Something I thought for a long time was that all art had to be serious. If it wasn’t, it wasn’t art. If it wasn’t art, it wasn’t worth doing. Yes, that does mean that when I was a child writing awful Mario fanfics on a purloined typewriter, I was utterly convinced that what I was doing was srs biznez. Yes, that does mean I was dropped on my head as a baby.
Even when attempting to be funny, my little mental imps told me, I must take it seriously. I must stroke my goatee, hmmm cryptically, and seek deep levels of meaning and metaphor in the work, else all is for naught.
A corollary to this first concept was that it all had to serve a purpose. Write something just to write something? Pah! Write something to just fill a few minutes and get a quick laugh, only to delete it when finished, with no intention of doing anything with it? A waste of time, says I!
Something I’ve only really come to understand and accept in the last year or so – part of a longer process of attempting not to despise my own creations, only really begun when I sat down to write “Little Miss No Name” – it that it’s okay for something to be silly, pulpish rubbish that nobody but yourself is ever intended to see. It’s fine to just screw around with the word processor, the image editor, the game design package or the video production suite. Poke the tools and see what you can make with them. Play with the Legos, not to make what the instructions tell you or to construct a grand vision from your mind, but just to see what sticks to what and how it might look.
Why? Why is that okay, and why should you still do it, and can it still be called art?
Because you can. Because keeping yourself sane and in reasonable health is important if you ever want to get anywhere. And damn straight it can still be called art; just art with an audience of one. Yourself.
But the best reasons to do it are easy; one, it’s practice. You’ll learn something new each time, get a little better at what you’re doing. While that’s true if you approach it from the “serious business” angle as well, there’s a lot more pressure and a lot more guilt and anguish when it doesn’t come out “right” in that instance. If you’re just screwing around, well, who cares if it’s not just right? Crumple up the metaphorical, literal or digital paper and chuck it. No one has to know. It’ll be our little secret.
The second reason is because sometimes, while messing around, taking all your Play-Doh and making worms because it amused you at the moment, you’ll inadvertently find something that is much more. You’ll find that two pieces come together to make something you hadn’t considered before. Your Legos become a Death Star; your Play-Doh worm becomes Shai-Hulud. You’ll find there was a piece of that srs biznez lurking underneath that silly masturbatory bit of fluff.
And what do you do, then?
As Dr. Kamen says to Edgar Freemantle in Duma Key – a lovely little horror story that seems to be about zombie pirates and lost family, but is really about finding yourself and learning it’s okay to be happy once in a while – the answer is simple.
My advice to all aspiring artists out there? Go over to YouTube. Put the name of a piece of software you have lying about followed by something you think it can do but that you haven’t yet, followed by tutorial into the search box. Then follow the instructions. Even if that something doesn’t seem to relate to any project or idea you’ve got percolating. Especially if that’s so. Then go play with those ideas, see what you can do with them, even if it serves no purpose. You might make something really cool. If you’re less of a tools person and more of an idea person (like a writer, f’rex), type some random words that appeal to you at the moment, pick a resulting video at random (preferably a short one), and say “I’m going to write a hundred words about whatever calls to me most from this video.”
And I wonder why people told me I should have been a teacher; must be my penchant for assigning homework. 😉