This week along with brave souls Bayles & Orland, authors of Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, we are going to fall into a funk. Don’t worry. I promise—funks are part of the process.
If you’re like most artists we know, you’re probably accustomed to watching your work unfold smoothly enough for long stretches of time, until one day—for no immediately apparent reason—it doesn’t. Hitting that unexpected rift is commonplace to the point of cliché, yet artists commonly treat each recurring instance as somber evidence of their own personal failure. Nominees for Leading Role in a Continuing Artists’ Funk are: (1) you’ve entirely run out of new ideas forever, or (2) you’ve been following a worthless deadend path the whole time. And the winner is: (fortunately) neither. One of the best kept secrets of artmaking is that new ideas come into play far less frequently than practical ideas—ideas that can be reused for a thousand variations, supplying the whole framework for a whole body of work rather than a single piece. (55-56)
Hmmmm? Doesn’t this go against everything we thought about what art is—and who we have to be to make it? Original? Daring? Brilliant? Nope—it doesn’t. The passage above reminds me of Julia Cameron’s—The Vein of Gold—it’s not about being practical really—it’s about tapping into what we care about most. What calls to us, informs us, makes us who we are—we can use in a variety of ways. Think about what we read, view, and listen to as consumers. I do like things outside of my favorite genres—but I definitely have my favorites. Singer/songwriters from James Taylor to Tracy Chapman to the Indigo Girls. Books—family oriented middle grades—from Winn Dixie to Keeper to Harriet the Spy. Television—Law and Order to the Chicago Code to NYPD Blue.
Whether it is a singer I love; a book I love, or a TV show I am addicted to the forats and these artists are all different but they resonate with a similar energy. For me, words matter. Families matter. Injustice and corruption matter. Put it all together and what you get is what I write about—families, justice, and words. It could be a blog post, an essay, a novel, a picture book, or even a poem. It could be a book set in the past as Between Us Baxters is, a novel set here today—as Truth with a Capital T is—or it could be a picture book about the relationship between a boy and his world leader grandfather, ala Grandfather Gandhi (forthcoming--Antheneum). Is it practical to write from this vein of gold? Perhaps. But more importantly it is simply what matters to me most.