Here’s the question: is a master a master regardless of what tools or materials they have to work with? Would the Sistine Chapel be the Sistine Chapel if Michelangelo had been forced to paint left-handed? I wonder… I wonder what we are, without our tools. (Humans are just tool making animals, right?) That’s what it seems like Neutral Territory is all about, anyway. Limiting my palette has been – in so many words – a tool purge. It’s a trial by fire, too. But what if purifying my palette takes away my edge?
I like to think of building outfits [or wardrobes for that matter] as a form of soft engineering. You build a look like you build a house, from the ground up. With that analogy in mind, you damn well better have the right tools and materials available before you set out to build the dream house, right? So it goes with a lovely stylish – not to say perfect – ensemble.
But maybe not. The flair getting dressed, for me, anyway, comes from layering. High/Low is the key to success. It’s not so much about each and every piece being of the moment, expensive or even super special. It’s about the eye, actually, about seeing the entire composition as a look, instead of a collection of parts. Or that’s what happens on the best of days, anyway. Most of the time, you center attention around one or two key elements and then do the best you can to build something that works around them. Remember the house: if nothing else, be sure you don’t overwhelm the foundation.
In a way, what I’m doing with this project is refining the tools, not just throwing them overboard. The challenge, then, is to build higher, even given lots of limitations. The reward is maintaining my sensibility and possibly even adding mastery and expertise. Admittedly, I haven’t come up with all winners outfit-wise, throughout the last two months. However: the winners have felt more “me” than I can say I’ve often felt, before. I’m being forced into accepting what amounts to a restrained new aesthetic comfort zone as much as I am warming up to what, frankly, might just look best on me. However shitty it might feel, on loser outfit days, learning hard lessons like these but good were part of the aim of the whole NT project.
I have a very specific identity; this is true for me publicly and personally. Taking my decisions about what to wear every single day public has been hard; cutting myself off at the knees, eliminating color could be considered diabolical. But, there’s a secret upside to this very public exercise in constraint: I get to quantify every outfit. Here’s what I’ve learned, thus far: all together, “we” all like me best in an updated Annie Hall-ish look. Everyone, me included, seems to enjoy layering in unexpected ways (this is emerging as one of the sharpest items left, in my toolbelt.) What I’m looking forward to now is breaking down my newly quantified self, when it comes to fashion AND personal identity. How “you” all view me and how I see myself might be different from time to time, but we seem to all be leaning in the same direction.
As I strip ever more range out of my wardrobe, I’m surprised again and again to be finding more of “me” than I would’ve thought. So, to get back to the original question: maybe an artist’s tools do reside within them? Maybe Michelangelo could’ve painted that ceiling blindfolded, with sponges, if he’d had to. If so… as an artist of sorts, I’m relieved to know no one can ever take away what makes me so good. And I say god damn, I might just get better as this all gets ever more real. Cheers to that!