The Dwelling And The Doing

image: dan james
image: dan james

I don’t know about you, but for me, most of the time that I’m not actually creating, I’m thinking about creating. Often fully aware, and sometimes on a subconscious level.

Let’s call these two artistic states the dwelling and the doing, and explore them a little more…

The Dwelling

I see the dwelling as being mostly one of two kinds of activity.

We might be dwelling on work we’ve recently completed, enjoying and feeling proud of what and how we created, considering what worked well, and what didn’t work so well.

When we finish anything, naturally a part of us wants review how it went, so we can learn from it and progress with future work.

Which leads us to the second kind of dwelling.

This is where we let ourselves imagine what we might like to create next. We could call this dwelling in the possibilities of all we have yet to create.

Ideas and fragments float around in our heads, and we try to put them into some priority level or order, picking the one or ones that appeals most, then starting to plan how we might bring them into being most effectively.

Both of these kinds of dwelling have their place in an artist’s life.

It would be virtually impossible to move on to a new project without having some initial idea or agenda as to what you would like to create, or without reviewing what came before and how you can build upon that work and learning.

The problems come when we spend too much time in the dwelling.

Either we over analyse past work and berate ourselves about what didn’t work out exactly as we’d hoped.

Or we’re in an almost continuous state of planning and dreaming, without ever moving forward, dwelling on ideas for so long that we’ve started to kill them, and they’ve lost that abundant initial lustre that made them once irresistible.

Lingering for too long in either of these states of dwelling isn’t constructive and prevents us from actually getting to the juicy part – the doing.

The Doing

The doing is the active creating – the making of new art. It also has two aspects, or maybe a better way of saying it would be two benefits.

First, there’s what you create.

The final piece that adds to the ever growing body of work that defines who you are as an artist, what matters to you, and what you enjoy.

The other part, in my view, is actually the more important.

That is the experience of creating, the process we go through as we’re making.

I think this is best described by using a personal example.

In a recent conversation in our CCS community, I was asked about the cost of film photography, my greatest creative passion and outlet.

To create photographs with film, one needs a camera, some film and to be able to have the film processed then either printed or scanned.

In talking, I said that if the expense of film and processing film became prohibitive for me in a few years – which it likely will as less film is produced – I would inevitably shoot far less film than I do now.

But, I also said what I would probably do is still go out as often with my favourite cameras on photographic adventures, just without any film in them.

Because for me, what I love about the way I engage in photography is manyfold.

I love the seeking out and exploring new places. I love walking for miles and hours on end, whether through the countryside or through city streets. I love the exercise, the air, the outdoors, the onrush of new sensations and stimulation, the discovery of beauty…

Plus I love using vintage cameras. Their beautiful engineering and design, the way they click and clunk and whirr, the way they feel in my hands, the way they smell.

But nearly all of this is about the experience of wandering out in the world and using these cameras.

Maybe 80 or 90% is about this, for me, and only 10 or 20% is about the final photograph.

Hence why the doing is so vital.

And why, although I do dwell on past and present projects to some extent, and certainly on a technical level I learn from evaluating the experience, the real joy and the real meaning is in the doing.

How do the dwelling and the doing manifest themselves in your life? How much time do you spend in each? Are you happy with that balance?

Join the conversation in our community to share your thoughts.

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