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I Can’t Get No. . .

Sunday, 24. September 2017 23:46

As I was mulling over my dissatisfaction with my latest photo shoot, I realized that dissatisfaction is something I experience with every photo shoot—and every play I direct, and everything I design, and every image I make. Then I realized that dissatisfaction is nearly a constant state with me; insofar as it applies to art, I’m never satisfied.

It’s not about perfection. I gave up on that a long time ago. I came to believe, as Seth Godin preaches, that the search for perfection is a fool’s errand that prevents the artist from getting anything out the door. It’s the reason that paintings (and all other artifacts) are never finished.

Those of us who have given up on perfection, however, still have standards, and often those standards are expressed as satisfaction. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about being as good as it can be. I realize that that is a very fine distinction, but still the distinctions exists. Satisfaction means being happy—or at least content—with all aspects of the final project; it denotes a relationship between artist and artifact. Perfection, on the other, indicates that there is absolutely no way to improve the final project; this is a quality of the artifact only. And this, of course is virtually impossible; any artist who attempts perfection is not likely to have a significant output.

Even though satisfaction seems to represent a lesser standard—as compared to perfection—it’s still difficult. Most artists set the bar very high. And therein lies the problem. When the bar is high, the artist sometimes fails to reach it. There is always something that could have been done better, something that could be clearer, or cleaner, or more imbued with meaning.

There are three ways to deal with this situation: (1) set the bar lower; (2) improve the quality of your work; (3) learn to accept dissatisfaction.

Some artists opt for setting the bar lower or redefining the bar. The result is that their work, which was never “good enough,” now is. Dissatisfaction dissolves. If the bar was sufficiently high to begin with, this is just a matter of labeling. The artist’s output will remain the same, both in terms of quality and quantity, and the artist will feel better. This should be the choice particularly of those artists whose standard is unrealistically high, like those who are really looking for perfection.

Improvement would be the choice, I think, of most artists. The problem becomes one of deciding what to improve. General improvement might not get to the source of the dissatisfaction. So a bit of analysis is required. The artist must answer questions like: does the dissatisfaction arise from the same issue in each project? What aspect of the project causes the dissatisfaction? Is the level of dissatisfaction consistent with each project or does it vary project to project? Of course with the answers to these questions there will be follow-up questions. Once answered, the artist can see where and what s/he needs to improve.

Dealing with dissatisfaction can mean just getting used to it, or it could mean undergoing psychoanalysis, or it could mean anything in between. This approach acknowledges the persistent existence of dissatisfaction and attempts to find ways for the artist to come to terms with it without modifying the work.

Most artists I know experience dissatisfaction with their work to some extent, and most of those artists have chosen some combination of these three methods to deal with it, with greater and lesser success. How do you deal with your artistic dissatisfaction?

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

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) | Autor:

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