People are simple. Face it, they are. They seek homogenization. They shy away from complexity.
Diversity means complexity. Time tends to create diversity along multiple fronts which makes life more complex and requires decision making between increasingly more subtile shades of color. They idealize a flawed past and look for a clear black and white that doesn’t exist, though they want to believe it does, or did. They rationalize. They are easily conned, accordingly.
A good friend and I were sharing our weekly coffee the other day and began, as we often do, discussing history as both of us are amateurs of such. Said discussions are almost always concerned with European history because it’s most prominent in media and experience. But I made the point that Chinese history is just as flamboyant and textured, we’re just not as aware of it, to which he agreed heartily, illustrating the great cultural diversity which exists there by pointing out, “That’s why there are eight schools of Chinese cuisine”.
Absolutely true, folks! Here they are:
But, of course, there’s also American Chinese cuisine, which differs significantly from what is offered in China and has been adapted to American tastes. I offer as evidence that Springfield, Missouri concoction known as ‘Cashew Chicken’, or the more universally recognized ‘chop suey’, neither of which are Chinese at all.
Regional adaptation is not necessarily a bad thing; after all, one of my favorite ‘Chinese’ dishes is crab rangoon, which is also on Wikipedia’s list of Chinese dishes that are not actually Chinese. Unfortunately, if one looks back at America’s past they find that by and large authentic Chinese cuisine was segregated into well defined urban neighborhoods (Chinatown) with only the Americanized versions proliferating. So was the cuisine of many cultures - growing up in a tiny rural village in the 60’s I remember believing Chef Boyardee represented ethic cuisine. America became a nation by repressing (through segregation) as much diversity as possible, thus propagating a simplistic vision that could not possibly be sustained.
Diversity, complexity, saved my palate. It has likely also influenced my approach to art.
I live in the rural Midwest, which is to say I have a skewed view of reality, regardless of how hard I try not to.
Recently the civic organization to which I belong partnered with a well-known social service organization to help staff their holiday donation sites – those red kettles outside stores and malls with folks ringing bells imploring shoppers to drop in a coin or two. I spent a pleasant hour ringing that little bell, chatting up shoppers, spreading holiday cheer.
A few hours after I returned home a link appeared on Facebook stating this same organization subverts LGBTQ rights and should be shunned for the sake of all humankind. I had betrayed my gay friends. I vowed to never participate in that project again; a vow that prompted feelings of betrayal towards other friends who volunteer extensively for that organization. Either way, I am and would continue to disappoint somebody.
OK, two reactions.
First, upon further research, it appears the degeneration of this organization has been faked. Yeah, it really does happen – information intended to destabilize is packaged as a factual news article and posted to social media where it propagates. Legitimate media hasn’t confirmed the claims of that link and the organization itself has venomously denied it, stating in part, “…any discrimination is in direct opposition to our core beliefs”. (that persons of strong religious fervor of any faith so often try to impart their own vision of morality, and that this organization may not be an exception, is a tangent for another time). My friend who initially shared the link seems to have figured that out, as the link seems to have been removed from her news feed. My fears of betrayal, either way, are unwarranted. Or at least exaggerated.
Second, it is impossible to do or say anything for, against, or about anything or anyone today that doesn’t betray, disappoint, anger, or sadden somebody somewhere. It’s not merely that the world is not black and white, it’s not shades of grey either; it’s 16,000,000 colors and hues and shades and intensities that never, ever perfectly line up. It’s a minefield of infinite chicken sandwiches in which any given bite will contain something distasteful. We’d better learn to accept a broad pallet, or we will certainly starve to death, albeit with recognition that at a certain level of distastefulness fasting is warranted.
As to the Midwest thing, well, who doesn’t live in a skewed reality. All local realities are skewed when placed in global context. The catch, I think, is recognizing it. There are other chicken sandwiches in the world.
And they’re not all bad.
Some, oh hell yeah, but not all.
I have a reputation, quite well deserved, as a scrooge.
This time of year brings three major holidays, four family birthdays, obligations, deadlines, added responsibilities, added expenses, shopping out the wazoo, and perhaps worst of all, endless household projects in the form of dragging out and putting up decorations and then taking down and putting away decorations. It’s maddening. It destroys my sense of mellow. It breaks my status quo.
And so I become an artist, and art - real art, substantial art – breaks the status quo.
I keep doing this. I am strongly introverted, yet as a young man I chose a profession, journalism, which stresses extroversion. I dislike structure and chain-of-command, yet I spent decades in public service. (Often in Dutch for NOT adhering to structure or chain-of-command, but let’s leave that alone). Avoiding dime-store psychology which attempts to identify the causes of these behaviors, allow me to define how the artist role differs:
As an artist, it’s not my status quo I’m disrupting, it’s yours.
As an artist, I’m following my own vision and creating whatever the hell I feel like. And as long as I don’t think about the marketing side, or try to cater to the marketing side, or let the marketing side bum me out, which isn’t always easy, a work that disrupts expectations or breaks routine perspective is enormously rewarding.
If one were to put this cynically, I make myself happy by making you uncomfortable. Happy Kwanzaa.
It dawned on me just recently how much of my life I’m living inside my own head. That’s to be expected for an artist, I suppose, but it was jarring to realize the extent to which it has become predominant now that art is the main thing I do each day. Well ... that and run errands.
Interruptions don’t simply disrupt what I’m doing; interruptions force me to perceive and assess activities outside my brain. Unfortunately, and I apologize to all humankind for this, my standard reaction to being jarred out my head is profanity. And it doesn’t take much. Those close to me will take no surprise in that statement. That I am a profane individual is well established. So, that being the case, maybe self-absorption has always been part of the wonderfulness of ‘me’. I would re-suggest it’s characteristic of any artist, except I’ve also heard that good artists have to be superb observers of human behavior.
Probably, the thing is, rationalizations aside, I just cuss a lot.
Just the other day, my sweet wife noted that the profanity seemed to have begun even earlier that morning, and I explained that both of my egg yolks had broken while cracking them into the pan. And she noted the horror in that, and that surely civilization is doomed. And she has a point. Assuming, I think correctly, that eggs over-easy are not part of my artistic portfolio, we can conclude the profane reactions when confronted with external stimuli are not artsy, it’s just a less desirable, possibly maladaptive, personality ‘feature’.
Probably, the thing is, rationalizations aside, I just cuss a lot, and I’m hopelessly self-absorbed, besides. Well, shit.
The line between acting as a photographer and acting as an artist is quite distinct. As a photographer I’m using the camera for gathering images I think I can use later - colors, contrast, lighting, objects. Anything I find interesting for any number of reasons. With each capture I’m making a photographer’s decisions about exposure, focal plane, composition, lighting, drama, and so forth. I’m gathering them up and I’m placing them in my basket like harvesting grapes, and from there they will be dumped into my computer, subdivided only by which camera I used to capture them.
And they may sit there for weeks, even months, before my attention comes back to a particular capture, crushing it in my computer to create, hopefully, art. A photograph, after all, takes a few seconds, and during a photo shoot lasting a couple hours I might come home with over 100 captures; some duplicates, of course, but each one something I think I can use later. The same amount of time will result in one work of completed photo art. One. And as some of the more sophisticated projects take six or ten hours to complete, often much less than one. This is not to say I’m acting any less creatively as a photographer than as an artist, quite the contrary. As readers of this blog know, there are some captures I hardly touch with the computer. They are perfect as photographs. Indeed, many completed artworks would not have come out the way they did had I not captured the initial photograph in just the way I did.
However, the separation of these acts also separates their intent. Captures taken right next to each other within a few minutes for which I’d had a similar notion may result in wildly different works created months apart. I may ultimately decide I’m not that interested in the second after all.
For the photographer, time is instantaneous. For the artist, time is relative.
Sometimes the magic just works.
* * *
I had a conversation recently with a guy questioning if we’ve become soft, ‘we’ being society in general, comparatively over the past 100 years. His point that all these conveniences we have and all these technologies we use have made us less able to function as human beings. Each new convenience makes us less able to cope without them.
First off, there was probably a guy 100 years ago, 10 years before the invention of sliced bread, BTW, who feared they were soft compared to 100 years before that, when economic distribution systems were such that there was no bread at all unless one made it themselves if indeed they could access both flour and yeast. Secondly, all these conveniences and technologies are just tools. A tool is just a device that makes it easier to do something. We are tool making creatures. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Take the tool away and we might be pissed off, but most people, given a loaf of unsliced bread, can still figure a way to break it into edible sections; might take a bit of experimentation, but we’ll figure it out. We’re just as likely to be pissed off when a tool for doing something easier does NOT exist – not YET – and even more likely when we can’t figure out how to use the tools we have (leading to thoughts of returning to bygone days when there weren’t as many tools to learn, forgetting, of course, that those bygone days were crap. But I digress). More likely, it’s people out of the past who would be unable to function in today’s world than vice versa. Remember your grand father or your great grand father (I realize time stretches farther for some of us than others)? Can you imagine them trying to set up a wi-fi network, let alone understand it?
Can you imagine them trying to decipher a 2019 news cycle? Bogles the mind, doesn’t it? Whether the magic works or not, be grateful for the opportunity to fall under it.
Off capturing photographs this past mid-September I found myself constantly thinking, ‘You know, dummy, in a month the fall foliage will come out and this shot will look a thousand times better’.
Of course, the month went by and I was preoccupied with other activities and didn’t get back to the scenes where I’d had that thought. So it goes. Which is not to say I didn’t get anything, fall-colors-wise. Creating seasonal art is a rite of passage, or at least a habit – for many artists. Fall foliage now, Christmas art in a month, spring flowers in five or six months. Those are the three categories to which my portfolio is stuffed with work, and still each year I add more of it. That’s because each year I think I’ve done it better than the year before. Each year I’ve learned more, and I get to try new things. Each year the art gets better and justifies continued creation.
Or, arguably, it’s less a justification than a rationalization. I want to BELIEVE the new things are better than the old things so I can keep creating and feel good about it; so I can believe I’m not simply doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. That would be crazy. No – the new work is better. It is. I know it is. At least I think I do.
The ‘fade-out’ that concludes many songs we all know and love was created back in the AM radio days as a means of cueing the disc jockey (DJ) that the song was about to end, That gave the DJ the opportunity to start talking over the top of the music to tell the listener what they’d been listening to, and to introduce the next song, also while talking over the first few notes. It saves a precious few seconds of broadcast time, and some would argue made for a more dynamic presentation of the music. It’s become an anachronism, sort of like the grill on the front of an automobile, while at the same time being a legitimate and even expected stylistic component of song construction.
My favorite DJ growing up – and that was when AM radio was predominate – was Larry Lujack out of WLS Chicago. Lujack was always the most fun, had the wittiest things to say, much of it bitingly insightful sarcasm At the conclusion of the countdown for the best selling singles of 1969 – 50 years ago next month – concluded with the revelation that of all the great songs that year, the best selling was ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by The Archies, he said, “I absolutely positively refuse to believe this song is number one”. And he never said another word about it, ignoring its very existence.
For what it’s worth, number 36 on that list was Johnny Cash, ‘A Boy Named Sue’. Just thought I’d mention it.
* * *
Three posts planned for next week, all bright autumn abstracts for all you fall color aficionados.
I had the good fortune just recently to capture photographs inside an old shoe factory that has been stripped, gutted, and is waiting for redevelopment. It is filled with big, blank, dark open spaces with a few smaller offices covered in dust, grime, peeling paint, and a little junk nobody seems to have wanted. Chief among the junk (not pictured) are the toilet fixtures; they weren’t left in what used to be restrooms – even darker and danker corners I didn’t desire to venture into – they were pulled out of their holes and stacked into piles (I have no idea what became of the holes, but suspect such unknown is the root of my fear of stepping into their former restrooms).
Of paramount concern now is what to do with the captures. Shooting it is not the issue – used two cameras and both performed admirably, especially my little Nikon1 with the 1.8 aperture lens. I have some lovely images waiting for my attention. But once my attention wanders that way what do I do with them? How do I use them to create art. I probably have more difficulty with interiors than anything else. I’ve four in the can at this point, the first of which was exhibited in my November 15 post, each completely different, and, well, none of them trip my trigger.
Some of my favorite work, though, sat for months before I hit upon something. So, hey, no worries.
* * *
Oh, wait, make that five in the can. Did an abstract back on October 11. So abstract, you tell me, does it count?
* * *
Any number of curiosities in this old building, most of which open easy rationalizations as to why they were left behind. Not so much the subject of today’s work. Why would you leave this behind in a crumbling office of a factory building you knew was closing? Wouldn’t you at least keep the vase? You can imagine it in full bloom as its recipient turned their back without investing so much as the emotion of disdain. Knowing full well it would decay there. A romance trapped, never progressing, never ending. Just eroding.
Seeing is breathing in. Creating art from it is breathing out.
Yeah, I stole that, I admit it. The exact quote was “READING is breathing in, WRITING’ is breathing out”, and if ‘The Google’ is telling me true it was first voiced by a woman named Pam Allyn, who is an author and literary expert and the founder of LitWorld. I was with a bro when it popped up on his Facebook page and he read it to me, which prompted me to announce I was stealing it, which I’ve done and paraphrased here because, well, I can. (give me credit for properly attributing it). My version isn’t any less true; it can be applied to any creative act as such acts are, for the artist, acts of breathing.
Only ‘seeing’ without creating is like suffocating. What’s the point of living if you can’t produce something from it?
Only ‘creating’ without taking time to see or feel, that’s burn out. An unthinking routine is a form of dying.
Having exhaled a most astute and warm breath we only hope it is subsequently inhaled fraternally. But if we fear breathing out into black, empty space we become reluctant to breath at all.
Fear not the black dog.
OK, sabbatical over, more or less. I may not be creating and posting as frantically as this past summer; after all, we don’t want this to become a … dare I say the word … a JOB!
August’s exertions took me in new directions stylistically, and, after the afore mentioned break, I still find myself visualizing in those terms. There are folks who prefer the more unadulterated noir side of my portfolio; I’ll certainly get back to that at some point, but the abstract techniques I’m using seem to be opening up entirely new vistas. These things run in spurts.
* * *
This past Sunday afternoon, while attending a gallery reception, smart phone alerts went off simultaneously around the room while one of the featured artists was speaking. It was sunny and nearly 70 degrees outside and I was wearing shorts and a pair of Keen Uneek sandals. The alerts turned out to concern a winter storm warning set to begin 12 hours later. Eighteen hours later I was putting on a winter coat and boots to take the dogs out in freezing rain and sleet. Twenty four hours later there was two inches of snow on the ground and the temperature was 40 degrees colder.
Sure, that’s a quick change, but relative to what? Social media is constantly awash with trite like, “If you don’t like the weather in [name any city or state] just wait an hour”. An hour, a day, a month – if one is not open to change any timeframe seems fast. A year, a decade, a century – hasn’t that crap changed yet? Why would these damn fools want to go back and do that crap again?
I completely get ‘time’s up’.
Just a simple sort of mid-sabbatical work today; just to keep the ball rolling. I looked at applying the fractionizing techniques I've been developing, but in the end decided simple works better. Even simple techniques suggest a dreamy, idyllic atmosphere with one foot in realism and one in the imagination. Not every dream has to be complicated.
* * *
A good friend I’ve known for a thousand years reminded me of a time we and another guy took off walking across town on a January day to see Little Richard. His career had waned at the time, and while it would resurge again later that hadn’t happened yet. So we got to see him at a small club in downtown Bloomington, Illinois after walking at least five miles through the cold and ice to the small club he was playing at. We sat in the front row and he talked to us between songs and shook our hands a number of times.
So says my friend; the thing is, I have no memory of this. None. Doodley squat. One of the most important live performances of my life and I don’t remember it.
Several possibilities here, the most obvious of which is that I’m self-centered in the moment and don’t place enough importance on people or things in the external to prioritize remembering any of it. (In other words, I’m an asshole). Indeed, I have been known to go through doors pretty hard; I have a terrible time remembering names even of people I met 30 seconds ago, and I do put the past behind me rather absolutely. I’m the worst person on earth to talk about “old times” with because, well, I ain’t got any.
Just as strong a possibility is that my friend is confusing me with another guy. I like to think it’s a stronger possibility except that the guy he’s confusing me with is not necessarily a guy I’d like to be confused with.
I’ll probably never know for sure. And that’s the thing about memory, really. We forget about the most important things in our lives. We remember as “great” things that were really crap. We grope about the present for context. And all life is ‘context’.
One more, and then I really must go clean something … anything! The irony of pausing now is that in the last several weeks I’ve begun using a new series of techniques that really have me excited for the future. Starting with my September 16 post ‘Passerby’s’ and culminating with this one, ten works total, or nine works with two variations of one, depending on how anal one wants to be. Of them, I would place ‘The Chalk Artists’ from September 23 as one of my best ever – top ten at least, maybe top five. And maybe a couple others in that class. It is so life affirming, after all the photographs and all the art and all the years to still be able to create something completely NEW! I’ll repeat words from the September 16 post – In the end, the art creates the artist.
Perhaps for that reason this is actually the perfect time to pause; focus on other aspects of life, clear my head and put what I’ve just accomplished here in perspective. Incubate. If nothing else, there are other sections of this web site I haven’t touched in months that need to be updated, plus there are other projects I’d like to delve into. After all, we don’t want this blogging thing to become, dare I say the word, a JOB!
* * *
So my web client people from Weebly did indeed get back to me as to the discrepancy in the way they once tracked page visits vs. how they’re doing it now. They explained:
I can live with this explanation. Give them credit for owning the change as well as being conscientious about explaining it to their customers. They’re a quality web client I’d recommend to any artist looking for a platform for their work.
Doesn’t mean the wind still hasn’t been taken out of my sails, leading, of course, to this little vacation. Logically, I could argue nothing has really changed – the wind I thought was in my sails wasn’t really there after all. Call it an illusion that emboldened me to sail into deeper seas. Not, I guess, necessarily a bad thing.
My web provider – Weebly if it’s not listed somewhere – routinely provides statistics as to the number of page visits and unique page visits made to their customers website. This blog is now a year old or something close to that. In that time I’ve watched with great delight as the number of page visits has constantly grown. Especially beginning with my tornado works in June, page visits over the previous week climbed into the 400s, and then 500s, and then 600s, and then 800s! A couple weeks ago I was astonished to see that the number of page visits for the previous week – that encompassed three posts as it usually does - had surpassed 1,000! As this has gone along, I have tried to place greater priority and dedicate greater periods of time to creating new art and posting new blogs exhibiting that art. As page visits crossed 1,000 I thought, WOW, I’m really accomplishing something here! I had begun, over the months, to feel an obligation to create new work. In doing so, I thought, I’m contributing just that little bit to the creation of a better world.
Last Monday, as I went out to upload a new blog, total page visits for the previous week were listed as 1,065.
Last Wednesday, as I prepared to upload another new blog, I was met with a notice by my web provider that they had changed the way they counted page visits such that it would be more consistent with the way Google does it. Or words to that effect.
Those 1,065 page visits had suddenly become just 47.
Forty fraking seven! Hardly worth the effort!
To be clear, Weebly offers terrific tools for creating and maintaining beautiful, efficient, and productive websites. I can’t complain one iota about their services. How their page visit accounts have been so wildly inaccurate is beyond me, and, yeah, I tried to ask their customer service that question, and no one has gotten back to me. I suppose I should be grateful they came clean with their error and didn’t continue stringing me along. Talk about flummoxed.
Understand, over the months I’ve let any number of other activities slide. At one time, my wife called me the “kitchen police“ because I couldn’t stand to let any kind of dishevelment alone. Right at this second my kitchen looks like ogres from the woods out back have been entering every night to cook slime. The garage cleaning activity I had planned for the spring has yet to be touched. Long-distance friends I have for years regularly corresponded with are asking where I am. My long sought-after and fragile sense of mellow is under siege as I have put more and more emphasis on the photo blogs while trying to cram in just the least amount of other responsibilities I could manage.
What a perfect time, I have reasoned, for a little vacation. Leave the art alone for a while. Stop fixating; stop stressing. Get some things done around the house. Talk to actual people. Come out of my studio. After today’s work I have one more I want to exhibit before the end of the week, then I’ll slow down for a period.
Fear not – after all, how abroad can a damn photo artist travel.
I actually created four versions of Chalk Girl, one of which I threw out immediately, and after it was too late started thinking about it (yeah, I’ve been told never to delete anything), a version I find interesting but not nearly as good as my previous post which I think is the best of them, and this one. An artist should be able to determine which version of any series is the one they want to represent them, but artists, as we’ve established before, are nuts. I wasn’t going to post this version at all, but I keep being drawn to it. So here it is.
So you tell me? Version 1 as shown previously, or Version 2 as revealed today. Or just Nuts. Click on ‘Comments’ below and tell me.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.