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The Cup Exercise

Sunday, 11. August 2013 23:09

Like many people, I have a coffee cup collection—rather had a coffee cup collection. It was not a conscious collection; I didn’t scour shops for the correct cup to add to my assortment. Instead, it sort of built itself over time: a gift here, a souvenir there, a gimme at a conference. Probably it was much like your collection. But recently, I decided I really needed the cabinet space other uses. Since cups hardly ever lose their utility, I decided to give them away, and as I pulled them off the shelf I tried to think about who, if anyone, might find a particular cup interesting or engaging.

Most of the cups were dated or lacking in potential appeal to my target group of recipients. As I took down one cup, however, I immediately thought, “This belongs to Freddie.” The cup is white porcelain with an enameled rainbow wrapped around it. The rainbow ends in cup-colored bricks with no fill colors. Beside the unfinished structure is a little sign that says “Under Construction.” Why the immediate connection? Freddie (not her real name, of course) is a young, very talented, multi-disciplined artist, who day-by-day is building her future in art—and who also happens to be transsexual. The cup, over 30 years old, was originally an idealistic statement about building a beautiful future. It still is, but because the rainbow now has additional connotations, it has acquired an overlay that both enlarges and modifies that meaning.

The larger thought that came from this exercise is about how art stands up through time, or doesn’t, or, as in the case of this cup, takes on different meaning. It’s worth thinking about, because art, good art, lasts. Good art, while it decidedly speaks to its immediate audience, continues to speak through time.

This is the reason that we make pilgrimages to see the Pietà, or Starry Night, or any number of other works. It’s why we marvel at the photography of Alfred Stieglitz, not because he was able to do such excellent work with such primitive equipment (although that too), but because his images still speak to us. It’s the reason that we keep coming back to stare at The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Ongoing appeal is certainly not limited to visual and plastic arts; we find it in performing arts as well.  It’s the reason that Jean Anouilh was able to make the story of Antigone have a special significance for the people of occupied France in 1944. (Why the Nazis didn’t pick up on it is completely beyond me—it’s not all that subtle.) And it’s why theatre companies continue to produce the plays of Shakespeare—in a variety of settings, time periods, and styles. Aside from amazing language, the stories and characters speak to people of all times.

There is no guarantee, of course, that the appeal of any of these will continue, but I suspect that it will. And that is because these works exemplify the epitome of artistry and because they continue to touch on issues important to humans and the human condition. Whether an artist can set out to create art that does that and be successful at it is open to discussion, but I doubt it. Those attempts usually come off as abstract and not very engaging. Instead of trying to make “art for the ages,” we should, like all of the artists mentioned above, focus on making the best art we can, very specific art that will speak to our own time and culture.

Some of it may live on.

Category:Aesthetics, Communication, Creativity | Comment (0) | Autor:

You Gotta Get Your Stuff Out There

Sunday, 4. August 2013 23:34

An artist I know has just begun to put some of her work on the web. There were two reasons for her hesitancy: (1) she makes some very complicated pieces and was, for a long time, concerned about having her ideas copied before she could get them fully developed.  (2) She was somewhat influenced by another artist who refuses share his work in any way on the internet due to fear of theft.

What finally convinced her to put work on the internet was the advice of a mutual acquaintance who said, “You just gotta get out there and shake your booty. You want people to know who you are, and the only way to do that is to show off a little, put your stuff out there and be ready to tell people why they need to take it home with them. ” Sound advice I think.

But there are some legitimate concerns associated with putting your work out there, the first and foremost being that people will steal it. There are many on the internet who know nothing of copyrights and others who simply do not care. If it’s out there, it’s free and available, so they take it.

The other side of the coin is that if you don’t put it out there, nobody knows that you have made it, and that means that nobody except those you show physically become at all familiar with your work. Now that may be fine with you. Many of us ultimately make art for ourselves, but most of us would be pleased to sell a piece once in a while. The odds of doing that are much better if you have a larger audience.

Sure people will pin your work and like your work and make desktop backgrounds of your work, all without your permission or supervision. But some of them may like your art enough to reach out to you and negotiate the purchase of an original piece. Again, the odds of that happening are far greater if more people are aware of your art. Several artists I know say that their goal is to sell art to people they don’t know—to make work that appeals to people who are not family or friends. That can’t happen if those strangers don’t know what you do, and as stimulating as showing your work physically might be, whether it’s in a group show, solo show, or gallery presentation, you cannot possibly reach as many people as you could with carefully placed postings to internet sites, including your own.

Now it becomes a question of how much of it you put out there, and how you represent yourself. Once we make that decision to put our stuff out there, we take responsibility for our internet presence: what we show, how we show, and where we show. There is certainly no requirement that we put everything we make on the web or provide unrestricted access to what we do publish electronically.

And, of course, there are those aspects we can’t control: who’s going to pin it, who’s going to like it, who’s going to link to it, who’s going to steal it. But there a significant number of aspects we can control, and there are many tools available to make this job easier.

What those of us who decide that we want to show and sell online have to do is balance our own comfort level with the necessity to publicize what we do. It’s not easy because there are opportunities—and scams—everywhere. Of course, there is still the bricks-and-mortar approach, but those opportunities are scarce and put our work in front of far fewer eyes. There is, however, no reason that we cannot use multiple venues and multiple strategies to offer our work. But regardless of the approaches we choose, we have to take the first step: we gotta get our stuff out there.

Category:Audience, Marketing | Comment (0) | Autor:

Don’t Let Perfection Get in the Way

Sunday, 28. July 2013 23:32

“I’m a perfectionist; I can’t help it. My work isn’t finished until it’s perfect.” How many times have you heard an artist say that? It doesn’t matter what his/her art is, the result is the same: it will never be finished—because it will never be perfect.

Many of us have learned to seek perfection. Whether we have been taught this, or just happened to confuse working to a very high qualitative standard with trying to achieve perfection is an open question. Many of us were pushed to do better and achieve more as we were growing up; others of us figured out that that was the way to succeed in our culture.  Reasoning as children will do, we decided that if excellence was a goal, perfection must be a higher goal, so we became obsessed with making things perfect.

So now when we try to make art, we set an impossibly high standard for ourselves: perfection.  Never mind that it’s unachievable, we still try to get there. This is one of the excuses for much of the bad behavior for which artists are notorious. We even romanticize it; the striving for perfection becomes part of the mythology of what it means to be a real Artiste.

What really happens is that perfection itself becomes the goal rather than creating excellent, meaningful art. So those of us who are still aiming for that perfect performance, or painting, or photograph, or film or whatever have our eye on the wrong thing. We should be concerned for our work, not for some abstract concept that we mistakenly learned to seek as youngsters.

But many artists, as well as non-artists, have this affliction. And it is an affliction. Brené Brown, sociologist, psychologist, and educator, has said, “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”

But what about the famous perfectionists, the ones who, because they are always striving toward that abstract goal, generate huge successes? What about Steve Jobs? Actually, some writers credit Apple’s success not to Steve Jobs’ legendary perfectionism, but to his learning to loosen his rigid stance.

How then are we to proceed—those of us who believe in excellence? We must supplant the concept of “perfection” with the notion of “good enough.” Now, before you raise the cry of mediocrity, let me say that “good enough” means just that—good enough to satisfy you and to exceed your standard of excellence. You can set the “good enough” bar just as high as you would like—just short of perfection.

According to Seth Godin, “Good enough, for those that seek perfection, is what we call it when it’s sufficient to surpass the standards we’ve set.Godin goes on to say, “Anything beyond good enough is called stalling and a waste of time.” So the time that we spend trying to move past the excellence of our highest standards to perfect amounts to running in place.

Voltaire was another who was not a fan of perfection, and Voltaire was a man who knew something about making art and getting it out the door, having written over 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets. He said it very plainly: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Maybe it’s time we quit worrying about making perfect art and instead make good art.

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

Professionals Practice

Sunday, 21. July 2013 22:09

Being a professional anything requires having reached a certain level of proficiency and having the ability to maintain that proficiency. In order to do that, professionals in all areas have to keep their skills honed. All professionals understand that to stay at the top of their game, to grow, requires constant information-gathering and continuous practice. It is no different for arts professionals.

First, I must clarify what I mean by “professional.” (It’s a topic that has come up before.) Some define a professional artist as one who makes most of his/her income as an artist. I am rather inclined to think that professionalism is about involvement, attitude, approach, and standards. One of the marks of the professional, at least in my mind, is that he/she works at his/her art every day. This is most often expressed as “practicing your craft” or sometimes “practicing your art.” It doesn’t matter where your income comes from; it doesn’t matter that you have a day job; it matters that you make art and that you work at it every day—not play at it, not piddle with it—work at it.

Actors talk about practicing their craft, as do singers—and they do it daily. In fact, every practicing professional performer I know practices daily. World class trumpeter Louis Armstrong said, “Even If I have two three days off, you still have to blow that horn. You have to keep up those chops… I have to warm up every day for at least an hour.” Many, even though they may teach classes themselves, take lessons—it’s another form of practice. And what holds true for performers holds true for other artists as well.

But there is some latitude in what constitutes “practicing your art.” I do not necessarily believe that if you are a photographer, for example, you must take a picture every day. But you must work at seeing every day, and on those days that you do not actually pick up a camera, you can work at a computer, or at tray in the darkroom, or mat an image, or frame a picture.

Some might argue that these last two activities don’t constitute “practicing your art.” Having matted and framed a good number of images, I have found that you can learn something almost every time you go through the process. Those tasks provide a unique opportunity to look at your work in a context very different from the norm. This allows you to see things that you might not ordinarily see, and thus learn and improve your art—which is, after all, one of the goals of practice. Some arts involve many different tasks and processes, and performing those can certainly qualify as “practicing your art” and can contribute to artistic proficiency and growth.

Some will claim not to have enough subject matter or materials to keep them working every day. These artists might consider classes, or exercises. There are painting-a-day challenges; there are photograph-a-day challenges. Both of these keep artists in practice, and occasionally produce some very good work. And they are indeed challenging. (Ask anyone who’s attempted one.)

There are other approaches as well. Renowned poet Wallace Stevens had a day job, but he managed to work at his art every day. “Stevens generally preferred to walk to work alone because he wanted the solitude to compose poetry.

We won’t all get to Carnegie Hall, but we all know the way. The problem is many of us are not sure that we want to work that hard or that unceasingly. But that’s what it takes to maintain our skills and to grow. And that’s what it means to be a professional artist.

Category:Creativity, Photography | Comment (0) | Autor:

Maintenance Is Required

Monday, 17. June 2013 0:01

The saw blade is dull. The brushes need cleaning. The chisels need sharpening. The acting workshop gets ditched. The sensor hasn’t been cleaned. The word processing files are jumbled and disorganized. Pencils need sharpening. The monitor calibration is out of date. The act one analysis gets superficial treatment. The desk is cluttered. The studio is filthy. The truck needs cleaning out. The practice session gets skipped. The chemicals are old. The update goes unloaded.

It doesn’t matter what your art is, maintenance is required. Although it may take different forms for individual arts, it’s really all the same thing. It’s the battle against entropy. And we all have to fight it.

But we don’t. Rather, most of us could do a much better job fighting it than we do. Otherwise, we would never say any of those things in the first paragraph, or anything like them. This is just not the case. I know very few artists whose tools, desks, workstations, studios, shops, equipment, minds are all free of clutter and in 100% working condition. There is always that thing that we are going to take care of next week, and then everything will be in top-notch order. Well, except for that one other thing. And so it goes, and next week turns into next month, and sometimes turns into next year.

And then we end up like a photographer friend whose studio background cloth ripped apart in his hands just yesterday. He had known for a while that it was old and fragile and already had a couple of inconsequential rips, but had postponed purchasing a new one, not because he couldn’t afford it, but because it had not presented a significant problem, and because he just didn’t get around to it. And it wasn’t for lack of time; it took him all of 20 minutes to research sites for the best price and make the purchase on the internet.

This is often the case. We know that we have something that needs maintenance, but instead of doing that maintenance—which will require minimal time—we instead develop workarounds. Never mind that the workaround requires three times as much time and/or effort as fixing the problem would take, and that we will work around a problem repeatedly—we still decline to take the time needed to really do the maintenance which would make the workarounds unnecessary.

And why? As far as I can tell, we seem to avoid maintenance for one or more of three reasons: (1) it’s boring; (2) it seems like work; (3) it seems unproductive. All of those things are probably true. Maintenance is not very interesting, and it does seem like work because it’s often not very creative and it is often repetitive, which are the same reasons it feels unproductive. Nothing is being made. It’s just repairing, replacing, refurbishing, and almost unconnected in our minds from doing our art. My friend was lucky in that he had no shoots pending that required the backdrop; otherwise, he would have had to figure out a way of quickly repairing the damaged piece, paying overnight fees to get one flown in on time, or postponing the shoot.

Thus it is with all maintenance. We spend extra time accomplishing a task that would be far less time-consuming if we only had everything in proper working order, all the while telling ourselves that we will get to it—soon.  If only we were to go ahead and maintain our tools and environment, we could save enormous time and effort in the long run and, in the meantime, be far more productive.


Category:Productivity | Comment (0) | Autor:

Yet Another Skill Artists Need

Sunday, 9. June 2013 22:43

When it comes time to put those pictures or that sculpture that you have so carefully produced on the wall or on a display stand, the question arises of what to show where and what to hold back for that other show. It’s a question that, without significant experience, is almost impossible to answer. It’s nearly as difficult as the question of what pushes a collectors over the purchasing threshold, and what holds them back regardless of how much they like the piece.

Unlike performing arts audiences, if the visual and plastic arts audience doesn’t like what you hang on the wall or put on the stand, they don’t tell you; they just pass on by. So the artist is often left with questions about what appeals and what doesn’t, or to whom it appeals and to whom it doesn’t.

What it takes is curatorial ability. Brienne Walsh, in her article “Social Butterflies” in the June issue of Rangefinder, calls it an intuition, the ability “to decide what would appeal to other people.” And perhaps it is. It certainly seems that determining what will appeal to others is an instinct that some have and some don’t.

During my brief flirtation with DeviantART, I attempted to figure out posts would appeal to viewers, and I found that I was not particularly good at it. No pattern emerged, at least none that I was able to discern. Perhaps had I stayed with it longer I would have developed the skill, but given where I was at the time, I wasn’t willing to devote the time it would have taken. And I wasn’t sure that I would ever see a pattern.

Of course, one way to get around the problem is to publish everything at once. Then there is no question of what to show here or there or when or any of that. For some, particularly the prolific, this seems to work. If you follow any artists on Facebook or Tumblr or Pinterest, you have seen what I mean, but even that is curated, at least according to Walsh.

The answer, I think, if there is one, is to find out who your audience really is. For example, the initial audience in a juried show is comprised of the jurors. Sometimes I have successfully curated pieces in order to secure a place in such shows. Since most jurors’ names and information are not only published, but advertised, it is rather easy to research them and discover who they are and what they’re about, which leads one to make a more intelligent decision about what to present. Jurors like work that is in some way akin to their own, or, perhaps more importantly, reflects something of their philosophies. So knowing the taste of the jurors can guide you in what pieces to submit or, in some cases, tell you to save the entry fee because your work has little chance of being appreciated.

We should be able to apply the same principles to our individual potential audiences. Admittedly, the application will be far more difficult. Potential collectors are not likely to give us their backgrounds, interests, or philosophies. But if we start looking at what, beyond the superficial, our collectors have in common, we may begin to get a picture of exactly who, in a more abstract sense, our collectors might be. Once we know that, it is only a few steps to finding more people like that. And once that happens, we are well on our way to developing a tribe of collectors.

Category:Audience, Marketing, Presentation | Comment (0) | Autor:

Creating Through Collaboration

Sunday, 5. May 2013 23:42

Although there exist legends about dictatorial theatre directors and outrageous choreographers and tyrannical movie stars, most of us who work in theatre know that the best theatre work is consistently produced by collaboration. Ensemble acting is valued above the star system. Ideas come from everywhere. Even though the director is responsible for putting everything together, musical directors, choreographers, actors, designers, cinematographers, assistant directors also contribute. No one denies the vision of the director or the producer, but there are also views that are presented by others that the wise visionary will consider. Only the foolish refuse to listen.

All photographers who shoot people understand that a really good session is the result of the teamwork between subject and photographer, as well as art director if there is one (and sometimes even the client). But the collaboration of subject and photographer is the core and is undeniable. Shooting someone who has modeling or acting training produces results that are far superior to those involving an unschooled model. It is true that some photographers can get excellent results from the untrained, but the odds are against them, and if the stakes are high, most photographers will choose skilled models every time.

Some artists claim to work completely alone, neither giving nor receiving input from others, no matter how casual. Those people, I think, are rare. We all talk to others, and often we talk to other artists. What is said cannot but influence our work. Even in the arts that appear to be the work of the isolated artist, collaboration can play a very important part. Woody Allen’s movie, Midnight in Paris, makes this point clearly, suggesting that the successes of the many artists living in Paris in the 1920s resulted from their close association and sharing (or stealing) ideas and concepts. Indeed, painters, [still-life] photographers, collagists, sculptors, animators, computer artists, and writers often explore ideas with other artists, or get ideas from conversations with other artists either in their own media or in others.

On several occasions, discussions with other artists have caused me to take a new approach to a piece of work, or consider possibilities that I had not done before. Some would say that this is just stealing an idea, but it is actually more than that. Instead of just an idea put forward, the interchange would actually lead to a different way of thinking and then to the new piece; sometimes, in the process of creating the new piece, other conversations would occur, perhaps the seeking of advice or clarification of the idea or perhaps just exploring the subject that was on my mind. There have also been occasions in working with a model when a suggestion or a particular shot or something in the dialog would lead to an idea, which might then lead to further conversation, which would then lead to scheduling another shoot specifically to explore the new idea.

While these examples bear little resemblance to the production meeting that many theatre people experience on a regular basis, they are still very valid forms of collaboration. Unfortunately, many artists deny such experiences, or do not recognize them as what they are: the sharing and embryonic development of creative ideas—creating through collaboration. If, however, we allow ourselves to recognize what is happening, we can then participate more fully in the process, expand our creative potential, and ultimately profit from it.

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Leave Room for the Audience

Sunday, 7. April 2013 23:29

Early this week, in a discussion about art and creativity, I heard myself say, “I think art should be like holding up a mirror to give the audience something to reflect off of. “ During the remainder of the week I gave that statement a lot of thought—trying to decide if was really true.

In an earlier post I wrote about being a bit surprised about the variety of responses to my photography. Admittedly, my photography is abstract and pretty ambiguous. My photography is not about telling a story; rather, it is about making suggestions. There are two goals: (1) to make the best piece I possibly can, given the tools and materials at my disposal, and (2) to give the audience something that resonates— not necessarily something with which they will be able to identify, but something which in some way “reflects” them, i.e. something that provides a reflective surface that allows them to see something they need to see and feel something they need to feel.

This is not to say that there is no place for work that is literal and concrete. This is, of course, the basis for all photojournalism, where ambiguity is decidedly out of place. And I also do work that is both literal and concrete—theatre work. My feeling is that with dramatic art, the clearer the story is and the more definitive the character delineation is, the more the audience is able to become involved, and with that involvement move past the literal and into the figurative, symbolic, and suggestive, and thus find that which resonates.

Nor is this to say that the artist must suggest rather than make strong statements. Each artist needs to say whatever he/she needs to say and in whatever way will give the idea or feeling best expression. Rather, it is to say that the artist should leave some room for the audience—allowing them a part in their interaction with the work.

The fact is that meaning in art is a collaborative exercise. The artist certainly creates the work, but in the best art, the audience contributes as well. While there is general agreement on the message or meaning of a work, full meaning is finally a highly individual thing. Each audience member brings to the artwork his/her own experiences and feelings and desires and walks away from a piece of art or a performance with a unique feeling of what the work is about.

This notion was reinforced in the Rothko Chapel earlier today. The friend who was with me remarked, “I love to watch people when they visit here because it’s impossible for them not to have a reaction.” And those reactions are amazingly varied. Rothko leaves room for the audience, and he does it over and over again—in all his work. Some love his work; others hate it, but hardly anyone has no reaction, whether about the pieces in the Chapel, or elsewhere. While I have no doubt that Rothko was definitive about what he was putting on the canvas, what we now see is, in part, what he put there and what we bring to it. Good art, I think, works that way.

Some artists are aware that the audience incorporates its experience into its reaction to the artwork and strive to manipulate what that audience thinks and feels with regard to the work; others concentrate on putting themselves into the work and are insulted when the audience doesn’t see their meaning. My feeling is that we, as artists, should be aware of the nature of the audience/artifact interaction and at least consider what the audience might bring to the work, and subsequently take away. We might even try to facilitate that interaction.

Category:Audience, Creativity | Comment (0) | Autor:

The Necessity of Fundamentals

Monday, 25. March 2013 1:31

While not a photographer himself, the chairman of the art department where I teach is adamant that the first courses in photography be done with analog cameras, black and white film and chemical darkroom processes. When I questioned him about this, he informed me that the departmental approach to photography would stay the same so long as he was chairman. This is an interesting position, given that a number of major universities have phased out their chemical darkrooms, and along with them, basic courses in analog photography.

And even though, for a number of reasons, I am not sure that I agree with his position, I understand the rationale. This is not a man who would insist that courses be taught this way because “it has always been that way.” Rather, it is because he believes that those analog/chemical courses teach skills that are necessary to a full understanding of the art and craft of photography. His department is in the business of teaching fundamentals.

This is exactly the same business that the drama department is in. It is our firm belief that solid fundamentals are necessary to success in theatre; the art chairman believes the same thing of visual and plastic arts. It is true of all arts. I don’t know a single choreographer, for example, who does not stress fundamentals; the same is true of musicians. The list is comprehensive.

We should build on solid basics in any art, and those basics should be broad. It is, in my opinion, impossible to be a good artist without some knowledge outside of our immediate specialties. Our department demands, for example, that drama students take courses not only in the areas that are of immediate interest to them, but in other areas as well. So technicians attend acting classes, and actors sit, sometimes uncomfortably, in technical theatre classes. Everybody builds and paints and sews and works on productions. Such broad exposure builds respect for those who work in other areas—an essential in a collaborative art, and very often the knowledge is put to good use. Occasionally, someone will discover an area with which he/she was formerly unfamiliar and decide that that is where they really ought to concentrate. Without exposure to the basics in all areas, these students would have no basis for such a decision.

Sadly, many artists do not see strong fundamentals as a necessity. They are not quite sure what an f-stop is. They only know one style of acting. They can’t remember all of the principles of design. Part of color theory is a little hazy. Getting exposure exactly right becomes a thing of chance.  They are convinced that there is no real need to learn stage directions. They can’t pick out a tune on a keyboard. The precise names of things elude them. Mastery of certain tools and techniques is beyond them. They are unconcerned with the very thing that holds them back: incomplete knowledge of basics. Unfortunately, without solid fundamentals, artists find it difficult to do really excellent work consistently, broaden their repertoires, or even communicate with other artists.

Strong fundamentals, like any solid base, give the artist a foundation to support his/her imaginative work without having to worry about the underpinnings. This then allows the artist the freedom to create and develop. Without strong basics, the artist is restricted and is likely to produce a very narrow range of work.

The same applies to any art. The more media types and styles and approaches we know, the better able we are to make the decisions necessary to create our art. The stronger our foundation, the higher the structure we can build on it. The more we know about the theory and history of our arts, the better able we are to put our own work in perspective. And such knowledge allows us to avoid wasting time doing work that has already been done, and allows us rather to build upon the work of those who have gone before. And such knowledge can give us freedom to move forward on our own. As a friend of mine said recently, “you can’t consciously break the rules unless you know what the rules are.

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“Make It Work” Does Not Mean “Produce Substandard Quality”

Monday, 18. February 2013 0:20

An actor whose name I don’t remember once said on Inside the Actor’s Studio that the phrase he hated most was “That works.” Although he did not elaborate, I think to him the phrase represented something less than excellence, or perhaps a willingness to accept a product that was not planned in advance. In another television show, Tim Gunn has made the phrase “Make it work” a rule to live by, although that phrase also raises questions in some people’s minds about excellence and certainly about meeting deadlines.

I suspect we all, in the best tradition of the reality “skills” shows, have had to “make it work” on some project or another—or maybe every project. In most cases, this has to do with meeting a deadline of some sort, whether it is imposed by a client, a show, a pre-existing schedule or ourselves. Most of us have learned that if we allow ourselves the luxury of not finishing a piece because it presents challenges, we would never get anything done. We would never, in Seth Godin’s words, “ship.” And if we are to be productive, we must ship.

This necessity forces us into a “make it work” mentality. Sometimes, the time constraints that we place upon ourselves cause us to find a solution that works—at least for the moment. Developing this mental attitude, in turn, provides the pressure we need to overcome some the difficulties that we were having in realizing the work.  What “works” is probably what we would have done if we had had more time with the project. Having to make it work in order to meet a deadline just made us find that solution sooner.

That done, we may have a varying set of responses to our own work. We may be quite satisfied, so shipping feels good and right. However, we may have had the very common experience of creating something that works but is still not satisfying. What we then do about that turn of events varies. In some instances, we ship and forget it; after all, we gave it our best effort, and that is all that can be expected of anyone in any situation.

Other times, however, our dissatisfaction nags at us. That shape in the corner just isn’t what we want, or that color is not precisely what it should be, or this paragraph doesn’t quite reflect the feelings we want to convey. It works, but it doesn’t work as well as we would like, or exactly the way we want it to. In that case, it might be well to revisit the work with a little perspective —if we still have access. If it is a work that allows us to “correct” future copies (photography, prints, writing) or it has not shipped, and we have figured out what to do to make it better, we should do it by all means—if for no other reason than to ease our minds about it. This, of course, is the reason there exist multiple versions of many books and poems. Those are easily modifiable—even if thousands of copies have already shipped.

Pieces that are already in the hands of collectors are more problematic. For those, the best solution is to leave them alone; they have a home, and modifications can only disturb an already-satisfied collector.

So, if you find yourself in what you consider a “make it work” situation, make it work. If your work does not reach your quality threshold, set it aside and make something else that does; if it meets all your criteria, ship it. If you need to revisit the subject later, do so. “Making it work” does not mean that your work will be less than it should be. “Make it work,” simply means using everything we have, our experience and skills and insight and creativity (and all the serendipity our individual karmas can gather) to make the best work we can, given the constraints of the situation. In other words, make our art the way we do normally.


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