Stroke of Creativity
While on a vintage shopping excursion, my partner Andrew discovered a ripped poster from the 70s. “I can totally do something with this!” he exclaimed as he came barreling towards me. I stared at him blankly. Until this moment he had never shown interest in artistic endeavors. I imagined this decrepit poster would be thrown in a corner – forgotten like the countless tchotchkis hidden in our closets. “What could you possibly do with that?” I scoffed. He squinted his eyes and huffed, “I’ll show you!”After a few days of work, he transformed the farkakte poster into this piece of art using reclaimed wood, lacquer, nails and other found objects. After admitting I was wrong (a seldom occurrence), I asked Andrew what motivated his sudden stroke of creativity. He shared with me a lifelong fascination with things from previous decades, and highlighted the thrill of hunting for abandoned objects. It seems that while working on this project, his mind filled with ideas for new artwork. At the age of thirty, he began to define himself as an artist.
What fascinates me about Andrew’s experience is that his transformation of found objects parallels the transformation of his identity. The process of repurposing discarded materials for artistic expression involves active manipulation. You are essentially redefining things to match internal ideas, feelings and perceptions. The change in your identity is the passive parallel process. It occurs in response to creativity, hard work and dedication. For Andrew, being an artist evokes a sense of pride. He was able to create something out of nothing. I interpret this feeling of pride as a way for human beings to connect with themselves as individuals. In a world where there is abundant pressure to conform, we crave an aspect of life that is simply our own. Redefining objects is a way to redefine yourself. It can give purpose to seemingly meaningless things, while adding another dimension to your identity. There is something romantic about taking something useless and making it art, especially when in doing so you come closer to finding out who you really are.
“Very few people possess true artistic ability. It is therefore both unseemly and unproductive to irritate the situation by making an effort. If you have a burning, restless urge to write or paint, simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass.” – Fran Lebowitz
Fran Lebowitz and Writer’s Block
Lebowitz is famous for her sardonic commentary on American life, broaching topics such as class, talent and fame through a New York City lens. After reading her two most famous books Metropolitan Life (1978) and Social Studies (1981), I assumed she had written numerous other works full of sarcastic musings. After an unsuccessful search, I learned she had experienced a 16 year writers block. Considering I had avoided writing this blog for the last two months, I felt both comforted and confused. How is it possible someone with such talent felt unable to express herself? After watching Scorsese’s documentary, Public Speaking – A Conversation w/ Fran Lebowitz, I learned she grappled with intense fear when sitting down to write. Even after earning resounding accolades from her audiences, Lebowitz struggled to use her talents. I wonder if this internal struggle had to do with her own sense of identity. If we associate ourselves completely with what we do, who will we be when we stop? I often tell people I want to write, yet I spend infinitely more time procrastinating than I do writing. Although I like identifying as a writer, I often feel anxiety and apprehension before I begin. I believe this dilemma is a consequence of competing drives: intrinsic motivation v. external validation.
The Trouble with External Validation
My desire to write comes from my love of reading, as well as a long-standing interest in languages. I find the way our minds bring words to life mesmerizing. The right combination of words can wrap themselves around you, changing you forever. Much like painting, sculpting or creating a found art piece, writing involves the commingling of your soul with the outside world. It is a process marked by vulnerability and raw exposure. It is impossible to exist without being influenced by the world around you. Unfortunately, the impact of the environment results in a competing demand for external validation. No matter how passionately we may feel, it is difficult not to crave approval from an audience. I think the interaction of these factors creates a state of perpetual unease for artists of all types. We may use art to define our identities, yet not without the risk of damaging our new-found selves.