When Their Art is “Art” and Your Art is… Not

 

adult art conceptual dark
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Here’s the double-edged sword of looking to others’ art for inspiration:

You are undoubtedly going to start making comparisons of their art to your own.

And yours will, inevitably, be found lacking.

A month ago – oh my God, where did the time go? – I went to a convention hoping to help spark my creativity by surrounding myself with creative people and the products of their creativity.

I’ve had a pretty positive creative start to 2019 – I didn’t hit my January goals, but I made real progress, and I’m making progress on my February goals, as well.  So I was hopeful, going in, that I would find an additional boost of inspiration for future projects – maybe fresh subject matter, or a medium I hadn’t tried before, or new ways of using familiar art tools.

The convention did not disappoint.  I came away with a wealth of writing and poetry resources, and having absorbed and observed a myriad of visual art of all styles and mediums.  I came home aching to create art.

And I did.  And they’re probably technically among the best pieces I’ve ever created.

And it is still so, so hard for me to bring myself to call them “art.”

Objectively, I’ve seen similar looking pieces in gallery showings before – bold bright colors, kinda kitschy – not so identical to other works as to be derivative, per se, but alike enough to say, hey, this is recognizably similar to these other pieces.  Pieces I would refer to as “art.”

So what separates, in my mind, my work from theirs?  Especially the work I’m mostly proud of?

That’s what I really want to emphasize: this is work that I think looks good.  It’s not the most skilled artistry, but I’m a beginner, and on an aesthetic front, I find it pleasing.

So why is it that I can’t bring myself to think of it as anything more than the concrete manifestation of a self-conscious shrug?

And actually, I think I kind of, sort of might have actually figured it out.  Or at least figured out part of it.

None of my art… “means” anything.  It’s not political or deeply personal or intellectually challenging; it’s never going to be controversial, or have people arguing over the creator’s intent, or be interpreted or analyzed in an art history class.  It’s visual doggrel. It’s ephemera.

It’s just some paint on a canvas.

But why isn’t that enough?  Why can’t I just splash some paint on a canvas and create something that… makes you want to look at it?  That makes your eyes hungry for it?  Something that you can consume, enjoy, and move on?

I drew all the time as a kid; I was not an amazing artist, but I was pretty good for my age. Peers, teachers, and friends would often compliment and comment on my work, and I had pictures hung at art fairs and won school awards, and drawing was fun.  It was enjoyable for me, as an artist, and it seemed to bring pleasure to those who saw it.

It wasn’t until I took studio art in high school that suddenly I had to, like, validate my art with an explanation.  And that’s not to deride or delegitimize people who produce highly personal, political, or otherwise “meaningful” art – it’s just to say that, up until that point, the act of creating in and of itself was enough.  The aesthetic pleasure it brought to others was enough.

But then suddenly, I had to defend what I produced – what was the inspiration, what did it mean, how long did it take?  Suddenly, the measure of worth was placed on how “deep” the “meaning” of the work was, or how labor intensive it was to produce.

You know, sometimes you see a color and want to paint with it.  Sometimes, your brain just goes, “You know what’s awesome?  FRICKIN’ ROBOTS,” and you want to draw some damn robots.  Sometimes you spend days laboring over a painting; sometimes you commit a ten-minute doodle to your sketchbook.  None of these things is inherently more or less valuable than the others.

I want to go back to the days when “making art” was about having fun, and bringing someone joy.  Hell, even if that someone is just me.  Why do we devalue our own pleasure so readily?  My happiness is important.  When I find something that brings me joy, that should be celebrated.  That should mean something.

And if you think that broadening the definition of art somehow devalues labor intensive art made by technically skilled or trained artists, then I have to ask you why you think we have to withhold respect from any group of people in order to give it to another.  Respecting and recognizing someone or something as valuable is not a limited resource; we don’t have to ration it.  I can deeply appreciate, and even be in awe, of the beauty and skill inherent in a work of classical art, and still cling to my graphic novels (and in fact, this works the other way as well – I can be in awe of the skill and beauty of a classical work of art and still feel no personal pull or connection to it. You cling to what you connect to, and you can’t control and shouldn’t be shamed for whatever the object of that affection is).

I can get pleasure from a Van Gogh painting and a comic book; a Carravagio and a cartoon.  They are different kinds of pleasure – sometimes life-affirming, sometimes awe-inspiring, sometimes a quick chuckle, sometimes a belly laugh.  We need all of them.  The experience of one form of pleasure does not dull the others.

So I’m going to try to take all this to heart and go back to painting pretty pictures.  The technical piece (which I do need to work on) will come in time, with patience and practice, but I can’t promise that the subject matter will get any deeper.  I just really like painting robots, and gems, and bones, and birds, in bright neon colors.

That’s ok.  Someone will like them.  Even if it’s only me.

Con Season!

Tomorrow is my first convention of the season, and as anyone who’s followed me knows, I always come home from cons feeling super creatively energized, though often directionless in terms of where to channel that energy.

This year, with two projects already under my belt, I feel like I have gained enough momentum and have enough ideas to carry me through another two or three projects on my own, so my hopes for this convention are a renewed sense of creative energy, and maybe some new inspiration for subject matter for the future.

I also hope that it will help me to put into words a few things I’ve been wanting to write about, and should that be the case, I’ll be back with a few new posts in about a week.

Also, woo, long weekend!  Hope you all have a safe and happy one.

The Life-Affirming Cringey-ness of Past Failures

rainbow clay
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

I got it in my head several years ago that I fancied myself a sculptor of sorts, or at the very least, a kitschy clay artist.  I spent some money, bought some Sculpey (a weird, Costco-esque bulk block of white clay), and spent a lot of time crafting some charms.  Charms that I sculpted, baked, painted, and deigned good enough to photograph and put up on StoreEnvy for sale.

Before the store ever went live, though, things in my life got hectic and complicated, I got pregnant, and most of my creative hobbies got shoved to the back-burner until fairly recently.  It’s only in the last few months – probably around five years later, at this point – that I began to become interested in clay work again.  I asked for and was gifted new Sculpey tools and glaze for Christmas, and started work on several projects just after the new year.

Now, in the intervening years, despite not working with Sculpey, I’ve watched videos of other artists creating art using clay, I’ve scoured Pinterest boards and read how-to articles, and recently have even found some books on the subject.  When I finally sat down after a week of preliminary sketches and brainstorming, the end result of my first attempt was a reflection of several years of absorbing and processing that information and those techniques, and it showed.

I was so dang happy with how my project turned out, I got online and logged into my old StoreEnvy account, and hey, what do you know, there were all my old projects, photos and listings just waiting to go live.

Oh… my God.  How did I ever think those thing looked good enough to sell??

Now, let’s backpedal a bit.  The things weren’t atrocious.  They were recognizable for what the were supposed to be (cupcakes, in this case).  And in most cases, the ideas – and even the designs themselves – were solid.  Like, yes, these were good concepts.  Even my overly critical, knowing-what-I-know-now self could recognize that.

But the execution was very, very emblematic of what I was talking about in a previous post – the mad rush to produce, at the cost of the quality of the product.

I admit, I had a moment of embarrassed realization – oh God, I plastered pics of these things all over Facebook.  I showed them to people, proudly.  I gave a few as gifts.  Oh, man.  Don’t even look at me.

It took me a few days to really process it, but eventually I realized a few things.

  1.  I am my absolute worst critic.  I nitpick and analyze and overthink everything.  I am/was likely the only person to notice all but the most egregious flaws.
  2. Part of the reason I am judging myself so harshly in hindsight is because I am looking at my creations through the eyes of someone who knows so much more.  I know more about using tools, about texturing techniques, about tinting and shading.  I am judging work done by someone who wasn’t privvy to any of that knowledge, and who was doing they best they could with what they knew at the time.
  3. That I can look at my past work and be able to ennumerate the aspects in which I could improve, and explicate in specific detail how and why I would make those changes is a very real testament to the fact that I have grown as an artist.
  4. The very fact that I can look at my work – despite my own hypercritical tendencies – and see value in the concept proves that my ideas, even in the nascent stages, have value.
  5. However embarrassing I find the photo evidence of my past failures, I now have a blueprint to create new and improved versions, should I chose to do so;and if not, I have the skills to move on and develop new, fresh ideas.

I’ve always been told, usually with reference to writing, never to actually get rid of your work, as you never know when you’ll use it.  What usually isn’t said (maybe it’s meant to be understood?) is that the further along you get in your creative journey, the less likely you are to use any of your previous creations in their original form – you will outgrow them, you will move beyond them, and they will seem embarrassing and inelegant to you.

But they will remind you that, once upon a time, you had this thought, and maybe it was a good thought, and maybe it’s time to revisit it with all the things you’ve learned in the interim.  Maybe this time you can get it to work.

And if nothing else, at least it reminds you of how far you’ve come.

Friday, Friyay: January 4th

& (1)I think with it being a new year and all, I might be due for a new Friday Friyay image.  I’m not in love with it, and if I’ve been learning anything recently, it’s that I should only keep around things that spark joy.

So, welcome to the new year!  It’s probably a shock seeing something from me three days in a row, but you know that “new year, new me” energy that buoys you up for the first two weeks or so of January, right?  I’m just bursting with that at the moment.  My house is clean, I have ideas for things I want to make, and I feel good about things.

Things that have been making me feel good:

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, which premiered on Netflix on January 1st.  I’ve only watched the first couple of episodes, but I would kill, I think, to be as organized and cheery as Marie Kondo is.  I think her methodology is a little intense, but I also don’t disagree with it – I don’t want to even talk about the amount of stuff I got rid of in the week prior to the new year, and it wasn’t even a matter of that stuff not “sparking joy.”  It was stuff I didn’t use, couldn’t remember why I had, or was legit just broken.  So why was I hanging on to it?  I love home transformation shows, and this one so far has been super relatable, in that it’s mostly just people going, “I have no concept of  how to organize/conquer this myself.”  It speaks to  my little executive dysfunctioning-heart on a deep, visceral level.

We submitted our son’s application to charter school’s kindergarten lottery!  I can’t believe Bear is old enough for us to even be thinking about kindergarten, let alone applying, but if all goes well, he’ll be enrolled for the 2019/2020 school year.  I think my mom is already mourning the loss of seeing him everyday, but I think overall it will be better for the both of them; she’s getting older, and while she adores him, I know he wears her out.

As a holiday treat to ourselves, my husband and I bought this wall-mounted, magnetic Scrabble board It’s been great to take turns at our leisure, and I think it’ll be a fun talking point when guests come over.  It reminds me of the quiet leisure activities my husband and I used to do together before we had a pet or a kid, like 500 piece puzzles – the kind of thing you can sit and consider in quiet contemplation together for hours, or pop a piece into place while you’re waiting for dinner to cook.  Sadly, with a four-year-old and a cat, puzzles are off the table (literally; that’s the problem), and this is a nice alternative.

We’ve been getting new Steven Universe episodes weekly since Christmas Eve, and will have new episodes until January 21st (we don’t speak of what may come after that).  I have said and continue to say that it feels dangerously close to endgame, given the current plotline, and while I would love for SU to continue indefinitely, I don’t want it to grow tired with endless attempts to “top” itself (…looking at you, Supernatural).  Still, this past season (which ends with the episode on the 21st) has been intense.  If Season Six is in fact the last one, I am hopeful it will go out with a fittingly epic finale.

I have so much to do on this blog!  I’m still moving over all my OctPoWriMo posts to a side blog that will, from now on, host all my attempts at writing challenges and other creative writing endeavors, and I’m working on some organizational planner sheets/checklists/layout both for my own life and for sharing with you all.

I hope you all have had a hopeful, happy start to the new year, and I look forward to sharing 2019 with you all!

When Drive is Detrimental

drive

This is going to sound like a complete contradiction to my previous post, but rest assured, I live both experiences, and if it’s confusing or frustrating to read about it, imagine living it.

I spend so much of my time creatively stalled out, that when The Muse hits me, I grab that shiz by the horns and ride her as far and as fast as she’ll carry me.

Sadly, this rarely yields quality results.

When I get something in my head that I really want to do (and that I think is a really cool or exciting idea), I jump in with both feet, often so eager to reach the end product I neglect to put any real thought into the process.  The last time I tried to teach myself to paint, for example, I jumped in with the most ambitious project in my mental repertoire (because it was the one that excited me the most!).  I spent no time reading up on or experimenting with the medium; I didn’t draw up a sketch, or an outline, or rough draft; I tried to complete the whole painting in a few hours; and when I was about three-quarters of the way through and realized it wasn’t exactly as I envisioned it, I grew agitated and gave up (see my previous post about being a raging perfectionist).

Part of the problem is that there is a natural appeal to the excitement of a new idea, and it makes me want to see that idea materialize so eagerly that it’s all I can do to produce it as swiftly as I can.  The planning stages: learning about the medium I’m working in, gathering appropriate materials, brainstorming, drafting are not nearly as exciting as the making.

And they don’t feel as real.  You know?  I don’t know if this is a quirk of my neurotype or a nuance of my own personality, but there’s some part of me that views the planning stages of something as lesser than the doing – even if the planning is integral to the doing, even if the planning is necessary scaffolding in order for the doing to be successful.  It feels, in some ways, like just sitting and spinning my wheels.

Maybe because that’s so often what it turns into.  Maybe I rush into projects because I know that, if I don’t, it’ll become just another entry on my Eternal To-Do List, and I’ll never see it through to completion.

But my ideas deserve more than that.  They are project that deserve to get done, but they deserve to get done well, you

🎉 🎉 🎉 Let’s Pace Ourselves 2K19! 🎉 🎉 🎉

  1. Remember that there will be a tomorrow.  I mean, not forever, obviously, but let’s not dwell on the existential bummer that is mortality.  My point is, yeah, sure, you don’t want to drag your feet on getting things done, but let’s, like, set up a timeline, or find a consistent chunk of time to devote to working on projects.  On that note…
  2. Find a reliable time to devote to working on projects – a little time each day to brainstorm and work through ideas, and a larger chunk of time at least once a week devoted to actually working.  Knowing that you have that time coming up (instead of perpetually asking yourself, “when am I going to get this done?”) mollifies some of that anxiety and restless energy that normally makes jumping into a project just to get it done seem like a good idea.
  3. Find a place to work, and keep your supplies on hand, organized, and accessible.  Good job, Jess, you are actually making some headway in this direction already.  The craft room (ahem, basement) is starting to actually look inhabitable, and your art supplies are corralled, organized, and easy to find (for once in your life).  Now you can find what you need when you need it, instead of getting frustrated, grabbing whatever’s on hand, and regretting it in the finished result.
  4. Carry around a notebook (for me it will be two, one for art, one for writing) to jot, sketch, and plan projects.  Date them.  Choose one (two, tops) at a time to work on.  You have a huge problem with 1.) forgetting your “best” ideas, and 2.) having ideas that are woefully un/underdeveloped.  Jot them down.  Flesh them out.  Let them sit and come back to them.  See if you can improve.  Cycle through this process at least once before you even think of sitting down to work.
  5. Do not start new projects until you finish the current ones.  No, not even if you get stuck.  If you get stuck, open that notebook back up.  See where you went wrong.  See what you could do differently.  Run to your blog or Twitter or your artsy friends on Facebook and ask them to take a second look, ask them for advice, ask them for new perspective on the problem.  It feels better (and is better for your mental health) to have one or two projects in meaningfully and thoughtfully in production than to have a dozen nascent projects being hastily and sloppily thrown together.

I don’t think I’ve asked you all yet; what are your creative goals for this year?  Is there a particular project you want to tackle, or are you like me, and interested in developing a reliable method to make creativity as a meaningful part of your life?

New Year’s, Planners, and the Culture of Perfectionism

black ball point pen with brown spiral notebook
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

I devour what I’d call “Pinterest culture” gluttonously; picture-perfect home decor walkthroughs, DIYs that transform Dollar Tree items into chic dupes of designer products, and seemingly preternaturally organized households with color-coordinated storage solutions.  I know that even for those people who actually are devoted to organization and successfully keep their lives in order, this is still the most pristine, painstakingly staged depiction of their lives, put together with the intention to inspire.

But for some of us (even those of us well aware of the care with which the image as cultivated), it intimidates.

I’ve always been a sucker for the allure of a new year; I love the symbolism of new beginnings, and the idea of having a fresh start, or a slate wiped clean.  But the problem for people like me when it comes to a clean slate is that, along with it, comes the overwhelming fear and anxiety of sullying that slate with anything other than absolute perfection.

One frustrating trait of mine that I’ve grappled with all my life – never realizing it was a common trait among people with ADHD – is a crippling need for things I try to be perfect, if I’m going to bother investing time and effort into it.  If I’m going to stay on a diet, it’s calorie-counting and going to the gym everyday, or I might as well just lay on the couch and stuff my face with pizza.  If I’m going to keep an orderly house, everything needs to be organized by color, size, and purpose, or I might as well just throw all my trash straight on the floor.  If I’m going to embark on a project, I need to be certain that every word, every line, every turn of phrase is Pulitzer worthy before I write it, or I might as well just, what the hell, sit and fart on my keyboard.

It’s very black and white thinking, and as you can imagine, is absolute hell come New Year., and it has not, in any way, been helped by Pinterest culture.

Even something as simple as committing to a planner is just a battle fought against this awful, existential, function-versus-aesthetic-versus-purpose mental backdrop.  Everywhere I turn (YouTube lifestyle vloggers especially are a big vice of mine), there are people talking about their planner layouts – their stencils, their stickers, their special pens and pencils and markers – and yes, they are absolutely gorgeous, and yes, they make me want to get organized, and yes, every year I go out and get a planner with all the bells and whistles, and yes – then I fail to really actually use it.

It’s the same with stationary, notebooks, canvases, sketchbooks, especially if they are of high-quality or aesthetically pleasing themselves.  I know some people are inspired to use items because they are drawn to or attracted to them, but for me, it actually holds me at bay.  It feels like nothing I could ever put into it would live up to the standard of the vessel.

I don’t need to tell you why this is warped thinking, but I also don’t know what to tell you about combating it long term.  It remains difficult for me – painful, even – to write in a planner or a notebook if my handwriting isn’t pristine, the quality of my words isn’t up to par, everything isn’t perfectly bulleted or color-coded, etc.  But I can tell you, this year, I opted for a much lower key planner.

Instead of a planner with day, week, and month views, inspiring quotes on every page, a dozen pages of stickers to decorate, a plush leather cover, etc.,my planner this year is bound in a heavyweight cardstock, features a simple monthly layout (and that’s it, no day or week views), and has back-to-back, a single dotted page (for bulleted lists, charts, habit trackers (what I’m using it for), etc.) and a page with four simple boxes: Goals, Tasks, Tracking, and Notes.  The habit tracker I drew has smudged lines, and the highlighter bleeds through the margins, and you know what?  I don’t love it… but it doesn’t kill me.

And it doesn’t overwhelm me.  I like my little planner, and it’s not ugly, but it’s not loaded down with unnecessary features and it doesn’t feel like a piece of art – it feels like a tool, which is what it should be.  I don’t care if the damn thing was gilded in gold and studded in diamonds, if it’s not helping me keep track of my crap, it’s worthless.

So if you’re like me, put down that leather-bound Moleskin journal, and stop Googling Pinterest spreads that give you heart palpitations from just considering their intricacy.  More, more, more doesn’t mean better, better, better.  Do you really need a 200 page planner with hour-by-hour time allotments on the daily pages??  Are you actually going to spend hours tracing stencils and positioning stickers to track your Girl’s Night!-s or Yoga Class-es?  Or do you just need a pre-constructed, pre-determined place to write down what you want to do, and cross off when you do them? Then take the stress of expectation (and perfection) off your shoulders and downgrade.  It’s ok, really.

Is staying away from “pretty things” a long term solution?  Of course not; expecially when, to me, a “pretty thing” can be as simple as a blank page.  But if I’m trying to build a habit and routine, then the tools that are supposed to help me do tht need to be something I can reliably and comfortably use, not something that (paradoxically) makes me feel like a hack when I use it, and like a failure when I don’t.

I’ll unpack all the other worrying issues with perfectionism and such later.

At least now I can pencil it in.

The New Year, Executive Functioning, and This Blog

black and white blackboard business chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I hope everyone had an amazing holiday!  (For those who don’t celebrate, I hope you still got some time off to relax and spend with loved ones).  After some touch-and-go moments the prior week where Bear seemed to be picking up every contagious stomach bug, cold, and infection known to man, he was feeling like himself by the 23rd an had a wonderful Christmas.  My family (in particular, my husband and my mom) also made a point on going crazy when it came to gifts for me, so I’m coming out of this holiday season with a ton of crafting supplies (so much paint!) and a lot of inspiration.

Speaking of inspiration, it’s been a goal of this blog since the beginning to be a tool to help with recovering my sense of inspiration and creativity.  As someone with a neurodivergence, time management and organization are notoriously hard, as is the “simple” act of sustained attention on certain things – even things I ostensibly want to do.  Keeping a blog introduced me to some great creative challenges that had enough external structure and gave me enough positive, affirming feedback that I was marginally more creatively productive than I have been in the last several years, which is great.

However, that self-same neurodivergence meant that, going into this, the purpose of this blog was incredibly vaguely defined.  I’ve said before that I don’t love niche blogging – I like to talk about whatever comes into my head – and that remains true.  However, I’ve noticed that a number of my followers come here during my challenge months, when I’m posting poetry or creative writing, even though the rest of the year I’m not a creative writing blog.  I started to wonder if maybe posting fiction and poetry on this blog wasn’t the best idea.

When I started this blog, my whole “thing” was, I didn’t want to feel boxed in as a “niche” blogger.  I didn’t want to feel like I could only post poetry, or only write about children’s literature, or only post recipes.  I kind of just wanted a space to talk about life and share my interests.  I still feel that way; I just also feel like, without being boxed in too rigidly, I should step back and think about perspective: who am I?  I can write about my life, sure, but through what lens am I experiencing my life?

At the beginning, when I chose the name of this blog (Rarely Tidy Ramblings), I loved it because it encompassed the messiness that was the inside of my mind due to my ED et. al.,, and because it came from a wonderful quote (of ambiguous attribution) framing a disorganized mind as the hallmark of the creative individual.  I thought, initially, that this could give me leeway to post just about whatever I damn well pleased.

But really, what Rarely Tidy Ramblings should be about is my life through the perspective given to me by being neurodivergent.  Parenting with ADHD.  Working with neurodivergent kids as someone likewise ND.  Planning, organization, list-making, goal-setting.  Trying to be creative when your brain works against you.

Does that mean I can’t post my son’s weekly book rec from the library?  No.  Does that mean I can’t photo dump when we take a fun family trip?  Of course not.  Hell, even the niche-est of niche bloggers have chatty and personal posts, sometimes.  It just means I can’t forget that I’m writing about my life from a perspective colored by something particular, and I should use that as a way to focus my writing, and as the impetus to produce new writing.

It also means no more posting creative writing.  I can talk about the process, about the pitfalls and difficulties and successes, but I can’t post the finished work (here.  I’m considering opening and linking a sideblog for those interested that would be accessible via the navigation menu).

This is not an overhaul, or a revamp – just a refocusing.  I’ve gathered enough followers through endeavors like Inktober and NaNoWriMo and OctPoWriMo that I thought I’d perform a courtesy and explicitly let you all know that those instances were the deviation rather than the norm.

Relatedly, I’m currently working my way through The Adult Executive Functioning Workbook, which has made me really think about organization, focus, and goal-setting, and in part is what spurred me to really think about what I’m using this space for and if I could use it better, with more focus and purpose (the answer was “yes”).

I doubt I’ll be back before the New Year (I might!  I have something I’d love to post either prior to or very, very early in the new year, but I make no promises), so I will wish a happy, safe New Year to my followers, and I look forward to being more active and productive on this blog (and overal!) in 2019