Category Archives: Art

Juvenile

 Self-perception is a tricky thing for artists in any genre.  It can be too easy to think of yourself as better than you are, or worse than you are.  Either way lies a pit of expectation.

I find that I think of my work as juvenile. It always appears to me to lack whatever it is that makes art or writing seem adult. I’m not sure if it is depth, or experience, or…? When I am drawing, my art often seems too clean, too bright, too sharp.  Like a child’s marker drawing.

My writing, well, I struggle to get any depth to it. To move beyond interesting descriptions into something that makes people want to read. My writing often reads like a high schooler writing in their diary, or a laundry list.

I am unsure if either of these perceptions are accurate – as I have  no audience to poll – but they stop me from creating a fair amount. Because I know that whatever I put out is going to be lacking in some undefinable way that I can’t fix.

This has been on my mind a lot lately. Grownup quality work. How to create something adult, interesting, compelling.  How the authors I read get to the point where they can make something engaging. How artists add enough of themselves into a piece to make it more than a doodle.

Is it that these artists know themselves well enough that they can share bits of themselves in their work? Is it practice or training? Talent or learned skill? How do you get from high school creative writing class to a ripping good read?

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My short story is still out for one magazine, having been rejected (such a harsh term, but that’s what it is – though some publishers couch it as “declined”) for the other two.  No feedback beyond, “We’ll pass, thanks.” I wasn’t expecting a lot of feedback, but something beyond a form email would have been nice. And much like the “A fat envelope means you’ve been accepted to college” wisdom, there is a idea that if your story is rejected, but you get feedback, it’s good.  If you get a form letter, it’s not. I doubt it has a ton of truth to it – but it is still a thing you hear.

I won’t lie.  It’s discouraging.

I listened to the Writing Excuses podcast a lot last week.  If you are a writer, or interested, it is a fun listen.  Short (15 minutes or so), and they have book recommendations and writing “assignments” each week.  There is some in-depth discussion of technique and process as well.

The episode that stuck with me was about writing for fun.  Or rather, having fun writing. I’m not having much fun lately, and it has been a struggle to even do any at all. I’m getting bogged down in the “what comes next” bits, rather than enjoying creating a story. I’m having a hard time sinking into a world for 10-15 minutes before someone hollers for something or I need to break up a fight between the girls. I haven’t been protecting my writing time each day.  And thus, it has turned into a chore, and worse, a chore I’m failing to do properly.  Like doing the dishes but breaking a plate every time you load the dishwasher.

Drawing and painting has hit a point where I am improving, but still can’t quite get the picture in my head onto paper. Everything is just missing…something.  But I don’t know what exactly, so I can’t fix it.

I’m frustrated. And I’m stuck.

What do you do when you feel stuck? How do you get moving again?

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Making a mess

What is this? Don’t know, but it was awfully fun to make.

One of the interesting things about homeschooling my kids is watching them create. They tend to pull or dump everything out, then slowly piece parts together and create order. The creating is in the refining of the mess they have made into a tower, or a collage.  They can look at a mess of a pile and extract the bits they need to make something coherent.

This also seems to be how I make things. Everything gets dumped onto a page and sorted out.  With art that is often taking pictures, doing tests of colors and techniques, and then doodling several possibly unrelated things before I get to what I wanted to make. Sometimes, I just make a mess to see what I get out of it.  And then I go back and do more to it, pull out order in my mess.

  

Order from the mess.

With writing, I find the first draft easy.  It is a dump of thoughts and images and all the florid prose I love to write. I love descriptions. I love painting a picture with words. It is a vivid, and sometimes nonsensical mess – the equivalent to a box of blocks dumped on the floor.

I am not a planner. I don’t outline, I don’t write character sketches or compile files about every place mentioned. This sometimes bites me in the backside when I finally do research, and find out the best setting for my book is in a place I have never been and know nothing about. Or that the law is nothing like what I just wrote about, and it completely tanks the whole plot. Mostly, though, it lets me avoid the block of having to research something before I write about it. It lets me pick the right blocks out of the mess and build my tower.

Sometimes, it leaves me with a big, fat mess on the floor and no idea where to start cleaning it up.  Each part intersects with the whole in a way that it will create more mess if I pick up the one bit, and make more of a mess. One of my stories is proving to be like that.  It is a lovely, vivid puddle of paint, but if I move the paper or add anything else, it will turn to mud. With painting, you can sometimes just leave that bright pool of color and it works.  With writing, that is often not enough to make it enjoyable to read, or interesting.


My children currently have a pile of blocks, magnet tiles, and glass gems piled on the light box.  Every once in a while they will wander by, move or extract something, and walk away again.  Each move creates a new picture, effortlessly altering the mess to be something beautiful. I envy the ease and fluidity of their creation.

How do you create? Are you an outliner and planner?  Or are you a mess maker?

The Intersection of Art and Craft, and the Whys of Inspiration 

Do art and craft intersect?  Or are they parallel paths?

Craft is technical proficiency: the knowing how to do something and using skills to achieve a desired result.  Art, well, everyone has their own definition, but doesn’t art have to have some inspiration behind it? Can art be possible if there is only craft involved in the making?

And what is inspiration? Half of my painting and drawing is because I want to see if I can do something, not because I am trying to communicate something or I have some ethereal vision.  I want to see if I can make something that looks like the flower growing in my garden.

Does that make it not art? Is it just an exercise at that point? If someone seeing it is inspired by it, or it moves them – regardless of my intention when creating it – does that make it art? (There’s another post in here about artist intention versus audience reception….)

And does the desire to recreate something I see count as inspiration? Does wanting to tell a story I find interesting qualify? Does it need a higher message to be art?

The question of “Why should anyone care?” seems to be driving a lot of my creation lately. I look at things I’ve done and think, well, that is technically proficient, but ultimately…boring.  My creation ability seems to be well suited to knitting socks and sweaters and less well matched to painting and writing.

Perhaps I have an antiquated view of art in my head. Art as the fine and rarefied thing you see hanging in a museum (which, realistically, I won’t ever be featured in), craft is the thing that everyone can do. Is there art in craft? Certainly. That passion, that inspiration that crosses the divide between the two, though, what is that made of? Where does that come from? Does it start with wondering if you can do something? Does it start with seeing God in a sunset? Does it start with practice or talent?

There’s a loaded word. Talent. I’ve grown to hate it. So much stuffed into one little word. Expectations, limitations, fantasy.  Being told I’m talented feels like a dismissal, as if I’m not working at what I do, it just happens magically with no effort.  This is hogwash. Being told I’m talented also ranks up there with people saying they don’t know where I find the time to do art, or that they could never do what I do.  It feels like a way of telling me it’s frivolous.  That doing something I’m already talented at (if I even am) is a waste of time I could be using to do…what? Accounting? Dishes? Whatever it is that other people use their free time to do? Something that is qualified as work. Something that isn’t useless.

Clearly, I don’t have any grand answers. I paint and draw because I find things beautiful or fascinating, and I want to create something that is beautiful or fascinating.  I also paint because I like finding out if I can do it.  I write because I have stories in my head that I like to put down on paper, and also because I want to see if I can do it. I knit because I like socks that fit and warm sweaters, and also to see if I can do it.  (Seeing a theme here?) Is that enough? For me, for right now, yes it is. For other people? I don’t know.  I don’t know if people will ever find my writing captivating, or my art inspiring.  There is no objective measure though, so I will keep creating as I can and see where it takes me. At the very least I will have made something pretty at the end of the day. And my socks will fit.

What inspires you to create? Do you consider yourself an artist or a crafter? Does the word talent make you grind your teeth?