Here’s a recent interview at The Paris Review with artist Gabriel Orozco. It includes many important reminders about what it’s really like to be on the front lines, making stuff.
o Orozco on the sense of freedom and challenge:
“You feel free when you are painting. You feel that you are concentrating on something very particular that is very difficult, but that you enjoy doing it, even though you know that you are probably going to fail, because it’s very difficult to make a good painting.”
If I’m not mistaken he is referring here to what positive psychologists call a state of “flow,” or what Martin Seligman would call one of the “gratifications” – the things we do that we get totally absorbed in, which we can’t totally describe as pleasure because we are so caught up while we’re doing them we aren’t really registering anything but the task at hand -- we’re concentrating, we’re working, but we’re also playing.
o Speaking of play and exploration:
“I say, Oh yes, that is interesting! I try not to judge myself or analyze too much why I might be attracted to that one thing at a particular moment, as opposed to another. Instead I try to explore it and see what it is. I begin to play with it.”
The Boyf and are totally obsessed with this show on Bravo called Work of Art, which is basically like any other reality show with a prize at the end for the person who is judged to be “the best,” only this one is about visual artists. But you can see this tension come up again and again, between being told by producers “Make something! By this deadline! Out of a CAR!” (or whatever random task they’ve dreamed up that week) and the way that making something that is actually something requires a certain amount of looseness, go-with-the-floweyness, playfulness, experimentation. And at the same time, you also see those parameters motivate them, push them, put some hustle in their bustle. The arbitrary rules become a container for that vast ethereal creative spirit.
o On trying and failing:
“Trial and error is a part of the work. So that is how the “Working Tables” [his recent exhibition] came about, as a way of showing off the trash or mistakes I had produced. It’s a bit like exhibiting all the little experiments with the thought that maybe someone else will be able to make use of them somehow. I think it is important to show the possibility of failure.”
This is easy to forget when working with the creative animal. There is so much emphasis on product, is it good, is it marketable, was it a waste of my time? It’s easy not to value the scribbles, the doodles, the ones you crumple up and throw away. It’s hard to just follow something you’re interested in and see where it leads. We want detailed GPS directions, we want some disembodied voice to reassure us that yes, we are in fact headed somewhere, there’s a plan to all this, somebody smarter than ourselves knows how this all works out in the end.
What would people say if they knew we were drawing the map as we went, and it’s not even to scale? And what if we get sick of the map and start sketching the local flora instead?
Orozco might talk about
o Pushing your own boundaries:
“When you are making work you are not trying to repeat yourself, but to revolutionize yourself.”
I had a poetry teacher who urged us never to write the same poem twice.
o But what if we get lost and it’s all a spectacular failure?
“Your own process of experimentation… is going to be full of errors. It’s important for me to make that very clear—that I will try to fail in that sense, and I will try to disappoint in that sense—because I am doing something that is new for me.”
What are you doing that is new and uncertain today? What quiet whispering interest are you following even though you have no idea where it leads? What are you managing to fail at today? What can you experiment with, even though you might later crumple it up and throw it away?