When we’re children, adults ask us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The mind of a child, knowing no boundaries, feeling no restrictions can answer anything, from the logical and well-considered to, more often, the fictional and illusory. How many children of the 1960’s wanted to grow up to be astronauts? I know I did. Or Batman. I wanted to be Batman too.
I’ve been calling myself an artist or a photographer now for about 30 years. The difference between the two is indistinct and can be applied to both. One has to do with illuminating beauty while the other has to do with producing a product. I’d like to think that being “of the process”; I’m compelled to work at photography or art regardless of the perception of success and approval of others. The dedication and perseverance implied or required is often accompanied by a desperate realization, that I don’t know how to do anything else, so when the work is going well, it’s smooth sailing, but when the wind dies down and the doldrums are nigh, drowning seems like the only possible outcome.
In these times, it’s even more imperative to keep producing work, often with the semi-conscious knowledge that it’s crap and is merely biding time, keeping the mechanism of creation lubricated until the next breeze comes along to push the work back into movement. I’m at one of these moments and we all know (maybe you don’t, good for you. Don’t worry, you will.) how terrifying it can be.
The terror comes, of course, from the equating of our self-worth with what we “are”. An artist who produces no art is not much of an artist. An artist who produces “bad” art is a fool or a pretender. Popularity and notoriety define artistic success in the present tense; ultimately history decides what is really important. This temporal anomaly causes fashion, creativity, inspiration and execution to cause a variety of emotional and psychological decisions and debilitations, the lack of certainty one dead end of the maze.
Art, defined as stimuli to the brain, causes the release of chemicals in our brains that produce emotional responses. If this is true, then even bad art, placeholder art, purely mechanical art has some value, even if the emotional response is apathetic or negative. The doing, the making is individually valuable, regardless of the external response, as the internal stimulation keeps the mind from forgetting the totality of the creative process.
Even as I find myself adrift like Melville’s Ishmael, full of woe and a sense of helplessness, I try to continue to do and resist the temptation to surrender completely. Small victories prevent that.
Not everyone gets to be an astronaut, but we can all be Batman.