Hey, Happy Friyay! I’m back on the positivity train, after a pretty long time away (I kind of still can’t believe I had an entire month of radio silence post-convention), and it’s fitting that it’s the last official day of my winter break – when I kind of need a bit of a pick-me-up before jumping head first back into the daily grind.
Things that are perking me up this week:
So, I’m a huge fan of animation, and I recently discovered PhantomStrider’s YouTube channel, where he present Top 3/5/10 lists on topics like Darkest Cartoon Network Episodes, Best and Worst Cartoon Reboots, and Creepiest Spongebob Episodes. I spent an inordinately long time on TVTropes looking up some of the entries on his Worst Cartoons of All Time list (OMG, Nutshack. Nutshack. Whyyy??), and it was so bad, but so entertaining. His commentary is thoughtful, and honestly, I find his voice generally pretty soothing and easy to listen to. He also warns if the footage he’s using is going to be disturbing, which was good for when Bear was in the room, so I could either skip it or distract him. Anyway, if you’re an animation fan, I recommend. I’ve spent a lot of time on his channel the last two days.
We’re going to see Captain Marvel on March 9th! I enjoy reading comics and graphic novels, but most of my familiarity is with properties from Image Comics (with one or two notable properties from Vertigo); I’ve always been intimidated by the more famous/prominent Marvel properties because of the overwhelming number of reboots and alternate universes, so I have very, very little prior knowledge of Captain Marvel – but my feminist, comic-book-loving friends are super psyched, and I totally love the MCU, so I’m excited to be seeing this one on opening weekend (especially since I doubt that I’d be able to avoid spoilers on either Tumblr or Facebook for very long).
I set a goal at the beginning of the month of complete 10 “pieces of art” (defined however I saw fit) in February, and I’m thrilled to say that I’ve completed five, with a sixth and seventh underway. I may not actually make it to ten, but hoooolyhell, do you know how much of a productivity boost this is from last year? From the last several years? I completed two pieces in January, bring my year-to-date total up seven, currently, which is more than I’ve done in most years past. And it’s February.
It’s a short one this week, possibly because I’ve just been mostly chilling and hanging out with my family – not consuming a ton of media or doing a ton of interesting things (I mean, I’ve had fun, but April Break is really the “fun” one, when I get out and do things. Andy worked this week and it’s been snowing; by April, it’ll be warm, and he has the week off, so I’m greatly looking forward to that).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.