The other day I was listening to some of my own music from 18-20 years ago, and felt that it is important to my present-day self to reflect on the art of my former self. Not to find the youthful bravado as well as its inevitable mistakes and learn from them, although that’s informative. Not to reconnect with some deeply personal intention I might have had at the time, although that’s helpful, too. But the main gift of reflection is to hear or see one’s own work truly afresh, as if with the eyes and ears of an outsider, and learn that way about one’s soul.
In this process of discovery, change and consistency are not mutually exclusive.
I admit I feel a little embarrassed at the time that has lapsed since my last blog entry. But then I also realize that an integrated identity, the creative genius inside all of us, isn’t a static entity, but rather an ongoing and sometimes sputtering growth process. Hiatus really is the norm, just like the solid objects in the world around us in reality consist mainly of empty space.
We all admire the branch rich with blossoms. Yet seasons are inevitable, and sometimes the energy withdraws inside the roots.
Sometimes as artists we make crap. I’ve witnessed and experienced two responses to this: either we break down and conclude, “Look what I’ve made. I’m such a crappy artist, there’s no hope for me.” Or we insist that our crap is not crap, rather the result of our unique, idiosyncratic genius. Most of the time these assessments are inappropriate. Actually, they’re not that different, even if they appear so on the surface: an unwillingness to get out of the way.
There’s bound to be a bad fruit sometimes. Focus instead on healthy roots.
When I answer questions about my work, I often get the response: “It’s good you’re keeping busy.” But is it really? Many different projects are vying for attention in my brain, which makes it harder to give my full attention to anything in the moment. Always being on the way somewhere makes me miss opportunities to be fully present and relate meaningfully with family, colleagues, students, shop owners, and the dog in the street. Constant movement deprives me of the stillness I need to notice things.
For an artist it’s not just a personal pleasure to be quiet and notice things, but a responsibility: an artist pays attention on behalf of those who might be too preoccupied. And stillness provides the incubation time needed for genuine creation. Keeping busy, on the other hand, is keeping me from doing the actual work.
One thing that likely sets a real artist apart, more so than exceptional skill or a broad understanding of our field, is care. The ability to care deeply about something is powerful, which also makes it a hazard. Often the things we care about lie hidden in the unconscious, and our creation needs to be unearthed from this darkness with patience and precise intuition. People around us value the fact that we care and engage, but not necessarily that same thing that is precious to us, nor the time it takes to bring it to life. They will persuade us to care, in the same way, for something else more apparent, something they themselves value. This coaxing can become a major distraction for some artists. Others have developed a false air of not caring at all to counter the seducers.
It takes great courage to act according to what we really cherish, and to proudly exclude what we don’t value. And this doesn’t diminish our care at all. In fact, it improves our attention and devotion.
▪ You can’t hold on to feelings.
▪ We experience beauty through tension and release.
▪ Freedom only exists with limitation.
▪ You can’t absolutely know a living thing.
▪ Everything has a center, even when it is concealed or denied.
▪ It’s more powerful to change HOW you think than WHAT you think.
▪ Discipline, not laxity, leads to joyful ease.
▪ Greater harmony is accomplished with diverse, independent voices.
Today I heard on the radio that durable goods are defined by the Department of Commerce as having a life span of about three years. I’m sure planned obsolescence has something to do with the in my mind ridiculously low number. It occurs to me that planned obsolescence has become part of art as well: popular art relies heavily on people’s short memories and short attention spans. Contemporary art thrives on novelty and supposed relevance to our day and age. What if the artist focused solely on expressing his or her humanity? Standing the test of time doesn’t depend on topicality at all, but on accuracy and depth of expression.
Dutch composer Hans Kox put it a different way: “If you choose to ignore tradition, tradition will soon ignore you in return.”