I think a lot about what choices I need to make in terms of my art career and life, what are the paths I want to pursue. Where I should be putting my energies, and how I should be putting myself out in the world. These are all issues that I enjoy talking with my artist friends about. Sharing our ideas and plans about how to improve as artists, how to build a career and how to fit everything together into a life. Its part of the process of trying to make things better tomorrow than they are today.
But there is one thing that I hear more and more from not only artist friends but from others that are involved in both creative and other careers. That is the desire to find a map through all the unknowable portions of their artwork, career, and lives. Folks are always looking for secrets, and defined methodologies. Folks talk about all of the choices we need to make as though there really is a map out there somewhere. They talk about this metaphorical map as though life had a plan, or one that we as mere mortals could discern if we only had the right piece of information or right advice.
This desire for a map seems to be built on the idea that the world stands still, that things always work and every course is plot-table. These folks around me chant on secrets, lament that they are more talented than those they see being successful, and get ultra-defensive about critique and rejection. They focus so much energy on this idea that if you just meet the right person, get the right advice, or find the secret path of the successful than life will bloom like the sweetest flower of mythic lore.
Its a bullshit waste of time.
I can’t say that I know a tremendous amount about this world, and I can’t say that I am an expert on many things at all. But I believe in my 30+ years of experience walking the Earth as a naked ape, I am very certain of one thing. There are no maps, and if there are they are ones that won’t help you. They will just lead you to some cliff’s edge of despair, or right into some dark murky river whose currents will pull you apart as they push you further from your goals.
There will be no answers along the path unless you find a way to make them, folks may come by and help you, or they might hinder or hurt you, but really they don’t know anymore about where they are going then you do. Everything happens because you keep moving, and even when it feels like you are standing still you have to keep your legs moving – lest you slide deep into the dirt and start lamenting the manufacturer of your shoes.
I find these map hunters most troubling when it comes from artist friends I really value. Its hard for me to understand the belief that there answers out there that will be given to you, and worse yet, I don’t understand the need for them. I never feel that one takes on the role of artist to take the road more traveled, so its weird to me when folks start expecting a path to be laid out cleanly in front of them. All that does is waste time.
This is not to say that I don’t value seeking advice and looking at what other people are doing and finding ways of adopting what they do to your own praxis. I find that stuff incredibly valuable and do it nearly everyday. I am always looking for better ways forward and more effective methods to grow through. But this is all about growth, its not about a sure and accepted route. I don’t want a map, but I want better boots, and enough food to keep traveling.
At some point all your energies can’t be managed, they can only be aimed. You set your goal and start heading in the direction you think it is. Who can know what you’ll bump into along the way, what you will have to swim through, and lord knows objects at a distance always seem closer than they actually are.
This is how I set my paths, wether its my plan for improving my lot in life over a year or two, or just to get through a single idea I am working out on a canvas, drawing board or digital file. Things stay unclear until you step on them, and even then you don’t really know whats good or bad. You don’t get to know and thats why you keep trying. And some day if your lucky you will find something on the path that just blows your mind and changes everything. I believe this and have seen it happen.
Maps, directions, detailed instructions. These are the enemies of creativity and life, and more suitable for wedding invitations and electrical appliances.
Where ever it is that we are going, the movement is the thing, and without it you won’t ever make the choices that light the next paths.