic Religious Order, Order of Mary Magdalene. He is also the founding pastor of The People’s Church.
In this conversation we talk about theology, atheism, activism, “liberation”, and so much more. I think you’re going to love it!
If you want to connect with Rev. Jerry you can find his social links below:
If you want shout-outs in podcasts and videos, early access to YouTube videos, and access to Behind-the-scenes Patron only videos, blogs, and photos, then check out my Patreon page. For $3/month you get it all! – www.patreon.com/duanetoops
And be sure to connect with my at the social links below:
If you want shout-outs in podcasts and videos, early access to YouTube videos, and access to Behind-the-scenes Patron only videos, blogs, and photos, then check out my Patreon page. For $3/month you get it all!
Be sure to connect with me at the social links below: