Category Archives: Motivation – Being Better

The artist cursing entropy and the battles lost

As an artist I’ve found that no matter what I try to do there’s no escaping entropy. Now before I can say much more about entropy it’s important for me to frame it in a conceptual level. Entropy is the second law of thermal dynamics, that’s important with regard to keeping energy going… When one increases entropy, or reduces energy to something, say letting a log burn down in a fire and not adding another, and the fire goes out, that’s entropy. So the artist, especially where inspiration is concerned wants to decrease entropy. When the creative fire starts to dim you want to throw logs on there to keep it going and add fuel, this hastens entropy from occurring, but therein lies the challenge: Entropy never stops.

So for us, as artists, it’s a day-to-day, minute-to-minute battle to keep things going. Entropy is the difference between a one-hit-wonder and Frank Sinatra… The one-hit wonder had a flash, a lucky moment in time, whereas Frank Sinatra had those moments, ten-fold, and also continued to work, plant seeds in the form of relationship, recordings and generally creating a place for himself in the history books. This sustained energy is the difference.

I don’t deal well with entropy. I fight it. I’m constantly working, in spite of my knowing better, to deter it, slow it, fight it, and sometimes giving into it right before I start the whole process again, but really where do we belong where entropy is concerned?

The thing with entropy and life, too, is that when you’re doing a given thing whether it’s making art or making a hamburger, that’s where your energy is directed… entropy decreases naturally, but when the creative urge is over or you’ve consumed the hamburger, entropy increases and the longer I live, the more sure I am that chasing after entropy and trying to slow it or stop it will never happen… Nothing and nobody beats entropy. We can however find peace and beauty in the dissipation and degradation of things and spend our time appreciating the beauty of what is, what was and aware of its, our, decline; welcoming it rather than fighting it.

Western civilization’s idea of art is all about product and output, and who am I to argue with centuries of tradition, but eastern civilization seemed to understand early on that art is about the process. Maybe they understood entropy and rather than developing scores of art restoration practices they let things just fade… In my mind, both have their benefits, but for the artist they’ll never lose the experience creating the art, where the creation and its creator will slowly fade into oblivion.

Looking for the questions

I’ve spent a lot of time looking for answers. I’m curious in that way. Mostly, though, I never find the answers. Instead, I find more questions. This reminds me of a quote I once read in a Buddhist text about how understanding the nature of the universe, or figuring things out on the atomic level isn’t necessary to be awakened. This was a curious perspective to me because I wanted to believe that an awakened soul was omnipotent, to me they were inextricably linked. Not so, really, or not so important.

I think it probably has something to do with the fact that you can spend lifetimes acquiring knowledge, but you can touch the awakened mind right here in this moment. To awaken is to be fully present with life, not fully present with books or knowledge. Awakening lets go of presumptions, preconceived notions, and questions meant to be only an intellectual exercise.

The concern isn’t what the nature of the matter in the water that’s in the stream is, but rather that the water in the stream is and it’s continually flowing — be present with that fact. When I’ve spent time dwelling on these details, I’ve found that I get further away from peace. I become more anxious.

It’s one thing to be curious and explore, but it’s quite another to explore so far that you lose the context of the exploration to begin with.

I say all this within the context of making improvements, whether it’s pursuing a better life, a better state of mind or better ideas — start small. It’s not that you can’t have a grand vision, but there’s so much in the details that when you’re only looking out on the horizon, you miss everything that’s going on in the moment, a place where untold riches are waiting to be revealed.

Vision for change

If you’ve ever had a vision for change, doing something different, breaking with tradition, short term pain for long term gain, then you know that being a visionary (not as grandiose, as it sounds) initially, can be pretty lonely work. Nobody can see the vision in your mind, and when you have the vision in your waking thoughts day in and day out, it’s easy to take for granted that others don’t know what the vision is, or what it means to them, or hell, they might have no idea why you even have a vision.

The work of being a change agent, and trying to bring a vision to reality, while incredibly hard work, might even be secondary to spreading the vision; getting everybody on the same vision page, if you will.

People need to know what you have in mind, they need to know what you see, and appraise whether they see it the same way, and whether or not your vision is to their detriment or their benefit. It seems to me a lot of this happens unconsciously, but it happens.

Get your vision out there, because your vision is the glue that brings otherwise disjointed actions into context. And seeing things in a proper context, especially when things really need to change, can make all the difference. In fact, it might be just the thing that makes people take up your vision; only then have you really started.

An artist, even when you don’t feel like it

Waking up with a headache is always a drag, but as I drink my coffee, trying to turn the trajectory of the day around, I can’t help but draw a parallel between the artist totally without inspiration who still needs to produce inspired work.

Part of the deal with being a artist, no matter what you’re chosen field or medium, when you have to perform you have to perform no matter how you feel, kind of makes me think of the old Aleve or Advil commercial and the slogan “when you haven’t got time for the pain”. Thing is, the artist doesn’t pull inspiration from intellect, or some mental place… that’s where the ideas come from; but inspiration and the creative impulse is visceral, and very much physiological, a feeling… so what do you do?

As any artist will tell you, when you get in this place you just have to do anything that will get your creativity going or anything different than might get you in a different headspace. I’ve found that often the best solution is any kind of physical activity; take a walk; do yoga or tai-chi, surf the Web, read a book, make some food, but whatever it is, take your mind off, as fully as you can, the fact that you’re not creating and you don’t feel like creating. I’ve found this to be supremely helpful and it’s one of those things where as you learn to understand yourself as an artist, eventually, you’ll know what works best and be able pull yourself together.

Betting on the muse and being a working artist is tough work because the landscape of our imagination and psyche is always changing, especially as we push the boundaries of our inner worlds.

The demise of curation in a time of media proliferation

The topic we’re talking about is curation, but this article hits an important point about whether we’re curating or broadcasting. Lately, as I try to find new and interesting music, I find myself continually at ECM Recordings. It’s properly curated, as a label should be. All things of the same ilk, all over the world are not being collected for display in the form of curation, but rather to curate is to pick the creme de la creme, the best. I could give a lot of examples where this was the case with music: Dischord Recordings, Thrill Jockey, Hearts of Space, Stax to name just a few and there were book publishing companies, too — Black Sparrow Press comes to mind. Of course, Jason Sloan and myself try to do this with Slobor Media, too… But this kind of curation was happening when media, particularly in the digital form, wasn’t ubiquitous and available everywhere. You’d think that now, more than ever we’d have excellently curated collections of like music, books, and things… but I haven’t found it.

I rely on the proprietary algorithms of Pandora, which hasn’t been great lately, I want to believe because they’ve cut out most indie artists at a time when an indie artist with a recording is the norm not the exception, and if the complaint were made that there’s too much shit, then I would say that it’s up to Pandora, with the Music Genome to curate this stuff in a meaningful way, and if they’re not then they’ll be catering zero sum to the masses… that’s a loser’s game… especially for something that’s supposed to be customizable…. ?

I look to the various mixes on SomaFM, and I love what they’re doing, but at times it feels like there are a bunch of mp3 files thrown into a directory and then played at random. I fault them not, because they’re much better than most and the obscure items that they put out there keep me interested, engaged and pursuing new recordings. Thanks to SomaFM for that.

Then there are others… I spend an inordinate amount of time scanning internet radio stations and public radio stations all over the world looking for that perfect mix of perfect sounds. That person/s doing a mix of music in a way that really speaks to me… what I find is a ton of syndication of usually homogenized drivel or local origination programming with zero forethought or curatorial oversight.

Suffice it to say, that I can’t find what I’m looking for and I’m definitely looking for others to help me find what I’m looking for, but I’m not having much luck. It just seems to me in this age, with so much media at our fingertips that we’re losing the ability to curate, collect and organize for the overall experience, or just don’t care to, which must have everything to do with the fact that the glut of media that’s available is only making the whole idea of curating for more than yourself an anachronistic idea that doesn’t have much merit when you click on your Pandora app or, good gravy, Apple’s Genius, which I’ve found to be anything but…

To this end, I will say that, for me, there is one stand-out… and that’s Stephen Hill and Steve Davis at Music from the Hearts of Space. Each week, more or less, they curate a bloody solid hour of music culled from all over the place… Much props to them for this work that they do. Interesting article on their process here.

To bring us full circle, there’s hardly any curating happening and what is happening is little more than broadcasting, and like a perpetual and symbiotic echo chamber, we’re only feasting on what we’ve already been feasting on only in smaller chunks. Here’s my personal beef with this: Historically, new creative directions and art have come from cross-cultural pollination without that we have nothing new coming into the fold and that which is new is catering to an even smaller fringe audience who’s been a seeker on the periphery looking for something different than everyone else, so the derivative shite seemingly self-perpetuates and the new, new stuff reaches a a very small niche audience… Thank goodness for that at least, but you’d think this proliferation of original music and it’s easy availability would expand the realm of possibility rather than diminish it… Curious. In any case,  I’ll see you out there friends and I’m looking forward to meeting some like-minds if only so we can think differently and try to support the idea of individual and original thought even if it doesn’t cater to the populace.