The brush slid over the canvas and she became aware of the surface’s texture as though she was running her naked fingertip across it. The sound of the horsehair bristles flattening and reshaping to a point, the rasp of the long strokes and the feathered dabs of the short, the hum of her little studio refrigerator as it cycled on. The smell of burned leaves that always pervaded the space, one of the reasons she’d chosen it in the first place, mixed with the turpentine and oil odors. It was a heady atmosphere, one that she’d crafted all for herself, for her muse, to help channel the art out from wherever it came, to transmit the messages from her creative ether into physical form. Everything was perfectly tuned and yet-

And yet.

She let the brush slip from her fingers and she heard it clatter to floor, felt the spatter of a few drops hitting her ankles. She closed her eyes and breathed deep, trying to inhale the mood that now rushed away from her; a corridor receding and elongating, lengthening as she tried to pursue that fleeting moment of inspiration, so that every step she took pushed her further and further from it.

Who can encapsulate the artist’s frustration in simple terms? To describe the ebb and flow of the tides of creativity is not as simple as the relationship between a sea and her moon. It is a maddening, irrational thing, one that cannot be cajoled or seduced or reasoned with, one that comes and goes as it pleases and, more often than not, leaves its host a sobbing wreck. And yet it is desired as readily as any beloved companion, its presence an absolute requirement for work.

She covered her face with her paint-stained hands and was surprised to find that she couldn’t even muster a sob. Had the effort taken so much from her? With her eyes still covered she took a step backward, then another, then a longer stride and stood to look at what she’d accomplished that afternoon.

The scene on the canvas was still in the process of appearing, that much was clear, but the rough shapes she’d defined with the movement of the spirit-guided brush were evident. A meadow, surrounded by a copse of dark trees, a sunset sky over all. A ring of stones, some standing and some tumbled, broken by age and erosion. Black birds on the horizon. She didn’t dare ask what it was, for that would dispel her vision, as though talking of a thing could somehow banish it, and she needed to move once more into that creature’s embrace so that together they might add the details that would further flesh out the scene.

She dropped down to her haunches and fished a cigarette from her shirt pocket. She plugged it into her mouth and let it dangle there, more for the comfort of it than the function. Outside the studio the real sun was setting, and it cast long blood-red shafts over the rough wooden floor. She sighed, and retreated from the canvas, like a warrior routed from battle. She’d need time to regroup, collect herself, and then once more throw her will at the work.

It was time for a drink.


“What the early 21st century revealed came as a shock to many. We had hoped for so many frivolous inventions by the time the leading digit in our century hit the big ‘two’. Flying cars, jet packs, automaton slaves. Instead we had smart phones that only made us dumber and an infinite firehose of information that we seemed never satisfied with. When I say ‘we’ you must understand that I’m talking about those of us privileged enough to have access to the necessary infrastructure and the fiscal means to plug into it. This number was comparatively small when taken against the scope of the total human biomass on the planet, but in the raw terms of ‘armed individuals’ it was sizable. A lot of enough of us knew more than anyone ever thought possible, and at best we were using the power to break taboos for the purposes of masturbation and ego inflation.

“But I digress. In short what really happened with the breaking down of the former barriers to the free flow of information was that we slaughtered our gods. In particular the gods of media, whom we had previously held to such a high standard and on rather impossible pedestals, came tumbling down to earth with a great crash. File sharing gutted the industries once solely responsible for providing high quality entertainment, and the rise of the ‘internet-based creative’ showed that where we’d once assumed rarified talent was not at all the truth, and in fact most folks had it within themselves to paint a picture, shoot a movie, cut a record, write a book, or craft a videogame. In the end many, if not all, human beings possessed the ability to crank out great content, and the whole illusion of the inaccessible genius was shredded on the viral waves of YouTube videos and Instagram photographers.

“It was a sad time for those who’d previously enjoyed the various gold rushes in their fields. I think musicians were hardest hit, and yet the destruction cast a broad spotlight on the question of ‘how much was enough’? In the past, a hit record would generate obscene amount of money for a handful of people, so much so that it could be argued that it was excessive. The companies who helped grease the wheels of commerce had all manner of justification for the income they required to keep promoting the work of their stable of artists, but once those bubbles burst those words became as empty than their coffers.

“In a world where every individual who’s given the opportunity and has the inclination to become a powerful voice in any given artistic field, how much is enough? Does a record have to generate millions of dollars? Is it right to drop gigantic buckets of cash onto artists simply to justify their ongoing production? Is the reward commensurate with the labor involved? When you consider that the average human being in the developed Western world only needs generate about a million dollars a lifetime to remain comfortable, how gross and excessive is earning more than that for a single (or less than a) year’s efforts?

“What the rise of technology stripped away so it also returned in the form of a greater liberation of the arts and those who wished to commercialize their efforts, and if anything those kinds of fiscal imbalances were thrown into even starker relief as a result. But understand that it was not a one-way street, and that the river flowed both ways.”


Everything fresh and new will grow stale over time. The larger quantity of a thing that’s consumed the duller the taste of it becomes. It’s important to recognize these changes as movement toward change and, with hope and hard work, evolution.

Early last year I began focused consumption of specific visual artefacts. Ruined buildings, concrete structures, transhuman forms and their associated accoutrement. I collected and collated my findings in endlessly scrolling folders and gorged myself on a previously-undiscovered universe of architecture and artwork.

It took months to start recognizing patterns and artists, but with the intensity of my focused activity it wasn’t long before I started picking up on patterns. I mean, the brain’s always doing that as it is, but here with a the specific task of overwhelming consumption and analysis it first had to compensate for the amount of input. But compensate it did. I began to recognize a photographer’s eye from the way their cameras had been placed, or how much light they’d let through their lenses. I could tell a painter’s hand by the brushes they used, and the palettes they dipped from. The recognition wasn’t perfect, of course, but this started to reveal other trends that I’d previously been ignorant to, such as how many pretenders and imitators there were out there. Many of them aren’t even doing it intentionally, they’re simply using the work of those who’ve come before as templates for their own, and in doing so infect their own work with the ghosts of the past. I suppose you could argue that that’s inevitable in any evolved artform, that everything is a combination or iteration of what’s come before, but I was finding plenty of things that seemed new and unique, at least at first blush.

This became even more apparent as time went on, the separation between who was doing really “new” work and who was tracing and regurgitating. Which artists were unafraid to reinvent themselves, take chances, and really push their boundaries, and those who’d reached a level of comfort with their tools that satisfied their creative needs. And then that observation revealed the range of hunger present in a given artist, or how exhausted a certain way to portray a certain subject was. The world of art blossomed before my searching eye.

And then the boredom started to set in, a very unique form of tiredness that came from the mass-consumption of what in ages past would have been restricted by the limited abilities of the information dissemination systems. We never had the ability to consume data in the past the way we do today. Now there’s an infinity of content available to anyone with the wherewithal to get online and search. Mastery of the search tools gives a dedicated explorer the keys to the world, or at least the portions of the world that have access to and the willingness to post their work to the ‘net. But the boredom was real, and it was different from the boredom I’d felt in the past. I hadn’t been specifically bored for years, not since discovering art for myself, and while I hadn’t yet found boredom in production here was this creeping disinterest starting to crawl out from my habit of consumption.

It’s not that the work I was looking at was bad. Good and bad are always going to be subjective, and the fact that someone’s taken the time to create something “new” using the tools at their disposal makes most anything “good”, but there is undoubtedly a scale of quality, a gradient curve where on one end lies the newcomer’s amateur fumblings and the other the master’s touches. And in oversaturation of masterworks (what a condition to have!) there was inevitably a weariness. “Oh wonderful, another figure that’s as perfectly executed as the last ten.”

How to describe this with any kind of accuracy to someone who’s not into it, or hasn’t experienced it? It’s like being tired of watching your favorite television program because they’ve run out of ideas. It’s like recognizing the formula behind a thing that’s been engineered to grab your attention. Seeing that wiring under the board. In the refinement of taste comes the realization that so much of what’s presented is sub-par, based on how high your own bar’s been raised.

The point here is that the boredom that comes from concerted effort is a symptom of real evolution, and it’s what comes after that makes all that effort worthwhile. The new ability to see the true excellence in things. And then to take those new eyes, that new vision, and apply it to your own work. Without that step it’s all in vain, because you only have to look 10-deep in any comment or critique thread to realize that there’s a dearth of qualified criticism out there, and that people are starving for new things to knock their socks off.

This is the blessing and the curse of the current age, and it’s not going to get any easier any time soon. Consider this an important part of the new artist’s training, where overconsumption of a target aesthetic is absolutely key to becoming better.