There’s two ways to make art. One way is to believe that you have something unique and special to contribute to the world, that something that you can create is worthwhile in some grander sense: The other is to not care about that at all, to purely enjoy the process of creation without paying any attention to what reception, if any, your creation might have.
I’m jealous of anyone who can consistently maintain either of these states. Frankly, I’m a bit skeptical whether any such person exists. For me, these towers of art rise up on either side, and I’m in the middle trying to build a platform that I can suspend between them, something that makes sense as a place to stay. I can’t consistently feel joy in my work, but I can make it habitual, routine, a part of my life that doesn’t need to be questioned or planned, simply done. I can’t consistently believe that my creations are exceptional, or interesting, or valuable to anyone but myself, but I can, on occasion, manage to believe that there’s some quirk, some angle, some honest soulful weirdness that will draw people in, even if neither they nor I know why.
It’s a kind of faith, I guess. It’s a certainty that going anywhere, even slowly, haltingly, is better than sitting in place. It’s a knowledge that even if no one else really likes anything I make, I’ll still be happier at being the creator of art no one likes than the creator of nothing at all.
This isn’t a problem I get to solve once. This is a problem I get to solve over and over, as I grow and shift, as the camera through which I see the world raises and lowers, twists and zooms. The way my skin is slowly replaced with a new skin, I need to slowly replace the scaffolding of assumptions and habits that I work from to create art. The person who began writing this is not quite the same person who will finish writing it, both due to this natural and ongoing wilt and bloom and also due to the tiny transformations created by the act of creation itself.
As soon as I succeed by my personal standards, I revise those standards to make success something I still have to strive for, a distant goal, always past grasp, so I never get too comfortable: Thus, by my own standards, I am always a failure. Also, because I’m not independently wealthy, I am a failure by the standards of capitalism. It’s not that this doesn’t hurt: The trick is not to mind that it hurts. Success and failure are just distractions to the process of being a creator. Standards are useful primarily, not as something to reach or fail to reach, but as guidelines to calibrate one’s approach.
These down days, sad days, days when I don’t know what I’m doing or why: these are calibration. Soon, probably, the red light will turn green. Maybe it already has. Maybe I’m color blind. Calibrating, calibrating: analyzing: modeling an environment, building a routine, this work is never done, but bit by bit it becomes part of me and goes on in the background, slid against the back of my ribs like a heartbeat.