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

 

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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.

The Life-Affirming Cringey-ness of Past Failures

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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.

When Drive is Detrimental

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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?

NaNoWriMo, Halfway Home (Update)

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My Novembers nearly always start with a zero-word-count first day.  It doesn’t matter what day of the week it falls on, whether or not I have work, whether I’ve planned or am pansting my story – I tend to start off pretty slowly, and that’s only become more true the older I’ve gotten.

So ending the first without my fingers having touched the keyboard was not shocking or worrying.  By Day Three, I was caught up again, and maintained or exceeded quota through the 9th before finally hitting a wall.  So, I consciously took a break – I posted about the dilemma I was having to the NaNo Forums and got some feedback, and spent the night reviewing the notes I’d made prior to the start of the month.  Two days later, feeling refreshed, I sat down and plucked out a quick and easy 1,200 words.

And I haven’t written since.

Why?  Typical stuff.  I have other responsibilities.  I have no time.  I feel like death warmed over most days, and the emotional energy expended to create often feels disproportion from the satisfaction derived from forcing myself to sit down and create.

And… I’m okay with it.

And I’m not giving up.

There’s no way I’m going to hit 50k.  It’s not going to happen, and please do not come at me with posts of encouragement about how I’m being defeatist in saying that.  I know myself, my family, and my schedule.  I’ll never catch up.

But that’s okay.

I’ve won NaNo before; I’ve hit 50k on November 30th before.  I’ve also proven to myself – last month across two challenges, and in a previous iteration of this blog during the A-to-Z Challenge – that I can sit and create something everyday.  I feel no need to prove to myself or anyone else that I can  write everyday.  I’ve proven it already.  More than once.

But despite winning NaNoWriMo by word count, I’ve never actually finished a story, and I don’t mean I’ve never sat down and cleaned up a first draft – I mean I’ve never finished the first draft.  I pushed myself to write everyday and I was generating words for the sake of words, and by the end of the month, I’d inevitably lost my interest in the story I was writing.* Forcing it made me resent it.  Forcing it made me hypercritical.

This year, after allowing myself that two day grace period?  Going back and continuing it was fun.  It was enjoyable.  And now, a week later – having written nothing in that time – I’m still looking forward to going back and working on the story.

NaNoWriMo has given me the impetus to sit and start a story, which is and always has been the hardest part of any project for me – initiating it.  It gave me momentum to sit and crank something out every night for several days.  I’ve got 12k or something I’m actually still pretty excited about, or at least having fun with.

Will I finish it this month?  Probably not.  Will it be a novel?  Probably not, though I never really expected it to be (I’m not a novel writer; this year is a rare departure from Rebelling for me).

But will I continue the story?  Definitely.

Will a finish it?  Actually, yeah, I might.

Am I having fun with it?  Yeah.  Yeah, I am.

I hope you are all getting something worthwhile out of NaNo, be it a satisfying word count, a great story, a sense of satisfaction at meeting a goal, or just a fun hour or two to yourself each night playing in your literary sandbox.

I’ll update you as to where I am at the end of the month.  I might not be at 50k, but I’m excited to see how far I’ll have come.


*  There are two exceptions to this; one was my 2016 novel, To Catch the Falling, which I was really enjoying writing (though when I read it over a few weeks later, I realized that it was riddled with plot holes and so much, just, extraneous grabage); and by 2005 novel Thirst which was so, so rambling and melodramatic and self-indulgent and went nowhere, but man, did I have a friggin’ blast writing that thing.  I’ve long since lost it, and I legit think about it regretfully every subsequent year during November.

Reflections on Inktober and OctPoWriMo

ReclaimingWell, October was a quite a month, creatively.

I’ve never attempted more than one challenge at a time before.  Moreover, I’d never attempted something that wasn’t a writing challenge before, and this October saw me do both (this was a really special month, you guys).

OctPoWriMo was not a wellspring of expertly crafted poetry.  I was not fond of many of the suggested forms, but because of time constraints, and because of the lingering funk I was in when it came to creativity, I opted in to many of the suggested forms and prompts, even when I didn’t love them.  I’d argue that was good for me; it forced me to be okay with what I considered to be sub-optimal writing — it kind of gave me permission to create something not up to my nearly impossible standards.

In the end, I produced thirty-one poems, a few (very few, but still – a few) of which I am very happy with just as they are — Blue,  Are We Damned?, Here There Are Trees, and A Doe in the Woods come most readily to mind — and several others that I think would be good with some work — Siren, Snake, How Do You Know if Love is Real?, and both of the haibuns fall easily into this category.

The poems that fell entirely flat (to me, at least), are the ones whose forms seem the most “gimmicky;” the blitz, for one, never truly felt like writing poetry (though, as I’ve said several times, I wouldn’t discount it as a writing or brainstorming exercise), and many of the non-traditional syllable counting poems didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped.  Rather than count this as a failure, though, I’d like to walk away considering this a learning experience for me as a writer, discovering and uncovering a little more about what works for me (and what doesn’t) as a poet and writer.

What Inktober did, though, was interesting.  I jumped on Inktober more or less on a whim, because I have never, ever, considered myself a visual artist.  I’ve always liked doodling, but my drawings rarely ventured into more elaborate territory.  People would sometimes compliment a drawing I’d done, but it never went beyond that — I never defined myself as an artist the way I did as a writer.  As a result, I went into Inktober with no expectations — or, maybe the expectation of sucking.  And because I assumed I’d suck — because I “wasn’t an artist” — every time my drawings came out with even an inkling of potential promise, it was a huge, positive surprise which kept me motivated to keep with it.

And at the end of thirty-one days, while I still have a long, longlong way to go, I can see very plainly that the stuff I’ve been producing sucks a little less.  That giving myself permission to not be great and keep going anyway actually lead to me getting better.

I’m am spending my creative energies in November doing NaNoWriMo, as I have almost every year since 2002, and taking a break from (structured, challenge-based) creative endeavors in December (working on lowkey, low pressure personal projects) before jumping back in for another challenge in January.

In retrospect, even if I’ve not been thrilled with the all of the products of my labors in October, I’m proud of hanging in there and producing.  And whether or not I win NaNo, and whether or not I reach 50k, I’m hoping to at least see it through day by day and word by word.

Here’s to a productive November, a recuperative December, and a creatively fulfilling 2019.

OctPoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, and Inktober

ReclaimingTomorrow is October 1st – what??  Can you believe it?  After the shortest summer of my life, I feel like the new school year just got underway, and now you’re telling me next week we’re issuing progress reports?  What is even going on?

Anyway, I’m not mad, honestly, because (as we’ve established) fall is one of my favorite times of year, and one of the few times during the year I usually managed to eek out at least a little time to be at least a little creative.  In years past it’s been NaNoWriMo – which I’m doing again this year, though in what capacity (I’m usually a Rebel), I’m not sure – but this year I thought I’d also try my hand at OctPoWriMo, which is October Poetry Writing Month, along with Inktober.*  I know, when I get ambitious I go all out.

Challenges – especially challenges with a set start and end date – tend to work well for me, because they come with an established structure and deadline, and both OctPoWriMo and Inktober have resources that provide you with the opportunities for daily feedback and prompts as well (yet more externally opposed structure and a chance for immediate peer validation?  Yes, please!)

Adding to that, this year my husband expressed interest in participating with OctPoWriMo, which adds an accountability/competitive aspect to it – I don’t want to slack off when I’m up against my husband (yes, I know it’s not actually a competition, but it’s a tiny fire under my ass, so I’ll take it).

I’m excited to start creating, and sharing with you all – I’ll be doing daily updates throughout OctPoWriMo on my side blog, Rarely Tidy Writing, though I’m not sure if/how I’ll share my Inktober progress (I’m still feeling a little self concious about my drawing abilities, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

Who else is participating in any creative challenges this October?



*I’m not an artist – like, I don’t draw, can barely handle stick figures – but I want to.  Inktober will basically be barely decipherable sketches in Sharpie, but I’m hoping it will at least lead to habitual drawing, which might someday lead to me actually getting better.

Reclaiming Creativity: Bucket Lists and Mail Art

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I know that I mentioned in my last bookhaul post that post-vacation, the nascent habits – which, honestly, had very, very little time to really take root – had essentially shriveled and died.  That wasn’t totally unexpected – it was too early in their development for them to survive such a massive upheaval as what wound up being an incredibly whirlwind week 1,300 miles away from home.

That being said, though, all the scaffolding is still here and still in place – I have my checklists, and a household that is still in decent (not perfect, but decent) shape, and there remains no excuse not to just jump back on the bandwagon.  Tonight I go back to my Good Night routine, and tomorrow I’ll wake up to my Good Morning checklist.  I also have a Breakfast, Lunch, and Snack planner (that I haven’t yet posted, but will once I pretty it up  bit) that I plan to start using to get me back on track eating right, and I spent a good chunk of the weekend at the gym.

So – Food and Exercise, back on track.  Habits, on their way back on track.  Cleaning, well, we’re close; we’re getting there.

So now it’s time to try to tackle some Creative stuff.

Ages and ages ago, on a now defunct site known as SuperViva, I was introduced to the idea of Bucket Lists – the things you want to do before you, well, kick the bucket.  Since then, across various services, on various websites, and in various pen-and-paper planner, I’ve been jotting lists of “someday” goals.

And then just, not doing them.  Like, at all.

You know the one time I kept a bucket list and actually made significant progress on several of my goals?  When I kept it on LiveJournal, and had actual people actually reading the entries, seeing the progress (or lack thereof), and holding me accountable.

So I decided to make and post one, here and now.  The link to the bucket list is here (it will also be linked in the nav menu!)  It’s not full of crazy or extraordinary items – just real things, big and small, that I’d like to accomplish or make progress on.

One of the things on that (sure to be ever-growing) list is to send and receive mail from all 50 states – it’s a goal that combines my love for hoarding small trinkets, and for making handmade cards and care packages.  It’s something that’s creatively fulfilling, because I get to mix, match, and make little pieces of art, and emotionally fulfilling because I know the person receiving that mail is going to love receiving a piece of real mail amidst the bills and advertisements.

So I went and resurrected my old profile on my favorite snail mail trading site, and found the first profile that seemed appealing – a woman in Texas who loves stickers, uplifting quotes, elephants, and bullet journalling.

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Relevant recipient info:  favorite animals are elephants and penguins; they love their happy planner and bullet journal, and they like receiving inspirational quotes.  Pictured: personalized card (with penguin/elephant doodle), bujo/planner stickers, color-it-yourself inspirational postcard, double-side typographic art, two sew-on strawberry patches.

It is perhaps not the most artistic or creative piece of mail I’ve ever sent out, but after several years on hiatus, hey, I’m pleased with it.  It got me pawing through my craft stuff (which is the first step towards getting actual ~⋆crafty⋆~ ideas), and I know it will put a smile on the recipient’s face – and honestly, that’s the whole point.

Feels good to be doing something creative again.  Hopefully this, like everything else, can be developed into an actual part of my lifestyle, and not just something I keep swearing I’ll do “someday.”