It’s a sorry state of culture that we need to muster courage to make something so deeply human as art, even part time, even in solitude, but here we are, alas. This post goes out to the hesitant, the shy, the self-doubting, and the hounded, in the hopes that we may find courage not to let the greatest beauties of mind and hands remain secrets even to ourselves.
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”
What if it also means you do not have to be good at what you do? (You don’t.) What if it doesn’t matter if your art soars or sucks? (It doesn’t.) What if all the lifelong tests that coded your intelligence, potential, skills, and worth in numerical hierarchy were unreliable and cruel? (They were.) What if the capitalist mold these tests conspired to prep you for was a vicious lie? (It was.)
What if the judges don’t know how to human or adult any better than you, and waste time in their own ways? (They don’t; they do.) What if the notion of wasting time is an utter fallacy in itself. (Who gets to say what’s a waste?) Maybe you don’t have to apologize for loving what you love. (You don’t.) Maybe the temerity to be or make eccentric things doesn’t make you bad. (It doesn’t.) Maybe values to the contrary are twisted and missing something key. (They are.)
“‘One thing there’s no getting by--
I’ve been a wicked girl,’ said I;
‘But if I can’t be sorry, why,
I might as well be glad!’”
-Edna St. Vincent Millay
There is no such thing as a single good in art and no point in trying to be all good things. What if you don’t have to be profound? (You don’t.) What if you don’t need a message? (You don’t.) What if a creative work that harms no one and delights one is as worthwhile as any other? (It is.) What if it’s fine to be messy or pointless or small? (Thrice yes, it is.)
“Will you stop for a while, stop trying to pull yourself
for some clear “meaning”–some momentary summary?
can have poetry or dances, prayers or climaxes all day;
blankness of little dramatic consciousness is good for the
be a dumb bell for a few minutes at least; we don’t want
Sunday church bells
Moderation is Not a Negation of Intensity, But Helps Avoid Monotony
That which delights one is very likely to delight another, and then another. Too shy to craft for the gaze of we critical adults? Play music to your cats, or your pasture of cows. (Some critters like music, others don’t. They’ll let you know.) Write and paint for your kids. What if the height or depth of their standards doesn’t matter, and it’s a constrictive and exhausting thing to think always in terms of standards? (Double yes, it is.)
“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters—sometimes very hastily—but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I've ever received. He didn't care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
Children don’t care about perfection, they care about emotional honesty, wonder, and richness of fantasy. (And pop music, and fart jokes, and getting to watch stuff that’s too scary for them.)
"Children are tough, though we tend to think of them as fragile. They have to be tough. Childhood is not easy. We sentimentalize children, but they know what's real and what's not. They understand metaphor and symbol.”
Play to the crickets and the Void. Did you know if you sing to a wall where a cricket is hiding, it’ll sing back? (It will.) Where do we get the baseless nerve to presume that critters and kiddos are any less-much persons than human adults? (Not form our grace.) When we see them as equal in personhood, they make an equally meaningful audience.
If for no one else, make stuff for your own damn self. You’re worthy too, or no one is.
“I wrote this song for me
And now I let it go
From the island of the Texaco
I release it into the custody
Of my huckleberry friend
Am I making pitch or honey?
No idea why I feel strong.
Am I making pitch or honey?”
Pitch or Honey
If you want to be a professional artist, yes, you will at some point have to consider the standards, needs, likes, and desires of other adult persons. But what if going pro is no better than staying a hobbyist? (It isn’t.) And supposing even professional artists worry about missing our marks and coming off fools? (We do.) We strive for balance between bleeding enough but not too much upon the page. We cringe to wonder whether we’re bleeding correctly.
I like to imagine there are artists out there who’ve mastered their skills such that they’ve transcended both fear of the blank page, and fear of sharing the filled page. I’ve yet to count myself among them, and don’t ever truly expect to.
Courage is a process we muster in every moment of waking, making, and sharing. We weigh the terrors of exposure against the cost of withholding.
"No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. For fear being an apprehension of pain or death, it operates in a manner that resembles actual pain."
“Well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making this world a little colder.”
Confession: I am a quiet and spooky, soft and goofball, inconstant, crepuscular person. I make quiet and spooky, soft and goofball, inconstant, crepuscular things. And often—almost daily—I wonder whether I oughtn’t keep them strictly to the quiet and spooky, soft and goofball, inconstant, crepuscular ether.
“Grandma, there’s air beneath my bed
And it whispers when I rest . . .”
Confession: My compulsion to express is forever bound in odds with my compulsion to hide.
“The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.”
Confession: I have training, but within it, I’m so thoroughly programmed to question and criticize, and so baffled by the mercurial whims of hive mind and social media, that some days I simply can’t fathom what other people like and why. It helps to give oneself a mental break from the asking.
But I do know that surely, there are others of this bent. Surely there are others with rodent appearances and multi-tool tastes and questionable questions? (There are.) Why not art to them? (It’ll be fine.) If I have a thing finished, and it’s not too much of a secret, what does it hurt me to share? (No more than it’s worth.)
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool.”
-Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. Screenplay by Cameron Crowe.
(This is one of those quotes I frankly prefer out of context--Pretty people can absolutely make good art, and I don't reckon sad dudes arting about hard it is to get girls make the best art. That's a tired old script. But as a one-liner, this is lovely. It speaks to my nerdy and uneasy sensibilities.)
If someone like me—odd, reclusive, inexhaustibly anxious, and perpetually uncertain—can make a habit of spilling the guts and bleeding the paint, couldn’t you? (You could.)
“I'm so scared about mystery.
I fear I smell extinction in the
Folds of this novocain age coming on.”
Curse of The I-5 Corridor
If there’s art yet within you, your window is closing, and there’s no telling how fast. If there’s art yet within you, tick-tock! The grave comes for us all, and nobody gets told exactly when. If the sword over our heads must swing, let it swing like a metronome. If we’re to be skeletons, let us be dancing ones, and sing and paint and spill us while we can!
“There are only two worthwhile things to leave behind when you depart this world of ours: children and art.”
Sunday in the Park with George
And it’s a mean crucible of an age to start making new children.