Are Metaphorical Rollercoasters Fun? and The Beauty of Unfocused Focus
I’ve been working on The Creature Bowl Collection, along with some other small sculptures, for the past few months and they will be released soon on the website. Working on these bowls has stretched me, tested me, broke me, and built me. It’s been a good run of work, and as I’ve been doing the final push to get all the photography and website work done, I’ve been thinking about the rollercoaster ride that this line of work can sometimes be. When it’s good, oh, it’s glorious. And when it’s bad, I pray that my cats have the fortitude to buoy me. Hint: they do because they’re magnificent.
The creative process is a wondrous thing - a slippery little beast incapable of surviving a tight grasp. I liken it to those Magic Eye illusions, where in order to see the hidden 3D message, you have to unfocus your gaze, let the repetition of colors and patterns engulf your field of vision, and wait for the magic to just appear. And that’s if the creative process is going well. Things don’t just appear necessarily, but it sort of feels that way sometimes. I also can’t see Magic Eye's because I have sort of magic eye myself - a lazy eye - that frigs with my depth perception and robs me of such heightened experiences, but I’ve been told they’re lovely.
If I'm really happy with something I’m making I almost don't even think - or rather, the object of my intention is so specific and focused that nothing else can exist. My sister is a wildly gifted artist, and always has been. When we were kids I remember more than once, usually when I was reading or watching TV or some other stationary happening, feeling like I was being watched…and I’d look up to find her, sketchpad on her lap, head cocking every which way to check her progress from every possible angle, absolutely unfazed by having been found out, and entirely unaware of what she looked like in this state. I couldn’t have gotten her out of that zone if I’d offered her a box of just-marshmallows Lucky Charms.
This level of focus is an entirely different form of attentiveness that I practice in few other areas of my life (ie, when I’m driving past a very close object/vehicle. We all know the secret to coming out of that unscathed is to not focus on the very close object. You look and you just know you’re gonna swipe a mirror).
In this magical little space of intensely unfocused focus, a small part of me awakens, a wildly intuitive place that grew out of years of holding tools and watching my own hands use them both badly and then not-so-badly. In these cherished moments of barely thinking, I hardly even have direction. I’m both supremely aware and selfishly unaware. It's as if the work gets miraculously made by an invisible shop elf who kindly places it in my hands and all of a sudden I'm looking down at a finished piece thinking, huh, when the fuck did that get there?
Though it does happen just like that now and again, it’s infrequent that it’s ever that easy.
There are times when I need to step away from a project and focus my attention elsewhere, for the sake of my sanity and all interpersonal relationships, and for the outcome of the project. But it's hard when I'm struggling so readily to force myself to stay within the discomfort and absence of a rhythm. When I worked in restaurants, this funk was easier to get through because I always knew what was expected, I always knew the outcome, I just knew I needed to keep working and eventually things would get done and I would go home. Working for yourself, and working on something creative is different. It requires a deeper knowledge of yourself and a heightened intuition about when it's time to call it quits, when you need to focus your attention elsewhere, or when you just need to suck it up and go for it. Learning where all those lines are brings with it constant failure, disappointment, and developing the ability to pivot mid-project. And when you buy art, that’s what you’re paying for. You’re not paying for the inspired, unfocused focus moments- you’re paying for the struggle that few are willing to endure.
Creativity isn’t at all about floating through the process only when it feels good. It’s about getting in the friggin trenches when it absolutely sucks balls and coming out better for it. It’s about transforming all of the emotions, all of the lived experience and all of the horrible jobs we’ve had to make beautiful, functional, and worthwhile work that will be genuinely appreciated by people you’ve never even met.
Because when you start selling work to people that aren’t your friends and family, that’s connection right there, and it happened for a reason.