kari lacks sufficient impetus to achieve anything worthwhile

how to feel miserable as an artist

My personal creative projects, which include this blog, are always at the back (sides, corners, walk-in closet) of my mind – poking the parts of my brain consumed with my day job. “Marketing Assistant” is what my business cards say, but I function like a production artist – cranking out layout after layout. It can be frustrating and overwhelming, and I complain about it a lot, but the truth is I would rather be frustrated about my Quark problems or client problems than… filing problems.

I realize that I’m pretty fortunate to have a job that actually relates to my college degree & satisfies that part of myself that lives in Photoshop. I haven’t always been so lucky. I’ve had to squeeze myself into a myriad of retail, clerical, IT, etc. jobs in my 10+ year work history, and though I made the best out of each situation, they weren’t where I was meant to be.

Okay, so here’s the funny part:

In order to encourage myself through those dark “file clerk, etc.” times in my life, I’ve always thought, “This is perfect! A throwaway job will free up my brain for all my creative ideas and I’ll have so much energy to get my personal projects done that I’ll be able to leave Corporate America behind!” Except, the fact that I’m staring at filing cabinets or invoices or mall patrons all day kills my soul, thus draining my creative energy. So I get a “creative” job, thinking “Finally! This will energize my brain and get all of those ideas really moving!” But I invest so much time and energy in projects at work that I’m burnt out by the time I sit down to start on my own. Thus killing my soul.

I haven’t quite got the solution worked out, one that will allow me to balance the professional & the personal, but I know it can be done. I have a feeling it has to do with my work ethic and my attitude towards my own art. I tell myself that I’m not affected by what other people do or what they think of me, but that’s not entirely true. Whether or not I agree with “other people”, they still influence me on certain levels. Every time I get ready to create something, impressions of the design sites and artist portfolios I’ve bookmarked since the beginning of time start swirling around me and I start to think, “This isn’t going to be good enough.” Before the implement even touches its intended surface, I’m already criticizing myself.

But my brain is screaming, “It is good enough, you stupid cow, it’s your art! Just create, for Cliff’s sake!”

Which leads me to my least favorite word in the universe: potential. That word has haunted me since elementary school.

“Kari, you have so much potential – if only you would:

  • Stop ‘thinking’ and just do these excruciatingly meaningless homework assignments
  • Stop ‘day dreaming’ and pay attention like everyone else
  • Start acting ‘gifted’ like we labeled you so we can get that set of ‘We Educated A Genius’ steak knives!”

If you were a victim of those “gifted” programs in American public schools (or just a victim of school in general) you might want to watch this TED talk:

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?

(Actually, I would recommend the entire TED site to everyone reading this right now. It’s full of a lot of interesting ideas and conversations, and it’s all free.)

I had a bit of a marathon viewing of a bunch of these talks this past weekend, and took a bunch of scribbled notes to match. One of my favorite ideas, so far:

No one else is the authority on your potential.

So simple and so obvious, yet given my personal history with that word it frankly left me on the verge of tears. Then I watched the Ken Robinson talk that I linked to above and it really started sinking in that I need to take hold of my own artistic direction – immediately.

art department rules

Then I read this quote in an article at the Guardian:

In the past, I’ve been criticised for making ‘juvenile art’. This affected me for a while, and I tried to make ‘mature art’ … but I couldn’t do it. I realised that what I should do is make even more juvenile art, and it’s very enjoyable.

Ex-fucking-actly! I’m at this point now, where I’m tired of trying to make my art make sense to anyone else. It’s time to let my instincts back out for some fresh air. When was the last time they got a little of that anyway? College? I’m going to be 30 next year and I’m determined not to start this phase of my life with the same hesitation that’s plagued my 20’s.

So I’m proposing something a little radical. I’m going to stop looking at art for 3 months. A 90-day probation period where I will abstain from design blogs, portfolio sites, neat little desktop decoration sites, etc. Since I seem to have a compulsive need to judge my work against everyone else’s out there, I will remove them from sight and concentrate on my own expression. And at the end of it I hope to have enough done to share with the rest of you. I’m not going to stop blogging here, stop listening to music, or – dear god – put my Netflix on hold. I’m talking strictly static, 2-D influences.

Think I can do it? Think I’m crazy? Have your own creative struggles to share?




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