The Sketch Is the Thing

I finally finished the 31 Inktober drawings, only a few weeks late. Sarcasm aside, it’s often worth it to finish a marathon, even when you’re far behind. Discipline can be its own reward.

Not to mention, completing things is precedent for future projects. The more we get used to abandoning the things we start, the easier it gets to never finish anything. (NOTE: This is in addition to knowing when to quit. Sometimes it’s best to change paths, and the wisdom to know when is hard won)

Several of the drawings started as sketches which I drew over for the finished piece. There’s a power in these raw sketches, and sometimes more life than the most polished completed work. A lot of time and effort goes into capturing as much of that life as possible. This is where the art is.

Creating With Chances

The photo above was taken during a D&D session at a friend’s place. I’d been rolling fair to terrible results, and this combo—a 20 to hit and 6 for damage—meant an automatic kill and success for a fight. I wanted to document it, because it’s the first time I can remember such a gaming success in many years, and it’s unlikely to happen again anytime soon.

But then, it is a success, and was a delight and thrill to experience. Had I not played because I might fail, I wouldn’t have felt it. That’s worth it to me.

Art is a game, in a lot of ways. It’s often described as play, as good fun, and there are any number of possibilities within a given set of rules. Losing isn’t so bad, it’s not the end of the world. You can always play again. But winning is exciting and inspiring, and the chance is always there.

The Absence of Art Is the Art of Absence, or Something

Involved in a tabletop game the other night, I had a chance to hold forth—probably too enthusiastically and vociferously—on John Cage’s iconoclastic piece, “4′ 33″.” There’s plenty of analysis on the work, but what struck me at the time was the following: Claude Debussy is supposed to have said (among other similar composers/musicians), “music is the space between the notes.” Cage simply expanded the space until that’s all there was, metaphorically making a silent composition music, not the lack of music.

But, naturally, these are concepts that make us think about what music is, about its nature. It’s akin to “is it art just because it hangs on the wall?”

Side note, just consider my lack of posts the previous two days to be a riff on Cage. Or that I was moving to a new apartment and exhausted and disorganized. One of the two.

Am I the End Product of All the Memes I’ve Obsessively Absorbed Over a Lifetime

Richard Dawkins conceived the word, and his original concept was a nebulous musing, specifically that it was

[…] a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.

And I wonder if our ideas and concepts aren’t mostly a collection of these cultural chunks that swirl in consciousness. When we create, perhaps we are reforming bits of the meme stew into new concoctions.

It’s not so much standing on the shoulders of giants as it is feeding on their substantive meals and making tomorrow’s dinner with combination plates of the leftovers. Tomorrow’s artists will be making their own things with pieces of ours.

It’s a short step from there to wondering if the “I” that thinks about these things is itself a self-replicating, seething mass of cultural chunks. If I’m feeling disturbed, I picture it a bit like Tetsuo’s out of control mutations in Akira. But it’s all inside.

A Lot of Art Is Small Things Magic

When I was a kid [tangent: I rather liked being called a kid when I was young. Han Solo called Luke “kid” most of the time, and I loved it. I devoured Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventures series and longed for a scaly green demon mentor to call me that. We need some kind of old person endearment to match. “Elder” is just gross], I had a few blocks and other building toys, but the prize was always Lego and its knockoffs. Infinite possibility of form was its promise, and like fumbling apprentices, my brother, cousins, and I got pretty good at making the things we tried to make.

Small, simple pieces iterated over made up a big, more-or-less recognizable thing. Sometimes they were just evocative and expressive sculptures. It was art, of course. Art is created from repeated iterations of little things.

The marks of pencil and charcoal, the strokes of paint, the bits of pixels. Alone, they mean nothing. But what keeps us practicing and returning to make stuff again is that magic of transforming it all. I think we lose sight of that easily, in harsh criticism of the thing that’s made, how imperfect and unlike our vision it often turns out to be. But the magic part is borne out of the small things, and in the moment its there to be felt and reveled in, if we let it be.

We Forage for the Pieces of Our Work With Each Other

We don’t make art in a vacuum. And we don’t do it alone, either. Oh sure, we often create the specific work by ourselves, but the process involves others at some point.

And the process involves pecking out little bits of stuff important to us from a field of other things that aren’t. We find these things not in solitude, but through others sharing with us, and telling us where to look, and making things we want to look at.

These bits are the seeds and the fuel that let us grow and forge new things in the world.

Noticing as a Lifestyle, not a How-To: Part 2 of a Few, Maybe

Something I’ve noticed I get really irritated by is articles with an intriguing headline that take several paragraphs of build-up to get to the point or the method of the thing. I’ll try to respect your time, gentle/radical reader, as you knew I would, eh?

Because the basics of noticing are pretty much in your grasp. If you’re old enough to read this, you’ve got plenty of experience.

First, what I’m talking about is deeper seeing. Artists begin to formally learn to do this in beginning drawing. But most of them know the feeling already. It’s a sense of connection to what they’re looking at, a sharpness of perception where every line and color is in focus. It happens to us all in life: we look at our parents, our lovers, our children, trees, flowers, a rainstorm—noticing details about stuff we may never have seen before.

All we’re trying to do in drawing class (or insert your beginning art medium of choice) is to apply that focus and perception to the work.

And it will benefit you and your work, alike, if you begin to practice it while you’re waking around outside the studio or workshop. Look—and listen—hard, and consciously, and with purpose. You’ll notice they feeling arise again when you do.

Something New in the World Is Art’s Result

Rather simple, if you want it to be. Want to know how to decide if a thing is art? One metric is the above: is it new in the world?

Crosswalks and dividing lane markers are painted lines, but rarely, if ever, artful. But my selection of a few of them and how and when I frame them can suddenly be.

Exact copies are less art the more exacting they are. Drawings and paintings copying other drawings and paintings are often much more so, in the changes in line and pressure, in the details left out (deliberately or otherwise).

Music is similar. Is hip-hop, when it builds itself out of other music in chunks art? Of course it is. It’s collage. It’s definitely new.

This is a broad definition, but I think we could do with a bit more of that. More generosity is a good thing.

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.