Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold —Yeats
It doesn’t, no matter how hard you try and keep all your plates in the air, the center never holds so we must adjust and move to re-center ourselves to bring us back to our “center”. Wherever that may be. Vicki and I have talked about since we read Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles.
Pre, pre internet, pre audiobooks and pre-kids we would venture to shows sometimes weekly with only music or books to occupy us. That’s when I happened upon The War of Art. So we are driving up to Michigan one weekend and Vicki is reading to me out loud, this slim but quite heavy book about “resistance” and art. It was like the sky opened and someone explained to me what was going on in my head. Or rather that the hardness of things, how hard it is to get things done sometimes, is something that everyone shares at one time or another.
The next week it was Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. That was another one that blew me away. It was more about finding and doing your “own” work, whereas the Pressfield book was about what gets in the way of doing your work. For years I would give my copy of either book to someone and sometimes I would get it back, other times not. I would just go buy another. I know over the years I’ve probably bought at least 10 copies of each book. I figured that if the book didn’t come back then someone really needed it.
These books made me feel less “alone” in my tiny art world in the 1990’s. It was kinda nice in a weird way to know that other people sometimes went down the well as I sometimes did/do. Constantly being aware of where the center of your efforts should lie was sort of the theme that crossed between those two books. As we have grown up and into our corner of the artworld the whole concept of maintaining a centered mind/space was always present in one form or another. Bare in mind when I say centered I don’t necessarily mean balanced. More…focused. I’m, at this stage, still unconvinced that living a balanced life can produced what my ambitions may desire. It is however, on a certain level, necessary if you have a family and friends to hang out with and connect. I used to say most things that are worth doing well require some level of obsession. So, as with all things, balance, but in moderation.
You could say that “The center doesn’t hold” in relation to business could mean that nothing works forever. For an example, if you come up with an innovative booth display we would say you have about a year to enjoy its novelty because after that, if it was a great display, others will do it too. Its kinda the same with most cool ideas, There’s the first person to execute it but if its a good idea others will dive in and try their version of it. There’s nothing wrong with that its just something to be aware of. Otherwise you spend a lot of time angry that someone somewhere is emulating you and sometimes, achieving better results. The first person to conceive of a thing isn’t always the person who does the best (relatively speaking) version of that thing. So sometimes you change and that means a shifting “center” and other times the world changes and shifts it for you. Regardless of how it happens its my job to either follow the center or, sometimes with great effort, drag the center back to a manageable place. I feel like I’ve said “center” a lot.
Staying centered can sometimes feel like doing the same thing over and over, but sometimes as of late especially, it means trying something new. As long as you keep “you”. I think it likely has to do with feeling like you are being true to whatever artistic muse you have attracted to you life (metaphorically…or actually, if you still believe in the old magics).
We strive very hard to create a unique expression in a world that both applauds and denigrates uniqueness. On one hand you can be cool and unique but that can easily turn into weird and off-putting depending on the crowd you’re trying to reach. It becomes very easy to sit in your creative space and just work without regard to what the world is doing or how its changing. I say easy but it isn’t easy at all for some people to accomplish this while having to make a living for themselves and those depending on them. I have in turn been on both sides of that coin, doing “have too” work to keep the lights on and at other times just doing what I want to see because I want to see it.
I feel like we don’t talk about this enough in our respective fields. I have talked about the winding path that I took to be where I am. My path won’t look like yours, or yours or anyone else’s. That is why it is hard to have a course on “How to do Art and Make All the Monies with Your Art and Never Have to Worry Again”. My path is WAY different than other peoples paths, and that’s ok.
I didn’t go to art school for very long.
I worked odd jobs and some art jobs.
I did lots of beginning contract work (including one of the first Magic: The Gathering releases).
I did Renaissance Festivals.
I did NO contract work.
I did more contracts work.
Worked on movies.
I got a job and moved everyone to the Bay Area then left the job and went back to independent contract work.
Worked in television.
More contract work.
We moved to be near Vicki’s mom and kept doing contract work.
Now I have a job and still work on a few contracts and wiggle my own work in there too.
See how that center is ALL OVER THE PLACE? Some people might not even think there is a center to it all but there was, is and always has been. My family, my Vicki and my art. Just like your art can be if you would like it too. Maybe your center is a place, or person or your art. There is no wrong answer. So… this is exactly like I would do things.
I believe that at different times in our lives we should evaluate where we are and where we would like to be. Maybe not all the time, but when you come across something that piques your interest and you think, “that may be really fun to do.” Take a look around and see what you can do to make it happen. It may seem WAY out of reach, but it really isn’t, it doesn’t have to be.
See these and other new artworks of mine at Beinart Gallery in Brunswick, Australia this month