Regarding last year

Badges of the houses of the oracle, as executed for publication. Left to right, The Moon House, The Star House, and The Great Assembly.

2018 was such a year for missteps that recalling accomplishments takes effort. There were strides forward. Creative output has been good. Everything on the workbench for Habdvarsha seems so cool that required attention is largely self-sustaining. While true that chunks of some days fritter away in moongazing, most idle episodes slide into bouts of work. In 2018, punctuated progress brought Dvarsh, An Introduction and Dvarsh Workbook to stable form, and a new version of Prelude to a Change of Mind to the public—in spite of moongazing.

The central, ongoing initiative right now is Nod’s Way, which I am re-imagining in all its particulars. Development of this book marches in seven-league boots. Chasing it, I finished the bold font of the Dvarsh typeface. Alongside working on the font, I recast the text of the oracle proper and composed mysterious additional back matter, writing out approximately 300 sentences in longhand Dvarsh. All of this has now been typed, along with English translation. Pages of hard copy, spread for proofing, occupy an executive share of the dining table.

The Nod’s Way taking shape is illustrated and decorated, with decorative elements coming together faster than the illustrations. I’ve plotted several of the latter, but actual drawing has been blocked by a butterfly I cannot leave alone. Square in the middle of the drawing table, it’s not placed to share space, and it’s clearly preliminary to whatever successor will make it into the book. It remains in play because it helps show what its successor must be, and also because I have committed to finishing more drawings regardless of purpose.

The titles in print and flurry of trifocal oracular book building make a respectable account for the design and development teams in the Stikmantic commonwealth of mind. When stopping to take stock, I realize the past year has been productive. Anxiety and disappointment can obscure that fact. As ever, the meanest monsters are from the id.

Monsters besetting the Stikmantic enterprise—not the villains of Stikmantic fictions, but devils of commerce—spring from efforts to assign value to books as products, and traffic them such that the art contributes to material support of the artist. 2018’s score on the count is a clutch of goose eggs. Stikmantica closed the year deep in the hole. This was not from lack of effort. If effort alone counted, all would be well. In the actual case, very few of the initiatives paid back costs, and even the few that recouped expenses did no better than that. End of year arithmetic drives a lot of soul searching.

Admittedly, as a publicist and marketer I have made an uninterrupted series of mistakes. The upside of that succession is that I keep records with instructive detail. Most instructive is the main detail of the bigger picture. The “to do” list is dominated by a small host of necessary reconsiderations, but the way was lost originally with an unexamined premise. My biggest mistake was assuming that what had worked in the past would work still.

Paradigms of the art economy—by which I mean the whole economy of creators and their works, not just visual renderings—are changing. It’s obvious enough if one has eyes to see, but I had to hit the wall before it came into focus. Attempting to reach into the art economy, I followed the model of my acculturation, commodifying output. It is what I knew to do. The model is by no means obsolete. It remains a basis of art consumption for a population that pays per piece for individual works. When this model was pervasive, enough cash flowed through it that cleverness, resourcefulness and perseverance could make a marginal operation sustainable. The stream, though still there, has shrunk.

A growing body of art consumers reject the idea of paying for creative works. Attempts to construct an ethical rationale for this posture fail to convince. The actual underpinning for this dramatic shift in art valuation is that means to acquire works without paying for them are now available to anyone, and many people take advantage of opportunity with no more justification than that they want what they take. To me, this is bald theft. That also seems to be the position of most relevant law. Facing facts, however, law and ethics do not figure at all in the congealing paradigm. Nice, respectable people, people with appreciation for the art they steal, rip off creators without a second thought. If questioned, many insist they have done nothing criminal.

Some of these commodity snatchers will never connect the work they appropriate to its socioeconomic basis. It will never occur to them to compensate creators for what they have taken without right, and they will suffer no worse consequence for their thoughtlessness than psychic stains. In contrast to such primitive appetites are more sophisticated consumers who do understand art in its socioeconomic context but object to paying for content that enters the digitized stream. Some of these advocate one or another patronage mechanism to directly support working creators. For an old dog, this idea is an entirely new trick. It may not completely replace the commodity model, but it has already established de facto legitimacy in currents of mainstream culture. A voice on the fringe has little choice but to negotiate the new status quo. This is written into the fabric of 2019.