The Magic Well

October 3, 2006

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When an artform of some sort is central to your career, life is pretty amazing in almost every sense except one- the part where you’re asked to cast some magic at the drop of a hat. Unfortunately there really aren’t any rings of power or staffs of creativity +3 out there to use to summon something out of the ether that will convince your client to hand over the twenty bucks you need to buy dinner (or that bottle of sherry). No, what really happens is that you go back to your studio alone and face, over and over again, the frightening dark void that is supposed to be your blessed creativity.

Imagine being an oil producing country and staring down into your only well. You see nothing but black darkness. Is that oil you’re looking at? Or is it just emptiness? How big is the well? How deep? How long is it going to last? And even if you extract some, is it going to need refinement? Will it burn like people want it to? …Then there’s the worst case scenario, the one that would drive away any real artist if they saw it coming: will the powers that be simply come along and build a pipeline, as you sit and watch it bleed you dry?

Creativity is a resource that, much like magic, is capable of turning all the numbers upside-down and sideways but it needs to be managed somehow. If you concentrate too hard on the tried-and-true gimmicks, you soon realize you’re nothing but a sideshow of parlour tricks, forever performing at the same dingy bar. If you reject society and all its rules and try to do something radically divergent, there’s a one in one million chance you’ll hit jackpot after a decade of madness- and two years after that you’ll be a washed-up one hit wonder.

But for all its dangers, once you taste it, it’s hard to go back. It makes you feel like you’ve graduated to yourself, level two- You’re no longer a caretaker, you’re a creator. You’ve brought things into this world that were born of your own dark nothingness, and they now shine in defiance of the darkness. All the money in the world couldn’t have tempted them out of the void- it had to be you and your own charm.

Unfortunately, while creativity can’t be tempted with money, I can. And hence I have to cast some magic according to the demands of my clients and my desires. One thing that has changed in me because of this, and I do think it’s really cool, is that I feel comforted when I stare down my well and see the black void. I’d rather see nothing than clearly see dry bedrock.

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2 Responses to “The Magic Well”


  1. Interesting read Kenji.
    I am just beginning to get a feel for how much agency I can exert over my creatively before the end product becomes a lifeless expression of technical ability. I am in a little more( or less) enviable position where there is no financial incentive to produce; even then there is still a battle between seeking validation, and casting a pure representation of the flow of ideas.
    I have a superstitious half belief that I’m simply a conduit for some heuristic force of notions, a force that will abandon me should I misrepresent it’s giving’s to frequently.


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