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Recently, I’ve been playing with drawing as a kind of visual music making. I don’t know if any of these read that way to the viewer, but the direct process of seeing and responding to what sparks an interest feels, in a weird way, like dancing to music.
It goes along with some of what I’ve been thinking about with regards to finding joy in the art making process. Here I’m letting go of explicit meanings and allowing the forms to simply play off of one another. To see how the lines interlock and flow to create a rhythmic harmony within the drawing.
It’s a direct process, more akin to improvisation than anything deliberate and thought out. There is no brief, no purpose, no plan.
When we listen to music, it feels like a kind of spontaneous emergence. A song starts with a pattern. Those patterns evolve and new ones arise. The song builds and changes. There are moments of familiarity and moments of surprise.
Each movement depends on what came before. You don’t get any satisfaction out of a song by jumping to the end. The best part is the best part because of everything that came before.
We listen to music not to have listened to music, we listen to music because it feels good as the song is playing.
Often, when we’re creating, especially professionally, we can get caught up in our creative process as a means to an end. The work can become impersonal and feel like a chore. We forget why we got into this work in the first place.
What we need to do when we find ourselves in this place, is learn to find joy in the journey again. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Something to Try
Often, when we’re in the thick of our professional lives, we can lose touch with what inspires us. There are obligations to fulfill, people to please and tasks to get done. We hardly have time to think about or feel into what truly moves us.
Here is a simple exercise that I found helpful in reconnecting with what inspires me.
Pick two songs. Two songs that you can dance to, whatever that means for you. The first one should be one that you don’t care that much for. Maybe it even kind of annoys you.
The second one should be one that, when you hear it, it lights you up. Pick one of your all-time favorites. Maybe something you haven’t heard recently, but you know you love it.
Play the mediocre song first. I encourage you to get up and actually try to dance around to it. The more of your body you can use, the better. Moving our bodies and paying attention to the sensations that we feel can give us insights that we simply can’t get by listening alone.
Try not to worry about whether or not you’re a good dancer. If it helps, don’t think of it as dancing. It’s an experiment in moving to music.
Notice how it feels to dance to this song. Pay attention to how you are moving and what kind of effort it takes to continue. Try to get through the whole song.
Then, put on the track that you love.
Notice the difference. How does your body feel playing the song you love vs. the song you don’t care for? Did you move differently? What kinds of thoughts did you have as you danced to the two songs?
Notice to the energy you feel with the inspiring song and remember that.
The great thing about music is that we can almost always put on our favorite songs and bring some semblance of that feeling back on demand.
The next time you find yourself wondering if you really want to do something or not, you can conjure up this feeling of inspiration as a point of comparison. It might not be the only factor in making your decision, but it just might help you connect with something important that otherwise would have remained hidden.
We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, maybe heaven after you're dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.
— Alan Watts
Alan Watts has been an inspiration to me for many years now and I often find myself pulling ideas from his work. For anyone who might not know him, he was a writer and public speaker in the who, in the 50s, 60s, and 70s popularized many of the ideas of Zen Buddhism in the west.
For a brief and entertaining introduction to his work, here is a collection of short animations to some of his talks made by the creators of South Park.