How to Deal With A Creative Meltdown

screenshot of the website

Every once in a while I feel insanely insecure about my creative work and my output. I start comparing myself to others, and eventually, I get totally numb and stop making things at all. Which is bad. That’s why a while ago, I jotted down an instagram post to remind myself of my worries, and how to handle them. Sometimes, you just need a little mantra, a spell, a little routine to get back on track.

To get this thing off instagram, I published it on a little website. Check it out and share it with your friends. ✨

22. Dezember 2018

“Forget Being a Genius and Develop Some Skills”

screenshot of Jerry Saltz’s article

One of the best things I’ve read this week was art critic Jerry Saltz’s “How to Be an Artist” (New York Magazine, Nov. 26, 2018). In 33 rules, he describes and explains how to deal with life as a creative person, and how to become a better, more confident artist. I nodded my head at almost every single point, but here are the quotes and ideas I actually enjoyed to most:

1: Don’t be Embarrassed. You often reveal things about yourself that others may find appalling, weird, boring, or stupid. People may think you’re abnormal or a hack. Fine. When I work, I feel sick to my stomach with thoughts like None of this is any good. It makes no sense. But art doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t even need to be good.

I’ve been studying and working in the creative field for about 10 years now and still feel it, and Jerry’s list doesn’t sound like this feeling of embarrassment and insecurity will go away. So I guess I better learn to deal with it.

Lesson 5: Work, Work, Work. (…) Every artist and writer I know claims to work in their sleep. I do all the time. (…) How many times have you been given a whole career in your dreams and not heeded it? It doesn’t matter how scared you are; everyone is scared. Work. Work is the only thing that takes the curse of fear away.

This last sentence stuck with me. I am going to paint it on the wall of my living room, maybe even on the insides of my eyelids. It’s not necessarily meant in a workaholic way, but in a way to remember myself that creative work can always a safe haven, too.

Lesson 6: Start With a Pencil. (…) Next, draw the square foot in front of you. This can be tight, loose, abstract, realistic. It’s a way to see how you see objects, textures, surfaces, shapes, light, dark, atmosphere, and patterns. It tells you what you missed seeing.

I just enjoyed this little exercise and can recommend it to everyone. Drawing helps you see things.

Forget Being a Genius and Develop Some Skills.

D’uh.

Lesson 9: “Embed thought in material.” — Roberta Smith. (…) An object should express ideas; art should contain emotions. And these ideas and feelings should be easy to understand — complex or not.

Exercise: An Archaeology. Make an index, family tree, chart, or diagram of your interests. All of them, everything: visual, physical, spiritual, sexual. Leisure time, hobbies, foods, buildings, airports, everything. Every book, movie, website, etc. The totality of this self-exposure may be daunting, scary. But your voice is here. This will become a resource and record to return to and add to for the rest of your life.

This reminded me a lot on the Starterpack meme I made a couple of months ago, which was so much fun and taught me a lot about myself. It also made me accept myself more.

Lesson 14: Compare Cats and Dogs. Okay, this sounds ridiculous, but call your dog and it comes right over to you, placing its head in your lap, slobbering, wagging its tail: a miraculous direct communication with another species. Now call your cat. It might look up, twitch a bit, perhaps go over to the couch, rub against it, circle once, and lie down again. What am I saying? In seeing how the cat reacted, you are seeing something very close to how artists communicate.

This quote is a much needed argument for cat people, like me.

The best definition of success is time — the time to do your work.

When I was working in an agency full-time, I enjoyed the work I did, but it often didn’t feel like creative work—as it was never work that included myself as an artist. It was client work. After I couple of years I noticed that this doesn’t make me happy. Today I still sometimes feel guilty about it; something in my head tells me that anything but a full-time job is just lazy. Turns out: Creativity is a full-time job by itself.

Envy looks at others but blinds you.

I guess the only way to prevent my eyes from getting worse is to change my view on fellow designers and artists. Not that I am full of envy, but I noticed looking at other people’s work too much prevents me from believing in my own stuff.

After beating yourself up for half an hour or so, stop and say out loud, “Yeah, but I’m a fucking genius.”

Because you are! Amen.

Read “How to Be an Artist” by Jerry Saltz on Vulture.

20. Dezember 2018

The Embassy – White Lake

Cover artwork for The Embassy’s album White Lake

Das schwedische Elektropop-Duo The Embassy hat, nach fünf Jahren, ein neues Album veröffentlicht. White Lake heißt es, und wie schon die Vorgänger-Alben und -Compilations bewiesen haben, sind Fredrik Lindson und Torbjörn Håkansson hinter das Geheimnis perfekter Popmusik gekommen: Nicht nervig, nicht langweilig, und zwischendurch mit sanften Seufzern versehen funktioniert auch White Lake erfreulich gut als Vorder- wie auch Hintergrundmusik. Nicht ganz so gut wie meine All-Time-Favourites Tacking (2005) und Life in the Trenches (2011), aber hörenswert.

White Lake auf Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

15. Dezember 2018

Text–Sex–Scheiße

Foto von Sonja Knecht auf der TYPO 2018

Sonja Knecht auf der TYPO 2018. Bild: © Norman Posselt / Monotype (flickr)

Die Tage werden so langsam ruhiger, und ich habe endlich Zeit, einige meiner Twitter-Lesezeichen und Pocket-Ablagen durchzugehen (ähnlich wie meine Fitnessstudio-Mitgliedschaft habe ich tausend Bookmarking-Tools, gucke aber nie rein). Nun aber doch, und ich möchte euch ein Schmankerl weiterempfehlen, das ich ganz besonders toll fand:

Meine ehemalige Kollegin und Freundin Sonja Knecht, mit der ich bei Edenspiekermann zusammengearbeitet habe, hat auf der diesjährigen (letzten) TYPO Konferenz einen hervorragenden Vortrag mit dem noch viel hervorragenderen Titel »Text–Sex–Scheiße« vorgetragen.

In knapp 45 Minuten exploriert sie unter anderem tausend weitere mögliche Titel-Ideen des Vortrags; sie rauscht über Kafka und seine Handschrift hin zu Sexismus im Stadtbild, Sexismus in der Sprache und daraus folgend auch sexistische Kackscheiße und merkt an, dass selbige erschreckender Weise noch nicht im Duden zu finden ist. Als Quintessenz bündelt sie, was wir, die gerne schreiben, schon lange ahnten: Text ist gestaltete Sprache, Wörter sind eine mächtige Waffe.

“Forget Coding: Writing Is Design’s Unicorn Skill.”
John Maeda

Sonja ist, neben ihrer hervorragenden Qualitäten als Mensch und Texterin, auch eine geistreiche und unterhaltsame Sprecherin, und bevor ich hier aus dem Lobhudeln und den vielen Adjektiven gar nicht mehr herauskomme:

Schaut euch ihren Vortrag an. Es lohnt sich!

15. Dezember 2018

102018: We Are Our Own Devils

Goethes garden behind his house

I am strolling through Goethe’s garden (as depicted) as I’m in Weimar, a small German city known for, well, Goethe’s œuvre and the Bauhaus university. It’s mid-September; summer is still in full blossom and makes us all feel like we could get used to this; this does not need to stop, ever. But it will, we all know it, the seasons won’t fool us. But we like the idea of being fooled, even for a couple more weeks.

One and a half months later—October’s in its final hours as I type this—I peel myself out of bed and turn on the radiator; I have my gloves and thermal underwear in place and switched from iced coffees to hot tea. But outside, I still cycle through golden, leave-paved streets on Urbanstraße, which is delightful and makes the thought of the upcoming months more bearable.

I am happy to welcome you to another episode of this little gathering. Quite a few things happened during this summer; however, I wasn’t part of most of them. I was busy writing my Master’s thesis. While passing a couple of miserable moments (”Fuck this; nobody cares about my degree, let’s simply not finish it”, as well as “With this thesis I will go down as the first design student who failed and disappointed his supervisors in an abysmal manner”), I finished the book, I had it printed, I presented it in front of a room of intimidated undergraduates, and I passed. I was actually happy with the result. Lesson learned: Accepting that your own work is enough as it is, and trusting the people who tell you along the way that you are doing fine, could prevent a lot. Of. Stress.

During the thesis research as well as the writing as well as the miserable phases, I had two mantras pinned to my wall, hoping to find peace with both of them. One said “You are not special, work harder!”, the other one said “You are valid”. To cut a long, philosophical exploration short: I still haven’t found peace with neither of them. I don’t think I am special, but working harder isn’t always an option (sometimes, yes, but I carry a slight disbelief in the hard-work-can-get-you-anywhere-philosophy). Being valid, however, is a though one: Am I? Is that all enough? Is a book and it’s presentation in front of intimidated undergraduates and a good grade and a finished degree enough? I know that I myself am the person who can decide what’s enough, but how on earth am I supposed to know?!

[A lot of italics, this time. I am sorry. Maybe I should make this newsletter a podcast. (No.)]

The thesis was the main reason I didn’t get to jump into Berlin’s lakes during this summer’s heatwave. Very possibly, after nine years in Berlin, it was the first time I envied my friends and actually wished to refresh my media-theory-twined brain with a jump into cold water. But it’s okay. Maybe next year, or maybe never; maybe I really am not the person for lakes (that’s at least what I learned about myself every time someone convinced me to join them for a trip to Berlin’s outskirts).

I am trying to re-structure this monthly (or rather quarterly?) piece of writing little bit. You’ve already made it through the biggest part; the self-absorbed ramblings and updates on life and existence. What follows is a shorter part, where technology, design, culture and feelings are taking turns.

To keep it brief this time, I’d like to hand out two recommendations to add to your digital digest:

1) Spencer Tweedy restructured his newsletter as well and now sends out very brief and snackable observations. Subscribe here or delve through his online collection of words.

2) Perfect for quick lunch or dinner breaks home alone: The New Yorker’s Cartoon Lounge YouTube series. Everything is fun and witty and entertaining about it: The animated intro, the cartoons themselves, but especially the charming hosts Emma Allen and Colin Stokes. Watch the playlist here.

I hope you all had a great summer, got one or two chances to jump into a lake (or any other refreshing surrounding), and are in peace with how much you need to be to be content with yourself. If you have any tips or other, more rewarding mantras, please let me know.

31. Oktober 2018

Weimar II

Wandert man von Goethes Gartenhaus im Park an der Ilm (ein tristes, trübes Rinnsal) zu dem von ihm errichteten »Stein des guten Glücks«, kommt man an diesem Baum vorbei. Horizontal wächst ihm ein dicker Ast heraus; nur einen Meter über der Wiese schwebt er. Er erinnert mich an den Sommer vor einigen Jahren, als wir die Stadt besuchten: B. hatte ihr Sommerkleid an; ein weißes, leichtes, stoffreiches Kleid, und wir ließen uns dort nieder. Sie lag auf dem Baum wie auf einer Matratze; gleichzeitig wie ein Kind und wie ein Engel. Es war alles sehr surreal, und fühlte es sich auch ein bisschen so an, als spielten wir einen dieser Filme nach; Die Träumer; Was nützt die Liebe in Gedanken; Bande à part; in denen verträumte junge Frauen eben im Sommer auf Bäumen liegen.

1. Oktober 2018