It may seem superficial to care a lot about how we dress and what we look like. A true artist, one might think, would not bother with how to match an outfit and a haircut. Their hypothetical life is naturally so full of Art Things that proper clothes (home cooked recipes, pets, books, hobbies) just naturally fall into place, and exude a bohemian vibe.
We may try to appear like we don’t care - but we do. And why do we try to hide our interest in appearance? Why does finding an outfit that would allow me to comfortably paint feel less important than finding the paint, canvas, and a reference book on oil technique?
I believe that the fear of seeming shallow is actually a fear that we can’t match internally the person we’re projecting on the outside. Why not look at it the other way: the right costume on the outside can support behaviors and thoughts that match it.
I think I can eventually become a better artist by looking like one.
Picking a costume
Artists thoughtfully curate their entire environment - both studio and often a living space as well. Costume can be part of the work environment that’s necessary to make things. Imagine a theatre play or a film without proper costuming - it would not make sense. The right costume not only makes a character easier to read for the audience, it also allows the actor to fully impersonate - to physically feel like the right character, through their clothes.
Finding your own costume will take time. I think I am still pretty far from getting mine in order, but my aspiration is to look (and make art) something like Uma.
In Carl von Clausewitz’ De La Guerre [On War (2008)] Uma is a badass cult leader. She plays the organ in a French countryside castle while wearing a well curated minimalist wardrobe of white cotton, a breast binding, a sleeveless men’s shirt and high waisted military-esque pants. Before she starts playing, she places a heavy ring on one finger, and takes it off once music stops.
Her clothing not only feels just right for the character, but also has a seemingly magical significance for her as she wears it. Her behavior transforms between wearing the heavy canvas military pants and the pyjama style ones. The entire wardrobe feels like a minimalist theatre costume.
Wearing a story
Some clothes are most valuable not for how they look and feel in the moment, but for the story they hold.
in Worn Stories, Emily Spivack collects stories that various clothing items represent to their owners. Each story opens with a photo, but the significance of each piece only comes through in reading what happened when it was acquired, whom it belonged to, and how it made the wearer feel. it is as if the clothes have hidden superpowers to represent something to their owner while looking like ordinary things to everyone else.
You might have a comfort item. The slightly shaggy but perfect cozy sweater, or very worn-in jeans that feel just right. Or - why not - the special occasion Louboutins. Embrace that uniform, and give it a bit of credit for what it does to support your behaviors. Wear proudly the things that make you feel like doing what you aspire to do!