Tuesday, February 17, 2009

So far, so... ?

1. The long set up

A while back I received Mondays off from my day job due to a new schedule. Since then I've blogged a couple times about how I had planned to use the extra time to draw more and post more art to the blog. Well, as you can see, so far things are going according to plan except that I could still be doing a lot more. I'm scanning in some sketches, coloring them and posting them on the blog but I need to push even harder into the next phase which will mean working on some longer form projects like comic book pages and fully finished illustrations for my portfolio so I can get back to making some cash on the side as an illustrator.

The hard part is having so many projects I'd put off due to not having enough time to work on them. Now I have time but my head is crowded with too many ideas trying to escape at once. I tend to freeze up, thinking too much about the ramifications of what I choose to work on and beating myself up over past mistakes and lost time. It's easy to just freeze up and not get anything done once I start thinking about it too much.

2. Where I get to the heart of the matter

It's weird that just as I realize this I also ran across a news story about Oprah Winfrey's embrace of the philosophy of Eckhart Tolle. Tolle seems a typical Oprah guru, espousing a New Age philosophy of happy thoughts and fuzzy feelings. Wikipedia sums up his ideas this way:

Tolle's non-fiction bestseller The Power of Now emphasizes not being caught up in thoughts of past and future as a way of being aware of the present moment. His later book A New Earth further explores the structure of the human ego and how this acts to distract people from their present experience of the world. He asserts that it is the feeding of the human ego that is thought to be the source of inner and outer conflict...
Now, before you misunderstand, I'm not endorsing Tolle's entire philosophy since I won't even claim to understand it, knowing it only from one news story and a skim of the Wikipedia entry on him. But the journalistic short hand description in the news story I saw was that Tolle teaches people to "think less." Whether that is accurate or not is for a completely different discussion. But the idea that most people think TOO much seems laughable to me. The mass of humanity, if anything, is on the stupid side and the REAL problem is that they've never been taught to think properly (a huge problem in our democracy). But, I think he really means the hyper-critical portion of the ego is what needs to be ignored. And I think that advice is actually very good for artists, even if it's not so good for people in general.

3. Where I get completely sidetracked

One of the things I've consciously been attempting to do is to not force myself to any grueling work schedule or put an arbitrary number of the pieces of art or things I must get done on my Monday off. For one thing, one of my problems the last few years has been a lack of time off and a lack of being able to just relax and enjoy some down time. More though, I am trying not to press and let my ego damn me for not being as productive as I'd set out to be.

A major issue in my art for years has been my own internal pressure to be great. More and more, as I saw the chasm between the work I was doing and the work I aspired to do or the work I knew I could do, I became more depressed and worked even less, thus ensuring the chasm would continue to grow. My goal is to slowly shrink that gulf between what I am doing and what I can do. I am looking at how other artists worked through their blocks. One usually successful method employed by some of my favorite artists is to change art style and working method (Moebius comes to mind when he shifted from drawing the highly realistic Western strip "Lt. Blueberry" as J. Giraud to creating his highly personal sci-fi comics under his psuedonym), especially to simplify and to do work that lights your own internal spark even when others don't understand. For too long, I've killed art in the crib because of what others would possibly think. That's a luxury I can no longer afford as increasingly I grapple with depression from not doing the work I want to do, that I am capable of and that I need to do.

This reminds me of what Elizabeth Gilbert said in her presentation at the TED conference this year. She spoke of creativity and how society has created a false and damaging conception of how the artist receives their ideas. That in our embrace of Renaissance ideas and Humanism we put the creative ego at the center of the universe and put the blame on them when their creations fail. Gilbert said that the artist should be a conduit for creative forces and should not take all the blame when they fail nor get all the praise when they succeed. I think in a way what she seeks is to remove the ego from artmaking and it kind of seems like I'm being pointed in the same direction.

4. Close to wrapping it up

I think it's a frightening prospect for society to reject rationality (If it hasn't already happened- for a while, it seemed like it had). But in a way I think an artist MUST reject what is rational. It isn't rational that society would pay people to sit around all day and dream.

Now, I wondered when it would happen but finally last night my wife started giving me a hard time for having "a whole day off by myself to just sit around." Yeah, I suppose that's what it seems like to her. She'd enjoy having the day to play video games, read trashy horror novels or watch TV and knit. I also suppose if someone were watching me on secret camera it would seem like I'm just loafing around the house. Yet on the inside I'm locked in a life and death struggle. For the longest time I didn't have long stretches of time to waste thinking about such things as my art style, how best to show certain emotions through art, and all the other things you need to think about to be an artist. I was running around after a kid, working a day job and trying to keep peace in the house- I couldn't lay back and think about frivolous things when I was using my brain to figure out what to make for dinner this week so I know what to get at the grocery store while wondering how much money I can spend and still pay the other bills. Now that I've got more than 5 minutes at a time to think creatively I can feel the particles flying around and charging up, the creative spark is more than a memory and for the first time in a while, I feel creative and alive.

Now, can I make something of it or do I give in when the real-world pressures start to mount, when my wife thinks I'm just loafing around, when I need to run household errands (already today the phone has rang at least four times- twice my wife has called twice with small requests of how I use my time) instead of sitting at my desk and doing "work" that doesn't pay me (yet), etc.? Time will tell. All I know is, it doesn't do me much good to think about it obsessively as opposed to just doing the damn work and letting things sort themselves out.

Yeah, the picture was just to break up the fact that this essay is too damn long. Also, the picture is an attempt to just doodle and have fun making marks and seeing what comes out of it without wondering if the art comix people think I'm too genre or the genre crowd thinks I'm too avant-garde.

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