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?
I’ve been in love with Allan Holdsworth’s guitar playing and composition since I discovered him obliquely through a few more famous guitarists in the mid-80s, who praised him as one of the best of the best. If ever I start watching a video with him playing or call up a track I suddenly recall, I’ll often keep following links to more of it.
The above video is a window into Allan’s musical origins. He taught himself to understand the guitar by math and visual patterns, figuring out how to make his understanding work within the framework of mainstream—more or less—music. It’s complicated and unusual, but it’s all his.
His music is strange, even now, not easy to decipher, endless melodic lines coming at you with great speed and transition. But it’s worth digging into, rewarding in a way the most deeply connected artists can convey. Like the best literature, it can be a bit of work and persistence to absorb and penetrate, but his music rewards close attention.
His speed and wild runs is what gets the most attention, but there’s equal, aching power and beauty in his quiet, airy chord voicing that so often precede and follow those blistering passages.
Toyin Odutola, Unclaimed Estates (detail), 2017
The first thing I noticed about Odutola’s work is the fabulous attention to texture and changes in surfaces. Most obviously, it’s the skin of her subjects. Faces and bodies writhe with sheen and curves tightly bound together.
It’s mesmerizing stuff and is worth staring at for a good while to take in the complexity of her drawing.
And by “we” I’m referring to the elephant of a state in the room that will hugely influence the rest of the country in this.
And by “this” I mean independent contractors vs. employees and who decides which you are. Lots of art teachers are treated as 1099 type freelancers. That may change soon.
The Teaching Artists Guild has a rundown on the bill expected to be signed into law. I’m a bit worried about budget cuts, but agree with those who say that even taking a stand on the importance of worker protections for teachers, we’re just standing on a shrinking island of funding with even more weakened advocacy for art in general.
She uses colors as three-dimensional elements, like layers, in order to create spaces, not as a finishing touch applied on surfaces. Handling colors as a medium to compose space, her wish is to give emotion through colors with her creations…
By “paper,” I mean “in the waking, physical world.” Which ZenTaoist masters might have a field day with, given various definitions of awake and asleep, but grant me the metaphor, please.
Our dreams are mostly uninteresting to anyone but us. For most definitions of them. They’re amusing, sometimes, to discuss briefly, but their tricks on memory and disconnected narratives get tedious quickly. This goes for visions of accomplishment, too.
But things that are dreamlike are another realm.
Giving your work, or the thing you happen to be working on now, at least, a dreamlike quality can be resonant and evocative. This is because we can consciously shape them to be so. We can edit them in a way impossible for the sleepified version to be, lucidity notwithstanding.
Control is usually frighteningly absent in a dream. But in art, it’s the control that turns it into a story or a mood for everyone else. It gains power beyond your own subconscious and penetrates ours, too.
I mentioned Brian Jay Jones’s excellent Henson biography a whileback, and a succinct overview put together by Defunctland is almost complete on YouTube. Part 5 of 6 was just published, and although I feel some of the subtleties of Jim’s life and relationships are a bit glossed over or made too simple, it’s well worth a watch.
For the vast majority, dreaming is healthy and necessary to maintain good mental and even physical health. And sleep means dreaming at some point.
But the opposite isn’t always true. Dreaming doesn’t always require sleep. We do a different kind of dreaming as artists. And it’s a twofold phenomenon: we dream not only by envisioning new images, sounds, and words, but also as we work on bringing those visions to life. Making art entails a kind of dream state at times, which is so appealing it keeps us coming back to feel it again. That sense of flow during creation is like nothing else.
Along with the work, you need time to dream, and to avoid criticizing yourself when you do it. As long as it’s not taking the place of bringing a dream to reality, a healthy level of dreaming is necessary. For good art health.
A popular trope about writing mysteries is that the author starts with the ending in mind and writing the plot back to the beginning. It’s probably not used universally, at least not any more, but there’s a bit of a corollary to other art practices.
If you have an end in mind, or a grand vision of some kind, it’s easier to start moving toward it. The hard part is when your execution doesn’t match the image in your head.
I find if I start with that kind of overall vision, I can’t stay too wedded to the original concept. It’s easy to become disappointed and discouraged by my abilities, or to realize the original ending wasn’t really that great to begin with.
The thing I’m making may be better off going on another direction, entirely. It’s mostly about creating the map as you simultaneously make the territory.
The more you resist the urge to stop, the easier it is to keep finding your path. And maybe that path wanders a lot, but you will feel at ease on it, more often than not.
Lots of people talk about making art. Most don’t. Most who start making it at some point quit, or just dip into it now and then. If you aren’t one of them, you’re making things to put into the world, beautiful, affecting, amazing things. New things, that haven’t been experienced before. That’s the important part. It isn’t how brilliant everyone else thinks they are. That’s nice if it happens, but if it doesn’t, you’ll still feel a connection to your being in a powerful way.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.