Right now, for me — and maybe for you — making art is like oral surgery on a rabid bear.
It’s very difficult to just sit down, not look at the news, open a Word .doc, and start writing some cool shit. It feels, nnngh, somehow precious, too special, like you’re eating cake while the house burns. “Oh, I see we have zombies trying to break down the door,” you say. “This seems like an excellent time to watch Cinemax and masturbate.”
That’s how it feels.
And how it feels is wrong.
What I mean is this: if you’re a person who Makes Art, then that’s who you are, and there’s nothing precious or small about that. It’s not masturbation. Not even in times of crisis and duress. It matters because it’s who you are, it’s what you want, it’s what you do. Art is vital, and as such, the artist is vital for making it. Part of the goal of the chaos going on is to put a rope around your wrists, your throat, and your heart and try to stop you from making cool stuff. It’s designed to hamstring you creatively and critically. You can’t let that happen. You gotta carry on. You gotta do the work. YOU GOTTA MAKE THE THINGS.
Question is, how?
How do you persist? How do you create art in a time of unfolding fuckery?
I, as always, have thoughts.
1. It’s Okay If Your Output Slows
You don’t have to go warp-speed. You don’t have to create at the same level. It’s okay to be slower, to produce a little less, to create a little more methodically.
2. It’s Not Okay To Stop Entirely
You can take a break. But eventually, making art means making art. Writing requires writing, music means picking up the instrument, creating stuff means grabbing the tools even as it feels strange to do so. To do the thing you gotta do the thing. This is the hardest and simplest truth of making art. You have to do the work, even if it’s a little at a time.
3. The Tools Of Art Are Your Weapons
Art is how you fight back. It’s how you take ALL THIS NOISE inside your heart and FORCE IT OUT. The tools of the creator are conduits for expression — and it’s totally okay to express your rage, your bewilderment, your grief, your overall teeth-gritting and pants-shitting distress. Funnel it all into the work. Don’t be afraid of that. Don’t be afraid to bleed on the page and yell at the screen and metaphorically punch the work into shape. This is your barbaric yawp. Your tools can be your weapons. Your art can be your battlefield. This can be how you resist.
4. Art Can Also Be Your Escape
You also don’t have to do any of that shit. You don’t have to see your art as war, or your pen as a knife you want to stick in the imaginary neck of your enemies. Art can also be a window or a doorway. It can be a way out. Sometimes pop culture is called escapist, and that’s used as a criticism, but fuck all that in the ear. Nothing wrong with needing to escape from time to time. And there’s nothing wrong with being the one providing that escape. Not everything needs to be a mirror reflecting back the world, or a battleground on which we fight. Sometimes we just need a nice meal, or a hot bath, or a good goddamn book.
5. Shut It All Off For A While
Out there? The news? Social media? Life, in general? You can shut it off and shut it out. You can do this willfully or with the help of software like Freedom or Anti-Social. Sometimes media and social media feel like drinking poison. But that glass of poison? It’s in your hand. Put it down. Yes, we all need to be informed. Yes, we should endeavor to engage with the world. But not at the cost of what we want to do. Everything in moderation.
6. Consume Art Greedily In Great, Heaving Gulps
Up your art quota. Read more. Watch more. Go look at a fucking painting for an hour. Bathe in it, brine yourself in it, grow fat on the unctuousness of other people’s creativity. Then: think about it. Contemplate what you’re getting out of it. Behold the power of art as a generator of ideas, as a means of escape, as a tool of engagement and resistance. It’s long been true that if you want to make art, you need to also digest art. You don’t become a writer without already being a reader. So, go back to the well. Bring up fresh water to fill your canteen, man. Go read a book you loved and haven’t read in a while. And expand your horizons, too — look at creators who are making art beyond your current window of experience.
7. Remember Your Audience
Creating art isn’t just for you. It’s for them. I always say that the first draft is for me, but every subsequent draft is for you. People want what you have to to show them. So — show them.
8. Practice Self-Care
Some of this list is already about aspects of self-protection, true. But making art requires your brain and your heart and your soul to be relatively intact. They can have wounds and scars — we all do, and we probe those old injuries sometimes to do what we do. But they cannot be torn asunder, and if all of this is just breaking you into little pieces, find a way to put it all back together again. You know the things that give you solace. Friends. Loved ones. Ice cream. A Netflix binge. An oil drum full of schnapps. Softcore Cinemax porn. Whatever it is, go do it. Take the time to protect yourself. It’s armor you wear while you make cool stuff.
9. Make A Change
Sometimes, we need to jump-start our processes by changing them. If you write in the night, try the morning. If you paint in one medium, choose another. Modify the process or the output. Make a change big or small, see what happens. It’s like driving on a different road — sometimes the change of scenery matters.
10. You Matter, This Matters, You Can Do It
Trust me on this one. You can do it. You have to do it. It matters. Nobody can take that away from you. Making art is always, now and before, an act of defiance. So, defy. Resist. Nobody wants you to make art. You’ll always feel like an impostor. And in times like this, it will forever feel like a waste of time too precious to preserve. It’s not. Art is a throughline of human history. We’re all holding onto that rope and it helps pull us along — better yet, it helps those who come later understand what came before. So, grab the rope. Add your own knot. Pull yourself along and help others to do the same. You can do it. Let’s go.