Aging comes with a few characteristic abilities, many of which seem to be complaining—about the weather, what hurts on your body, these kids today (DISCLAIMER: I’m firmly in the the-kids-are-alright camp and expect to continue to remain).
And the cost isn’t cheap. Bodies break down and get slower. It’s nothing unusual, it happens to everyone who keeps living. It’s ordinary stuff.
But there are definite benefits to getting older, and the biggest one is simple, accumulated experience. True, wisdom isn’t inevitable, but it’s a lot easier to harness. Appreciation for beauty and recognition of darkness is easier, too. There’s a wealth of years that lets us understand the world better and how it all fits together.
If you’re an artist getting older, this is your advantage. “Write what you know” becomes a massive toolbox, which for a young person would tend to be a small, spare tray. You can use this in your work: put everything you are into it, because the ocean of accumulated life inside you is very big, indeed.
A Numbers Game or Two, for Various Definitions of Two
It’s tax time, more or less, in the United States. The pressure to navigate the labyrinthine codes of law that drive even seasoned accountants to distraction are a lot to deal with for any citizen. For artists, there’s a metaphor.
There are the things we make. There is the money we make. There are the people who like the things, who may pay us something to keep or copy them. Usually not, and those elements don’t necessarily cross over. This is a regular cycle, and we don’t often understand how it works, just that it needs to happen.
But if I want to grow the number I make for the things I make, I do need to grow the people who like the things. And that’s what this year is about, for me. Getting ways established to do both. Stay tuned, I’m working on them.
Kalkou is a Danish sculptor who often works in pure white, as well as making photographs. Her work is, on the surface, very stately, pristine. But there is something of a smirk, or more accurately, an impishness within.
I’m always on the lookout for humor in fine art. Sometimes it’s overt, sometimes it’s obvious. For Sophia, it’s more an undercurrent.
If you can find a subtle, artful humor, you can create air pockets in the seriousness.
More from the Mark Doty book: he regularly compares painting—and so art, in general—to poetry, in its evocative, metaphorical syntax and usage and the ways it affects us when we experience it.
In still life, it’s the same: these things had a history, a set of personal meanings; they were someone’s. The paintings seem to refer to this life of ownership, and to suggest something of the feeling attached to things, while withholding any narrative. What could we ever know of this cup or platter, the pearl-handled knife? Their associations are long since dead, though something of the personal seems to glow here still, all its particulars distilled into an aura of intimacy.
Mark Doty, Still Life With Oysters and Lemon
Paul Pope and Battling Boy, a Wild and Weird Vision of Gods and Other Worlds
It took me a long time to start—and then to finish—Battling Boy, the first in a series by Paul Pope, of comics fame and renown. I don’t think the expected continuation of the series has happened, at least not yet. Other books in the series are prequels. This first volume ends pretty abruptly.
But Paul has always been adept at crafting future worlds very unlike the tropes of shiny, glowing science fiction films and TV shows. His are gritty, chunky, dark, and diverse visions, and I find them endlessly inspiring and fun. He always seemed assured and able, where I felt the very opposite of those things.
Paul was among the few creators, including my cousin and me, who did a co-signing event back in the early 90s. It was my first one, ever, at Comix Experience in San Francisco. Paul brought the first THB, a massive 104-page issue, and seemed to me both then and now to be something of a rock star. A rock star wielding a brush as his instrument.
But for someone so clearly destined for worthy praise and continued success in the field, he was always kind and encouraging to me and my work. Technically, he was a peer, though I looked up to him and his confident process for being miles ahead of me and my stuff.
It still seems appropriate, the rock star mantel, as he’s grown in skill and popularity over the years. His stories and art are wonderful and strange, drawing all his influences through his brain and onto the page. I loved entering this world, and I’ll be there if and when he continues the story.
If you aren’t relatively old, you probably don’t recall that phrase readily to mind, but it’s from the Disney animated film, The Aristocats. It echoes a common feeling that cats are cool, they’re independent, they’re self-sufficient.
But we are human and we need other humans around, being human with and at us. Cats are great, but we’ll never be one. We think and feel like a person, and have people needs.
We also have human abilities and potential. It’s better than actually being a cat.
What Lies Beneath All the Stuff You Make From Here On Out
It’s only everything. Everything you were and are, all you’ve seen and heard. It’s all in the stew. It’s all past that fuels and lays the foundation for the future, and the act of making funnels it through a venturi tube of consolidation.
I’ve finished Mark Doty’s enthralling Still Life With Oysters and Lemon, underlining and line-marking as I went. A book ostensibly about Dutch still life painting from the 17th Century, it folds in an increasingly deep examination of art and personal experience bit by bit. It’s a lovely book on its own, but it’s also instructive on the ways art encompasses the things of the world and our inner interpretation of it.
The number of times someone asks “what do you do?” when I say I’m an artist varies over time, but it’s a frequent question. And I don’t often know what to say.
If you only do one thing, or only have done one kind of art, this might be easier. But most of us work with multiple media or disciplines. And few artists want to be put in a box, anyway. Yes, today you’re writing a book. But you used to make cartoons, or play keyboards, or make videos. What you’re doing now isn’t always the impression you want someone to go away with.
But there isn’t often an easy—or consistent—answer to the question. It might be because we are all in a state of becoming. We’re still figuring out what we do. You’re a painter. But what kind of painter? There are sub-sub-genres and myriad methods.
And this isn’t for the people who ask you The Question. But it almost doesn’t matter what you tell someone else. Your work is what matters, and as long as you’re making some, it’s part of the process of discovering and revealing itself back to you.
Sometimes I Have to Give Up to Know I Still Have Things to Say
Despondency and resignation are old friends. It feels as if, now and then, I either have a million subjects to discuss or I can’t think of a single meaningful reason to write some things. Or draw them. And so I start to wonder if doing something else is more worthwhile to spend time on.
But the words never really run out. Every day, I find things to talk about with people around me, and something new occurs to me, or is shown to me, or I discover just by looking and listening to the things of the world.
Likewise the images are always potentially there to make, thoughts made into forms I can see. But to get back to this realization from despair—if you like—I have to let go and give up trying. In this way, I somehow gain access to the creative center, a trove filled with all those things I could and sometimes do say or think every day. The ideas don’t have to all be amazing. They just have to be there, and continuing to put them into the world means, eventually, some of them will be amazing.
Reid Miles, Brilliant Blue Note Album Cover Designer
Miles is an often overlooked part of the striking design of many Blue Note jazz albums, having designed hundreds of them during his time with the label.
He designed, sometimes photographed, occasionally drew, and exhibited a seemingly endless capacity for clever juxtapositions and flashy, effective, bold colors and typography.
The simplicity and contrast of image and color influenced design for years, maybe still does. Reid contributed an essential component of American culture that went hand-in-hand with the scintillating sonic brilliance of the music inside those wonderful covers.