A small graphic from WordPress appeared a couple days ago notifying me that I’ve been blogging for 5 years. Two things come immediately to mind when faced with that fact. One is that I’ve continued to blog, and expand my site far beyond what I could have ever conceived when I started. I have 560 posts, and the average length is 2,438 words. Beyond just word count, I’ve done art I wouldn’t have predicted, and have come to write articles about art and topics I wasn’t even aware of in the beginning. The second thing to come to mind is that if I knew it would get so little traction I don’t know if I would have stuck with it.
And that brings up two more thoughts. The first is that “you need to know when to quit”, as in, there’s just a time when you have to hang up your baseball glove and cap, and accept that you aren’t going to make it to the Major Leagues. And number two is that I wish others hadn’t given up. If only Van Gogh, or Nick Drake (a rock musician who produced timeless songs but received little recognition, gave in to despair, and took his own life) had slogged on a bit longer. Just another year or two or three even.
I like to bring up REO Speedwagon in this context, though I have about zero interest in their music. Worse than that, I rather dislike them. I’m just not a fan of commercial pop-rock. Nevertheless, this band was formed in 1966-7, and didn’t have a hit until their 9th album in 1980. Greater bands have disbanded after one or two albums without garnering radio play. Greater musicians have killed themselves. In three words: stick with it.
I’m not entirely unsatisfied with my blog’s reach. Some articles have been circulated tens of thousands of times, and I’ve received letters (usually private) from readers thanking me for this or that article which helped them think through some cancerous bullshit, or to validate their own art practice, or expressed something they couldn’t quite put into words… A quick look at my stats shows I have over a half-million views, which puts the average view-count per post around a thousand. That sounds better than it is, because a dozen or so posts get the most attention, and some of my very best writing has scarcely been read. I’ll need to produce my own “Best Of” list.
I have to ask myself what would make me feel that my blog is successful. I’d have to have a larger audience than I do now. I think I deserve more and that some of my articles are getting old without ever having been discovered. Of course I would be satisfied with my blog/website/portfolio if I was able to earn enough money in connection with it to eek out a bare bones existence. If I had double or triple the views I could monetize it. If I had 5 times the donations I could survive on that. If more people were aware of my art than selling prints would be worth doing. I’ll get there.
I have no shortage of ideas for art or articles. But no matter how good my content is I have to admit that it can’t just take off on its own. It needs to be picked up by another platform, which means I have to do promotion (which I detest). I have strategies for that, but I still tend to do whatever I want first, creatively speaking, rather than be steely practical. If I really wanted to be successful, I could figure out how to do that. But a lot of the standard approaches, including adopting a signature style and making commodifiable objects targeting rich clients is pretty much anathema to me and not what I think art is about. I think art has a higher purpose (more about that later). For some of you real rock fans out there, I’d rather be Gentle Giant than Journey.
In the end, I always use myself as the barometer. I do the art I am most interested in seeing at the moment and write the articles I’m most interested in reading. So, rather than catering to what I think the art audience wants to see, or what will sell, or what is considered radical or important, I just do what I’m genuinely interested in. I’m like a chef who prepares the food I want to eat.
Stay tuned for original content that puts authenticity — and making art or writing for the inherent pleasure and worth of doing it — before practical considerations.
And if you’d like some more ramblings, continue reading.
Let me just end this on a sort of upbeat message which just comes from the scrambling and resettling of my mind due to a recent trip I had to make to another country, which included over 30 grueling hours of bus rides, followed by a vicious bout of food poisoning. Suddenly, when the mind is put through the wringer, things we might call insights arise. They are just like normal thoughts, but come about less through a calculated thought process, instead meandering up and suddenly appearing like blades of grass between slabs of pavement.
WARNING: Insights, epiphanies, and realizations are not necessarily to be trusted. They are not the same thing as logically thought out conclusions based on a careful and systematic examination of ideas and contrary ideas, integrating them, and finding the best solution. Rather, they come from the gut full-blown, and are frequently based on anecdotal experience. What might seem like a universal truth could be an exception to the rule. We get a blazing impression that has the quality of “truth” about it branded into our mind, and then, if we bother at all, we try to patch together arguments to support our grandiose conclusions while ignoring those that shatter it.
That said, herein I will share some unfiltered “insights” I’ve had today
If you follow my blog you know that I’m working on a series of portraits of people that don’t exist: they are versions of me as filtered through a neural network, etc. The people that are created are like ghosts. They only exist as images. And I thought how odd it was that of all the 7.6 billion people that are alive, this or that one I’ve created don’t exist. Here is a face, and, no, it’s not one of the billions that are alive.
And then a flip-around idea came to me, which is that it is a miracle that I exist at all. Of course this applies to YOU as well. I just happen to be more familiar with my case, as I’ve been on the case for pretty much my whole life (sometimes I vague off). Perhaps it seems a glib thing to say, but science surely supports it. You and I only exist, for instance, because of the successful procreation of our parents and their parents and so on going back 200,000 years. Consider I’m already dropping the baton that has been passed on like an heirloom through countless generations, wars, famines, natural disasters, plagues, and everything that can kill you. That’s how easy it is to F it up, but I’m only here because I’m the first to do so.
You inhabit the only planet that we know can support human life, and you are the only species that has a higher intelligence capable of, say, reading and writing. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old and human higher consciousness is estimated to only have been around for about 50,000 years. Just to be a human is miraculous.
Further, if your parents hadn’t had sex at the particular hour they did, there’d be no you. But that’s being way too generous. You’re chances of existing were much slimmer. Had any other sperm fertilized your mother’s egg, you would have been someone else with only 75% of genetic overlap. You are that lucky one in 250,000,000 sperm cells that won the lottery.
When it comes to progeny, I prefer to leave a manifestation of my mind rather than an imprint of my DNA. And this brings me to another little insight I had, which has to do with the subjectivity or interior of certain artists – just because as an artist I think about artists – and that’s that when you look at their art, listen to their music, or read their novels, you are recreating their consciousness. When you look at a Van Gogh landscape that could only have been painted by him, through his unique window on the universe, than you are looking out the same window, and that positions you in his mind.
We wonder what the man Van Gogh was like, and what it would be like to meet him or know him. But even if we did meet him, that is just engaging with his personality that he’s developed for negotiating the social world of other people. If I have the pleasure of meeting an artist today, I won’t feel that I really know him or her until I see the artwork, which could, or should, if it’s any good, be much more revealing. Van Gogh’s contemporaries were not pleased to make his acquaintance, and before his death 80 people had signed a petition stating he was dangerous and urging he be removed from the community.
They didn’t see the real Vincent. To see the real Vincent, you need to look not at him, but through his eyes. And what better way to look through his eyes than at his own art? To look at his paintings is to know him in a way that people who spent months in his company did not. And this is therefore one of the higher functions of art – to transmit an individual’s inner reality.
Humans are imperfect. That’s I think the foundation of humanity. If we were all perfect, we’d all be the same. I’m reminded of those games where you can choose this or that strength, armor, weapons, magic, and so on, but you can’t have them all. I’m not bad at writing, but I have an embarrassing lack of sense of direction.
Our flaws will occasionally overlap. It can’t be otherwise, so it’s important to recognize it, in which case it’s easier to overcome when we do have our small differences. I haven’t contemplated this long enough to have a feeling whether it’s more important to understand that I am imperfect or that other people are. Either leads to more forgiveness and understanding, especially when we consider that flaws aren’t permanent. They are often more like the time you tripped on the sidewalk. Should we only remember you as endlessly tripping, or should we see that as an anomaly?
I’m still mulling over the implications of this.
Yet another thought to ponder.
Someone wrote to me a while ago to thank me for my very popular article, probably written nearly 5 years ago, debunking OSHO (the guru with 99 Rolls Royces, who boasted having sex with scores of his female devotees). OSHO made art, and it was amateurish and uninteresting. I gather he fancied that art audiences are as gullible as the spiritually aspiring. I’ll just come out and say that I’m skeptical that any guru or other living person is truly enlightened. People like OSHO shatter that belief.
How do we know if someone is enlightened? Usually they claim it for themselves and offer seminars and sell books (Eckhart Tolle, who merely echoes the writings of Nisargadatta Maharaj and homogenizes them for a contemporary Western audience). I guess they offer the same wise words that have been handed down for thousands of years. I can regurgitate that stuff, too, because I read enough of it in about a three-year period. I can testify that you can understand the words, the meaning, and articulate it with cogent examples and analogies without realizing it. In other words, you don’t need to be the least bit enlightened to talk the talk.
And so I thought that artists, in comparison, while making no grandiose claims, actually provide some sort of evidence of spiritual existence, and by that I mean they produce a record of their self-awareness and imagination. There’s a very good reason that art sometimes replaces religion (when it doesn’t support it with all the buildings, imagery, and music, making the religion an entirely artistic production). Admittedly my favorite thing about Christianity is crucifixions. I think the ones in my Children’s Bibles (I had two different ones, great for comparison and contrast) might have seemed really intense when I was in kindergarten and first grade. In short, it’s the aesthetics I like, the flights of the imagination.
I’m not that particular about which religion that the aesthetics belong to, either. I find the Qawwali music of the Sufis of Pakistan deeply moving, and I can’t understand a word. Also Indian classical music. After all it’s the thing that can’t be put in words directly that we are looking for here. Art may have been made, historically, in the name of religion. But a religion without a rich artistic tradition is not going to appeal to this soul.
This is NOT to say artists are any kinds of saints. It doesn’t matter. They can be sinners or losers. It’s a bit much to expect other people to follow my contemporary moral guidelines. I’m more interested in how they capture life, as in what they produce that an alien species could discover and would know we had a rich and profound inner life.
I can’t think of anything more spiritual than an emanation of consciousness navigating a complex material world and interacting with other aware beings in the same predicament. How strange that we are trapped materially, and mortally (probably). But without those limitations existence would be like a game with nothing at stake, and which you couldn’t lose. What would be a more appropriate sphere for a (metaphoric) spirit to dwell in? One of perfection without challenges: no hardship, no adversary, no tragedy? I think it’s safe to say I’d prefer to inhabit a universe without vicious injustice, horror, and the fact that life can become unbearable. I suppose a consolation is that gradually our species is inflicting less horror on one another and becoming more mutually empathetic. By Gad we’re lucky just to live in this century!
Which reminds me. Today I wondered if the day you die is just like any other day. If it is than why be so concerned about it? I worried about death when I was in my teens. If I’d known I’d live to be 50, I could have chilled out on that. Well, perhaps our vulnerability to death and the horrors of existence is a necessary ingredient to being a full-fledged conscious being. In fact, I taught my Chinese university English students about artificial intelligence, and whether machines would ever become aware. One of my arguments against it, of which I was very persuaded at the time, was that without biological vulnerability they’d have no context from which to make sense out of anything.
That’s all for now. More art and articles to come very soon.
Special thanks to people who are real fans of my blog, of which among my over 2,000 alleged followers I know there are several.
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