I think my New Year’s Resolution has officially become Make More Art. This may be partly due to the fact that it’s easier to make new good habits than it is to break bad old ones, and also due to the fact that it’s just plain fun.
So I’ve been trying to read books and advice on How To Make Art. Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on TED remains a huge inspiration: I like thinking about creativity as a Dobby-like house-elf that pays visits to the artist’s brain. I am trying to get my house in order, then. I am trying to get everything clean and neat and tidy, and open and receptive as possible for whatever (and whoever) might pay a visit.
I skimmed through Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet, which I’ve heard praised in “inspiration for Art and Artists” pep-talks. It had a lot of Epic Quotes which I’m sure you’ll be able to pick and choose from yourself with help from the internets. My sister left behind a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’ve heard good things about as well, so I gave it a good skimming. I’ve never read a Stephen King novel, so I didn’t care to read the first half, which was basically an autobiography. I don’t see much point in reading about how authors from the 50’s and 60’s got started as published authors, either, because it doesn’t seem/feel relevant to me anymore (or maybe this feeling is completely misguided and I’m committing a horrible sin by feeling so…ha). But it seems with the internets, *EVERYTHING* has changed in the world of how to get your book “0ut there”… and is probably going to change a lot more in the next couple of years.
Anyway. My sister underlined a lot of passages with advice like “If there’s no joy in it, it’s no good,” (144) “Reading takes time, and the glass teat [referring to television] takes much of it,” (one example of how the book feels mildy outdated; if written today, “glass teat” would have to be replaced with Keyboard Cat) (143) “If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?” Why indeed, Stephen?
Isn’t the human need to make art a funny, funny thing? I mean, it’s something we’ve all done and can relate to: who among us hasn’t tried to “make” something? And yet–it’s so impractical! How does a painting, or a book, or a poem, contribute to our survival in the evolutionary sense? I’m sure there’s tons of arguments out there for and against this… and I’m not really being very eloquent right now because I’m tired and groggy from a nasty bacterial throat infection that has confined my last few days in Portland here in my room (the rain doesn’t help, either).
The most influential book on creativity I’ve read as part of my “research” might actually be a book of fiction, ironically enough. I just finished reading Ben Fountain’s collection of short stories, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. It’s a good read: eight short stories, set in Haiti, Colombia, Sierra Leone and Burma, respectively. The last short story is set in Austria and reminded me a lot of the last book in 2666, which to me seemed to deal thematically with how the decadence and imperialism of Old World Europe affected all the messed-up things that are going on in today’s ex-colonies (a topic that is feeling eerily relevant these days, what with the current events in Haiti and all…).
What’s most intriguing about this book may be Mr. Fountain himself: according to this interesting New Yorker article about latent creativity, apparently he worked as a lawyer for years, before deciding that he wanted to write a novel about Haiti and traveling there over 30 times before scrapping it completely, and then ending up with this collection. Pretty inspiring.
Quite a few of these stories deal with the idea of art, or with the idea of trying to make something beautiful or precious out of pretty shitty situations. In “Near Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera”, the kidnapped PhD student and the Colombian general argue about the ever present tension between art and practicality: ” ‘Beauty, you know, I think it’s nice, but it’s just for pleasure. I believe that men should apply their lives to useful things.’ ‘Who says beauty and pleasure aren’t useful? Isn’t that what revolutions are ultimately about, beauty and pleasure for everyone?'” (9) In “Reve Haitian” (probably the best short story in the book), an aid-worker makes friends with a Haitian doctor who has a plan for lifting his country out of poverty by stealing and selling famous works of Haitian art. Art is also importantly linked to and dependent on money in these stories; in “Bouki and the Cocaine,” the cocaine-stealing scam is achieved through a dizzying carnivalesque dance. My favorite story is the Sierra Leone one, “The Lion’s Mouth,” which seems to be about the relationship between creativity, insantiy and commerce, and with a positively hallucinatory ending.
It was fun to read this book and interesting to think about how writing can be something that can develop later on in life through hard work and persistence, as opposed to being a “native,” God-given talent that you have from birth. Is this idea of writing an image I have for myself, lurking somewhere in the back of my mind? Maybe. There’s a character in Piglia’s Artificial respiration who says that before becoming a “great writer,” he should “have adventures”: “I thought that everything that happened to me, no matter how idiotic, was a way of accumulating that depth of experience on which I assummed great writers built their work.” The only problem with that philosophy, that of “waiting” to gather experience in order to transform into art… how do you know when to stop waiting?
So I guess in the best Pema Chödrön sense, now is a good a time to start as any. Thus I’ve been trying to play the piano and draw something every day. I’ve been trying to write creatively again as well but (un)surprisingly enough that’s been the hardest thing to do of all. I started another wordpress blog where I’ll be posting what I write every week but I don’t feel “brave” enough to directly link to it yet. Oh well, maybe I’ll make it password protected. Elizabeth Gilbert talked about this a little as well in her TED talk, the weird kind of anxiety and fear that art inspires in us, specifically regarding its creation. I mean, in what other job do you get that? I’ve NEVER heard Corey say OMG! I really can’t synthesize this protein right now, becausebecausebecause I’m just AFRAID FEARFUL ANXIOUS of what people will think judge say about me. I had a funny conversation with my sister once senior year, in which we were talking about our struggles with our creative writing classes. The reaction from both our significant others at the time consisted of looking at us as though we were aliens, as in: It’s just a story. Why can’t you just write it? Why not, indeed. Just check out the writing-related woes in the Cary Tennis’ advice column archives and it’s easy to see that this is not an isolated problem (this column has especially good advice on how to deal).
I’m trying, though. Last year right around this time I bought a sketchbook and some art supplies. I drew a duck, and except for a James Joyce portrait during the summer and a couple of fairies, I pretty much abandoned it since then, until now. WARNING: I have NO training in drawing at all… My sister and I loved to draw when we were little and my mother saved pretty much EVERY drawing in these enormous, thick blue office binders. There’s a whole closet full of them gathering dust in Colombia (she used to joke she was keeping them to sell later when we got famous–many thanks as always for your undying support, Mother).
Anyway, here are some things I’ve drawn recently (I’m trying to draw at least one cartoon thing a day). Sometimes you just gotta put your work out there and get rid of your neuroses surrounding it… right?: