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Life punctuated by brief moments of creativity
Making versus progress - Hold my beer while I think out loud.
A side / B side
Yesterday I worked on a painting - the first bit of visual art I’ve touched in many moons. The last several weeks have been very busy. I’ve found moments of time to do things here and there but these have typically been “studio tasks” - updating, fixing, throwing out - rather than focused making time. For example, last week I wanted to put together some new contact mics to use in my music projects. I had my soldering iron setup near my work desk, so in between meetings or breaks in the day I could pop over to my table and solder a couple of things in place. During another free moment I went to my mixer in the next room, plugged it in and tested to see if it worked. Then I went back to work. That contact mic is still sitting there, unused, but I had an idea and I found 15 minutes to fit it in.
Another example: I had a couple weeks ago with my project Free Static. We played at the New Music Festival in Eugene downtown on that Friday night and my partner and I had not been able to get together for a couple of weeks prior. Again, busy. I didn't really have time to touch my Eurorack case to work out a new patch before the show except for 20 minutes that Friday afternoon. I had a new acoustic sound box that I made over a couple of weekends (also in between other house projects) and I knew I wanted to integrate it into my set. I had a rough idea how the patch might need to work, so I quickly just hooked it up, tested it to make sure I had signal, and packed up my stuff and went to get to sound check.
The set went really well. I was kind of surprised actually, if only because I tend to spend a lot of time thinking through a performance ahead of time, and for this one I just didn’t have that luxury. Free Static is largely a live improvisational project anyway, so too much premeditated discussion or planning can get in the way. But thinking through the technical side of what we are doing has always felt necessary. Eurorack requires some forethought and there are a lot of way things can go wrong live.
Back to visual things
I've not made any drawings in over a month. My work space has been in disarray which is a roadblock to making. My brain is good at not pursuing tasks where there is little dopamine involved and cleaning a cluttered desk tends to fall in that category. I’ve had a few house maintenance projects that have taken precedent and I just had a transition at work which took quite a bit of energy.
The recent project of indexing my drawings is ongoing but has also reached a point where I need to step back and look at everything and make some choices about next steps. Are there paintings in there? More drawings? Prints? A book? I have no idea.
So, what’s your point?
All of this is to describe the mundane ways that life interrupts an art practice. This is not news to anyone. Making work takes time. Time is precious. The daily grind can be vicious. There are so many other things I should do instead. Should is a bully. What often ends up happening is I stay in a constant state of production, just doing the things I know how to do. I'm not getting better at anything. Not progressing or pushing things. At least it doesn’t feel like it.
It probably doesn’t feel like it because I have this idea in my head that to truly move forward you need time to sit and think, followed by some kind of flow state where I can keep moving between thinking and action uninterrupted. I want time to warm up my mind for 30-40 minutes, then start doing the work, then look at the clock and see the 4 hours have passed and new output is clear. I’ve had times like this in the past. I remember liking the feeling. I also had less going on in my life.
Although, I have had longer studio time and thought it was great, and came back to see what I made the next day and hated it.
For a music performance, and specifically what we do in Free Static, we set an expectation that we show up and just do the thing that we do. Any kind of artistic progress we make together happens during studio time. We could be recording or trying out a new device or some hardware. Our live performances tend to be long form improvisation that can end up being 20-30 minutes. Studio takes can be long or short, cut down, added to, layered, or left alone. This arrangement provides a nice feedback loop - things that work live are reinforced or refined in the studio and things that work in the studio end up in live performance.
Yeah but the visual art tho
What I’m searching for is a similar feedback loop in my visual work process. I’ve been mostly only drawing for the last few years. The production of that work itself has taken precedent over anything else. I just sit down and produce drawings. The next step is to move into painting and then back to drawing, and possibly some graphic design. I think my indexing project is part of this feedback loop I am looking for. I expect my painting approach to be different from my last body of paintings. In order to not repeat mistakes, or make images I don’t want to see, I also need to do some tedious studio cleanup and rearranging. I don’t want to do this work. It is boring and annoying. But I risk making paintings in a space I am uncomfortably comfortable in. I will only end up regurgitating work I’ve already broken up with.
For now, this week, I will attended to my family. My wife is finishing grad school this term. I am trying to do as much driving and cooking and laundry as I can so she can focus. Until then I will still find 15 minute increments here and there to make things.
Creativity and progress. They don’t always happen at the same time. They can show up together, separately, or in random sequence. Daily life is more fixed. It doesn’t want to flex. It is less curious. More concerned with outcomes, timelines and having enough eggs for breakfast.
We rage against the dying of the light 15 minutes at a time, instead of folding the laundry.
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