Arting Shapes You

I’m going to suggest that by far the most significant and dominant thing that comes out of maintaining a creative practice is that it defines and refines you.

It teaches you better habits, improves your resilience, hones your fine motor skills, sharpens your intellect, shows you how to access and improve your imagination and taste in shareable ways, guides you toward higher quality ideas, and little by little, turns you into a more interesting person, with better, more agile thinking skills. It leaves you stronger.

The stuff you make and the audience you might build for it are secondary effects.

The big creation, or recreation, is you.

Art making improves you as a human being. Doing so regularly is a process of continuous self-improvement. If you were a Japanese car factory and not an artist, this continuous self-improvement might be called Kaizen and would be the very embodiment of total quality management. It teaches you discipline, but not the kind that is imposed on you. This is a discipline you develop for yourself as a useful tool in your art making skill set. You own it. You’re fully invested in it. It’s not a ceremony, it’s a necessity.

When you see art making through this lens, all the requisite self-discipline and self-motivation, the learning to deal with rejection and criticism, the lessons of finishing over perfecting, and many more, begin to make sense. Art isn’t about getting rich or having your work widely noticed. It isn’t even necessarily about commerce and money changing hands. Instead, it’s about personal enrichment through a dedication to self-improvement and increasing quality, for its own sake. In short, it’s nothing less than a totally different way of being, in the world.

That shifts the emphasis radically. Now, the art you produce isn’t about whether anybody liked it or even heard about it. Now, it’s about what new things you learned while making the art, what new techniques and methods you tried, what wider influences you drew on, and how you personally changed, incrementally, through the experience of grappling with the making of your art.

You embarked on an epic inner journey of further self-discovery and you can never unsee those further deeper insights into yourself. You know a little bit more about yourself than you did before. You may have even grown to like, admire, or even love, those unexamined aspects of your soul that were brought to the fore, while making your art.

It’s not like this is cost free. Dedication usually involves sacrifice and compromise of some kind. The very process of conceiving of and realising your work of art can leave you physically, mentally and emotionally depleted. So does physical exercise.

We maintain our physical fitness because it improves the quality of our lives and extends our health-spans. Very few of us physically exercise to sell something or become the most admired and adored person in the land. We do it because it’s good for us and bestows benefits on us. Yes, we’re hot, sweaty, in pain and tired after vigorous exercise, but we do it because it’s life affirming and extending.

I suggest to you that pursuing art making on a regular basis bestows benefits on you too, but on your mind and soul, not just on the physical parts of your body that are involved in art making. We expand our perspectives. We entertain fresh ideas. We read and observe more about the world, to fuel our creative inspiration. Our self-confidence soars, with each new personal accomplishment.

So, don’t make art to become cooler. It will almost certainly do that for you anyway, but it isn’t the point. Do it because it improves the quality of your existence.

It lets you express and articulate emotions and troubles which would otherwise be repressed and pushed down, accumulating stress in your body like some kind of dysregulated pressure cooker. It clarifies your viewpoints and lets you process your trauma. It lets you say things you’d otherwise be too restrained to say out loud. You can take revenge on those that wronged you by creating beauty in spite of their ill treatment of you.

In short, making art turns you into a better version of yourself, each and every time you make something. It turns you from a net consumer into a net contributor. It dissolves your imposter syndrome, as you gain confidence in knowing what you’re doing. You become a much better human being.

Art making shapes you in so many subtle, but important ways.

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Nobody Knows How Long Creation Takes

Nobody who does not create a form of art has any understanding of how long it takes to create art in that form.

Ask a non-songwriter how long it takes to write a song and you’ll get some alarming answers. They don’t even understand the mental processes involved. That’s all invisible, therefore it doesn’t exist and takes no time.

Even a back of the envelope estimate for how long it will take to write a book, or edit eight hours of video would tell a person how absurd their initial expectations are, but nobody even scratches those first approximation estimates out. They’d rather pick an estimate out of thin air and attempt to assert it as divine truth.

Is it a belief in magic that drives unrealistic expectations about what a creative professional can produce, per unit of time?

Or is it marketing and propaganda that tells people Bill Gates wrote MS-DOS single handedly while still a student (he didn’t) or Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook one drink-fuelled weekend, in his dorm (no, he didn’t)? This myth-making distorts perceptions of what ought to be possible and it’s based on bare-faced lies.

That’s how design becomes synonymous with “just colouring in”. Because you play your music for free, when you’re practicing, you ought to be happy to hand over an original composition for free. CAD design is “just drawing”. An original painting is “just slapping some paint on a canvas”. In fact, there’s a widespread idea that if you enjoy doing something, that’s reason enough to donate it for free.

If you ask people how long it takes to mix a song, they’ll typically give you an answer close to the length of the song. In truth, a mixing engineer may have to listen to a single song hundreds of times, making adjustments as they go, before the final mix can be printed. A three minute song becomes 300 minutes of effort. That’s 5 hours, not 3 minutes. That’s why mixing a ten song album can take more than a working week. Then you can start mastering!

Does anybody consider the preparation, research, set-up and tear-down time? Do they factor in their share of the ten thousand hours somebody put into becoming a master at their craft? Do they add in the time taken to order supplies? Often, they don’t even count the cost of the materials.

In film making, does anyone count the cost of the typical 200 to 1 shooting ratios? For every finished minute on the screen, 199 minutes of performance and cinematography lie discarded on the virtual cutting room floor. A 100 minute-long feature film will throw away 19,900 minutes of footage. That’s nearly 14 x 24 hour days worth of imagery that the editor will at least have previewed, while selecting the shot to include in the final film.

A really good writer can bang out around 5000 good words a day, on a sustained basis, assuming they’ve already done their research. Hence, a 100,000 word book takes 20 days solid to draft, before editing. Some writers are lucky to produce 500 words a day, though. Their first draft will take 200 days.

How many times do you suppose they’ll have to read and re-read their own 100,000 words, before the manuscript is print-ready? The average reading speed is about 250 words a minute. If you have to read your own 100,000 words, all the way through, just 3 or 4 times, that represents around 26 hours of work alone.

Of course, if you point out the facts, you’re “just being difficult”, “building up your part” and “sand bagging”.

You’re expected to produce this work in your spare time.

I don’t know how we begin to educate the recipients and patrons of creative work about the huge value that’s being delivered. It seems to be a perennial problem, in the creative industries. They get impatient and annoyed when artworks can’t be delivered according to the imaginary schedule they made up.

Nobody realises how much time everything takes.

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Getting It Noticed

The hard part is creating art at all.

The harder part is getting people to notice the art you’ve created.

How do you promote your creations, without alienating every friend you’ve got?

In hard economic times, when there is a cost of living crisis, how do you attract the dwindling few that have disposable income, who are also interested in what you make?

Social media platforms like to pretend they provide all the answers, but is that true? I don’t think it is.

Unless you pay for impressions, chances are nobody will see your proud announcement about your latest artistic masterpiece. The profit-optimising algorithms will see to that. The people that see it, by accident, might just be skim reading their social media and not have the time or be in a place where they can follow the links to read your writing, see your visual work, or listen to your three minute song. You can’t just insert your stuff into peoples’ lives like that.

You could try advertising, as if there isn’t too much saturation advertising already, but can you make enough with your art to cover both the cost of making it and of advertising it?

Virality is one route, but making something go viral is notoriously difficult, unless it’s titillating, stupid, gossipy, click-baity, outrageous, hated-filled, highly-sexualised or lifestyle porn. It seems to me if your art isn’t about those things, maybe you don’t want to sell your soul like that to promote it.

Elaborate payola schemes have been a traditional, if wholly crooked, route to market for some artists. That path resembles swimming with sharks. Organised criminals don’t have a lot of loyalty to individual artists either. You shouldn’t expect a fair deal.

Painstakingly collecting the email addresses of people that claim to be fans of your work is like hand-knitting and these lists are notoriously difficult to keep up to date. Once stale, they have much higher annoyance potential. You also can’t possibly know the intentions of someone that signs up to your newsletter. Not everyone is there for pure and chaste reasons.

Buying clicks or a place on a playlist is pure vanity, because you just know there’s a warehouse full of phones, somewhere, with little machines that click on links on the screen robotically. It’s worthless. It’s a ‘fraudience’.

Similarly, paid placement on hot playlists doesn’t guarantee attention, either. Why would their playlist have built an audience bigger than your song has? There’s no reason to believe it’s a popular eyeball destination and they generally offer no proof, either. Nobody bills on the basis of proof of performance, where you only pay them on the basis of sales they can prove they helped you make.

Making the finest art isn’t protection either. Just because it’s the best piece of art ever realised in all of human history, it doesn’t mean anybody noticed, in the blizzard of sub-standard work that deluges people on a daily basis.

The fact is there’s so much of everything, vying for everybody’s attention, all the time.

You know it.

The dirty, rottenest, lowdown scoundrels have already figured out how to command the agenda, by their own nefarious means. Your power to shift the zeitgeist relies solely on how good your work is. Even if it’s perfect, you still have to combat the lowdown scoundrels promoting inferior junk.

What’s an artist to do? Give up?

If you’re like most artists, you can’t.

At some point, unless you find a way to leverage a rigged market to your advantage, which might involve the selling of your soul, you probably have to conclude that getting noticed on the merit of your artistic output alone is a lottery, with poor odds of winning.

It’s not good and it’s not fair, but at least you know what you’re up against.

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In the Bin

As an artist, do you ever wonder what will happen to your life’s work and all of your tools for creation, when you are gone?

Most people probably hope that at least some part of that body of work will mean something to somebody, so it will be retained as a fond memento of all you strived for, expressed or held dear. You might hope your carefully curated tools would find a loving home, in the hands of someone that will get some joy out of using them.

In short, you probably hope it will have all somehow mattered.

The statistics are a lot more harsh and unforgiving, in their portrayal of reality. A house clearance company will probably throw your life’s body of work away, without a second thought. It will be disposed of, irrespective of the quality of the art. Your life’s work will become somebody’s inconvenience.

This thread on Twitter thread remarked on this outcome. In the end, it ended up digitally memorialising the deceased artist, George Westren’s work. The first tweet said:

“My upstairs neighbour died during Covid. Flat left untouched by the housing association for a year. Clearance company arrived this morning and were about to chuck George’s entire portfolio away. Hundreds of beautiful op art drawings.”

https://twitter.com/cgwtf/status/1538886320386367489?s=21&t=DGDJKxkd7gknRYxzStCnTA

The Tweeter went on to say, “So many complex feelings about this. I’ve reached out to his art friends to see if there’s a custodian for it, but it does make you think about art and life and death, materialism, memory, archives, value.”

To me, it was lucky that this portfolio was clutched from the unforgiving jaws of permanent destruction, at the very last minute. How many more collections are simply burnt or sent to landfill, though?

Artists strive to increase the stock of beauty in the world. Their artworks are, in some real sense, gifts to humanity. They’re expressions of heart, in the hope that in the act of creating them, they’ll uplift somebody else. How are those gifts received? With callous indifference, it would seem. With zero gratitude or appreciation.

Nobody cares as much as they ought to, to preserve these gifts of beauty. It’s as if we don’t collectively care if the world we live in is beautiful or ugly, on balance. We don’t do enough to ensure beautiful things are retained and cherished, long after their maker is gone and perished.

This is part of a bigger trend, I suspect. We don’t take care of each other any more. Jessica Wildfire writes passionately and lucidly about the phenomenon in her blog, which I commend to you:

https://jessicalexicus.medium.com/were-doomed-because-we-don-t-take-care-of-each-other-anymore-50e351780e79

Our failure to take care of each other and the beauty we put into the world will seal our collective fates. Our demise and doom will be directly traceable to our indifference to one another. We are choosing to make ourselves extinct.

It’s not too late to care, but you have to sincerely want to.

I hope you do.

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How Do You Feel?

Are you feeling fine? Do you know anybody that is feeling fine?

We’ve all been living through a series of pandemics, war in Europe and the Middle East, unprecedented disruption, open kleptocracy, environmental destruction, and significant economic and social collapse.

Those are not good things. If you’re a sentient human being, with even a modicum of empathy and humanity, they disturb your comfortable equilibrium.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest have been deliberately polluting our waterways, contaminating the food supply, corrupting nature and debasing our idea of shared humanity. They aren’t just destroying the economy and our life support systems; they are annihilating our souls.

Maximising misery. That seems to be what our society exists for, at this point in time. Make everybody’s lives filled with suffering and as hollow and dreadful as possible.

Everybody wants to exploit you, trick you, con you, lie to you, fool you, get one over you in some way. Can I take your money? Can I take your self-esteem, your sense of meaning, and your pride, leaving you feeling isolated and alone? Can I crush your spirit, and replace it with heart-deadening dread? Can I make you feel really, really small and hopelessly powerless? Can I leave you bereft and demoralised? As an artist, don’t be like this toward other people. It’s not helping.

Do you miss the person you were before the grimness descended?

How do you keep creating in the face of all of this horror?

How do you produce art with love in a world filled with hate?

How do you think of interesting new ideas, when you’re suffering and in the midst of burn out or melt down?

Brief escapes into art or distraction give temporary relief, but it plunges you back into a worsening situation, when you inevitably return to reality. While you were away, rebuilding your mental health, everything around you continued to deteriorate. Nothing was solved. Nobody was present enough to improve anything.

My friend Josie noted: ‘It is quite amazing, once you start noticing it, how much health, life and wellbeing advice boils down to “don’t be poor” or “have more money to spend.”’

That’s self-help in a nutshell. It’s a whole, gigantic industry berating you for your lack of privilege. Does it move the needle on misery and suffering? Not one bit. If anything, it’s just more people trying to take your money and self-esteem. They’re part of the problem, while pretending to offer solutions, for cold, hard cash.

Finding artistic purpose gets harder. Maybe the best thing you can do with your art is to document human pain. Making a record of these times and what it was like to live through them might be the most significant contribution you can make, as an artist.

If you’re more of an activist artist, influencing the population to face and fix their most pressing problems might be the most purposeful thing you can do. Confronting people with their own lived reality, and a provocative challenge to make the necessary changes, might be the best way to express your creativity and lessen your own feelings of doom. There’s strength in numbers.

Maybe you can use your art to help people become as conscious as they can possibly be. With awareness comes a sense of urgency and the clarity of thought necessary to make the positive changes we all desperately need. Encouraging consciousness is a good thing to do.

This begs an important question, though. Is your audience sane, any more? Will they respond to your art in the way that they used to? Comedians are struggling with this right now. People are so blitzed with their immediate, existential problems and lavish disinformation, spread by exploiters, they don’t have a handle on responding rationally, any more. They’re literally addled by it all. They’ve been driven quite mad.

What’s the best art you can make for a sad, weary, fearful, jaded, suffering audience? That’s an important question for you, as an artist, to be able to answer. The old, safe formulas won’t work, in our present context. We’ve got to reinvent ourselves as creatives and innovate as artists. Making strong, human connections with audiences that are in excruciating pain requires a much more subtle approach than we’ve been using. The solution is not amplification of misery.

Art can be at least as influential as TV and newspapers. Why should we continue to allow a bunch of greedy, off-shore, tax-evading billionaires continue to shape and constrain the national thought agenda? What positive thing have they ever done for you? Why would you subscribe to the fiction of their objectivity and their omniscient wisdom, when they’ve driven humanity to the very brink of its own extinction, all in the name of their personal profit? You’d have to be mad. The fact that people still do is prima facile evidence that they, indeed, are.

As an artist, the most important thing you can do is to keep going. Try to keep creating. It’s vital.

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Organisational Dysfunction

As you gather creative skills, you accumulate stuff – tools, books, supplies, finished works.

An infinitely expanding universe

No matter what your art, the accoutrements necessary to conduct your creative work must be gathered. If you’re an electronic circuit designer, you’ll need components, specialised tools, meters, scopes, consumables, somewhere to work, maybe a computer with electronic design software, books about electronic design, perhaps some magazines. It all takes space and has to be stored away somewhere.

Musicians accumulate instruments, bits of music technology, effects processors, microphones, sheet music, bits and bobs, straps, stands, you name it. Where do you put it all?

I’ve never met a serious writer that didn’t own an extensive library. Often, they have a writing area designed to help them get their words onto the page. Writing spaces tend to be quite eclectic, in my experience.

Painters have brushes, paints, canvases, easels, sketchbooks, canvases, palette knives and so on. They all take up room.

If you’re an artist of any kind, I can almost guarantee you one thing:

You need space.

The price of space and storage

You may have noticed that, the more houses have become financial instruments, acting as appreciating assets, unearned income generators and stores of economic value, the price of houses has risen relentlessly, as has commercial space, in lock step.

A square metre of space costs way more than it used to. Last time I checked, artists’ earning have not risen at anything like a comparable rate, except at the very rarified top end, where the artworks have become de-facto financial instruments, too.

Artists have been financialised out of workspace.

At the same time, furniture for storing tools, supplies, reading materials and so on has also become increasingly expensive. Just to buy some storage boxes and put them on some shelving, assuming you have the space, is eye-wateringly expensive.

Organising your creative stuff comes with a very high price tag.

Pull down, tear up

If you have no space, then you can’t leave your creative tools out and ready to use. Dedicated work spaces are an unaffordable luxury, for many artists. The alternative is that you store everything away, until you need to use it.

Unfortunately, the set up and tear down time and effort becomes an impediment to creating. Before you can begin to express yourself creatively, you must first clear a workspace and set out all of the necessary tools. This builds in a bias toward only those things that are absolutely necessary. The more experimental and esoteric tools and materials usually remain packed away.

Having completed your work, you have to clear everything away and put it back into storage, to return the workspace to its usual domestic function (the kitchen table, for example). If you created something new, that might need to dry or cure. In any case, you’ve made something that you need to find a place to store, too.

This sisyphean task is boring and draining. It’s an unwelcome necessity and imposition on the work of creating something. You can think of it as a time and energy tax. You wind up shaving the yak a lot.

Organised chaos

Clutter expands to fill your available living space. You wind up with cluttered workspaces and storage spaces. There’s stuff everywhere and it compromises your living spaces, even when it’s tidied away.

If you throw any of this stuff away, you cut off your creative capabilities. You didn’t accumulate it for nothing. You assembled it all to do things with it. If it’s no longer there, you can’t do it any more. Stuff equates approximately to creative possibilities.

Architects are having a laugh

Incidentally, architects and house-porn mongers are in denial about creativity. The glossy pictures in the brochures, adverts and magazines never show the creative workspaces, or where all that creativity enabling stuff is stored.

Architects don’t design for creators. They design for obedient, idealised domesticity; for people that sit in their living spaces, but do little else. They cut off the possibilities for producing creative things, as if they don’t care about it.

Who are these psychopaths with no books, soldering irons, oscilloscopes, easels and musical instruments?

Denying their customers living spaces purpose-designed for making and creating feels like a whole profession pulling up the drawbridge. After all, architecture is a fundamentally creative, artistic pursuit. It amazes me they design in a way that denies that opportunity to everybody else.

Creation is messy

The whole world tries to pretend that creative people don’t exist. Architects and estate agents want you to believe there will be no mess. Nobody wants to deal with the reality of human beings that cannot exist comfortably in the world, unless they’re manifesting their imaginative ideas as tangible artefacts.

We’re just not supposed to be the way we are. We’re supposed to repudiate our way of being in the world. Nobody wants us to have the space we need to express the best things we have to give to humanity.

Earnings won’t solve it

Your art probably won’t buy more space.

Let’s face it. For the average artist, the amount of money they’ll earn from producing their very best works will never pay for the sums demanded by rentiers, who are pure gatekeepers extracting unearned income, for the creative space vital to their artistic practice. A revolution would be necessary.

It gets harder to exercise your creative abilities, as the cost of creative workspace relentlessly rises.

Art is being priced out of existence

Loft space used to be abundant and relatively cheap, but now creation is being priced out of existence.

Large scale works that require large amounts of space to be made will never be made. They can’t be.

Music recordings that require quiet can’t be made when urban noise encroaches. Musicians that play instruments that make a lot of noise, who are constrained by extreme noise abatement laws, will never learn to play them. There’s so much music that can’t be made.

There is a real constraint on the creation of a lot of art and it’s the lack of space.

Meanwhile, the artists that are able to create smaller works, with fewer necessities, will continue to struggle on in dysfunctional disorganisation.

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Forgetting to Breathe

There’s a mistake that less experienced composers sometimes make. When writing music for singers, brass or woodwind players, they write phrases so long and elaborate that nobody can actually perform them.

They forget to leave spaces to breathe.

Creativity in phrases

Like singers and wind instrument players that play or sing phrases that are too long and not spaced, we, as artists, often forget to give ourselves pauses in which to draw breath. We become so fixated on producing, creatively, that we don’t build in time to rest.

Think of your artistic output as a series of musical phrases. Each one is important as a unit, but the music happens only when you join the phrases together, separated by moments of silence. Sometimes, those silences need to be long, to give the following phrase it’s due impact and emphasis.

The benefits of breaks in your creative output are many. It’s detrimental to your art and output to skip the rests and play on, relentlessly. You’re not doing yourself any favours by not stopping, every now and then.

Creativity should come in bursts.

Revive and refresh

Regrouping to revive and refresh your ideas, techniques and approach is essential to keeping your art alive and vital. If you don’t, it’s easy to fall into a rut or feel like you’re on a meaningless treadmill. Taking time out to gather new inspiration, to notice new ways of doing, or taking some lessons in your art, adjacent arts, or something completely unrelated, can be just the tonic that your artistic practice needs as nourishment.

Who cares?

You also need time to notice who might be responding to your art. Let’s face it. Being an artist can be solitary, lonely and isolating, unless you raise your eyes from your work, every once in a while, to pay attention to who might be enjoying your art. Understanding why they like it can be invigorating, too. Appreciation and praise is like sunshine. It helps us to grow.

Burnout

A manic endless frenzy of creative output can burn you out and exhaust your ideas. Like any physical or mental activity, you expend energy when you create art. Sometimes, a lot of energy.

Because we’re human, that energetic expenditure takes its toll. We get fatigued. We get tired. We need to rest.

Breaks and rest are the way our physiology and mental faculties have been designed to recover and recuperate. You need to respect that. Capitalism, in its mad quest for ever increasing output, doesn’t respect it, but you should. It’s how you survive and build a long career as an artist.

From no ideas to new ideas

You need to gather new ideas to put into your art. If you just continue the way you always have, you get stale and people can perceive that in your body of work. Sometimes, you have to take an idea that is working really well for you and abandon it, for a while, in order to introduce a new idea or two.

Nothing prohibits bringing your old idea back into the mix, later, but this time it will be juxtaposed with your newly introduced ideas. The contrast will make the old feel new again. People that like your art will thrill to the development and growth of your body of work. They will like that you have the courage, as an artist, to explore new directions. Of course, they’ll love your greatest hits, but nostalgia is not enough.

Draw on new sources. Everybody is creating all the time, so there is always a plethora of new influences available. If you respond to something you haven’t been aware of before, try folding it into your own art. If it works for you, keep it.

As a music producer, there are endless sources of new approaches to music making. There is a great podcast by the BBC World Service, hosted by Laura Sanders. It’s called ‘In the Studio’. The episode that came to my attention, in the very early hours of one morning, was the one with the artist S-X. He described what making music is like in a way that really resonated with me. If you can find it, it’s well worth a listen.

The perils of pushing on

I got tired of my painting. It plateaued, I wasn’t improving and I was out of experimental approaches, but I know the other students missed my flamboyant application of bold colours, rapidly, onto the canvas. I’m still in a fallow period with that. I want to visit more art galleries and encounter more artists that I like. Hopefully, once recharged, I can begin to enjoy the process again, instead of feeling like I was making a variant of the same painting, every time I stepped up to the easel.

The same thing happened to my guitar playing, drumming and songwriting, at various times. I got stuck. I’m in the process of unsticking all of those. I have a new drum kit, some new effects pedals and sound ware, and a different idea about how to find new melodies. I just have to spend more time with them all.

My writing has only recently reawakened, after a period of time where I didn’t write much. I’m trying new approaches in my writing. Maybe you can already tell. It’s a work in progress, as am I.

Don’t forget to breathe.

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Imposed Expectations

Ever notice how many people want to impose their idea of how you ought to make your art?

They’re adamant they know better and that you ought to comply. They’re sure of it. I find it annoying and highly offensive. It’s the ultimate boundary crossing.

Why is their way of making art the best and only way? Why would they even know the best way? They might know what works well for them, but so what?

Why is what they like what everyone must like? How authoritarian is that mindset? Implicit in the imposed expectation is a standard which you must meet, or else face ridicule. Who sets the standard? Says who?

Fifty years ago, trousers were judged against the standard of how flared they were. Not enough flare meant they were no good. Inferior. Undesirable and worthless. Today, that’s not a thing. Makers of non-flared trousers are not failures, frauds or imposters. Fifty years ago, they were laughed at as square outsiders.

If other people want you to draw more realistically or use photorealistic colours, why is that right and proper? Why is it better? Why is abstraction in any way inferior to slavishly reproducing the world on a canvas, in high fidelity and with convincing perspective, using art materials, only much more inefficiently than a camera can? Do it that way, if that’s your thing. It takes real skill. But don’t hold it up as the ‘one true way’, as many do.

Why should you release the music you create immediately, after a day in the recording studio? What if you’re going for a higher standard of finish than that? What if you’ve only made more useful fragments for something bigger? Fragments you’re pleased with, but nothing radio-ready. What if you want to release it into the world with the proper protections and assertions of intellectual property ownership? Who is to say it ought to be yanked out of your hands, put in the stocks, in the village square and mercilessly pilloried? You didn’t even think it was properly finished. Why should you finish a track in a day, anyway? Why is that good?

What if you value your art more highly than your detractors do?

What if the entire purpose of your art is the enjoyment you get from making it? Why should that not be valid? Maybe you make art for no other reason than to put yourself in a good mood. So, why the pressure to produce, at an externally imposed rate, to prove your artistic credentials?

Whose timetable is it anyway?

You don’t have to justify your art, your process or even the fact you like making it, to anyone. You don’t have to compare it to anybody else’s and you don’t need to release it to the public when anybody else says you should, if at all, ever.

If that means your critics dismiss you as a non-artist, that’s their problem, not yours. Just keep making your art.

That pressure to conform to externally imposed expectations comes from a place of low trust, where it is not accepted that you’re a ‘proper’ artist until you jump through somebody else’s arbitrary hoops. That’s an exercise in pure intimidation and domination. It’s a power play.

Why are so many people so willing to try to impose their expectations and aesthetic preferences on art you do your own way, for your own reasons, at your own pace? Is it just willy waving? Are those critics looking for an opportunity to belittle your efforts and hold their own up as the one true gold standard?

Why do they even care?

Proving my art is risible doesn’t make your art more credible.

It just diminishes my desire to make and share it. Who wants to subject themselves to that level of judgementalism? It’s not character-building. It’s soul-destroying.

People just enjoy tearing other people down, I think. It’s the predatory, capitalist way. It’s an internalised habit, with many people. Maybe it’s the only world they’ve ever known and they’ve felt pressure to conform to that norm all their lives. I don’t know.

Well, it’s not very kind or nice, that’s all I can say. It pisses me off, quite frankly.

What purpose is served by publicly holding somebody else’s artistic practice up as fraudulent or deficient? Have you saved the world from something terrible, or are you just seeking validation for your own superbly refined taste? Be honest.

Put your ego away and encourage other artists to do what they do, however they like to do it, at whatever rate of progress feels right for them. It won’t hurt a bit.

Maybe work on improving your own art instead.

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Weaponised Art

The Humanity/Insanity Test

I have an acid test to propose for artists and their art. I call it the Humanity/Insanity test.

“What’s that?”, I hear you ask. It’s a judgement about which of the two your art increases, in the world. Does it increase the net humanity and compassion in the world, or does it feed the beast of mass irrationality? Are you making the world better, or worse. Which of the two does your art increase?

Take, for example, music used for commerce or capitalism. I submit that, even though sync licensing can be very lucrative for composers and musicians, it often fails the H/I test. Pimping for fossil fuels, weapons manufacturers, predatory health insurance, and unhealthy, ultra-processed foods makes us all crazier, not kinder, even if the jingle is catchy and jaunty.

Selling your art into this kind of slavery, especially if the message in the lyrics was originally humanistic, is a H/I fail.

Of course, not all artists are motivated by noble intentions. Some artists only want your money, or the money your attention attracts, in aggregate. They don’t care if the world becomes more insane, as a consequence of their actions. Their approach is essentially sociopathic. It is of no concern to them if their work diminishes human solidarity and mutual assistance. They got paid.

They got paid for insidiously influencing what you think is acceptable, in the world. They might think they were only lending a happy song to a harmless commercial activity, that’s nothing to do with them or their values, but that’s not the transaction that has actually taken place at all. That emotionally engaging music the musician made has been used to deceive consumers into enriching a corporation for products you might not have otherwise supported or chosen.

Art as a Weapon

Art is often weaponised. It’s used to convince you to think differently, suspend your better judgement and to swallow a narrative about how things are and should be. It’s used to programme your belief system, by repetition, sneaking past your discernment by appealing to your aesthetic satisfaction.

It’s intention is to dupe you.

The CIA/MI5/MI6 influence on British and Hollywood films, television production, computer games, records, and social media is widely documented. If you search hard enough, you can find the references yourself, with evidence. Some of the biggest art production factories in the world have been infiltrated, to ensure that those who benefit the most from the status quo maintain control over what you think and believe.

They do this by proscribing the limits on acceptable story lines. They filter out any mentions of better ideas that would potentially be in your interests to adhere to. It’s as much about what you never see or hear, as it is about what’s presented. Much of it dismally fails the H/I test. It’s as if they want you destabilised and crazy, so you’re too distracted and immobilised to interfere with their money-making schemes.

All kinds of art are frequently used as tools of narrative control and propaganda. It most definitely contributes to the net insanity in the world. How many story lines have you seen (or songs, or games, or pictures) that subtly denigrate humanity?

The thinly-veiled subtext is that we, as a species, are feckless, gullible, have to be saved from ourselves, are incapable of beneficial collective action and are basically degenerate. It’s essentially Putin’s belief system about Westerners and their Western institutions, which is ironic considering how debased and debauched the average Russian oligarch is.

The common thread about narrative control through art is that, Chinese, Russian or American imperialist, it benefits the wealthiest and maintains the sclerotic status quo. The poorest are left disempowered, but through the influence of art, become enthusiastic supporters of the very systems that immiserate them.

In fact, art has become a geopolitical/ideological battleground. Russia, China, and the US all seek to shape and control the information you get, its reliability and the stories we tell each other. They are gatekeepers over what we accept as truth.

Individualism

Individualism is a race to the bottom to kill, consume, burn and destroy everything for ego gratification. It’s purpose is to prevent solidarity and collective mutual interest activism from taking root.

Much of the art you’re exposed to reinforces the notion of the self-reliant, rugged individual taking a one-man stand against collectivist corruption. It’s the old divide and rule principle. If we are kept isolated and distrustful of each other, we remain relatively powerless, compared to the conspiratorial coalition of the wealthiest.

It’s to keep the wealthiest safe from all of you.

They don’t have the numbers, so they have to use your love of beauty, pleasure and art against you. And they do.

It’s remarkable how often people take decisions to make things worse for themselves and everybody else. They’ve been nudged into it by the relentless onslaught of art designed to seduce them into it. We fall for it every time.

Which way does your art nudge people?

Do click bait, shock jocks and Tucker Carlson pass the H/I test? Of course not. They’re pure and deliberate ploys to increase the insanity.

The War of Ideas

We’re in a war of ideas and information, and art is in the middle of it. You can try to deny it, or say it doesn’t matter, but we’re all conscripted combatants, whether we want to be or not. We’re thrust into the war of ideas every single day and we’re all on the front lines of it.

Billionaire-owned tabloid papers fail the H/I test. Miserably. Their tax-exile, non-domiciled owners pull the strings over national affairs that can only influence the size of their net wealth. Like absentee slum landlords, they let you live in inhuman conditions so that they can profit from afar and live out opulent, lawless lives.

Does Twitter or Facebook pass the H/I test? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

The Artist’s Role in the War

The horrible stuff in the world drags on and on, endlessly. Does art do enough to counterbalance that?

Can it?

Will artists throw themselves into doing so?

I have reasons to believe that perhaps a majority of artists don’t even know they’re in the battle. I think most of them are content to make anodyne, non-committal, escapist, entertaining, meaningless fluff, unaware that in the H/I balance, this represents a deliberate choice too. Escapism ultimately diminishes net humanity and increases net insanity.

Sorry, happy-clappy, mindful, relentlessly positive artists. Even if your work provides temporary relief and escape, you’re doing real harm.

Net Insanity

Is there now too much net insanity to try to gently counteract it, through nudges made by subversive artworks? Maybe the stock of insanity in the world is already too overwhelming to make any meaningful dent in it. Fox News and similar organisations spew lies and insanity into the world daily, on a globalised industrial scale. What good can your song, or satirical cartoon, or lampooning essay really do? The individual impact is so small.

Is there enough time left to guide people compassionately toward saner ideas, before the insanity destroys everything and everybody? Maybe it’s too late to reverse climate collapse, species extinction, totalitarianism, depopulation and the explosion in poor health, through obesity, carcinogens and pandemics. The die may already have been cast, no matter how spectacularly well your art passes the H/I test. We may already be too insane to save, as a species and beyond the point of no return.

Why wouldn’t we be, if insanity has been spewed into the world, deliberately, for generations, just to maintain the power and wealth of a few?

How do you stand against insanity with urgency?

The Backfire Effect

The Backfire Effect is an interesting and pernicious flaw in our thinking, thanks to an evolutionary maladaption in the amygdala of everybody’s brains. It’s the tendency to double down on a bullshit world view, when incontrovertible evidence causes you to not only question beliefs you’ve been taught, but every belief you’ve ever been taught. Rather than revise your entire world view, and hence your whole identity, you reject the proof and cling even harder to your fantastical, discredited notions. You can read a very good explanation of it here: https://caitlinjohnstone.substack.com/p/people-who-defend-empire-narratives

Thanks to the Backfire Effect, even if your art passes the H/I test, it merely serves to entrench the false ideas you try to destroy. The more you try to add humanity into the world, the more the audience self-manufactures more insanity.

It’s only when a majority of art passes the H/I test that the common sense belief set, held in most people’s heads, can even begin to change. That, my friends, is a daunting prospect, while so much money and time is poured into manufacturing insanity.

That leads me to a very uncomfortable question. At this point, is hope realistic?

Maybe art needs to be about changing how people feel, rather than what they think. Maybe the amygdala bypass we need is using what people emotionally react to, to change what and how they think.

If we can’t teach people to hug each other, through our art, then all is lost. Rather than making escapist art, we need to make art that encourages us to gather together, in love, solidarity and shared human experience, using our propensity for socialisation to make mutual aid blossom.

Get people feeling their way toward co-operation and mutuality.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

Is There a Viable Way Forward?

So, here we all are again, as per usual, but still with so many unanswered questions.

It’s not down to me. It’s down to all of us, together.

Will we bias our artistic output toward humanity and away from insanity, or will we just blunder forward into the chaotic, existentially-threatening unknown, the way we have been?

We have collective choices to make. Will we make them?

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Time is Running Out

Mortality, eh? You’ve got to laugh.

If you’re lucky, you will get old. The trouble is: your creative ideas and plans won’t care. You’ll probably be planning creative projects as if you were a teenager, many of which you can’t possibly complete in any reasonable projection of your likely time remaining on Earth.

Age overtakes your creative plans. As you age, you may lose some of the agility, flexibility, energy and ability that your plans require. Just as you get to be good enough at what you do, your body and mind begin to withdraw, backing away from it.

I realised that I started writing this blog more than 12 years ago. It had only ever been intended it as a way to flex my writing muscle, to share what I knew and to get stuff that was bothering me out of my overthinking head and down in writing, so that I could free my mind for other creative pursuits.

I’ve written well over 900 posts since making that decision. Have I improved any? That’s not for me to judge. I think I’ve developed greater fluency. I tend to write more spontaneously, with less pre-planning. Useful skills.

This week, Andy Fletcher, founding member of Depeche Mode, died at the age of 60. I can’t help feeling he had other plans. I’d like to believe he still had creative projects on his horizon. It’s very sad that he’s gone. It’s sad, as well, that his creative projects have ended.

I’ve been writing and recording songs since I was 11. I’ve hung around recording studios since I was 24. In all that time, I’ve tried to keep a home recording set up going and I’ve tried to improve my knowledge and skills. Yet, I remain highly dissatisfied with what I’ve accomplished, musically. There is so much music still left inside me. Sometimes, it’s really hard to get it out.

Why didn’t I get more music done? After all, music making is very important to me. Like all of us, you get gaps in your creative output, while doing life. A lot of my time was spent just surviving, in a world that demands I sell all of my time and energy simply to remain alive.

I dedicated myself to providing for and bringing up my kids. They’re adults now and I am very satisfied with and proud of how they turned out. Whatever time they took away from my creative projects was time well spent. If anything, I wish I could have invested even more of my time in them, so great has been the reward.

Lots of my lifetime was spent earning, doing things the economy wanted from me. It didn’t want my art as much. I’m still trying to fit my musical projects in around those other commitments to earn and pay. It’s hard.

I was a young kid when Pink Floyd released their song ‘Time’. I distinctly remember when it was released. It didn’t really resonate with me, at the time. The song’s theme of ‘time running out’ didn’t seem relevant, when I had my whole life ahead of me. That song has greater impact, the older I get. Every day is getting shorter. Never seem to find the time.

What sobers me up, while I contemplate how to move my creative projects forward, is the fact that the late Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters was much younger than me when he passed away. It’s an alarming wake-up call. You never know when your time is up.

The late Neil Peart, drummer extraordinaire, knowing he was afflicted by a terminal condition, said, while making his album ‘Clockworks Angels’, “I feel a certain urgency to get the record made while I’m still able.”

Urgency feels like pressure. The clock is ticking.

We still have time to do many of our planned creative projects, but no time to waste.

Maybe all artists die trying.

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