The studiOH! Podcast season 1 Episode 4 ‘Fall forwards, fail better’.
This episode I talk about how I loath motivational speakers. I also divulge what my motivation is for being a full time artist. There’s also a bit of talk about inspiration and where I find mine.
Episode Title “fall forwards, fail better”
I’m Michael Statham and your listening to the studiOH! podcast. Essays, observations, stories and therapy sessions from an emerging artist.
This is episode 4, “Fall forwards, fail better”
Hello and welcome back to the studiOH! Podcast. This is episode 4 of season 1.
On the last episode I talked about my occasional bouts of self doubt and crippling anxiety.
If you are still with me and I haven’t sparked any deep bouts of depression in my listeners, this time around I’d like to talk about my views on motivation, which, hopefully will be a bit more upbeat than last episode.
In general, I have a love hate relationship with motivational speakers. You know the ones. We’ve all watched those self made men and women of youtube giving their rousing ‘pep talks’.
When I’ve finish watching one of these I just come away feeling a bit rubbish, thinking that I have achieved nothing with my life and wondering why I just wasted 20 minutes of my precious time. They always sounds a bit hokey and their words borders on brainwashing in my opinion. Some of the big names in motivational speaking have made a great career out of that gig though. They all claim to be making big bucks so someone must be listening and some of them have follower numbers that would have put Billy Graham to shame.
I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of what these people say is really just common sense repackaged to look like revelations and gospel truths.
But for some people finding outside motivation is a necessary part of their creative process. The right words at the right time can prove invaluable. They can lead to breakthroughs what previously seemed impossible and help provide a way past the seemingly insurmountable. Sometimes common sense can be a scarce commodity and coming across it is like panning for gold.
It’s a very rare and precious thing but when it comes to the surface it arrives in glistening nuggets.Sometimes I think that if you are not self motivated then you simple do not want it enough, whatever It is. Of course, I realise that this is a naive view and that it just isn’t that simple. Everyone needs a push in the right direction every now and again and however you find the push that suits you then go for it.
I don’t really go looking for motivation. I believe that we all have motivation within us but that sometimes it gets buried under the weight of everyday living.
Sometimes it takes a shovel and some elbow grease to dig it up again.
You may ask what my motivation is.
I could tell you that I’m motivated by the creative process itself.
I could allude to being so incredibly talented that I simply have no other choice but to paint.
That last statement is so not true by the way.
Or I could say that I’m in it for the wads of cash that I’ll make from my art.
Also not true. Or possible.
My actual motivation is this; too simply never have to sit at a desk for 8 hours a day ever again. I’ll be content to earn enough to get by, so making stacks of money is not my ultimate intent, but being able to say that I’m answerable to no-one? That is the real deal in my view. What could be better motivation than that? It’s a simple goal. I’ve not over thought it.
I’ve known so may people that overthink every situation though. But that way, madness lies. Something what starts out being so simple gets blown out of all proportion and becomes their biggest problem.
I talked about my anxiety problems last episode and if you listened to that you might be thinking anxiety goes hand in hand with overthinking. This can be the case. During an anxiety attack someone may be running a situation through their minds, going over each conceivable scenario. But my anxiety rarely seems to effect me in this way.
My attacks manifest themselves from a given situation and relate to personal interactions or unplanned communications. So, I don’t regard myself as being an over thinker. Heck, sometimes I don’t actually think at all.
Sometimes I may stumble across an article or a book that piques my interest. Occasionally while I’m watching cats on youtube I’ll be presented with a video of someone that seems worth watching. Recently I found a short film of Denzel Washington giving a speech at an American university. I think it may have been a montage of a number of his university speeches edited together. No matter, it was still a good watch, this is Mr Washington after all, what more would you expect.
But despite the pedigree of the person delivering the speech, it was still punctuated with platitudes such as:
Be good to each other
Think outside the box
Dreams without goals are just dreams
Remember to say thank you
You know, the usual sort of thing. But there was a moment in the film that stuck with me.
Denzel talked about his parents and how they said, when he told them that he was considering an acting career, they said that he should study so that he would have something to fall back on. He said that he never understood that concept. If he was going to fall, he wasn’t going to fall back on anything. He was going to fall forward, at least that way he would see what he was going to hit.
I think that what he meant was that no matter when or how often you fall or fail, you need to keep moving forwards.
As the writer Samuel Beckett said: Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
I’ve just bought a trio of books by Austin Kleon.
These are books that I have resisted the temptation to buy for so long because, Just like the YouTube videos that I detest, I’d assumed that they were peddling the same old rhetoric. But, I have to say that I was somewhat mistaken. They are actually pretty good and well with the money.
To date, there are three volumes:
These are not large volumes. Each of them I’d read within a couple of hours. They fall into the inspiration category rather than motivation, as least I think so. And it is clear from reading them that Austin suffers from the same insecurities and neuroses as most other artists.
On the first page of Steal like an Artist, Austin Kleon writes “All advice is autobiographical”. He goes on to say “It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they are really just talking to themselves in the past”. Which makes sense. Advice is usually given from experience. So what you’d be saying to your past selves would either be as a result of a correct decision your future self had made or an alternate course of action because something had not gone according to plan.
That sounds like a plot from Back to the Future, but you know what I mean.
I think some people also get motivation confused with inspiration. The reason for why mixed up with the notion of what.
I might have my motivation sorted out but inspiration is something that I am always on the look out for. I have a digital image archive that is probably the equivalent of thousands of printed pages. Sometimes, usually at the start of a new project, I’ll trawl throughout these images and print off certain ones that’ll be tacked up around my easel. The idea is not to copy from these but to use them as a point of departure or perhaps to see how ‘so and so’ painted ‘such and such’. Sometimes I don’t look at these at all while I’m working but somehow, just knowing that they are there seems to bring me confidence. It’s just all part of the process really.
I have many books by artists that I admire on my studio book shelves.
These get thumbed through on a regular basis but only with clean hands. I have particular favourites about painters like David Hockney and Lucian Freud as well as books about designers, such as Charley Harper and Alvin Lustig and cartoonists like Daniel Clowes and Jack Kirby.
The internet itself is teaming with inspiration at the click of a button. We live in a golden age of information and to not use that to our advantage would be such a waste.
My instagram feed is full of inspirational work by artists from all around the world and at the moment I’m using that platform to explore the Australian art scene.
I have a few rules that I try to stick to and I use these to keep me focused and on the strait and narrow.
It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and I’ll add to the list and occasionally subtract form it, but they’re there to sometimes remind me not to go off on a tangent or get distracted. At least, that’s the idea.The list starts with:
1. Study and steal from the masters and from your contemporaries.
Someone said something along the lines of ‘if you steal from one person its plagiarism, if you steal from a hundred people it’s research’. So look around you. Look at what other artists are doing and how they are doing it. Learn from them.
2. Progress, not perfection.
Because sometimes finished is good enough.
3. Don’t let yourself become distracted by jealousy or it may consume you.
We’ve all done this. Looked at someones work and wished we’d produced it. It’s not a healthy way to look at our piers and their work.
4. If something is not working, change it. If it’s still not working, move on.
Don’t be stubborn when something is not working. There may be a reason for it or it just might not be a good idea. Try something else, try fixing it. If other attempts fail, move on. Perhaps leave that piece for another time or discard it completely.
5. Don’t try to be original just try to be good.
Designer Paul Rand said this. He actually got it from another designer, Alvin Lustig. Whose original quote was ‘I don’t want to be interesting, I want to be good’. Either way, I just want to be good. Interesting or original can come later.
6. Fake it till you make it.
Everyone knows this one. Tell someone something often enough and eventually it may become true. Although this didn’t work when I told everyone I was Bat-Man when I was a kid.
7. Create like a shark.
Just as sharks need to keep swimming to stay alive, in order to develop and grow you need to create constantly. So, keep moving or you may find yourself dead in the water.
I’ll leave you with a short quote from David Bowie:
He said, ’The only art I will study is stuff that I can steal from’.
That seemed to work out alright for David.
Once again, thanks for listening to the show.
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You can find me on the web at mickstatham.com, on instagram and facebook at MichaelStathamArt and on twitter at mikestathamart.
I’m Michael Statham and you’ve been listening to The studiOH! Podcast