Practical Theory. Let's talk about M.E.P.S. and Toxic Energy Creep
One of the most common questions I've encountered from people starting out on their own creative journeys is, how do I stay motivated? And the things people would post as a reply in forums. Shudder. I learned very early on that trying to ask random people for advice on how to be an artist was like trying to find a diamond buried in a midden the size of a mountain. There's good information out there if you know what to look for and how to find it, but there are times when the digging you have to do can leave you feeling anything but creative. Which is one of the primary reasons why I developed the research methodoligies that I did and why I'm about to talk about the ideological structure of the memetic devices I use in order to shape my thoughts as an artist effectively.
So let's start with M.E.P.S. shall we, and yes a lot of the neologisms I use have handy little acronyms attached like C.I.W.O. and M.A.K.s, thanks for noticing. M.E.P.S. or Mental, Emotional, Physical, and Spiritual are the four primary energies that artists can cultivate in order sustain themselves while being creative. And for those who might be wondering, these concepts have their foundation in the practice of Zen Buddhism as a form of spiritual discipline as well as the tenets of Bushido and the works of Miyamoto Musashi particularly The Book of Five Rings. Now whether you're comfortable with the idea of the moving meditation or art as a spiritual discipline or not, the approach can just as easily be understood as strengthening your muscles as achieving creative flexibility is really no different from working out at a gym and doing a series of reps. That feeling of testing your will against the goals you've set for yourself, of pushing beyond the limits of the mind and body and experiencing a state of euphoria as you overcome all the odds. Yeah, artists get the same kind of rush whenever they push themselves to a new level so without going too far into the Apollonian and the Dionysian dichotomy and the origin of pathos the first thing to be aware of when attempting to cultivate these energies is where in the mind they're stored. Now unless you're already familiar with the idea of centering yourself and staying grounded in your body, the easiest way to conceptualize the ideas involved is to focus on the idea of the source of all creativity within you as a well that is always filling up. Well, technically the term for this is seeping in as that's how a well fills up, water seeps in, we draw it out, make use of it, and when we want more of it, we wait for it to fill back up. Simple enough right? Well, yes and no, because while the well is always filling up, its important to ask ourselves, what is it filling up with? Remember artists are highly impressionable in the sense that we are constantly looking for new and exciting ideas and are always absorbing all manner of thoughts and impressions from our surroundings, so one of the more deleterious things that inexperienced artists tend to do is pull in energy from their surroundings in a way that leads to toxic energy creep. To say that this is the point where things get a bit alchemical, one must first be aware of the philosophical concept of ether as the forces which allow our thoughts to be transmitted to and recieved by others. Might sound a little strange I know but since art touches upon one of the highest spheres of human thought, don't even get me started on Akashic fields and transcendental states of awareness. My research introduced me to some pretty wild concepts as it is and I prefer to stick with natural philosophy whenever possible. So back to what I was saying about toxic energy creep, in terms of the creative process all of the literary devices and artistic principles that we either acquire or develop throughout our careers can in turn be understood as mechanisms that are used to either purify or refine the energies that we are working with. And the point of symbolically representing them this way is so that we are able to seperate and distinguish them from other similar ideas because otherwise we wouldn't be able to summon them at will and have to go looking for them in either our unconcious or subconcious domains. Now, part of what happens when we first encounter a new idea is the excitation of potential energies, this is a state of mind where our mental, emotional and spiritual energies are the most abundant, but like all forms of energy, they carry both a maximum potential charge and can be seen to follow a measurable rate of decay, and the honeymoon period, which is when all of the romantic possibilities that a new idea comes with are also the strongest. If you've ever been in a new relationship with somebody and felt like you were walking on air only to suddenly find yourself crashing headfirst into reality all too hard, yeah, that's what this phenomena feels like and its what leads artists to either burnout or walk away from their creativity completely. See its not that people can't come up with ideas or find ways to be creative, its that the relationship they have with their work is completely out of balance and ill defined to begin with so whenever they try to be creative and it fails to live up to their expectations they experience what the French call Tristesse, which can in turn lead to avoidance coping and other self destructive patterns of behaviour. This is also where toxic energy creep typically comes into play as in order to try and maintain the creative flow the energy that's being invested into the process is no longer coming from a stable or balanced position of power, but an unstable or compromised state of mind because in order maintain a meaningful connection to our work there must first be a reciprocating system in place to allow us to recieve a fair measure of compensation for the work that we've been performing, otherwise any continued investment we make starts siphoning energy not only from ourselves but from the people around us as well.
Cue the heavy breathing cause holy hell that was a long sentence! Seriously don't try to read that one out loud, I did while editing it and it has some major twists and turns in it.
Back to what I was saying, another way to recognize when toxic energy creep is setting in is whenever a project starts to run longer then we initially thought it would, we have a tendency to begin questioning why we ever took on said project in the first place. One of the earliest thing I happened to experience as a writer was that no matter how ambitious my ideas were, they would always fall short of my ability to execute them, which is why I spent so long honing my skills before taking on my first major project. Now to be fair it took me around two years of practice before I was fully able to ground my ideas as a writer but I didn't have anyone to help me develop a process, I literally started out from nothing so the results you're seeing here, this isn't natural talent or ability, this is what you get when you treat your practice sessions like training from hell montages straight out of a shonen manga, or as Genkei in YuYu Hakusho says, we train not to the limits of our abilities in order to prove to ourselves that we have them but to understand that once we go beyond them, that is the moment when the impossible becomes possible. Okay, I admit, I'm paraphrasing a bit, but the point I'm trying to illustrate is that its important to learn how to distinguish between our actual ability to complete a project in a reasonable amount of time, and the costs that will be incurred while doing so as emotional energy has the fastest potential rate of decay among the four. That's right, emotion is great for getting us into the mood to be creative, but when it comes to learning how to manage our creative efforts effectively, that's where mental disciplines and physical limits start coming into play. Most notably routine, repitition and ritual, but the important point to focus on at the moment is that consistency is key as the success of any creative endeavor relies heavily on being able to maintain a stable work flow. For those who are wondering I treat my creative process the same way I would any other job, I create for an average of eight hours or until I reach my word a day average of two-thousand to three-thousand words whichever comes first, then I typically spend the rest of my available time doing research. Well that's the goal I set for myself anyway, real life is rarely if ever permitting of such undertakings so I also had to learn to take advantage of every possible moment or opportunity to run thought experiments either while walking to work or riding a bus. Developing your ability to compose a narrative while dealing with distractions, to put it down and pick it back up again, is practically a required skill for artists as its only by practicing that particular skill can we learn to overcome our own inhibitions around the creative process while in the presence of others. This is also one of the reasons why so many writers tend to hang out in coffee shops, not only because caffeine is a stimulant, but because while art is by definition a solitary endeavor, being in the presence of other people while being creative helps us to acclimate to the process more easily. Well, it all depends on your personality type, but being seen writing helps give you the sense that you're actually doing something with your time, because another one of the things that I encountered when I was just starting out, is that when you do image training, it looks to an outside observer remarkably similar to sitting around doing absolutely nothing. It was quite the bone of contention between the people to whom I owed obligations in the early days when I was first learning how to draw as showing people results and telling them about the process involved are two very different things. Fortunately I was able to hold up the sketch I had been working on and they realized I was drawing straight out of my head, something that they themselves had never been able to learn how to do. Which in turn taught me a valuable lesson about always keeping proof of concept at hand because you'll never know when someone is going to challenge your right to hold a position, but that has more to do with social dominance theory then anything else. Anyway, when we first start working with the concept of M.E.P.S. is important to understand that art is the process by which we begin to ground those energies in a physical form in order to start the process of manifestation and materialization, and the major catalyzing force in the physical world is mechanical action, or in other words the way we move our hands in order to achieve a particular type of line, or whether we choose to write with a pencil or pen. Personally, I prefer to use a piece of lined paper and a red triangle tip 0.5 mm gel pen while writing because with computers and pencils comes the temptation to either hit the delete button or erase whatever you've just written and the temptation to do this in the early days is enormous. Also I found a way to change both the tone of voice that I use and my handwriting to match the position of the speaker so the personality of the character is easy to infer based on how the shape of the words change. Analyzing how that's done is called graphology by the way and its just one of the many benefits we get when working with an idea on paper rather then inside our minds, in art this phenomena can be expressed as the paradoxical statement, you can't see it until you've drawn it and you can't draw it until you've seen it. Trying to resolve that one drove me up a wall for a week before I finally figured out why it was that my character designs weren't working out the way I intended them to, as it turns out mental associations involving anatomical structure don't operate on the same principles as physical development does, which is a fancy way of saying if someone is an olympic level athlete in terms of being a swimmer they're going to have a completely different musculature from someone doing dead lifts. Trying to make the example as obvious as possible there folks, especially since most of the books on anatomy I've looked at only ever talked about specific muscle groups, not about tensors, flexors or relaxors and how the mechanics of motion are articulated in an image. But that's a topic for another discussion, until next time folks, have a good one.
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26 August 2016 at 15:57:45 MDT
Practical Theory, an artist's guide to understanding the hidden world of art, is a blog in which I'll be discussing all the weird, strange and semi-mystical things I've encountered while researching the emergent principles inherent in the transdisciplinary nature of art. So if you've ever wondered why art works the way it does, or if your just a fan of seeing if words can be weaponized in a way that can make people's head explode, check it out!