In one of my classes recently we introduced this idea of manifestos (which I was excited about, because I’ve been slowly collecting them for a while). In the class context, students reflected on their values and priorities and create a list of 10 points that relate to how they want to live/work/make; it also ties nicely into the art historical context of manifestos, which were often written by artist collectives and tied to ‘movements’, like futurism.
It’s something that I’ve done multiple times over the years, and had been a comfort to me when I was feeling lost.
In 2014 I was between my third and fourth year of my degree in Illustration, working an intern job in Waterloo, living alone-ish for the first time, lonely and unhappy with what I was doing. I distinctly remember feeling stuck on this anachronism: I had gone into illustration because I loved making things, but I was now finding the making so hard and fraught with angst and feelings of not being good enough. I can’t remember where, but the idea of a manifesto was introduced to me. I was at another turning point in late 2019, early 2020, where I was trying to figure out what was next for me. I took my friend Erin’s suggestion, and researched five or so artists/designers whom I admired (I believe it was Ann Hamilton, Johnathan Zawada, Bertjan Pot, and others…), looking at their body of work, reading interviews with them and about their histories. Some of the commonalities I found, I rewrote into a kind of mini-manifesto:
Later that year — after a summer full of journaling and reflecting on where I had come from and was now, presently — I also found this notion of a ‘values compass’. Essentially a list of your core values, which you could look at to when making a big decision, or reflecting on previous actions when feeling off-balance to see if your words/actions were lining up with what you really cared about. At the time, mine were:
Where I am following my curiosity, trying and learning new things, especially when outside my comfort zone. Expansiveness, refusing the status quo, unlimited imagination.
🌻 Finding Beauty
Appreciation and valuing the beautiful, the poetic, the sublime moments in life, beyond the surface, without the need for function or capitalistic value. Beauty in what I make, spend time with, and spaces I inhabit.
✋ Agency Where I am able to make decisions for myself, choose what I prioritize, exercise my values, how I spend my time.
💞 Relationships with People Where we help each other be better people, where we hold each other as complex, nuanced human beings, where we are generous and abundant with our care.
🎯 Investing in Myself Doing things for future!Katherine and honouring/respecting past!Katherine.
Which I then put into a kind of matrix, with the different areas of my life listed on the left, and these kind of affirmative statements in each box. Definitely exhaustive, and honestly I haven’t really looked at it since then… but I almost feel like the activity of writing these things is more useful as a self-reflective thing more than the final result.
There’s a number of manifestos (or writing of the like) that have stuck with me over the years, some of which I’ve bookmarked or copied onto post-its to stick up on the wall my desk abuts, so that I’m reminded of them when I’m stuck staring at the walls. My general rule of thumb when picking these– they get me in the gut, with this kind of ringing sense of truth.
“This unpleasantness is simply what it feels like for finite humans to commit ourselves to the kinds of demanding and vulnerable tasks that force us to confront our limited control over how our lives unfold.” — Oliver Burkman, Four Thousand Weeks
“something else I also find very important, and I’ve learned this over the years, is not to neglect the notion of pleasure. It’s an excellent guide in this line of work. Those moments when I‘m really enjoying what I’m doing, deriving joy from my work, where everything else disappears, then I know I’m heading in the right direction or that I’ve attained my goal. It’s an unmistakable sign. Following your instinct is essential in order to make good decisions, like choosing one text over another and remaining true to yourself. You can tell right away what works and what doesn’t if you’re attuned to what you’re feeling inside. When a creation is tainted with frustration, discouragement or a sense of failure, it’s often because we’re aiming for a result that’s too precise, that holds too many expectations or external considerations that aren’t our own. When we free ourselves from these preconceived notions and we develop our own language, then we can start producing our best possible work.” — Isabelle Arsenault, illustrator, from an interview on Art of the Picture Book
“An artist is not special. An artist is an ordinary person who can take ordinary things and make them special.” — Ruthe Asawa
“You don’t need to look like an artist, sound like an artist, live like an artist. However, if you can think like an artist, you are an artist. Unlike everyone else who’s cultural or creative, artists have a unique ability to give form to an idea. Their mind is not only flexible but plastic. It can receive and give form to an idea.” — Taeyoon Choi, from his letter to students
“Lesson 5: Simple and honest things win… a simple project, very modest, but to me expressing something truthful about what it means to be alive and to communicate. I always try to encourage students to remember that small, honest things can win. We don’t always need a million dollar crazy project, but tiny acts of expression and intervention.”
and “Lesson 6: Artistic practice is research, take that obligation seriously. You are a researcher.… It’s important to take the job of research seriously: to study the history, to take notes about process, to publish, etc. In terms of history, I think it’s crucial to know your field, who came before you and to explore the work of the past. We have a tendency to work and think ahistorically (think about how often you hear about “what a revolutionary time we live in”) and it can present profound limitations to creative practice. Note taking is also crucial — I think the more you approach the creative process as a study vs some sort of magical moment of inspiration, the more fruitful your work will be. Finally, publishing is crucial. Scientists write papers, synthesize findings, etc — artists should do the same.” — Zach Lieberman’s lessons for students
“Rule 4: Consider everything an experiment” and “Rule 8: Don’t try to create and analyse a the same time. They’re different processes.” — Sister Corita Kent’s 10 Rules