I love this Ira Glass quote and I particularly love Daniel Sax‘s visual illustration of it. I first read this quote on Pinterest shortly after I started Make Something Every Day. I’ve referred back to it over the years as I’ve put my time in “doing a lot of work.” I like to check in with it and see if it still resonates with me and if I can still take wisdom and encouragement from it. Each time I come away humbled that we creative folk are all walking the same path. Over the years as I’ve read the quote again and again, I find myself fleshing out my own creative narrative.
My taste is killer. Weird. But killer.
My taste has always been what most people would probably call peculiar. Long before I had any art history to ground me in humankind’s widely-acknowledged masters, the works of artists like Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, and Helen Frankenthaler spoke to me. While I can appreciate and enjoy more traditionally “pretty” art, it doesn’t excite me like the edginess of modern art. I can walk past fifty landscapes and portraits on the way to the modern art section in the museum and mostly I just wanna take a nap. Two minutes with an abstract expressionist work, submerged in its movement, color, and energy, and I’m practically bouncing up and down. Some people seek sensations by riding roller coasters. I’m pretty sure modern art is my roller coaster.
Only in the past month or so have I been able to clearly see and articulate that looking at modern art is my sensation-seeking behavior. Viewing my behavior through the lens of “looking for a novel experience” makes so much sense to me. Being able to articulate why I like what I like and why it’s a thing for me is huge. One of my favorite quotes from Mark Rothko gets deep into the heart of this:
I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on — and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate those basic human emotions… The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point!
When I read this quote earlier this year, I was thrilled. I should have known the abstract expressionists would nail that down, but I was sloppy and hadn’t looked for it. This knowledge has moved me a little bit further down my path.
Working in the Gap
When I started Make Something Every Day, I didn’t know what excited me creatively. I had to get in there and do the work. I felt my way around in the dark a lot of days, stopping and starting making a lot of different kinds of things. I’ve had over three years in “The Gap” now. I better understand what my taste is and I know that what I’m making doesn’t yet live up to my vision. Some days the dissonance between what I’m making and my taste is really jarring. Some days it’s less so. I contemplate quitting on days where the distance between what I’d like to make and what I’m actually making is greatest. Days when I question the worth of everything I’ve made and all of my intentions for making, those too are the days I contemplate quitting. That’s when I have to force myself show up again the next day. Knowing that I won’t ever close The Gap sitting on the couch watching tv is the only thing that gets me in the studio some days. Well, that and the joy.
Is it possible to make it out of The Gap? Working in The Gap is hard work because I don’t know how long it’s going to take or when I will get there. Maybe three years? Maybe five? Maybe ten? Maybe I won’t ever make it across The Gap. That uncertainty about when and if it’s gonna happen is a whole lot of tension to live with.
Occasionally, I’ll make a thing and think, “Hey, that’s pretty cool. I can’t believe I made that!” Surely, that’s a step in the right direction. And is it consistent internal satisfaction with the work over time or external praise from others that helps us to feel like we’ve successfully traversed The Gap? I suppose that one is different for all of us. I know I can’t chase praise or the things I make will die. But why make the things at all if I think no one will ever look at them or enjoy them?
The Gap can be a dark and lonely place. That’s why people quit. I like to keep things light, but thinking about The Gap is heavy lifting indeed. This is where the fight is: the fight to show up every day and continue making a thing. This is also why community is important, so you aren’t lost in The Gap all by yourself. The community is there to cheer you on and bolster you on bad days. They are there to tell you the thing you made is good and that you should keep going. They are there to tell you the thing you made can be better and to try again. Don’t work in The Gap alone.
Do it for the Process
There’s a hashtag on Instagram called Do it for the Process. I post under it sometimes. Not because I want to be reposted necessarily (although that’s awesome in it’s own way), but because it’s a reminder to myself to love the work for the work’s sake. Stephen and I talk about art and process a lot. The other day after we’d been talking about this Ira Glass thing, he tweeted:
Slowly getting better at seeing the gap between what I imagine and what I create as a challenge to hurdle instead of a pit to fall into.
— Stephen Granade (@Sargent) September 15, 2016
And then I wanted to kick myself because he boiled down to 140 characters what I had been trying to articulate in this post for weeks. Then I also gave myself a pat on the back for marrying someone so dang smart.
Looking at the process as the biggest part of the fun is integral to being able to continue doing the work over the long haul. And so on days when I’m dragging and thinking, “I gotta go to the studio and get something done,” I shake myself a little bit and remind myself, “I get to go to the studio today! And that’s a beautiful place to get to be!”
What do you see in The Gap? What rings true for you? What makes you mad? I wanna know what you think!