On Not Being a Reactive Artist

This morning I am making significant changes in how I use social media. This is part of a huge shift in my priorities in general. How I want to use my time. In some ways, it feels odd to do this now. It seems self-serving. Focusing on that very first circle of awareness at a time when there is so much immediate trauma in the distant reaches of my awareness.

I keep reminding myself that it is about balance. And about making room for genuine responses to the larger world. I do nothing to benefit the world, passing on memes or summarizing what I read in a news article. I have to acknowledge and then give up the desire to be the “first to know”. The currency of relevance. I am not relevant in terms of current events.

But I do have something to give.

I remember my publisher referring to books as “ferske varer” – produce that goes quickly out of date. And I get that – in our market-driven system – that is a fact. But I figure there has to be another way of approaching art. A way to avoid being swept up in the attention economy, the consumerist throw-away society.

I don’t think I am advocating preciousness. Just attention.

This is my problem. I’m not making blanket statements about the state of the arts.

I know there are artists who strive to make that one beautiful thing. And there are artists who are driven by other (legitimate) impulses. I think that I have spent years waiting for inspiration, in the sense that I have been expecting that the outside world would cause a worthy reaction: “The artist responds to their culture”, “Art needs to be relevant”. Relevant to who or to what? My culture – our culture changes so quickly. Maybe change itself is the only thing one can honestly respond to.

I need to slow down. Step away from social media’s armchair generals, and the what-I-ate-for-dinner photos. I need to turn off the podcasts I’ve been listening to for hours a day. I need quiet.

It may be age? If it is, so be it. Maybe I am old enough to recognize what stays. To be concerned with what stays.

Maybe art dies. The way Peter Brook talks about a deadly theater, I think there are deadly artworks on the walls of galleries, too. In books.

I’ve written seven books, including one that was consciously “relevant” and is dead to me now. I don’t want to do that again.

I don’t want to grasp at the present.

I’m making clay from recycled paper. An ouroboros in praxis.

Shhhhh.

This is not a treatise. It is a diary entry. Nothing more.

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  1. Social media is a weird thing. I think the only people who have figured out how to use it are the powers that spread fake news and influence elections etc. I know that sounds paranoid. I just use it to promote. And I have to admit, I’ve never been one for podcasts; I don’t get them. If I’m going to listen to something in a non-appointment way, it needs to be music. I feel like a total beginner.

  2. Thanks for this post, Ren. I’m with you on the need for quiet, especially these days when our lives are filled with so much sorrow and worry. Oddly, my husband can’t stand social media, but he listens to podcasts all the time. I can’t listen to that constant talking voice: I need quiet. I use Instagram because it is mostly visual. But I’ve stepped very far away from FB, only using it to promote books or my blog posts. Good luck in figuring out what works best for you — but clay made from paper sounds just about right! For me, it’s drawing and knitting, sometimes accompanied by (usually) classical music in headphones. But most often, quiet.

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