I wish I could boil it all down to a few core ideas that I’d like to run with in my art-making, or a raison d’etre that winds through all my creative activities. Sure, themes show up, things that I am particularly intrigued by and have to process through creative means. But boiling it down is tough—I spend my days dancing with and dodging ideas that throw themselves at me like I’m some sort of artistic Tiger Beat heartthrob. They’ll be new ideas, ideas about previous ideas, or developments on a slight idea detour I took about last week’s thrilling idea. This isn’t to say that I don’t get things done; somehow, I manage to sift through the slurry of ideas and extract the ones that feel especially exciting and plausible, and I make them happen. Even then, I’m a generous extractor and still end up with heaps of ideas piled on my plate. It’s sort of like my ideas are fresh dough (gluten free—I have an allergy) and I’m running them through a hand-cranked pasta-making machine (I absolutely love pasta). I feed the fresh dough ideas into my pasta machine and they crank out in a different shape every time. For days, months, even years, I’m cranking out mostly sheets intended for tagliatelle or ravioli and then I get sick of it, and switch to an old favorite—maybe farfalle or fettucine. I still love ravioli and will probably revisit the taste and texture later, but I need a break (how blessed am I to be so well-fed?!).
Like with pasta and ideas, when it comes to different art forms, I don’t discriminate. Sometimes a well-researched documentary feels like the best channel for cranking out an idea. Sometimes experimental, non-linear film seems more fitting. At other times, ideas burst out of me through songs or poems (sometimes it feels better to have words reverberate in your mouth and chest as music, sometimes quietly on your lips as spoken word). I make cut-out collages, write and perform original music, paint portraits with blood, write politically-oriented essays with accompanying photos, conduct interviews with interesting culture-bearers, craft fictional letters to my social media followers, design websites and newsletters, organize community arts showcases, and maintain several different thematic journals. My work is often about racial tension in the South, the relationship between arts-driven economic development and gentrification, feminine experiences, sexuality, love, and belonging.
It would be so delightfully convenient if I could tell it to you in one fell swoop. But I’m early in my career, freshly twenty-five years old and up to my neck in figuring out what I want to do with myself. I believe the industry term is “emerging artist.” I do feel that that’s the best descriptive word for it—emerging—coming up out of the waters, making waves. Trying to stay afloat. Neil Gaiman, a favorite maker of mine, considers this a very precious time in an artist’s life, when we don’t quite know the rules yet. He hopes we don’t learn them, that we make rules for ourselves and question those that exist. I like particularly when he pointed out in a commencement speech that, before you find your own voice, you spend time sounding like a lot of other people.
I have hopes to explore the digital humanities by creating a website that acts an interactive platform to explore and document public art and social change in communities. I want to make podcasts and maybe a short TV show where I interview folks. I want to document the experience of different communities, through all previously mentioned means and oral histories. I want to co-lead cutting-edge arts events that make safe and engaging spaces to challenge visitors’ social mores and encourage catharsis and bonding. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll do these things yet, but I have a lot of intrinsic motivation, and a hell of a lot of ideas.
So, I’m trying to enjoy this emerging process, be mindful, be patient with myself. I’m trying not to try—how?! Breathe. Relax. Make a friend. Make a piece, whatever it looks like, just make it feel right. I have all these ideas, all the skills, and a strong urge to make positive impacts in the world. And although I get scared sometimes, making my own rules, I believe anything is pasta-ble. J