In the summer and fall of 2020 I participated in "The Creative’s Workshop" offered by Seth Godin and Akimbo, a workshop focused on digging deeper into your creative work and “shipping” your work every day. I reflected back on what I learned from this workshop and focusing on my art for several months.
One of the key parts of the workshop is posting your work every day (what they call your “dailies”). This was a new practice for me. Previously, I would work on my art when I felt like it. I didn’t think that sitting down every day to do art would make a difference for me, but it did! My work progressed faster and I uncovered more ideas than I would have if I just waited to work when I wanted to.
I tried to spend 2 hours a day working on my art. This was a stretch for me! I find it easier to work that long when I’m refining ideas (like editing a pattern in Photoshop) than when I’m generating new ideas and raw material (painting and collaging). To help motivate myself I created a two-hour playlist of my favorite songs to listen to while I worked on my art. Now that I have a day job I try to spend one hour on my art each morning before I start my data science work.
In addition to the dailies, the workshop also had a series of prompts to help you dig deeper into why you do your work, what it’s for, who it’s for, what change you are trying to make. The questions were worthwhile to think through, but I still struggle to have a good “reason” for the art I create, even after 30 such prompts.
I want my life to be kind, thoughtful, and wildly creative and colorful, and I hope that my art brings those qualities out into the world in some way. Beyond that, I wonder if it might be arrogant to think I can know how exactly my work will go out into the world and who it will impact and how it will make them feel. An easy answer might be that I make patterns to bring people joy, but that feels superficial to me; it’s a nice outcome, but it’s not what motivates me.
So why do I spend so much of my time making patterns? I enjoy seeing the patterns emerge, I enjoy the challenge of understanding different types of symmetries, I like mixing paint colors, I like painting flowers with different brush strokes. I create patterns because it is something core to who I am, I like organizing things and playing with colors and shapes.
This reminds me of some Annie Dillard wrote: “There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. […] You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.” (Full text here.) In the same article, she writes this very powerful description of artists:
Rembrandt and Shakespeare, Bohr and Gauguin, possessed powerful hearts, not powerful wills. They loved the range of materials they used. The work’s possibilities excited them; the field’s complexities fired their imaginations. The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules. They learned their fields and then loved them. They worked, respectfully, out of their love and knowledge, and they produced complex bodies of work that endure.
I went to Kyoto a few years ago and visited the Kahitsukan Museum of Modern Art. The director writes on the website, “I only hope that somehow it will make an original contribution to beauty.” This really resonates with me, I think I have a unique artistic voice and I hope, that somehow, it adds to what is beautiful in the world.