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Creativity, Work and Community: Feeding the Need.

February 4th, 2011 3 comments


A Russian friend of mine once told me, “There is saying in Russian: ‘It’s better to have a hundred friends than a hundred dollars.’” Words to live by, perhaps? While it never hurts to have a hundred dollars in one’s pocket, having a strong community of friends is something that is difficult to put a price tag on. It’s amazing how it often seems to go, that when you give a little, you get a lot.

Thursday, I had the serendipitous fortune of running into some dear friends at the local cafe. We shared great conversations that gave me fresh ideas on approach, and left me feeling inspired and energized. That’s what I would call a good day. It’s what I would also call “invaluable.”

First, was coffee with Stanley–an old friend who was once a photographer, now a painter–always an artist. We talked about the struggles and challenges that creative types face, and how communities come into play. Artists and creative thinkers of all kinds are typically afflicted in some way, with both a need to create, and the standard animal will to survive. The need to create, or to transcend our existence as we know it, can lead us to all sorts of places. Some are dark and deep, some are thoughtful and fresh, some maddening, and others, though more rare, are brilliantly spectacular and enlightening. In many instances, creative journeys are solo ones, and thereby lonely. You work at your craft, whether it’s painting, writing, making music or developing theories. Sometimes you hate it. Sometimes you don’t know why you do it. Other times it thrills you. And feedback can equally be a bitch. Something–anything, at times–is rewarding. Someone can say, “Man, you suck. Give it up!” And maybe you’ve been waiting so long for any kind of commentary, that even that can evoke a feeling of gratitude.

“Wow. That guy hates me,” you think. …Cool!”

Stan and I talked about the varying value of different communities. What is a community? “Sharing, participation and fellowship” is one definition. For some, that can exist at the local tavern, but then that begs the question, “What is it that ties folks together?” Hopefully, it isn’t alcohol, though in some instances, that is clearly the case. With creative minds, I believe it is the underlying knowledge that we all struggle with a similar form of craziness, and part of that is the need to create. From time to time, this may actually end up surfacing as a clinical diagnosis such as bipolar disorder, A.D.D. or obsessive compulsive disorder. Interestingly enough, these so-called disorders are generally regarded as problems that need to be corrected. And yet, isn’t it interesting that many of the world’s most gifted–and frequently celebrated people–are in some senses, and for all intents and purposes–a little bit crazy? So what’s their secret? Stanley and I agreed that mostly, it’s work. Blood sweat and tears. Hours and hours of working one’s craft (which, by the way, is one way in which O.C.D. can come in handy). Work is the difference between the ones who break through to reach a certain level of alchemy, and everybody else. Van Gogh, Picasso, Einstein and Edison all approached their work with a manic level of intensity. Stan said that the value in having the chance to do the work you want to–or maybe that you were meant to, in life–is golden, compared to having a bunch of stuff, such as four car garages, lawns to mow and more TVs than you know what to do with. So it’s mostly work, and maybe after all the time you’ve spent preparing for some moment to arrive–a little bit of luck–and then there’s friends… community.

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
- Thomas Alva Edison

So what happens to the others that take a less obsessive approach? All kinds of things–and sometimes–nothing. Some join into the corporate dynamic and make that world work. Fantastic. Some flop around like fish without water, going this way and that. Some cling to the bar community because it helps them to feel more… normal. Some find a way to neatly blend different worlds, which is remarkable. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say that the balancing act is usually rather precarious, and hey, finding one’s groove can take time.

When Stan and I parted ways, I was on my way out the door, when someone called my name. I turned to the table I had nearly passed. It was my dear, long-time friend, Fred; a graphic designer, artist and wordsmith. He beckoned me to sit and chat, and it was then that I decided that this day was meant for creative friends and conversations, so I did. He started by asking me what was up, and where had I been… usual ice breakers. I said that I had been laying low, and then added–”Well… I’ve been sorta poor, lately.”

“What? You’ve been boring?” he asked, wide-eyed.

“Ha. No, I said, ‘poor.’”

“Oh, I thought you said, ‘boring!’ I’d rather have you be poor than boring,” he quipped with a grin.

That simple statement made my day. And it led me to decide that I will never again in my life, state that I am or have been poor. I may not have a hundred dollars in my pocket to flit, but my friends–my loved ones–my community–make me insanely wealthy. My humble and deepest gratitude to you all.

What else? Oh, yeah: SEIZE THE PREY.

p.s. Febuary 7, 2011: I subscribe to http://GapingVoid.com/ to receive Hugh MacLeod’s daily cartoons via email, and this one, entitled, “The Hunger,” came in today:

http://bit.ly/gMkFOr

…I can’t help loving that it’s right in sync with my post, here, down to the very titles. Hugh has inspired me with his cartoons and words on countless occasions, and I am seriously excited to get my hands on his new book, Evil Plans, to be released February 17th, 2011. Congrats, Hugh!

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Sticking It To You: Exit Through the Gift Shop.

January 14th, 2011 1 comment

If you haven’t seen the film, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a must-see for every Creative Beast. Seriously–it’s your homework. What a mind-blowing story, and how well told it is. It’s got me spinning on several notions: 1) Anything is possible (especially with a bit of work and muscle behind it) and 2) to complain about the things that stand in one’s way as a creative person is an absolute and utter waste of time; especially when there’s so much work to be done and 3) might of most kinds–is mightier than money.

Mr. Brainwash

What makes great art great? Is it partly great marketing? Is great marketing simply great art? This is a film about a shopkeeper cum filmmaker cum artist. From this portrayal of the life of Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. “Mr. Brainwash,” I would surmise that it’s all of the above. Based on his works as a painter/street artist, the idea that he has come up with something earthshaking is questionable. On the other hand, it can be argued that the act of successful reinvention is alchemy at its finest, and indeed, a fine work of art. When MBW is viewed from this perspective, he tends to turn the art world on its ear. The film tells a few different stories; one being the life of Thierry Guetta, two being the emergence of the street art movement, and three being the life that art has all on its own, and how human beings respond to it. Perhaps what is most fascinating is the movement–or rather the motion of the artist, himself. What is it about art–and particularly, what is referred to as “High Art”–that makes it valuable and so deeply coveted? Is it the idea that it generally deals with things that are intangible or unattainable? Is it that it holds something that is thought to be magical and otherworldly? If so, then of course, it makes complete sense that by virtue of owning a piece of such magic, one is thereby and in effect, made magical as well.

Banksy

Creative Beasts are, without question, splendid and magical creatures. Or are they? Through Guetta’s lens, the film takes us on the journeys of several great street artists from different parts of the globe. We are shown that part of what makes their work revered by so many, is the sheer fact that they are a bunch of wild outlaws using public and private property for their canvases and materials, which automatically makes for instant intrigue, along with imagery that often challenges the status quo at its core. Guetta, for the greater part of the film, is shown as an observer–recording the images and scenes of his world, and those of the street artists he follows, especially that of the great Banksy of London (director of Exit Through the Gift Shop). In the end, the story almost plays like a sting, orchestrated by MBW, himself. We are then left with the question, “Was it intentional on his part? Or is he truly a fool among fools who somehow manages to get the last laugh as he innocently steals the bag of tricks from the artists/magicians he is surrounded by, and then uses them to take the art world and greedy collectors by storm, thereby making a farce of the entire scene. In the end, he ingeniously confounds one and all. That, my dear Creative Beasts, is beauty to behold. Smile and get on with it. The rest is simple: SEIZE THE PREY.

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Why Be Extraordinary?

May 28th, 2010 11 comments

Who knows what lurks at the dark edges of The Great Unknown?

Indeed, “Why be at all?” One might ask, as so many have. What is the point? What is the purpose? What makes an artist an artist, or an explorer an explorer, and why should anyone care? There are plenty who try to make the leap, but fail. They will never see an inkling of what they would perceive to be a valid level of success. An aside: the term, “artist,” for the purposes of this post, means “One who creates or envisions at a quintessential level.”

Does culture reflect art or does art reflect culture? This question was posed last week in my group at the Creativity Works event in Milwaukee. I think it’s both. How is culture developed? Try this on for size: There are people who unwittingly (and sometimes wittingly) stomp on the spirits of those trying to make something great out of nothing. Or, they laugh or jeer. Anything to eschew whatever comes across as different, strange–and extraordinary. It could be dangerous, after all… or risky. Yet, invariably, they are the same folks who will celebrate the accomplishments of those that they had formerly dismissed or ridiculed–as if it had been their idea, all along.

Here are the definitions from http://thefreedictionary.com/

cul·ture (klchr)

n.

1.

a. The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.
b. These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.
c. These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture.
d. The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.
2. Intellectual and artistic activity and the works produced by it.

3.

a. Development of the intellect through training or education.
b. Enlightenment resulting from such training or education.
4. A high degree of taste and refinement formed by aesthetic and intellectual training.
5. Special training and development: voice culture for singers and actors.
6. The cultivation of soil; tillage.
7. The breeding of animals or growing of plants, especially to produce improved stock.

8. Biology

a. The growing of microorganisms, tissue cells, or other living matter in a specially prepared nutrient medium.
b. Such a growth or colony, as of bacteria.

tr.v. cul·tured, cul·tur·ing, cul·tures

1. To cultivate.

“Culture” is something nearly everyone wants to participate in, yet it is also something that only a few wish to work at or develop. Some cultures are random and shapeless, while others are hewn, forged and carefully defined.

Artists and entrepreneurs are often one in the same. Inventors and scientists–I believe, are, in many respects–artists on whole different level. They are pioneers and visionaries… and many times, they are outcasts and “crazy fools…” until they hit on something, and when that happens, so does culture, in a manner of speaking. It’s not an easy calling. To be an artist and to have a dream or a vision takes a commitment. Many sign up for film, music or art school–or medical school–only to find that it wasn’t the life that they had had in mind. There are no guarantees. The investment is costly, and the outlook on the ROI can appear very bleak. Because many times, it is. This is not something they tell you upon entering school. Afterward, many will teach or work in some related area while continuing to work on creative goals. Sometimes this works out well, and other times, not. We all need to find ways to survive, but finding the balance between work and creativity can be trying, frustrating, humbling and even crushing. Very few manage to obtain the opportunity to work solely as an artist–or to conduct research and experiments to their hearts’ content. Many will give up entirely and find something else that is easier. Fitting into a groove that someone else has already created is typically far easier than creating your own. Someone else has already taken the risks, the falls, etc. It’s not scary, and often, it’s pretty safe. Comfortable. For some, however, this prefabbed groove is not comfortable for some reason. It just never seems to fit quite right. We may even struggle and keep trying to fit into it, to finally come to the realization that it isn’t going to happen. It’s never going to fit. That is O.K. And that is the time at which we realize that to stand out–to rise to a higher plain–takes another kind of desire, attitude and level of commitment. The ones who push themselves to figure out how to cut an extra two or three hours out of each day–the ones who are willing to search and hunt and dig to find it–and who then take the extra effort it takes to put that extra pressure on that ugly little rock–are simply put–the ones who get the diamonds.

So why be extraordinary? Maybe the real question is, “Why not?” We get one shot at our time, here. Yes, it’s risky. Yes, it’s dangerous. And no, you don’t know how it will work out. Maybe the world is flat, and you’ll go sailing off the edge. And maybe you won’t. Who knows? The thing is… if not taking that chance to find out what could be–is killing you… then you already are extraordinary. The desire or even the need to put yourself out there, and to take risks–for everyone to see… your thoughts, your work, emotions and opinions–is not normal. Who gets up on a stage with no clothes on and says, “Hey, everybody! Look at me! What do you think??” Artists–entrepreneurs–Creative Beasts do. Regularly. It’s crazy. It’s brave. And it’s extraordinary.

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Ground Control to David Bowie: Happy Birthday!

January 8th, 2010 1 comment

Hey, Creative Beasts! A short post today, for there is much to do. That said, today is a very special day, indeed; as it is the birthday of one of my all-time favorite Creative Beasts and Heroes… Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Thin White Duke, Dapper David (and the list goes on)… The one, the only… Mr David Bowie! Artist, musician, actor, writer, poet–you name it; he’s done it, and he has done them all so very well. Lieutenant Bowie, today, you turn 63 years young. Creative Beasts salutes you and humbly thanks you for your words, your art, your performances, your dedication to your craft as well as all Creative Beasts you have helped either directly or indirectly throughout the years–and many more. You are an amazing and wonderful person and spirit, and the work you do is timeless and legendary. Happy Birthday and thank you for all you do. …And kids, just in case you didn’t know, you can keep up with David Bowie’s latest and greatest at his web site: http://www.davidbowie.com/index.php where there are always fresh, exciting and sometimes strange (but in a good way) things happening.

If I could talk to David Bowie today, here’s what else I would say: “You’ve been through a lot, to say the least, and you’ve seen and done so many fantastic things. What would you say have been some of your best or perhaps most rewarding moments as an artist? Here it is, 2010. Sounds strange to say it, right? The entertainment industry has changed so much throughout the years. What do you like about the changes, and what do you dislike? What advice can you give to all the young dudes (and dude-ettes) coming up to face the music, so to speak?

…Well, who knows if we’ll get any answers, but regardless, David… love on ya, and cheers!

Here’s a lovely tribute to our man from some other brilliant and very funny Creative Beasts Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, a.k.a. Flight of the Conchords:

And to send you all off, here’s a great one from the glamorous king:

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Music As Creative Juice: What’s Your Pleasure?

September 9th, 2009 2 comments
Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (number 30), 1950

Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (number 30), 1950

When I was a teenager, my father once punished me by taking my stereo away because I wasn’t meeting certain academic expectations. I think it was by far, the worst punishment I received. I could be grounded or anything else, but to be without music was like being without light… or water. Thank God for music. I don’t mean to sound trite or to make an inane remark, but I think it’s worth noting what an effect and impact music has on the creativity of others. Now that we have passed another Labor Day, so marks the unofficial end of summer, and with fall comes different flavors and smells, somber colors, different pastimes, and a different spin on creativity. And while even the music we listen to might change somewhat with the seasons, our need for the inspiration and comfort it lends, does not. From Jackson Pollock to Paul Thomas Anderson, Creative Beasts of all kinds have been and will continue to be driven and influenced by the power of music.

I would also like to once again note the cyclical nature of creativity, and in turn; pause for a moment to consider how Creative Beasts need and affect one another. Art in any form and at any level is something that stimulates us and inspires us–an idea–a spark–a birth… created by an individual. It seems that many artists and/or scientists are multi-talented and explore their creativity in multiple facets; for example, a singer-songwriter who also paints, such as John Mellencamp, or a scientist who draws and paints, like Leonardo Da Vinci–or is it the other way around? You get my point. Creative minds are excited by ideas, by freshness, by wonderment and discovery, and by the ability to bring something that encompasses these things to fruition–and to experience the creations of others. That said, it makes sense that many creative types have multiple areas of focus, and multiple passions in their lives. Music makes order out of chaos–even chaotic music. It combines sound and rhythm with thought and puts it in a frame to create a structure. I know that music has a tremendous impact on me and my creativity. I can’t imagine my life without it.

Jackson Pollock was heralded as the leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement in art and pioneered what became known as “action painting.” It’s a well known fact that his art was largely influence by the modern jazz music of his day, which seems to make perfect sense when you view his work; especially in person. He was particularly a big fan of Charlie Parker’s and Dizzie Gillespie’s, but in general, loved rocking–and painting to bebop. Listen to this gorgeous piece titled Autumn in New York by The Bird, himself; Mr. Charlie Parker. Perhaps it had a hand in the outcome of Pollock’s piece shown above.

Additionally, and throughout the history of cinema, great directors are naturally influenced by music, and are keenly aware of just how intrinsically it becomes part of the art which is film. A few of my favorites include Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and last but definitely not least, Paul Thomas Anderson, who states that he indeed, “writes to music.” He freely admits that the screenplay for Magnolia could be called “an adaptation of Aimee Mann songs.” The film is among my favorites, dark as it may be; and is absolutely brilliantly crafted–and so, might I add–is the music. The following quote from Anderson is taken from the introduction of the shooting script for Magnolia.

The connection of writing “from the gut” and “writing to music” cannot be found any clearer than in the “Wise Up” section of the screenplay. I had reached the end of Earl’s monologue and was searching for a little vibe–I wrote as I listened–and the most natural course of action was that everyone should sing– sing how they feel. In the most good old-fashioned Hollywood Musical Way, each character, and the writer, began singing how they felt. This is one of those things that just happens, and I was either too stupid or not scared enough to hit “delete” once done. Next thing you know, you’re filming it. And I’m Really Happy That It Happened.

Here’s that amazing scene [WARNING: This scene contains adult situations]:

Here, Scorsese takes a very different approach by using the cheery 60s sound of The Crystals, followed by Scottish artist, Donovan’s trippy Atlantis, and juxtaposes the music with a disturbingly violent portrayal of Tommy, played by Joe Pesci [WARNING: This scene contains adult language and graphic violence]:

David Lynch writes in his book, Catching the Big Fish,

The music has to marry with the picture and enhance it. You can’t just lob something in and think it’s going to work, even if it’s one of your all-time favorite songs. That piece of music may have nothing to do with the scene. When it marries, you can feel it. The thing jumps; a “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” kind of thing can happen.

Here is a shining example of how David Lynch “marries” music with cinema:

So. How does music affect you? And your creativity? What are your influences? Where do you get turned on to new music? Do you have a theme song (And yes, I stole that notion from a scene from the cheesy old show, Ally McBeal, in which Dr. Tracy Clark demands that Ally choose a theme song for herself. What can I say? It stuck with me, and I must give credit where it is due)? My theme song changes, but I think for now, it is Passion Pit‘s Moth’s Wings (is it just me, or does Michael Angelakos remind you of Peter Gabriel?), which I first heard on 88.9 Radio Milwaukee. I can’t think of a better song to lead us into fall.

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Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation–Generate: A MIAD Alumni Exhibit.

July 21st, 2009 1 comment
Generate:  An Exhibition of Work by MIAD Alumni--Opening night.

Generate: An Exhibition of Work by MIAD Alumni--Opening night.

Friday; July 10th, I had the pleasure to attend the opening of Generate: An Exhibition of Work by MIAD Alumni. I would say it was a great way to beat the heat, but seeing as how this has been one of the coolest summers Milwaukee has seen in some time, it seems only right to say that the heat was right there at what is formerly known as The Paper Boat Gallery; Bastille Days notwithstanding. The show features the works of twenty two artists; some of whom reside in Milwaukee, and others who are now in other places such as New York, L.A. and Tokyo.

Aside from a well-dressed table of fine munchies, not to mention wine and a decent selection of bottled beer, the crowd was a stylie Chex mix of artists, professors and art lovers. Curated by MIAD alumna, Cassandra Smith (class of ’06); the exhibit demonstrated both the challenges and opportunities one is presented with when attempting to fit so many artists’ works in a space of approximately one thousand square feet. In some ways, it was very successful, and in other ways, it felt a bit too “cozy.” These things aside; the show was anything but boring.

If I had to put a label on this group, it would be “Smartists.” Across the board, the art is beautifully crafted and engaging, and while each artist has a unique style and a distinct voice, it seems that this group of work on the whole, has its own dialog taking place, and the conversation is fresh and refreshing.

Having had the chance to speak at length with a handful of the artists, who in general, range from twenty to thirty-something, I gathered that they are driven and vision-oriented; serious, but with a sense of humor or playfulness, despite the fact that some of the work may be rather dark in terms of subject matter, and speaks in a somber tone.

Hand-embroidered works by Rebecca Tanner offer up a bittersweetness and black-humored irony with phrases not commonly seen in such a light, but chances are, each of us has heard some of them a time or two… and maybe this time, with a new twist. She says that it’s her therapy–a way for her to work out her thoughts.

Jesus Ali filmed and recorded a friend’s five year old daughter singing Turn Into by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Beautifully shot and directed, the child’s performance is hauntingly beyond her years in the sense that she seems to understand the gravity of the words she sings and apparently knows by heart. It’s a remarkable piece juxtaposing innocence and the ways of the world.

Colin Dickson’s piece, Attack, recalls images of pathogenic bacteria on a giant scale. Interestingly, when I mentioned this to him, he brightened at this interpretation, and said that he had transformed the piece entirely when he moved it to its current space, which is how he prefers to work. He allows the space, itself, to help determine the final outcome and lay of the work.

Marla Sanvick’s video piece is intimate and somehow familiar, yet surrealistically alien at the same time. Regardless of the fact that there is no audio component, I wanted to view this one in silence, and will return to the gallery to do so on a less busy occasion.

We are living in difficult times, and that is not something that is missed by these artists. Art provides meaning in what can seem like an otherwise meaningless world, and it also calls attention to things we may not wish to see, but should… things such as absurdity, greed and brutality. It lends the ability to create one’s own world, whether that means entertaining certain fantasies, or simply “whistling in the dark.” Whatever the case may be, it is a powerful coping mechanism, indeed.

Following are a few highlights from the show:

Artist:  Kimberly Weiss

Work of artist, Kimberly Weiss.

Gallery goers viewing and listening to work by Jesus Ali

Gallery goers viewing and listening to work by Jesus Ali.

Works by artist, Rebecca Tanner

Works by artist, Rebecca Tanner.

Work of artist, Jeremy Wolf.

Work of artist, Jeremy Wolf.

Work of artist, Mayuko Kono.

Work of artist, Mayuko Kono.

Detail of work by artist, Mary Dibiasio.

Detail of work by artist, Mary Dibiasio.

Work by artist, Colin Dickson.

Work by artist, Colin Dickson.

Left to right:  Rebecca Tanner and Dawn Frank.

Left to right: Rebecca Tanner talks with Dawn Frank.

Left to right:  Jill Broekhuizen and son, Lodi Broekhuizen.

Left to right: Jill Broekhuizen and son, Lodi Broekhuizen.

So, Creative Beasts, remember that this Friday; July 24th is Milwaukee’s Gallery Night, and definitely put this show on your list of ones to see.

Here’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs:

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