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Friday, April 10, 2015
Dwelling on the Future - An Artists Perspective
I recently drove past the street that I lived on when I first came to New Orleans 16 years ago. At that time I had just concluded 10 years of wandering the country by car, crisscrossing it from one coast to the other in an attempt to find myself. I was successful and came away with a much better understanding of who I was and what I needed to do with my life from that point on.
I came to New Orleans soon after with a firm resolve to become a writer. I moved in with friends in a ramshackle apartment and lived the bohemian lifestyle while dedicating myself to finishing my first book. The apartment was on the second floor and the bathroom was an extension off one side that was literally held up by stilts and slanted slightly to one side. We were absolutely sure it would go tumbling to the ground someday (btw its still standing somehow). And I was kind of miserable. Before it got better, it got worse when Hurricane Katrina came knocking, but that is a story for another day.
I'd found myself on my journeys, but I was restless and had a hard time reestablishing myself in a life in one place again. I had few friends, fewer belongings and nothing but my imagination. I wasn't sure I'd make it through that first year. There were times when I was ready to say "fuck it" and hit the road again. But I stuck to it and I found more of myself by doing so and I did manage to finish my first book, which went absolutely nowhere. But I finished it and it taught me a lot about my creativity my ability to complete something.
So as I said, I found myself driving past my old street that day and I spent a few moments looking back over the past 13 years and what they'd meant to me. I never ever would have pictured myself where I was now. Madly happy as an artist. Bizarrely and passionately in love with the last person I ever would have expect in my life (see this for explanation), and optimistic about a future where I am doing what I am pretty sure I was destined to be doing. It just took me awhile to get here.
But as I drove past it occurred to me that while we always project back over our pasts, we rarely project forward into our futures.
I don't mean things like choosing what restaurant we will eat at next Friday or what career goals to choose for ourselves. I mean actually taking the time to project forward about where we think we are traveling upon the path of life. Trying to imagine the steps to the next ten years. Its hard. We are not skilled in thinking forward except on matters of necessity. Its easy to say "I will be making $20,000 more in five years. But is it as easy to think about the various steps of your life path over that five years.
Well why bother? The future will make itself. But what can we learn about ourselves as humans by taking time to project forward? Even if we can't get the details right, I don't think its a fruitless exercise. Foresight is one of the greatest tools we have that we rarely ever use.
As an artist (yes of course it would come back to art eventually), I do it all the time with my creations. I dream where a particular piece may end up. Sure its all hypothesis, but it does teach me some things. First, it teaches me about the longevity of my creations. Will they survive into the future or will they fall apart, with the pieces dropping off my sculptures like so many dying leaves on an autumn tree. If you can't think towards the future then your art will suffer.
But I am not even talking about the technicalities. I am talking about something akin to sending your imagination on a trip along your futures path. Using all of what you know about your present situation and your past mistakes (and successes), could you plan out the steps of your future journey? What would it look like? Is there a difference between what we would like it to look like and what our current reality dictates it will probably be.
In a way that is the scariest part, because we do not wish to dwell on what we cannot achieve. We try to stay positive. "The future will always be better!" Yet we always seem to say instead "the past was better than the present".
Its all subjective anyway. But as an exercise in creativity it really serves us no purpose if we only envision the things we'd like, instead of factoring in the distasteful aspects also.
So where is this blog entry going? It simply is to make you think about the future in a way you probably do not do. It is to strengthen you as an artist and make you look at the future with some level of reality because it will effect both your career and your work. We are often so caught up in the moment, or even more caught up in the mistakes of the past that we totally neglect looking forward for anything but absolute necessity. And you may say to yourself, this is just some new age crap. But I tell you seriously that if you can conceive of the future, then in part you can control that future. So think about it the next time you drive past that old street or look at some old photo of yourself. It will help.
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