Create & Release 13: Peaks and Troughs

In 1666, Sir Isaac Newton developed his theories of motion, which we now refer to as the Laws of Motion. While they are regarded as natural or physical laws, I think there may be kindred forces at work emotionally and existentially in the way I make — the First Law of Creative Motion, if you will.

For years, I have tried to be more consistent in my making (remember, consistency is one of the two main things that feeds the Social Media Beast), only to become frustrated by my lack of sustained output. I have finally accepted that I create in fits and starts (or peaks and troughs, like a sine wave) and if I pull back a little when viewing my “creative timeline,” I can absolutely see a pattern of consistency in what I do, but only if I connect the dots of the peaks. I used to believe that when I’m in a trough, nothing gets done. But actually, that’s not true. I’m still in motion doing something, it’s just not the creative work that really lights me up. It’s admin or strategy or most often, it’s gathering resources, sketching out new ideas, or collecting inspiration (Adrianne calls it “spelunking for narrative”). Before realizing how I work, I would routinely beat myself up for being “creatively at rest” in the trough, reminding myself of the Chuck Close quote, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” But try as I might, I couldn’t do it. Then, it’s like a switch flips — and it could be from a book or a song or a photograph or the way the light filters through the trees on our morning walks — and when that switch does flip, I’m back on the peak, and once again in creative motion. I paint, I write, I record conversations, and I brainstorm ideas for future projects. I try to do whatever I can in the time that I have before the next trough.

But here’s the thing: the troughs have value, maybe even the most value of all. Realizing that they aren’t quicksand means I can embrace them rather than fear them and avoid the familiar guilt/shame spiral that they often triggered. While the visible creative work might happen on the peaks, for me the real work that makes the creative work possible ONLY happens in the troughs. The troughs are where I do research and get inspired, where I previz ideas for new paintings, or make the carrier sheets for my emulsion transfers. They are also where I think about where the work lives once it’s completed and how it may or may not connect with an audience. For me, the rhythm of moving from peaks to troughs and back again allows me to make a dedicated space for the functional side of my creative work, without having to interrupt a flow, and as Adrianne likes to remind me, it all counts. Now that I realize all of this and have at least a light grasp of how it all works (for me), the next challenge is to tighten up the frequency between the peaks. Won’t that be something?

Are you a consistent creative?
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A massive retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns called Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror just opened simultaneously at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. According to the press release, the show is the result of “five years of scholarship and an inventive rethinking of Johns’s art.” The exhibition will contain nearly 500 works and runs through February. Coincidentally, Art in America just posted a terrific piece called Gray Areas: Artists on Jasper Johns which offers commentary and insights into Johns’ work from the perspective of other artists.

We’re just a few weeks away from the opening of Denis Villeneuve’s version of Dune and from everything I’ve seen, it looks like it will be terrific — certainly a massive improvement over the 1984 David Lynch version. I just hope he gets the opportunity to make part two, since this version only covers half of the first book.

Speaking of Sting (he played Feyd-Rautha in the 1984 version of Dune), while I never got to see The Police live, I have seen Sting on his own (starting with The Dream of the Blue Turtles) either 11 or 12 times. He’s one of those artists who rarely disappoints (except for the last two records) and just when I thought we’d heard the last new music from him, he goes and drops a new tune, a new weekly web series, and will release a new record in November. Now if we could just get one more record and tour out of Depeche Mode

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