Okay. Buckle-up. This gets wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey type strange fairly quickly, even for me.
I’ve always had a love hate relationship with the artwork that I create. On one hand, it’s my mental health therapy. It’s the action I take every day that helps me to maintain the integrity of my core self, my “Katie-ness”. I remain intact because every day I work on stitching my inner self together. Making repairs here and there. Destroying portions and making them over completely, using a pattern of my own creation. I do this over and over and over and over and over again. I could look at my behavior, creating artwork as a means of self preservation, as metaphor. I’m the priestess who performs the ritual that makes the rains come, or the crops to grow. I’m the sorceress who staves off her own inevitable demise by reciting magical incantations and scrawling protective signs. I’m the deity, bringing my own avatars into existence to do my bidding.
In all of these metaphors, the element of control is paramount. Just as I’m in control of my own mental health and the continual maintenance of it. I take my meds every day at the same time. They allow me to function within an area in which my highs and lows are not earth-shatteringly chaotic. I cannot create artwork with I’m manic or depressed. I want to stay in that deep, wide middle area. That lovely ribbon of gray that swims between those extremes. I’m not an emotionless automaton. I cry. I laugh. I get mad. The difference is that the emotional response do not envelope me and pull me upward or downward with them. My meds and my therapeutic art practice allow me control over these extremes.
Within my art practice, I make what I want to make. Answering no one, save myself. The level of control I seem to require over my own creative output made me a really pitiful professional graphic designer and illustrator. While I may have some talent for graphic designer and illustrator, I am so, so, so, woefully ill suited to having them be a successful life-long career for me. I’m too personally invested in my own artistic creations. I am them. They are me. Having someone tell me how and what to create was interpreted by me (unconsciously at first) as a client telling me how to be me. How to express my Katie-ness. And that ate at me in the worst way. It’s one of the big reasons that I left that work and became an art teacher, which is a much better fit mentally and emotionally for me.
I’m in kind of this strange place right now. I continue to make my own artwork for myself, but I also am creating artwork to sell. It can be a bit of a mental minefield at times. I’m completely aware of where my mental buttons, switches and trip wires are. I’m not as unconscious of what and where my feelings are coming from. I think I’m doing fairly well at dealing with my emotions regarding them right now. The hardest thing for me is allowing myself to acknowledge the feelings that are rooted in envy, pride, greed or anger. These types of emotions aren’t pretty and I don’t like admitting that I have them, even if it’s just to myself. I view them as just annoying and useless (in the sense that they won’t get me what I think I want) emotions. I view these kind of negative emotions as just another trap to be avoided.
“Knowing that a trap exists is the first step in avoiding it.” Yeah. I just went there. I went to a Dune quote. This one is Duke Leto Atreides, from the first Dune book.
But, it’s not always that easy. “Ohh! There’s a trap! I’ll just go another way!” Nope. It’s always a lot harder than that. And if you’re me, you start tugging on an errant thread and then all the sudden you’re trying to stuff your entrails back in ala, ‘The Running Man‘.
So, what thread I started pulling on?
An oldie, but a goodie for me. My ever-present artistic nemesis. Cuteness. Being cute. Having my artwork interpreted by those who view it as so sweet and soft and squishy and cute. And as the creator of said cute artwork, I too must be cute and fluffy and soft and squishy and not exactly intelligent or particularly creative.
Yeah. Like I said, I have a long history with cute.
I know that I’m an artist. It’s who and what I am. I struggle with how I feel that the greater world sees me and interprets the artwork that I make. I know what my artwork is about. I know where it comes from. I know why it comes out looking the way that it does. I know my artwork is not some quickly dashed off empty pieces of fluff. I just don’t know, with absolute certainty (Uh-huh. Like that’s even possible, Katie) that everyone else who is not me know this. And this is what ends-up bothering me. It makes me doubt my worth as an artist.
Having my artwork called cute makes me doubt myself as a serious artist.
I suppose those who view my work as cute and largely meaningless besides that singular observation, aren’t looking close enough for the cracks in the surface. Not everyone is as observant as a ten year old Amy Pond.
Here we go.
I cannot remember a time in my life in which I wasn’t told that I had an excess of imagination. I think that the people around me, family and friends just attributed my over-abundance of imagination as to do with my being creative and artistic. Growing up, I never thought that my imagination was any kind of hinderance, except at times when I realized that not everyone processed information the way I did. It was when I was in art school that I realized that I could spend long stretches performing fairly monotonous tasks, while at the same time designing projects within my mind, playing entire LP’s in my head, manipulating components both two and three dimensional and problem solving. It’s all as vivid and real to me as if I were holding it in my hands. It was like having my body on autopilot, but my brain was running multiple subroutines at the same time. I could experiment and plan in my mind, without wasting materials in the real world.
I honestly thought that every person on the planet could do this; seeing and manipulating objects within their minds. I couldn’t understand how not to visualize things in my mind. As a child, characters and places in books were alive for me. I could place myself into the stories that I read, and it was all as real as if I were there. “I don’t understand how you can do that.” was what my older brother told me once when i tried to explain my imagination to him. I had thought that of all my family members, he would understand. He was in art school with me at the time. He didn’t understand. And I never mentioned it again, because he looked at me so strangely.
Recently, I began seeing vlogs and reading information about how some people cannot picture things in their minds. What piqued my interest initially was that I had encountered people as an adult who alluded to the fact that they couldn’t necessarily visualize objects in their mind. They are have aphantasia. Wow. I guess it makes sense. I’f my imagination is turned up to 10, that allows for the possibility that there are those who have their imaginations turned down to 0.
I began looking around to see if my brain was just wired a little differently. I thought that maybe it was Aspbergers Syndrome. But after reading more about it, I’ve ruled that out as a self-diagnosis. What did fit me to a T was Maladaptive Daydreaming. This personal diagnosis better describes who I am and how my mind works, or at least how my imagination works. I can spend an inordinate amount of time within my own head and be completely content. I feel like I’ve known about this tendency within myself for a very long time, but just didn’t have the correct way of defining it. While in talk therapy, many years ago, I remember making a concerted effort to ‘stay out of the pit‘ (the pit being daydreaming) while I was working to improve my mental and emotional health. This lasted for about five years. And I must admit, it did help me a great deal. However, I made very little artwork, while experiencing a relatively stable time as a working graphic designer and illustrator. Once I felt that I could let-up on my restrictiveness towards my imagination, I began creating in earnest again.
I’ve established a balance between the potentially harmful parts of maladaptive daydreaming (I’ll abbreviate it as DM from now on) and being an artist. For lack of a nicer term, I’ve compartmentalized the ‘when’ and the ‘where’ of letting my brain just run inwardly amok. I know it’s not a perfect system by a long shot, but like I said in the beginning of this post, I’m constantly stitching myself together and making repairs every single day that I make art. Keeping that MD part of me under control is just part of that daily stitch work for me.
The artwork that I create is part and parcel of my own MD tendencies. It’s the part that spills over the side and falls out of my hands. My artwork is the part of my inner world that cannot be entirely contained. It must be born. I’ve heard it said that artists create the world in which they want to live by altering elements around them so that the world makes sense. My artwork is much the same. It all comes from my maladaptive, over-active imagination that I have harnessed the best parts of to work for me as an artist.
So, what’s with the title of this journal post, “Fnck Cute“? What does that have to do with having interestingly wired brain?
Well, for me, there is a gar-freakin’-gantuan difference between my inside world of imagination and real, physical world of art creation. These two sides work in tandem and help me keep myself together mentally and emotionally, but they have absolutely nothing to do with how my work in received in the real world. In the real world, my work is cute.
I’ve always thought that cute was something a viewer says when they have no other idea of what to say about my work. It feels dismissive. “The costumes were very realistic!” (I think this is from the movie Ed Wood with Johnny Depp) What happens next is that I interpret this cute comment as my artwork missing the mark. That it’s not conveying any other meaning other than outward or surface appearance. It’s a hollow, meaningless, fluffy and useless.
And if we’re continuing to tug on that thread, remember I am my artwork and my artwork is me…and I’m being judged by outward appearances…then this would mean that I’m as useless as my artwork is. Damn.
There are those in the world who see me and my work for who and what they are. I cannot adequately convey to them how much I appreciate them and their ability to see that there is more than cute to my artwork. I know that there is more to my artwork than being cute. I know what it is and where it comes from. I will never be able to control how my work is understood or interpreted by people and I need to find a way to better deal with that, while remaining true to myself as an individual and as an artist. It’s a never-ending task.
Thank you for reading, and I will see you next Monday.
Dune by Frank Herbert, 1965
The Running Man by Steven King (as Richard Bachman) 1982
Amy Pond, Doctor Who, 2010-2012, companion to the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith