When I decided to include a 30 day interview series as one of my 13 for ’13 challenges, I knew that I didn’t want it to be the standard “Hello, who are you and what inspires your work?” kind of thing.
My goal was to feature an amazing array of creatives whose work rocked the casbah and, most importantly, to ask the kind of questions that reached to the heart of what I found inspiring about their creativity, hopefully yielding answers that my readers would find extremely inspiring as well.
That desire was the genesis behind the “One Question” interview series… and I’m super excited to share the launch of the series with you today!
victim guest is self-proclaimed “mad scientist” Max Rubenacker.
Max was one of the first people I “met” when I joined Google+ and he generously introduced me to the amazingly talent-filled Google+ art community. Over several months, I was over-awed to discover the breadth of his talents– photographer, graphic designer, sculptor illustrator, game designer, writer, publisher– to be honest, I don’t think I have enough space to include all of his creative titles here!
To me Max personifies the meaning of the term “Renaissance man.” He has an unending creative curiousity that pushes him to continually explore the boundaries of his creative expression.
The sheer range of his creative expression made choosing just one question to ask Max difficult. As I explored his portfolio on SomethingFormed.com, however, what struck me again and again was the connective thread in each piece that clearly reflected Max’s voice. His work has the uncanny ability to feel “fresh” and “explorative,” reflecting his ability to draw inspiration from a wide assortment of disciplines and artists, and yet, at the same time, Max’s work never has the feel of being in the “style of” anyone except Max.
This is the quality that I chose to explore with my one question to Max:
How, exactly, do you manage to maintain your voice… that certain something that distinctly marks your work as Max Rubenacker’s… throughout your different experiments in media and what advice would you give to other creatives on developing their own voice and vision?
There’s this thing inside me, I’m not sure what to call it. I guess it’s my voice. It’s what feels right to me. You see this consistent body of work with a distinctly Max Rubenacker vibe to it, where I mostly see this mishmash of thoughts with barely a thread to hold them together. The thread, of course, is me. Lately I’ve come to realize that my work does have a certain vibe so I began consolidating my various crazy meditations into a single universe. Maybe you could call that my artistic brand. Maybe it’s many voices inside me and I’m just now learning that when I speak you only hear one voice.
I think a lot about the beginning of the universe. It’s something we see everywhere… a blank page in a text editor, empty charged space in a 3D modeling app, wherever the creativity starts. Depending on where I’m starting there are already certain restrictions in place describing the kind of work I can do, though it’s important to not take those limits too seriously. I love ASCII art because it’s a way to paint with a text editor. I love making 3D renders that look like they were drawn with some unearthly pen, twisting the intention of the software to my desires. I’m an artist so I think it’s incumbent on me to break everything and reassemble it, to challenge assumptions and turn questions on their heads.
Sometimes I’ll work through an additive process, starting from nothing, then adding and adding until I get where I want to be. Sometimes I work reductively, starting with something and stripping out components until I find the essence of what I’m looking for. For this discussion I’ll call the additive process Zen. I imagine sitting alone on a misty gray ocean, stacking one stone on top of another. The reductive process I’ll call Minimalism. I start in a bustling city full of life and noise and insanity and gradually cut away until I find what I’m trying to say.
A lot of times I’ll work either of these processes until they meet in the middle, then feel utterly disappointed with myself. I’ll start from the city or the ocean and end with a single paragraph or a simple drawing or a picture of melting snow on the sidewalk. I begin wondering, what’s with this? Why can’t I create anything meaningful? A lot of times that’s the state you get me in when I post on Google. I’m saying, here’s some crap I made. I post it because I know the creative process sucks all the life out of me for a while and I’m incapable of seeing the value of my work until later on. Like I said earlier, you don’t see most of the stuff I see. You just see a creation. After the art is created it’s beneficial to turn it loose on the world to live its own life. It has its own things to say, it’s good to listen.
But is that my voice? Is that me? It’s something… it’s hot and cold at the same time, small and hard and buried somewhere close to my heart. If you cut me open you wouldn’t find it, so I guess it’s not something physical. I want to say something super new agey like it’s my 4th-dimensional self. It’s something that I labor to express, because if I don’t eventually that little thing starts burning me alive. It doesn’t have my best interests at heart. It would kill me if it had a chance, if I left it alone long enough and didn’t give it an avenue to express itself. It’s a form of insanity I suppose, the ‘mad’ in the mad scientist moniker I gave myself.
That’s a good explanation of my process I think, but it doesn’t really help anyone else find a way to express their voice. I remember an introduction Isaac Asimov wrote to one of his collection of short stories… he talked about the way people would come up to him and ask how he developed his style, I suppose so they could adopt his technique to find their own. He was rather dismissive of that exercise, yet didn’t offer a really satisfying answer to where his voice came from either. He laughed at ‘style’ and cracked some wise remark about stories writing themselves. I think he was nudging his readers to go out and find their own way, to worry about what works best for them and not get stuck on what worked for him.
In a beautiful video over at vimeo.com/24715531 radio host Ira Glass talks about this question. He advances the notion that when you get into some creative practice you’ve developed great taste but your skills aren’t yet the equal to your taste. So those early forays into creation are wrought by frustration. You know what makes good work, and you know you’re not producing it yet. In this space, most people give up.
I think that’s also where you see a lot of creatives running around just parroting whatever is popular at the time. It’s easier to channel existing memes than build your own from scratch. You already know good work, so there’s no risk in duplicating something you think has been successful because it’s been reblogged a whole bunch or gets featured in a museum or whatever. I think that’s where you lose your voice, but not because you’re copying… you lose your voice when you become too afraid to speak. When you don’t think you have something to say that anyone wants to hear.
Not long ago I heard someone, I think it was in an interview on NPR, say “Don’t love yourself in art, love the art within you.” That’s the best advice I can give any creative walking this road.
You’re doing this for a reason, you have that thing inside you burning to create. It’s easy to bury that quality, with the wrong kind of education, with a sense of How Things Ought To Be, with harsh criticism someone gave you or you give yourself. I beg you: don’t bury it, do all you can to dig it out so you can plug into it directly. That’s your power source, your creative spark.
Once you establish that connection with your inner creative self, it’s tough to get what it feeds you out into the world in a form that will satisfy you. If that leads to doubt, it’s important to remember that you can’t work in a vacuum. You can’t go out into the desert and be a hermit and expect to develop your voice. We develop our voices in context to each other. In my voice I sense a quilted-together life filled with other voices. Don’t be afraid to beg- borrow-steal other people’s voices and add them to your own. Don’t be afraid to try a lot of different things to get that craziness out of your head and out where other people can experience it.
Creativity can be terrifying and you won’t always produce good work. But you’re building something that is completely and authentically you. There will be fits and starts and missteps and growing pains and all that other stuff you’re already experienced dealing with in your physical being. Your creative self, your voice, follows much the same kind of process. The biggest difference is that your body grows up with or without your consent, your creative self only grows by you adding to it… by building a body of work. That’s something every single creative on this planet has to go through, it’s not just you.
The artist Chuck Close told me that it took him 10,000 hours to master any new technique. We’re talking about a full time job for three years. Three years if you totally surrender to the process and skip meals and forget to bathe and pull your hair out and start losing friends. I’ve done all that stuff and I am happy to report that it works. You will find mastery.
The hardest part is waking up and doing it every day, remembering to put one foot in front of the other. If you get that part figured out and fight through the days when your soul feels sick and tired and ready to throw in the towel… you will find what you’re looking for. You probably won’t even realize it. Then one day someone will write you an email asking how you developed such a unique style. On that day, you’ll know you made it.
I’ll admit, I had high expectations for Max’s response… but this completely blew me away. It’s one of the interviews in this series that I know I’ll be referring to again and again.
You can learn more about Max and experience more of his art by visiting his website at SomethingFormed.com. To keep up with his latest explorations, I recommend connecting with him on Google+. And if you’re a Twitter addict, you can follow him there too @somethingformed.
And feel free to leave your thoughts about Max’s response below. Comments are a great way to show appreciation for the thought our guests have put into their responses and I can’t tell YOU enough how much I enjoy hearing from ya’ll!