May 3, 2017

Mr. Rogers' Bait and Switch

"Hi, glad to see you today. I shall button my buttons on my sweater, and change my shoes, and get ready to have some time with you in this very special studio of ours. "

I didn't really watch Mr. Rogers growing up, so when my friend posted a picture of him on Facebook today I was surprised to see him in a zip-front cardi. I thought "Oh, how modern of him, I wonder when he switched over."

I googled him and, to my amazement, saw that he had a full closet of different colored zip-front cardis. Then I went back to the '70s, then back to the '60s! HE ALWAYS WORE A ZIP-FRONT CARDI!!!! In fact, the only time he seems to have worn a button cardigan other than his first episode was to demonstrate how difficult it is to actually button a sweater.

So much for life lessons from Mr. Rogers! . . . now I'm afraid I'll find out he always wore Velcro sneakers.

I bet if I asked everyone I know, they would all say Mr. Rogers wore buttoned cardigans. It seems like an iconic piece of television history, a nugget of American that everyone recognizes. There was something comforting in that image: the old-fashioned, comfortable Mr. Rogers sweater.

February 12, 2015

I Think People Without Art Have Empty Lives And I’m Not Sorry About It

What happens when you take Sarah Larson’s essay "I Think People Without Kids Have Empty Lives... and replace “child” with “art.” 

I’ve never thought of myself as the kind of person who judges the choices of others. This is, in fact, because I don’t actively, consciously choose to do so. I’ve always held strongly to the notion that everyone has different priorities and preferences in regard to how they live their life, and that simply because I would choose or have chosen something different, or even if I outright disagree with their choices, I still uphold their right to make that choice. Of the many life choices we make, the decision to have art or not is arguably the biggest one, because it changes your life the most and is largely the most irrevocable. You can get a divorce. You can change jobs. You can move to new cities. You can do and undo almost anything – except having art (unless you’re a monster who abandons your art, but let’s assume none of you are.)

I never thought of myself as the kind of person who judges other people’s choices. But after spending enough of my life with art and without, I can’t deny what I really feel: It’s a perfectly fine choice to never become an artist, but there is absolutely no chance that your life will be as full or meaningful, or that you will learn as many essential truths about existence, as you would if you had art.

Because when it comes down to it, there are certain truths about life that you literally cannot know until you’ve become an artist. The list of those truths could go on forever (no, it really could), but the core truth behind all of it is about what human life is about, how we relate to each other, how to care for each other, and the tiny moments that, in the end, are what we do all this other shit to support.

Our lives – our careers and the things we want – are ultimately born from a desire to create a safe, happy space for ourselves within which moments of joy can occur. That’s it. That’s really it. And that – among all the things I just listed – is something that maybe you can learn from other life experiences, but trust me – I’ve had a great many life experiences and learned a lot from them but none of those lessons are illustrated in such stark, bright clarity as they are from your experiences and emotions you have as an artist. They are diluted in comparison to having art. Watching a new piece come to exist and seeing your art discovered for the first time [. . . ] literally every moment of being an artist, if you’re thoughtful and observant, is a mind-blowing opportunity to learn the most basic things about what it means to be human. There is not a single other thing you can do in your life that gives you access to that. It’s like living with a constant reminder of what life is about in a way that gives tangible meaning to that (and every other) cliché.

I’m not saying you can’t have a happy life without art. Of course you can. You can be happy making all kinds of choices, because people are adaptable and have a remarkable ability to make the best of things. You can also be happy as a racist, but that doesn’t make you an especially great person. I’m not saying that art-free people are bad like being racist is bad. I’m simply illustrating the point that happiness does not equate to living a great life. My actual point is this: I don’t think people are somehow bad or wrong for not having art – I just think it’s really, deeply sad. I feel tremendously sad for them.

Why do I feel sad for people without art? Because they’re missing out on this incredible thing that gives you an entire new scope of what it means to love, and to give of yourself, and to care for something else more than yourself. It’s an insanely powerful thing, and it challenges you to deal with the intensity of that. How do you love something so much that you care for it more than you care about yourself but still force yourself to have a balance and take care of yourself? What is the difference between being actually selfless for the sake of something else versus doing things for other people only for the sake of what you might get out of it, even if what you get is just a good feeling? Because with art, you often do things for its benefit that don’t feel good, and there is no thanks, but you do them because it’s just…what you’re there to do.

Which is another thing: Having art doesn’t have to be your primary and sole focus in life, although for some people it is, and that’s a valid pursuit for sure. But even if you have a booming career and active social life and don’t focus 100% of your time and attention on your art, it is still the center of everything. It is this centralizing, grounding force that, by the weight of its importance, puts every other part of your life in perspective. When you don’t have art, the hierarchy of your priorities is constantly shifting, with all the things you care about – friends, career, romantic partners, etc. – always vying for top spot. Once you become an artist, no matter how the breakdown of your day goes, no matter how you apportion your time, your art is undoubtedly, unquestioningly your absolute top concern. Having that kind of focus makes it easier to put all of the other life shit into order. That’s hugely powerful – and actually makes you more efficient at everything you do.

A common argument against having art is the desire to be as ambitious as you want to be in other regards. It’s the desire to have a huge, full, accomplished life that leads so many people to make the decision to forgo artisthood altogether. My rebuttal – and the experience so many artists would agree with – is that instead of slowing down your life, having art gives you a monumental incentive to live life with more purpose and excellence than you otherwise would. When I got pregnant with artistic ideas for the first time, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to devote the energy to my career that I wanted to. I was afraid I would get bogged down in artisthood and everything else I had been working for would stall out under the pressing obligation of that new role.

That is the opposite of what happened.

Suddenly, all the plans for how I envisioned my life took on new urgency. Before, I had wanted to create a wonderful life for myself, but now, I was looking at the prospect of creating a life for someone else’s benefit, and it turns out that was like a supernatural fire lit under my ass to get serious about accomplishing everything I had previously thought I had all the time in the world to do. I didn’t stop wanting all the things I had wanted pre-artistry – in fact, I wanted them much more intensely, and suddenly had renewed drive and clarity about going after them. I ended up accomplishing more during my art pregnancy and in the years after making my first art than I did in all the years before.

And I think that’s what it comes down to: You absolutely have more free hours in the day and less on the line when you’re going through life without art, but that doesn’t inherently make you capable of accomplishing more. When you have more on the line, you can react in one of two ways: You can crumble beneath the fear of failing and the stress of juggling everything, or you can use the presence of your art and the compulsion to give it an amazing life as motivation to make your life as big and fantastic and full of lovely things as you always wanted. And on top of all of that, like I said, you get the unique experience of getting to learn so much about what it means to be human, what it means to love, what it means to truly commit to something, and the incredibly liberating, tragically indescribable perspective that comes from creating something.

August 3, 2011

My friend just shared this information with me, and I wanted to share it with all of you! These softies are absolutely adorable, and this book tells you how to make them!

What a fun project this would be to keep a child occupied on a rainy day - find all the broken bits of stuff in the house and turn them into unique toys! Heck, I think it will even keep this grown-up occupied on the next rainy day!

Steampunk Softies: 8 Scientifically Minded Dolls From a Past That Never Was by Sarah Skeate and Nicola Tedman