As an artist, they say, you should always be producing. And it should be better. And more. And also more better. And, the older you get, the more this adage echoes through your mind. Does what I’m doing have value? Is this worth the time I’m spending on it? How long until it’s done and how will it compare to previous works? And so on. The questions, the inquiries, the pressures, the doubts – they’re endless.
Looking back on the early days of my artistic career, I see a person who found value in creation for the sake of the thing. I just knew I wanted to make it. I had to. And I had nothing to compare it to. I had no previous sales. I had a small collection of work but not enough that I had a spectrum of pieces to compare anything to. There was no endless feed of social media to insert it into. I had only pen and paper, brush, canvas and paint, coupled with a will to simply create.
I remember spending half a winter in the early 2000s (while working on the painting Limits, amongst others) learning Adobe After Effects. I spent hours and days creating rudimentary animations, visual smorgasbords of psychedelia, and the like. It had no real ‘value’ and I certainly wasn’t going to sell it. I didn’t fancy that I’d be going off to be a visual projectionist either. By today’s digital standards, it was all rather basic stuff. Which is to say: I spent a lot of time f***ing around that winter. But it brought me joy and provided me with this other creative outlet that, in some ways, informed what was on my easel., Also, along the way, I learned a useful skill (After Effects) and had fun.
Similar things could be said for nights spent turning chalk pastels into piles of muddy dust. Or bottles of ink into splattered vistas of no real use or value to anyone other than myself. Maybe I was just beautifying a corner. Or expressing a momentary emotion. Maybe I was just exploring how a thing worked and letting the chatter work itself out without any thought to the destination or marketable value of the resulting product.
Whatever story I tell myself of ‘why’ I’m doing the thing, the fact is, I’m sometimes spending my time on things which likely have no tangible value within my body of work, may never see the light of day or find an audience, and is simply for my own creative exploration.
The job of an artist is to LIVE CREATIVELY. Every square inch of that time and space is a place to drop in and make or do or explore. This isn’t to say every waking moment should be this endless act of creation. Sometimes, sitting in the sun and reading a book or playing with the kitten or puttering in the garden or garage is the only obvious next step.
On the other hand when the heart says ‘Hey I want to explore this thing’ then go ahead. I say: see where that thread takes you or where that tangent leads. My own personal creative tangents create space for a kind of creative processing that allows my painting practice to be all the more clear and in tune. It’s helpful to compartmentalize these things of course: I can’t just go explore something to the detriment of my ‘work’ these days but I can find time and space for those joyful creative unknowns.
The avenues and outlets I follow – allowing the muse to unpack itself in various novel and creative ways – are like the branchings of a tree. I never know when one branch might actually bear fruit or even what that fruit might be. Many of those fruits are, for the most part, nourishing only to myself. Maybe it is this tea stand I made or a side project website that makes me laugh. But that nourishment – those breaths of creative fire – inspire me to move forwards in my creative flow. That inspiration invariably seeps into my work and actions.
As we creative types get older, we hopefully learn to discern between distraction and inspiration, between fucking around and fucking off (although the latter has its value as well). I have a sketchbook I draw in. It’s a place of lots of fucking around. It’s dorky mental lines that maybe turn into a sketch into a painting into something truly noteworthy. Maybe. 99 times out of a 100 it’s just ramblings. There’s no thought of ‘how can I monetize this.’
What I’m trying to say is:
The world is heavy. It’s no joke. And we artists have this sense that we have to do things that are ‘meaningful’ and make things ‘of value’ and so on. It is all very serious. And then, on top of that, you have got to hustle your work and maintain your brand and make sure you adequately engage with your social media platforms and run a business and heft your burdens and don’t forget the personal stuff – there’s got to be room for that – and so on. Phew!
Look: It’s ok to just breath for a moment. And, more so, it’s ok to just play sometimes. If you can make that space for yourself, revel in it for a bit. Give some paper over to random drawing. Paint over a canvas you forgot about with just who knows what for the sake of it. Remember that feeling? You were ten years old and you just were lost in your creative flow, just messing around, making the most meaninglessly important thing ever. You didn’t even need to ‘give yourself permission.’ You just did it. That’s art. Treasure that part. Nourish that part. It’s still in there just waiting to play, to explore, to dabble, and to dance.
I’m telling you, even artists should have hobbies.