It’s 1:28 am, and I awoke this morning, March 2, 2023, mulling a subject that’s been rattling around my head of late, and one I thought I would spend some time considering on the printed page: that of consumption vs creation.
Consumption and creation might be considered opposite poles, or two sides of a scale. By “consumption”, I am not talking about consuming goods and services as much as consuming others’ creative output. And by creative output, I mean anything created by others, but perhaps particularly these days anything moving picture related, from movies on Netflix, et al, to YouTube videos, to Instagram reels and the like.
And my contention is that very often, those of us who consider ourselves “creatives” are spending too much time consuming others’ creativity rather than generating our own.
There are other opposites I might dwell on. Diversion and devotion.
Diversion, well, that’s at the heart of this post. It’s the great archfoe of our age. It may be the activity you’re engaged in right now, reading this.
Creativity involves a measure of devotion. Of consideration and contemplation. Of course, we can contemplate the product of others’ creativity, just as we can our own, after we’ve completed a piece, say, or a body of work. But there’s something much more central to why we creatives do what we do. There’s active creative engagement.
An artist wrote to me a while back and said (I’m paraphrasing here), “We artists get to experience the best part of art. Others view it once it’s completed; static; fixed, but we get to participate in it when it’s in a state of transformation; when it’s alive.”
I was listening to a podcast recently centering on the subject of bettering oneself. In this particular talk, the speaker, Jim Rohn, was talking about the subject of salesmanship, and asked the audience of salesmen and women to evaluate how much time they spent on major and minor tasks during their workday. He then elaborated, saying that minor tasks were anything they did that were not in the presence of the person to whom they were attempting to make a sale. Being in the presence of was their only major task, and he encouraged them to think about ways they could increase the percentage of time they were in the presence of, and decrease the amount of time they spent in minor, albeit sometimes necessary, tasks.
His repeated words in the presence of struck me, and I realized, not for the first time, that despite being a “full time artist”, I engage in a lot of minor tasks, and often, not enough time in the presence of, i.e., experiencing the best part of art, when it’s in a state of transformation; when its alive.
I want to give all of us a bit of grace here, because there are times, such as, for me, for the past few months, when we necessarily have to focus on “minor tasks”.
Personally, I’m spending much of my time these days helping to supervise and assist with the creation of two studio apartments my wife and I are having built on our properties. And there is absolutely a creative aspect to the projects that I find enjoyable. But the projects have also filled my art studio with materials related to the builds, reducing the amount of space for making art, and more to the point, shrinking the amount of time in the presence of, if only temporarily.
What time I do have these days to focus on art has been spent building a new wall-mounted easel that will raise and lower painting panels via an electric winch, which should make working on large-scale panels easier.
All well and good.
But yeah, while I’ve decided that these are acceptable projects, they have significantly reduced the amount of time that I have to spend in the presence of.
So I’m encouraging myself to engage in more contemplation of ways I can decrease the minor tasks and consumption of others’ creativity and increase the amount of time I’m in the presence of, and encourage you, whether or not you consider yourself to be a creative, to accurately weigh your scales of consumption vs creation and diversion vs devotion, and whether there might be ways for you to reweigh them such that you can spend more time in the presence of.
Bonus, related thought:
I recently read this quote by the late Bay Area painter Richard Diebenkorn:
“Of course, I don’t go into the studio with the idea of ‘saying’ something – that’s ludicrous. What I do is face the blank canvas, which is terrifying. Finally I put a few arbitrary marks on it that gets me on some sort of dialogue. I need a dialogue to get going. In earlier years, I would have specific ideas for a painting – something I may have dreamed or caught a glimpse of. I don’t rely on that sort of thing anymore, because once I got started, it didn’t last.”
I love this quote. It is exactly how I feel about the creative process, which is, obviously, not a one size fits all proposition. But for me, imposing my “will” on the work, prior to starting the work, is generally unhelpful/unfruitful/“generic”. It has to be an active engagement with the work in the present, in the presence of, not relating to the work in a prescriptive, predetermined way. Love, love, love.