It’s All Academic Until Someone Unlocks Your Passion

I was talking with someone today about drawing. It started off a bit dry, acknowledging the mechanics of leaning and teaching, but I noticed the more I talked, the more excited I got. I was caught up in the spell of artmaking, unable to keep my emotional connection to it out of the conversation.

I can forget easily how it feels to do the work. There’s a lot of discussion and analysis, and plenty we do in art school. But to connect the two is a great gift. Artists who write about what they do aren’t always the best at it. Read Jerry Salz, the art critic, and it’s bursting with love for art. Similarly (uncle) Paul Klee, though with less abandon.

I must remember the massive seas of feeling inside that connect me to art when I talk about it in an analytical way. I think our passion is the best connection we can have when we try to get others to understand or participate.

Why Do We Like the Stuff We Like?

I’ve loved rain and fall my whole life. Since I was little, I’ve been ecstatic to see rain come along, and sorry to see it go. It helps, maybe, that I grew up in the Arizona desert and rain was rare, but even so, it was just always a der sense of affection for it. Many of my friends and relatives felt otherwise, but my grandmother and I shared this fascination and affinity for gray skies.

The things we like are ultimately a mystery. We can point to similar things and see connections, but there isn’t an ultimate explanation for why you love or hate Rothko, or Joan Didion, or Madonna. Sure, you can come up with superficial things, like finding something pretentious or puerile or weird, but others will disagree.

The best we can do is give things a chance—or five—and see if we can open up to what they offer.

Every Path Is Also a Pattern

This is one of those posts where I almost want the title to stand alone.

We’re pressured to pick and stick to paths in life and career. But if change is good, and inevitable, where’s the line between getting somewhere and always starting anew? Is it focus, or stubbornness? Is it being adaptable or scattered?

It isn’t bad to change direction and break a longstanding pattern. If you always circle back, okay, maybe that’s a phenomenon to try altering. But I want to keep in mind that we only get to the end of a metaphorical path in life when life is over. And if we’re always journeying, how much does it matter where we’re going?

The Real People Behind the Fake Chatacters

I’m a sucker for blooper reels and missed takes. It lets me see a bit of the actual person who’s performing a role, but if they’re good I don’t think about who they are or the absurdity of pretending to be someone else for storytelling purposes.

It’s always a good thing to remind yourself other artists are human and fallible, just like everyone. No one is perfect, everyone has to practice, we all fail sometimes.

Figuring Out How Full the Glass Is

I did it again, left the blog too long and it was a little too late to post something yesterday. But it’s not that big a deal, I just resolve to be better in the future. Sometimes we miss.

I have a tendency to consider how much I haven’t done, rather than the opposite. But the only thing I think matters is what gets made. It doesn’t matter later what didn’t happen.

Optimist or pessimist, viewing how full my creative glass is misses the point most of the time. in the end, we only have this moment to make things and a possibility of making more in the future. What has passed can’t be re-lived. Recognizing I messed up a goal of mine—in this case daily blogging—is fine, as long as I leave it there and try again.

Looking for Eyeworms (No, Not That Kind)

When we can’t get a song out of our head, some of us call it an earworm, a sort of audial meme so persistent it’s like it’s burrowed into our brain and consciousness. What’s the visual equivalent?

It’s possible music is different, and easier to hold in memory while we’re doing other things. But for visual artists—maybe this applies to writers, too?—do we also have images that could stand in for songs that won’t leave us alone? Pictures or pieces of them that annoy us with their nagging appeal?

I think I might start trying to notice if it’s a thing. And, if not, perhaps I’m not looking at enough art?

On the Street Where You Live

There are two pieces of media I think about when I ponder city life. there’s Rush’s “The Camera Eye,” where Neil Peart writes about how there’s

… a quality of light unique to every city’s streets

(1981)

and this is strangely true, and clearer the more I’ve traveled. Each city has a familiar rhythm and skeleton, but the light and the way it falls on everything is its own.

The other is Sesame Street. No place I’ve ever lived has generated as many parallel thoughts and connections to it as Portland, but there have always been some connections in every city I’ve called home.

The connections circle back to art and creation. We find inspiration in the work of others now more than ever, because of social media and the Internet itself. But there’s endless possibility right there on my street, in the ordinary stuff I encounter every day. The people, animals, vehicles, trees, buildings, sky, shadows. It’s easy to get overly familiar. But around the corner is some Snuffleupagus or Oscar the Grouch, a big, chunky letter A, that I haven’t really looked at before to see what makes it worthy of attention.

I try to remember whenever I can.

Yuko Takada Keller’s Medium Is the Message

Sort of, anyway. Yuko Takada Keller makes gorgeous and intricate tracing paper installations that often reflect natural dynamic forms. She does everything on her own, from crafting each piece to hanging them, which seems a massive task, and her care and personal investment make her sculpture intimate and more meaningful.

The size of her works masks the delicacy of each individual piece, like a drop of water is always at risk of evaporating or splashing out of its wave or pool, but can be powerful with many others like it.

Metaphors abound. Keller’s use of paper takes the thing most often used as substrate for other images—or to obscure them—and makes it the focus.

Stewart Copeland’s The Rhythmatist

I was a fan of the band The Police in high school—to be fair, I still am—and hungry for everything they’d made, including their solo work individually. I got Andy Summers’s experimental albums with Robert Fripp, I listened along with half the world to Sting’s solo debut, but Stewart Copeland was always my most compelling draw.

The Rhythmatist, released in 1985, was a kind of encapsulation of Stewart’s trek across Africa, visiting musicians and tribes from East to West, recording their music and composing songs as he went. I got the album on cassette (it was my preferred format just before I started collecting CDs exclusively) as soon as I knew about it. I loved just about all of it, and consumed it obsessively as I do everything I love. I hoped desperately to see the film that was attached to this weird, wonderful soundtrack, but it never came to Tucson theaters or video outlets, and I let go of the idea of ever seeing it. Until today.

The film was a strange avant garde film project, something he said he wanted to resemble a music album, with no clear plot or story that people would want to watch repeatedly in the way they listened to music. I chanced on an upload of the film to YouTube, and threw it on the living room TV immediately.

It’s a bit like Stewart himself: strange, goofy, intense, energetic. It’s full of infectious and odd low-bit percussive synth melodies layered over recorded African drums and voices as well as Ray Lema’s vocals and Stewart’s own drumming. He spends time with African residents, drumming with them, dancing with them, taking in ceremonies and rituals. It feels a little exploitative for me now, with Stewart feeding us interpretations of his experiences, and no Africans get to talk about their music or their lives. That could be my own sensitivity coming into play. But it’s a product of its time, and not a documentary proper.

There’s another video of Stewart being interviewed about the film and music, which is also worth a look if you’re at all into either or both.

A Few Things I Love About Art

The photo above is number 799 in my camera roll. It’s an accident. I wasn’t trying to frame an image and pressed the shutter button by mistake. Is it art? It kind of is! It’s a pleasant minimalist composition. Art can be accidental, which is number 1.

Another 4:

  • It engages your sense while you make it and while you experience it, connecting artist and patron.
  • It makes us consider alternative interpretations of the world.
  • Few are famous enough to make a living at it, but everyone can do it.
  • There’s just. So. Much. Left. If ever I find myself thinking everything’s been tried, there are no new directions to explore, I’ll chance upon something unexpectedly weird, or watch kids draw. There’s always possibility.