From the start of this piece it didn’t feel very “inspired”, and I’m not sure I really found the “spark” at any point in the process of making it. But, I finished it, and I’d like to think that counts for something.
I believe in showing up and doing the work regardless of how I feel, irregardless of “it” feels, regardless of whether or not inspiration ever shows up, and irregardless of whether or not anything “inspired” comes out of it. For me, its about being more “religious” than “spiritual”. It’s about placing one’s dependence upon the discipline, the routine, the practice, the ritual, welcoming the magical moments of spiritual transcendence and inspiration when they serendipitiously arrive, but faithfully working with observant persistence in the gap of inspiration’s inevitable absence. The Psalmist says to “be of good courage, take heart and wait…” I think we take heart in the courage of continuing to work in the waiting.
Christopher Niemann says that “Relying on craft and routine is a lot less sexy than being an artistic genius. But it is an excellent strategy for not going insane”.
I sit down at this desk everyday, partly because I want to be productive and make good work, but mostly to avoid going insane, or to at least slow the progression of the ever-encroaching madness. The routinized ritual of creating near daily helps me deal with life and helps me make it through the day. It provides me with at least a semblance of saneness and stability. For a few moments I can find my way to some normalcy. I can temporarily fain the feeling of being “ok”, and feeling “ok”, even for a short time, when your whole life has become a deep fried cluster fuck tossed in a shit storm glaze is a damn near supernatural event.
Art and life run parallel together on the same continuum. In many ways, they are one and the same. What is true for one, is then, more often than not, true for the other. As Austin Kleon reminds me, “There will be good days and bad days. Days when you feel inspired and days when you want to walk off a bridge. (And some days when you can’t tell the difference.)” He points out that “Not everyday is going to turn out the way we want it to” but, “The important thing is to make it to the end of the day, no matter what”. He says that “No matter how bad it gets, see it through to the end so you can get to tomorrow”.
Often there is no rhyme or reason to the volatility that separates the good days from the bad, the inspired from the uninspired, the marvelous from the mediocre. Charles Bukowski said that the greatest literary teaching he was ever taught was “the meaning of pain. Pain without reason.”
Some times the absurdity of it all is a profound discovery. Sometimes the meaninglessness of it all is deeply meaningful.
And so I keep showing up. I try my best to see it through, even, and especially, when it sucks, and I share it, because no matter how closed off I keep myself, no matter how lonely and isolated I seem to be, in some tucked away corner of my mind I know this is a shared journey.
Stylistically, this is super experimental, and, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. As experiments go, I don’t think this one was necessarily a success. I like the composition. I like the overall layout and design but, it’s definitely…different.
It’s got a strong graphic novel kind of vibe, which I dig but, with that being said, that’s not a style that’s really appeared in my work before…or maybe it has and in this piece it’s just much more pronounced and noticeable.
I suppose in a way that “style” has always been in the background of my “artistic” development.
Although I don’t really draw anymore, I spent an inordinate amount of my time drawing as a kid and on into my early teens. More often than not, what I was drawing were comic book characters. I never cared much for trying to achieve photo-realism. That’s probably due in part to a lack of talent and ability (that’s probably why I don’t continue to draw much) but, also the photo-realism approach to art has never quite interested me. The “style” of drawing I saw in my favorite comic books was just so much more intriguing and fascinating to me.
Even now, I follow a few graphic novel/comic book illustrators on Instagram. In fact, one of my favorites is artist named Stefano Cardoselli. I highly recommend you check out his work. Take one look and I’m sure you’ll be able to tell why I like it and why I’m so “drawn” to it (pun most definitely intended).
Also, I will openly admit that when I’m a bit stuck, when I feel like I’m in a creative rut, when I feel like my work is getting a little too predictable, or when I’m just getting a little bored with what I’m making, I’ll unashamedly scroll through Pinterest looking for something new that I can try to incorporate into my own work.
One of the artists I stumbled across in my Pinterest spelunking is an illustrator named Adams Carvalho. His work has become something of a glorious rabbit hole for me recently. I’ve been pinning it like crazy, and, needless to say I now also for his instagram account.
Incidentally, a few weeks ago I took my kids to Barnes & Noble, and while I was there I snapped some photos of a few book covers that I really liked the design of and that kind of inspired me. As it turns out one of the book covers was illustrated by none other than Adams Carvalho. Is it still considered stalking if its done subconsciously? Asking for a friend…
Maybe since I’ve been digesting so much of his work recently I’m finally beginning to regurgitate it.
After all, Picasso has been widely credited with saying “good artists copy, great artists steal”. Who the fuck am I to argue with Picasso?
I wouldn’t dare say I’m a “great” artist. I’m hesitant to say I’m a “good” artist. Hell, I’m not even entirely sure I’m comfortable calling myself an “artist”. But, I’m pretty good at riding that trepidatious line between copying and theft. And if there’s a name for that…I’d still probably feel I wasn’t up to brandishing it as moniker in reference to myself and my work.
Maybe I’m just getting to that age where conversations about the weather is a thing that happens now. Maybe the weather is as good a metaphor for life as any other. Perhaps then every conversation about the weather is an implicit conversation about living and being alive. Perhaps what we really talk about when we talk about the weather is how we are handling the way life is at this moment right now…
If you want to look further into some of the writers and thinkers I mention, check the links below:
I think the job of the artist is to make the experience of mystery palpably vivid in a way that does not resolve the mystery but, instead reveals the mystery as more profoundly mysterious than we realized.
Or, the way that George Condo draws; seemingly random, almost erratic, and often more concerned “with the diagonal motion of the drawing, caring more about “where it goes on the paper, without much concern about “what it is”.
Or maybe even the way that Aaron Draplin‘s favorite pass time is “junking”, scouring thrift stores and estate sales looking for bits of old design, logos, and type, searching within them for the forgotten stories and hidden tales that will spark his imagination and catalyze his creative process.
The purposeful imprecision, the uncontrollable brush strokes, the unpredictable discoveries, in each case, the artists delve deeply into a “mysterious” pursuit, searching for secrets.
Maybe I’m grasping at straws but, there seems to be parallel between the pursuit of mystery and what Austin Kleon calls “dumpster diving”.
Dumpster Diving is one of the jobs of the artist – finding treasure in other people’s trash, sifting through the debris of our culture, paying attention to the stuff that everyone else is ignoring, and taking inspiration from the stuff that people have tossed aside for whatever reason.
These are the things that draw me into all of my creative endeavors, whether in writing, collage, digital art, or even in my recent forays into more analog mediums and projects. In “sifting through the debris” of old magazines and newspapers, finding inspiration in “tossed aside” books, moving paint and pen with a seemingly unsteady hand, I am searching to revel in something unknown. I am forced to give up control, to exercise awareness, welcoming the imperfect and the imprecise. Searching for treasure without a name, guided by a map that can’t be written, I can’t foresee what I’ll find, what images will spark something, what words or phrases will whisper secrets, and what mysteries will come to light as the pieces are put together, shifted, and rearranged. I am simply doing the work of finding “the work”.
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.
The stray hairs of lacerated bristles, the hidden treasures of another person’s trash, the gems found amidst the junk, the stories pieced together with paper and glue, all bear the weight of our secrets, fighting to succeed to the surface of awareness…
It’s been a while since I’ve put out or even recorded a video or a podcast. There’s a lot of different reasons for that . Some of which are more complicated than others.
If you listened to my podcast interview with Daniel Midson-Short, you may have heard me mention that I picked up a second job. As you can imagine that comes with its fair share of time constraints and scheduling complications. I have less available time to meticulously craft podcast episodes and videos in the way that I once did.
However, that’s only part of the story. It’s not the “whole” truth. Yes, my free time has been dramatically reduced but, another big reason that I haven’t been recording or filming lately is an issue of “mind-set”. I’ve been a bit lost, both creatively and personally. I’m in a weird head-space.
In the past year that I’ve devoted my time, effort, and energy to making videos and recording podcasts I’ve started getting obsessed with things I never cared about. Things that I never gave a shit about became vitally important.
Look, I get that over time it’s not uncommon for our priorities to change, in fact we can expect that they will. There’s nothing wrong with varying the levels of importance that we attach to things. There’s nothing wrong with shifting the hierarchy of what we value. But, sometimes we lose something in the shift. Sometimes in shifting how much we value certain things we inadvertently shift our “values”. We move pillars that should never be out of place, and we compromise the structural integrity of who we are.
I didn’t start making videos because I wanted to be a film maker. I never wanted to be a videographer or a cinematographer. As much as I love the art form, as creatively invigorating as it is to film and edit, it’s not my primary aspiration. It’s not my passion. And yet, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly obsessed with camera angles, camera settings, lenses, aperture, frame rates, lighting, audio, mic placement, B-roll, cinematic sequences, setting, background, etc, etc, etc. In other words, I’ve become overwhelmingly obsessed with the production, the “quality”.
There’s nothing wrong with all the videographic techniques and cinemagraphic speficities outlined above. I’m glad I took the time to learn to do them. But, the simple fact remains I didn’t start doing this for any of that. I’ve also been unhealthily obsessed with “the numbers”; the subscriber count, the views, the listens, the plays, the likes, the shares, the comments, and the things. We all know the numbers shouldn’t matter. We’ve all either said ourselves or heard other creatives say “don’t create for the numbers”, “the numbers don’t matter” but, saying it and believing it are two different things. Implicitly, in the back of nearly every creators mind, the numbers matter. A lot of us, especially me, will attach our value as a creator, the value of what we create to those numbers. We will interpret those numbers as a numeric representation of how much our work matters, and we start judging the quality of our work based on those numbers. At least, that’s what’s happened for me.
One of my guilty pleasures is Gary Vaynerchuck. Love him or hate him, his energy is intoxicating and his enthusiasm is infectious. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I’ve garnered some valuable and beneficial information from his work.
One of the things I’ve disagreed with about most adamantly is the idea that quantity is more important than quality, because he says that quality is subjective. I think there’s some truth to that. After all art is subjective, we each decide in our own way what we define as art. As much merit as I see in that point I haven’t been able to make the leap to this quantity over quality position.
Interestingly enough, a few months ago Gary Vaynerchuck was interviewed by Matt D’Avella. I think it’s fair to say that D’Avella has a stance on the quality vs. quantity question that it is seemingly antithetical to Vaynerchuck’s. He believes it’s better to put one really high quality video every week than to put out 7 “ok” or mediocre videos. He favors quality over quantity. For the past year that’s the way I’ve been leaning as well. When it comes to quantity vs. quality it’s not as simple as an “either/or” question. If art is subjective, if quality is itself subjective, then I think it’s also safe to say that the way in which one chooses to answer or approach this question is also subjective. I think it comes down to self-awareness and consistency.
If the precision and production level of the craft, is your driving factor, and you can be consistent in putting out that work then, I think that’s working just fine for you. In other words, if you’re more motivated to put out one high quality piece of work every week and you can continuously come through on creating and delivering that piece of work week in and week out then, you’ve already won.
But…that’s not what I’ve been doing. I’ve been operating under the auspices of pursuing this “quality” model but, I’ve been anything but consistent. In most cases, I don’t even attempt to film or record when my conditions or circumstances don’t allow for attaining the level of “quality” I feel is “necessary”. In other words, if I don’t feel I have the time or space to get close to perfection then I don’t even try to do anything at all.
My obsession with “quality” has become counterproductive. “Quality” has become my excuse not to create. “Perfectionism” has become procrastination. Adam Savage says that “procrastination, perfectionism, and analysis paralysis…are the bane of a Maker’s existence”. I can personally and avidly attest to the truth of that statement.
I think I lost my connection to an even more important question, “why did I start?” “What did I start doing this for?” It’s so easy to get lost in the minutia of techniques and all the things that touch the thing you’re doing but, what’s the core of what you’re doing? What’s the heart beat of why you do what you do? If you lose touch with the thing that made you want to start doing what you’re doing then you’ve lost the whole drive, you’ve lost the whole aspiration, the whole motivation, the whole operative significance of the thing.
And that’s where I find myself. I’ve let all the things that touch my work influence my process more than than the central thesis of the work. So, if I didn’t start any of this to be a film maker, an audio guru, a YouTuber extraordinaire, if I had no interest in becoming a cinematographer or a videographer, why did I start doing all this for? I started doing this because there where things that I wanted to talk about that I wasn’t getting to talk about. There were conversations that I wanted to have that I wasn’t getting to have, and I needed to have, and I still needed to have them. I’ve lost sight of that in the process of just trying to make the shit.
I started doing this because I’m in love with ideas. I’m in love with the kind of ideas that James Victore might call “Dangerous Ideas”. Oscar Wilde said that ” An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all”. That is my core. It’s gotten buried in the process but, its still there, and I’m trying to find my way back to it.
How do I get back? I don’t know. I don’t have it all figured out yet. But, this is an attempt to get back to the dangerous ideas, and maybe that’s a dangerous idea in itself. I hope that it is. I don’t know what comes next, but i never have. All I can tell you is that I’m still in the process. If you’re still here then, we’re in the process together.
Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.
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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…