I hope December is treating you right so far. I have been depresssssssssed lately, but feeling a bit better this week. So, I thought I’d reach out with some deep dive-y musings…
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about taste—what is “good,” excellent, original, etc. I imagine this is a question that plagues many artists. The answers are usually so deeply subjective.
I get myself stuck in this feedback loop from time to time. Usually, I feel really sure about the quality of my work. I assume that most of the rejection I receive is a matter of preference or misunderstanding. Lately, I’m a little shakier. A little worn down.
But you know…a bit of magic found its way to me (as it often seems to) as I looked back over my notes on November’s Artifice Episodes. Each of my guests had something beautiful to say on this delicate subject.
Jeff and I got into some BIG topics during our conversation—even a bit of controversy (Jeff rejecting the premise that art is special in the first place 🤯). And he articulated this ever-present question so clearly…He said “is [your work] good because it IS good, or is it good only IF people hear it and like it?”
I think Jeff and I both know that at least some people believe that works only have value once people approve of them, tragic as that sentiment may be. But this stark presentation of the question reminds me that of course something can be wonderful even if nobody sees it, has the ability to understand or receive it, praises it, or values it.
I loved hearing Jeff talk about what he’s gone through in order to come to this realization of his own values. His cynicism about the world of art feels so beautiful to me—it’s full of integrity. What a profoundly creative pursuit to reject mountains of praise and “success” that feel hollow and cheap, in exchange for simple, often unseen moments of beauty.
He talked about the strength and creativity needed to “take non-agency and turn it into something you feel agency over.” I love this SO much. This is an incredible reminder. I feel “non-agency” about my art all the time—how it’s received and treated. It’s heartbreaking. But I’m still committed to do everything in my power to take agency back.
Jeff also left us with this gorgeous thought: “when creativity and artistry are the same word, everything is artistry…everything is the art of transforming.” I believe this deep in my bones, in my soul. I know it to be true. And I believe there is inherent, immovable value there.
Master Gardener Sheriden provided yet another beautiful frame for taste-building. She spoke of looking at rows of trees in an orchard and being overwhelmed with beauty, then lamenting that not everyone *sees* what she sees. They don’t know how. They don’t know enough about trees and soil and sun to accurately behold what’s in front of them.
This is a principle I’ve understood intuitively since I was a child. It’s so clear to me that others are bound to have keys that will unlock understanding for me. It’s so phenomenally valuable (critical, even) to listen to someone saying “ok, but here’s what I see…here’s the beauty that I know how to see.”
I feel a lot of gratitude toward Sheriden for reminding me that my inclination to ask people to show me the beauty they know how to see is really wonderful and beautiful. It reminds me that I have value even there…and that my desire to see all sorts of beauty is creativity in itself.
Furthermore, I hope it’s a tender reminder to anyone listening to remain humble when meeting new works, or new ideas.
Jake and I talked a lot about taste, as well. We both find ourselves disappointed in the way our culture has evolved toward groupthink in taste-making. All too often, when presented with something new, we look around to see how others are receiving it. Or we simply wait to take in anything new until a trusted authority tells us “you like this.” And then…we do. Almost as a matter of program.
Jake spoke about the importance of curiosity and investigation when considering art. He asks “what can you find about art that YOU appreciate, and YOU enjoy?” This framing implies that there is likely always something that you will appreciate and enjoy…and I have personally found that to be true nearly all of the time. But the act of parsing through these questions individually will allow us to cultivate our own unique taste, preferences, perspectives.
I long for a world with more of that sort of careful consideration and individual accountability for taste—for each of us to see what we can uniquely see, and to seek out perspective that teach us how to see differently. What beautiful ideas.
If you have a minute or two, I’d love to hear what beauty YOU uniquely know how to see. Or…what beauty you’ve recently learned to see.
Warm mid-December vibes ❄️ from my soft little depressive self,