The last time I was in Belgium was right after high school, when my buddies and I took a euro trip across five countries in three weeks. Now ten years later, I’m here for a work trip—to discuss at some meetings how policies between the EU and U.S. undermine consumer/user interests and to figure out a plan to reform corporate-captured trade deals so they’re more transparent and democratic. I think 18 year old me would be nodding in approval if she knew what I’m up to nowadays.
Mostly because I was so full of self-conscious despair throughout my teens. I knew that the world was deeply messed up, power-wise, money-wise, gender-wise, race-wise, etc., but it felt so overwhelming to wrap my head around and I didn’t know where to start. There wasn’t anything inconsistent to me about enjoying Ayn Rand’s writing, which I thought was a celebration of unique self-determination, and reading Adbusters and becoming disillusioned by unrestrained capitalism. I didn’t know where to direct my anger or concern, how to articulate my criticism or my own ideology.
But now I feel like I have a much better handle on things. For one I’m more on top of my shit and so more confident in my own skin and voice than I’ve ever been. I’ve come a long way from the emo days when I could barely contain my anger when someone around me would utter something ignorantly hateful (although I couldn’t a few times, once flipping over my desk about someone’s pro-Iraq war comment in Morality class). When my only outlets were to scrawl my feelings about the world in my journal and rant about “the world” at anyone who would listen when I got drunk at parties.
I’ve found a way to funnel those anger/despair feels into being an activist. In the decade since I was a confused baby adult, I’ve learned a few things—to be curious and skeptical, to avoid blindly clinging to ideologies, and understand the importance of balancing between idealistic optimism and pragmatic cynicism.
My 18 year-old self might be surprised to know that I’d travel all the way back here as part of my job. But I’d like to think she’d be more pleased that I’ve been trying what I can to fix some of the injustice in this world that filled her with so much dread, and am constantly challenging myself to get better at making sense of them to myself and others.
so far I’ve been making good ~strides~ on my art making, largely due to the way-more-than figure drawing class I’ve been going to. Besides the intense, weekly three-hour classes that involve a lot of mark making and discussion about expression, reaction, and the meaning of creativity, the instructor has been asking us to do weekly “homeplay.”
The writing component of this homeplay has been really rewarding so far, and has been a great counterweight to the loose, reactive approach to drawing that we do during class. It’s forced me to reflect upon what I find valuable about art and being creative–actually, much more than reflect, but to define it, put it out in front of me, examine it, and take apart the pieces. As someone who has long had a strained love affair of sorts with art making, it’s felt like therapy. He calls on us to ask ourselves: What does creativity even mean, and why is it important to us?
So far, these have been some of my answers below, followed by questions that I posed myself upon reflecting on my answer to those initial questions:
I understand creativity as an ability that allows a person to be free to experiment in what they make or do, given any number of constraints. There’s an element of unpredictability or resourcefulness that the word connotes, and that usually seems to be related to some kind limitation, such as the available materials, existing rules and expectations (like an aesthetic), or the amount of time given for the activity.
For me creativity‘s importance lies in both its experimentation and resourcefulness, but also that it can occur within almost everything I do. I’m being creative when I whip up a meal from the random assortment of ingredients I happen to have in my kitchen. I’m being creative when I write a blog post for my job and choose the words and type of sentences I use to explain something. What I love about these regular activities is how I get to express myself in them, that I get to exercise my intuition, judgment, taste, and mood. Creativity is valuable because it’s fun, even when I use it for my day-to-day survival.
Does creativity have to be so calculated and backed by intent, or can it be raw and expressive? Does it have to be either/or? Can it lie on various points of the spectrum of these things and be still feel good and fulfilling?
What are my limitations at any given point?
And what are my resources?
How can I learn to play with both?
The way I described creativity and my value of it feels uncomfortably self-indulgent and ego driven. It didn’t capture how much I enjoy collaborating with others or acknowledging how I am influenced by others, whether directly or indirectly. All my judgments, my feelings, and the ideas and resources that affect my work has not come out of thin air and I don’t want to act like they appear in a vacuum. So how do I approach creativity and my artmaking practice as one that’s more of an dialogue with others, rather than as a solitary, egocentric experience?
I just miss it, don’t you? If you’re older than the age of 23 or so and were fortunate enough to have access to the Internet, you’ll remember how magical this new digital frontier felt like, its aesthetic and air of possibility…
There’s a fair criticism that those who feel nostalgia for the early days of the Internet often dwell on how fascinating it was compared to its often polished/siloed interface now, but never think about how very exclusive it really was. It was mostly white, well-off educated people who had access. So in claiming that the Internet ought to somehow be like “the old days,” there’s an implication that it ought be exclusive.
But having said that, I still wish I could browse and interact with the Web from back then. I would pay *good money* to get a copy of what my livejournal or myspace page in its full anigify splendor. I must’ve spent HOURS futzing with their html/css to get it just the way I wanted. Designers would (and probably did) cringe at the thought of everyone designing their own web pages, but there was something endearing about the fact that glamming up your site with flashing buttons and titles wasn’t just accepted, it was freakin celebrated.
So anyway, I got a major pang of this when I came across this museum of old Geocities images called Cameron’s World. It’s just a thematically curated web page of awesome tacky anigifs that once adorned people’s random sites. Check it out and let that wistfulness for the early web wash over you.
There’s one resolution that I’ve kept on declaring new year after new year: create/draw/paint more. And year after year, I’d largely neglect it. Every time I tried, I’d freeze up, get terrified, and end up torturing myself to make something. The judgey asshole side of my brain made all of it seem too forced, pointless, and lost. I couldn’t escape the grip of it every time. While I managed to sign up for two art classes in the 8 years since taking one in college, drawing/painting had turned into something like taking a shit while constipated. But even though I started to dread that feeling, I kept having an itch to make visual work. It was a ceaseless, awful nagging.
So I finally signed up for a new class. Not just any class. This is, according to the instructor, a “creativity” class. For the next six months, we are going to draw as if our life, the essence and meaning of it, depended on it. It’s all going to happen within the bounds of one subject, a model, and three materials: compressed charcoal and a white eraser on newsprint paper. The instructor has been teaching this class in his home for the last 24 years, and he is intense about shedding and kicking away creative barriers.
I cannot be more excited. >_<
Below are the highlights from my first class from today. All of these poses were less than 30 seconds long and were told not to care at all what ended up on the page.