Standalone but inter­connected, independent but not isolated

Vauxhall Bridge over the river Thames, with Aquarius House, St George Wharf, London. Photograph by the author.

This is a bit of a ramble, but bear with me.

One of the main things I’ve tried to do with this new website — aside from making it load faster and look better — is to lay the foundations for a more resilient online presence that is simultaneously standalone but interconnected, independent but not isolated.

Craig ‘VI’ Slee mentioned on his Cold Albion blog recently that:

I think it may be time to be in this space more. Social media uberplatforms are becoming moribund, and in all honesty, I think that’s a good thing.

As you might know, I’ve been blogging regularly here since 2008, so that’s certainly something I’m all in favour of. I said to Craig (on social media, ironically) that I was determined to centre my online activities around this website rather than on social media silos. I'll still use social media, but very much as a secondary layer.

Late last year I wrote about Decentralised Networks, and the resilience-through-decentralisation approach. In that post I was specifically looking at Mastodon and the ActivityPub protocol it and other Fediverse sites use, but there are other protocols and approaches that can be used simultaneously such as Webmentions and PingBacks (and RSS feeds, of course).

I’ve already implemented the latter using the IndieWeb Webmention Client and I have plans to look into whether I can connect this site to the Fediverse at some point in the future, so that people can choose to “follow” — and, more importantly, to interact with — my blog and my artwork using any site that implements the ActivityPub protocol. We must build bridges.

And yes, this all ties in with what I was writing back in April about building virtual communities.

One thing that occurred to me while reading Scott Branson’s 2022 book Practical Anarchism: a guide for daily life is that this “standalone but interconnected, independent but not isolated” approach is essentially anarchist in nature, which I realise is both unsurprising and obvious in retrospect.

The eternal problem is that time I spend implementing these new features on my website is time that I’m not spending concentrating on my artwork.

Properly concentrating on artwork requires losing myself for hours in undisturbed and focussed effort, and it’s easily disrupted by interruptions.

James Burt was talking recently on his blog about Deep Work and Shallow Work, and I agree that shallow work definitely has value — most of the bug-fixing on this site is the result of shallow work — but there is, I think, a necessity for Deep Work when creating something that doesn’t involve following a list of instructions.

As James wrote:

Deep work is much rarer these days than before the Internet – given the expectation for me to be reachable on teams and slack all day, there is less opportunity to focus on detailed tasks. In my recent project, some of my work on unfamiliar software has led me to working weekends, just to have uninterrupted time.

And so it’s a matter of balancing the deep and shallow work, making sure there’s time for both as both have their place.

And yes, some of the act of making art (any type of art, not just visual art) involves letting things stew inside your head while you’re doing something else, letting synapses fire randomly in the background. So yes, some parts of making art can happen when you’re busy doing something else or idly day-dreaming.

But there’s still a necessity for Deep Work to bring everything together, so I need to think of a way to balance all the things I need to work on, and make sure there’s time available for both deep and shallow work.

One interesting (to me) example of shallow work that is actually important and useful to me is that I’ve been thinking about my artwork a lot recently, about how open it is to interpretation — I’m thinking specifically about my Acid Renaissance series here — and whether I need to be clearer about steering the viewer to the meaning and conclusions that I intend, and whether I’m being too ambiguous by clothing them so heavily in metaphor.

There are whole libraries full of opinions about this subject, so I won’t get too deep into it here, but I kept going back to something Paul Graham Raven wrote on his blog last month about Diana Wynne Jones and worldbuilding:

Worldbuilding is a collaboration between author(s) and reader(s); leaving spaces in which the reader can erect their own explanations is not “making it hard for them”, it’s inviting them to enter into the world and contribute to it.

…and it seems that this can be applied to visual artwork too: leaving spaces for the viewer to fill, allowing them to enter the world and contribute to it.

And it ain’t easy, as Paul points out:

The genius of a writer like Wynne Jones lies in a sort of instinctive generosity, a feeling for what a reader will and will not accept; it’s not a genius that I lay claim to, though I like to think I’m slowly learning a skill through which it might be approximated.

It seems to me that artwork itself must be standalone but interconnected, independent but not isolated.

Any piece of artwork must stand alone, but simultaneously requires the connection with — and contributions from — the viewer (reader, listener, etc). When someone appreciates a piece of art then an affinity group is temporarily formed between viewer and artwork and — by extension — artist, and what comes out of that group can only be a consensus.