I was debating going with a Valentine’s theme today, but that seems a little on nose and I actually don’t have a lot to say on the matter that’s really worth saying right now. I’m happily single, I’m focused on my work and my future, and so I don’t feel any resentment toward a day that’s typically given a lot of grief by people who aren’t (a)romantically involved.
Anyway, I have something far more interesting to meditate on, and it’s a thought that came to me about two weeks ago.
‘What makes a good artist?’
I think this is a much more helpful question than its more popular counterpart, ‘what makes good art?’
We all know art is subjective, which makes it kind of hard to see the forest for the trees. When you’re making something genuinely ‘good’, you might have it in your head that, because art is subjective, you might be wrong about your project and then abandon it by a false additive product of ‘I think my art is looking good + art is subjective = my interpretation is tricking me and I should just throw the whole thing out the window and go and live on the moon.’ And anyone who’s ever watched the audition stages of X Factor/American Idol/The Voice (actually, does The Voice even have audition stages?) will be acutely aware that the converse is also obnoxiously true.
So I’m thinking we should flip the question to focus not on the outward manifestation of the artist’s artistic artistry, but on the artist’s ability to recognise in themselves what kind of thinking they can apply to their craft instead.
When the question focuses on the output, the art that is made, it can feel like every single piece has to be a success (based on whatever you consider to be success: a handful of people saying they love what you made and it’s genuinely improved their day can be just as much a success as a high-end client buying it for $10,000,000 and a shiny pokemon card), and therefore when that particular project isn’t going well, the whole structure is liable to crumble. It’s as if every new endeavour is a new basket to migrate all of your eggs to, even when you have hundreds of perfectly great baskets behind you.
Instead, we should be adopting more of a curator’s mindset.
We should feel confident to go in and make something, and not worry about making sure that every single thing we turn our attention to comes out as a success. Part of this ability to curate your work will necessarily entail developing the ability to recognise when a particular piece is leading you astray — it’s much better to turn around at the start of the dead end than to proceed all the way down it in the hopes that the dead end is in fact a secret shortcut that no one told the sat nav about. This ain’t Hogwarts pal.
It can hurt to abandon something that you’ve sunk a huge amount of time into, especially if there are parts of it you really like, but this is part of the ability to curate your work; to kill your darlings, as Aaron Sorkin would say. Like anything, it’ll take time to feel comfortable with making things for the sake of making them, and not for the sake of them being a success by your standard of what that success might be. But as you start to see this growing collection of pieces, you’ll find that you have a lot more creative freedom than you do when you lash yourself to one piece at a time.
One caveat: like so much else in the rational world of laws and physics, this advice almost definitely doesn’t apply to client work.
To answer the question then: what makes a good artist?
‘Adopting a practice that allows you to create with consistency and regularity, in order to build a body of work from which you can curate the pieces you need as and when they’re needed’.
It’s probably not as snappy as ‘I think therefore I am’ or ‘this too shall pass’, but I’m not looking to write something quippy I’m just trying to make it helpful don’t @ me.
I’ll no doubt be revisiting this idea quite a lot, because even in writing it down I feel like I’ve not fully articulated everything I want to say about it. I’m fine with that though — over time, as I discuss it more, I’ll get a better feel for the language that best represents it, and curate out the bits that don’t do it justice or confuse the idea for no good reason.
Have a bloody lovely day.
If you find my work valuable, or you just really like my taste in music, then you can pay what you feel to support me on this journey. That's really all there is to it! Your support means I can focus more energy in this space, and continue the psychodynamic odyssey. All support is appreciated equally & emphatically
About the curator - Matt Jenko
Hi my name is Matt, but my friends call me Matt. I’m on the wrong side of 29 (damn I hate it every time I have to update that number), definitely feeling my age, but never felt happier and more content than I do at this point in my life. I’ve been through some rocky patches (who hasn’t) and lived to tell the tale, and boy do I gots some stories.
When I’m not giving opinions absolutely nobody asked for, I’m doing a worldbuilding with my passion project, vivaellipsis. If you like offbeat nonsense delivered through immersive escapism, then go and get involved. Or don’t, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m not yer boss.
I’m a simple man with simple interests. I like Yorkshire tea, the sound of rain on the window, and a bloody good story.
9 August 2021
What today’s insight has granted me is the knowledge that if you don’t check in on yourself, you’ll lose touch with yourself. You’ll become unfamiliar with each other, and it feels very strange. I honestly think this is what it means to feel out of sorts.
27 May 2021
The cinematic score to your psychological journey with Matt Jenko. Featuring artists like: Bonobo • Yotto • Emancipator • CamelPhat • ODESZA • Carpenter Brut • Tinlicker • Four Tet • Jacques Greene • Tchami • RÜFÜS DU SOL