Inch wide, miles deep for me

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Compared to big group gatherings such as parties, I prefer intimate settings where I can get to know someone one-on-one. I like going to small art exhibits where I can meet the artist, ask questions and learn about their life.

I love reading memoirs as I enjoy reading stories that trace a person’s long-term trajectory and growth. Similarly, I signed up to be an opinion columnist because I wanted to observe my evolution and development as a creative.

Mediums that allow you to get close and personal are my favorite.

A few years ago, at the New Museum Los Gatos, I was introduced to Artist Books: artworks that utilize the form of a book. The format surprised me, as the artist’s book often does not resemble a book at first glance; “book” is loosely interpreted and can take many forms. From unique book bindings to pop ups to interactive elements, artist books are like personal theaters for the reader to improvise within.  

The intimacy of the experience struck me. I enjoyed reading an artist’s book because you can set the pace while reading the story, flip the pages back and forth and read closely.

Another publication with similar creativity is the Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern literary journal, available for view at our Morrison Library. McSweeney’s takes an unconventional approach to publish its literary collection; it is never in a traditional magazine format but always in a more surprising form. For example, in one of its publications, the stories were printed in a series of letters within a semitranslucent bag. 

I became quite fascinated with intimate art forms, where you don’t have to make an impression upon a large audience. Instead, like Adrienne Maree Brown said in “Emergent Strategy,” you make an impact that is inch wide, mile deep, instead of mile wide, inch deep.

A 2012 New York Times article introduced Odyssey Works, an art collective that creates intimate experiences for one. For Espino’s 36-hour experience, an aged original Argentinian novel was slipped into her purse, followed by abduction to the Sebastopol Hills. The final scene was a dinner with Espino’s mom within a cacophonous restaurant. Colin writes in the article that the experience results in a “tiny but infinitely more affected audience.” 

I often think about the impact of art and why we do it. I think we all want to make things that resonate. We want to feel connection and belonging. 

So after each The Daily Californian article, I look forward to receiving feedback, both positive and constructive. The other day, I was elated to receive my first feedback email to my Daily Cal account regarding my biking opinion piece. 

When I make something and put it out in the world, I wonder what ripples have been created — or if I’ve created any.  I wonder about the value of my work. I don’t think our work always needs to make a statement. But how do we measure our impact? 

My friend is an environmental journalist, and we were discussing how often we don’t know what is happening with our work. 

As an environmental journalist, she says that she is writing the same story that all environmental journalists are writing: big oil is polluting, and the environment is at risk. But so what? Did the piece make any change, or are the same stories just being told repeatedly?

At the end of our conversation, we agreed that the most important person to influence is ourselves.  

That is how I’m thinking about art more and more nowadays. An audience of a few, even if it’s just me, is enough. After all, didn’t someone say: “Change yourself to change the world.”

In creative practice, you don’t get good until you push a copious amount of work persistently. Until you get good, you’re probably not impressed with yourself. One of my biggest barriers to creative work is fear: Oh, I don’t want to do this because it won’t be good, or I won’t be good at it.

A few months ago, I saw an email that advertised a three-month book writing program.

I signed up for a consultation call to learn more. I pitched a book topic researching the belonging experiences of third culture youth and adults, perhaps expressed through food cultures. Throughout the call, the coach asked whether I was all in on this project because book writing is a big undertaking. 

I felt reluctant and skeptical. I didn’t want to put a book out in the world when so many poorly written lengthy books were written only for profit’s sake. 

Would a book I write make any impact? I ultimately declined, given my lack of enthusiasm, but that phone call popped into my brain from time to time.

When I reframe the arts’ intention to just serve myself, I can reimagine what I can do. I can be bolder and do more of the things that genuinely align with my interests. Continuing my creative practice is my inch wide, mile deep tribute to myself.

Shuge Luo writes the Wednesday column on creativity and belonging. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.