Post from July, 2017

Followup: What’s Next?

Monday, 31. July 2017 0:37

The last post was about that depression that seems to happen regularly to artists when they finish a project. Originally, I suggested that the best cure seemed to be jumping into another, even frivolous, project to pull oneself out of the doldrums. But then it occurred that if one is depressed, the last thing s/he might be able to do is to come up with a new project, no matter how lightweight it might be.

As I was pondering this I ran across a blog post by Austin Kleon entitled “Want to be an artist? Watch Groundhog Day” (If you are not receiving Kleon’s newsletter or reading his blog posts on your news feed, you should be.)  In the post, Kleon argues that the creative journey is much like that of Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day.

His point is one that has been made here before: “The creative journey is not one in which at the end you wake up in some mythical, happy, foreign land. The creative journey is one in which you wake up every day, like Phil, with more work to do.” And Kleon makes his point quite forcefully.

Along the way, he includes a quote from Ian Svenonius’ book, Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group: “[Art], however, is different. You will never know exactly what you must do, it will never be enough… no matter what change you achieve, you will most likely see no dividend from it. And even after you have achieved greatness, the [tiny number of people] who even noticed will ask, ‘What next?’”

This is the question that we always find ourselves asking after the end of a project, and in the depression we’re feeling, the answers are hard to see. New projects do not usually just jump up and introduce themselves at our bidding. So what to do?

My suggestion is absurdly simple, but for some reason, the idea has eluded me until very recently: make a list of potential projects—not just a list of projects you could do or might be interested in doing, but projects that you really want to do, given the time and opportunity.

If your experience is like mine, you might find that the ideas for new projects come when you are the busiest on a another project. Make notes on them for future reference. And when I say notes, I mean just that—not just a list of project ideas, but some sort of document about each idea with enough detail to allow you to remember what you were thinking in full. So now, instead of just scribbling the idea on a post-it note, which subsequently became illegible or lost, I now make a Word document for each idea and keep those documents in their own folder on Dropbox. Some files contain only a single sentence or phrase; others have multi-page outlines of projects—whatever time and the level of development permit.

This folder provides a place that I can go whenever I am between projects to insure that I keep working, when I have additional developmental ideas, when I need to do the “something small every day” that Kleon advocates. I can open a project, refine it, edit it, add to it, develop it—a little at a time. Some of these potentials grow into projects; some get abandoned when I realize they are unworkable. Still others morph into a project different from the one I had originally envisioned.

It may not be a perfect system, but it works for me. You may want to give it a try.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

Post-Project Depression

Monday, 17. July 2017 1:49

Perhaps you’ve experienced it. You finish a big project and maybe allow yourself an evening of celebration or a time of project evaluation, and then it hits—a full-blown depression. It’s a phenomenon that you experience over and over—and the depth of the depression seems directly proportional to the size and difficulty of the project. And even if you have experienced it multiple times, it often takes you off-guard.

This just happened to me. Having just finished a major project in the last 24 hours, I was a both surprised and not surprised to wake up the next morning having fallen into a larger-than-average depression. The fact that I have experienced these episodes before and know them for what they are does not make them feel any better.

It’s an occurrence that is familiar to John le Carré. “Completing a book, it’s a little like having a baby,” he told the Telegraph in 2010. “There’s a feeling of relief and satisfaction when you get to the end. A feeling that you have brought your family, your characters, home. Then a sort of post-natal depression and then, very quickly, the horizon of a new book. The consolation that next time I will do it better.” Whether it’s a novelist or a poet or a painter or a film director or a stage choreographer or a sculptor or a photographer, a great number of artists share le Carré’s experiences.

It seems to come with the territory. According to Tammy Worth, artists, entertainers, writers are among the 10 careers with high rates of depression. In fact “creative people may also have higher rates of mood disorders; about 9% reported an episode of major depression in the previous year. In men, it’s the job category most likely to be associated with an episode of major depression (nearly 7% in full-time workers.” Worth goes on to quote Deborah Legge, PhD, licensed mental health counselor in Buffalo NY who says, “Depression is not uncommon to those who are drawn to work in the arts, and then the lifestyle contributes to it.” Indeed Jordan Zakarin quotes dancer/blogger Taylor Gordon who says that she thinks depression, along with overwork are bigger issues for ballet dancers than eating disorders.

For some artists, along with the depression comes manic mood swings as well. Legge says, “One thing I see a lot in entertainers and artists is bipolar illness.” Painter/blogger/photographer Hazel Dooney’s battle with bipolarity, for example, is well-documented.

Whether complete mood swings or just depression, it must still be dealt with or it becomes a disease that can completely debilitate the artist. The simplest response is to follow le Carré’s suggestion: begin a new project. It does not have to be a significant project. In fact, one of those “fun” projects, no matter how silly, may do the trick. The object is to get going again.

The obstacle will be, of course, overcoming the inertia that accompanies depression.  The tendency is to want to do nothing, except perhaps sleep. This leads nowhere, and is another reason to perhaps select some sort of “fun” project to use as aid to crawl out of the hole: it’s likely to be short, simple, easy—exactly what is needed at the moment.

So the answer is to do something, preferably something creative. You have to push yourself to jump immediately into a new project, even one that is frivolous. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

Conceptual Art or Intellectual Exercise?

Sunday, 2. July 2017 23:58

On June 21, the New York Times reported that Jeff Koonswould donate a monumental sculpture, a hand holding a bouquet of balloon tulips, to the City of Paris to honor victims of the 2015 terrorist attacks.” It turns out, however, that “Mr. Koons donated the concept, not the construction,” and that the city needed to raise $3.9 million to make and install the 30-ton work.

The whole notion of conceptual art is controversial and has been since its inception. An internet slide show about it defines conceptual art as “art that is intended to convey an idea or concept to the perceiver and need not involve the creation of appreciation of a traditional art object such as a painting of sculpture. (Dictionary)”

Some say that all art is conceptual, at least all good art. Such work has something to say and says it with greater or lesser measures of success. “Conceptual art,” as a movement, simply values “the ideas over the formal or visual components of art works.

Implicit in any definition or discussion of conceptual art is the idea that there must be a physical manifestation of the concept. Even some of the more extreme examples, such as the text work of Lawrence Weiner has physical manifestation, albeit lettering on a wall (here, for example).

While no one is challenging the value of a great idea, whether artistic or technical, the question becomes whether it is legitimate to call such an idea art. A concept is no more than a theory or idea. It must be realized to become art. Anyone who works as an artist knows that there are many ideas or concepts that die in the attempted realization. This fact has driven a number of artists to adopt new media to their service—because the need to realize the idea was so strong.

Even with that, some concepts seemingly defy adequate expression: an idea just doesn’t work as a stage or screen play once you try to express it in dialogue. The thought cannot be realized fully in two-dimensional space. The concept cannot find proper expression in any plastic medium.

Whatever the reason, an unrealized concept is just that—unrealized. It’s an idea, a vision, and nothing more. And attempting to pass off an unrealized idea as art turns that art into an intellectual exercise, or, at worst, an art-world in-joke which is really about cleverness and ego rather than anything that could reasonable be called art.

What Koons attempted to “donate” was the idea of a sculpture, not the sculpture itself. He wanted to give Paris an idea. This is not completely unprecedented; Sol LeWittsold wall drawings that buyers then executed on their own.

Although opinion is divided about the Koon’s “gift,” the majority seem to fall into the negative column. These responses may be best summed up by Isabel Pasquier, an art critic at one of France’s leading radio stations: “Whether you appreciate his art or not, Jeff Koons is a businessman, and we quickly understood that he was offering Paris to himself as a present.”

Good art must, I think, communicate with the perceiver. Conceptual artists would argue that what is communicated is an idea, a concept. While that view is certainly valid, it is also valid that art might communicate an emotion, a feeling and be just as successful. The one thing that is certain—at least in my mind—is that whatever art communicates, that art must be realized in the physical world, no matter how ephemeral that realization might be. Otherwise it’s not art; it’s a dream.

Category:Aesthetics, Communication, Presentation | Comment (0) | Author:

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