Know how certain days sort of have a “feel” to them? One “feels” Friday night, for example. Saturday afternoon. Monday morning. The other evening I was thinking how it felt like a Sunday night. It was actually Tuesday.
The quarantine, for me at least, has created a sameness in which everyday runs together. Nothing exists now that differentiates one day from the next; nothing on the calendar to count towards or after. Work at home, plus the dogs, at least define when to get up and when to go to bed. But the sameness also facilitates a sort of mental dullness; nothing to break up my self-absorbed routine so the tendency is to simply do whatever is easiest. We’re not talking boredom; I have plenty of interests just around this house to keep me occupied, all kinds of stuff I like doing. What we’re talking about are those outside things that prevent me from doing what I’d rather be doing and thus force me to focus more sharply on those things when time becomes available.
We are what we overcome. I must overcome my own lazy ass.
This was a fun series to work on! Seemed deserving of a slide show. Photographic captures were collected at one of the last open events before everything closed up – the St. Louis Art Museum’s ‘Art In Bloom’ event - and there were enough interpretive captures that I’ve been able to spend a couple months happily creating art using art itself and the people drawn to it as the focal points.
Trouble is, with social distancing, opportunities for photographic captures involving public gatherings have been nonexistent, and I’m down to just a few scattered captures before the cupboard is bare! I feel loath to go back to florals, landscapes, and old buildings – seems like my portfolio is bulging with that. Been down that road. I was digging the new paths.
So who knows what will come next. I’ll be as surprised by it as anybody.
I was recently tagged on Facebook to post images of ten album covers which reflect work that influenced my musical tastes. That’s a fun one – much of what passes back and forth on social media I’d just as soon forego, but music and creativity are for me inexorably and profoundly linked.
Years ago I took a couple years digitizing my old albums, track by track. I did NOT use automated software in which one simply plops the needle onto the vinyl, walks away, and the computer does everything. I used much more sophisticated recording software which enabled me to adjust each conversion to bring it up as closely as possible to CD quality. Going through decades of old albums, I would find tracks worn almost down to nothing; I’d clearly loved those songs and played them to within an inch of their life. And some of them were crap. On the other hand, I would find other tracks that were pristine, which I’d clearly only listed to a couple of times and gone on, and they were gorgeous, wonderful songs.
What the hell was I thinking?!
Well, what it reflects is that over time my musical tastes have evolved and changed, just as my creative approach to art has evolved and changed. After the Facebook tag, most of the albums I posted were decades old. It’s true that much of the music that first influenced me was from my youth. But most of the music in my current playlists are only a few years old. Well … for me “a few years” might be 15 or 20, but still.
The past is prologue. Where have you gone since then? What do you hear and see now?
I suppose it’s time to explain the moniker “Damn Photo Artist”.
Said supposition seems appropriate given the current societal hankering for life to return to “normal”, the tendency to damn anything that’s not irrefutably “normal” being at the heart of the moniker.
A million years ago, while a grad-ass in Community Development at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I worked with a rural sociologist named Daryl Hobbs (shocked to discover he does not have a Wikipedia page). We were contacted by leaders from the little town of West Plains (home of Dodger great Preacher Roe, among others), where I would later intern, who wanted help engaging in economic development. What these leaders wanted – what so many want when the subject comes up – was a single bullet solution: attracting new industries or ‘marketing’ and thus stealing jobs away from someplace else. ‘Marketing’ would be considered ‘normal’. Effective economic development, however, is a multi-dimensional approach involving a dozen or more strategies and taking a decade+ to effectively take root. Hoping to impart that to the West Plains leaders, the University decided to send the persuasive Daryl Hobbs out to talk with them. They were less than pleased. One of those leaders angrily stated, “All they’re doing is sending us a damn sociologist!”
So flash ahead to more recent years, when I began exhibiting art, and I began running up against traditionalists for whom the use of computers in creating art was sacrilege. For such traditionalists, art was acceptable only when made by hand, and photography, only recently grudging accepted in local art circles, only counted as film straight out of the camera. And up I pop with … what the hell is that!? Damn!!
Even before the pandemic threw the economy out of whack there were fervent lamentations to “bring back our jobs from China”. Look, global economics is simply a shift from production/distribution to distribution/production, which effectively pits localized labor forces in competition with each other. Here’s the thing: We did that. Us. America. That’s our economic model and we got everybody else to go along with it. China simply did what we taught them to do. And the reality is, American communities have been doing it to each other for over a century. Wherever you’re reading this, there’s likely a local economic development office, and I can almost guarantee that a large part of their charge, if not their main charge, is marketing – stealing jobs away from other American communities.
Just after my West Plains gig, I was part of a cadre of people trying valiantly to get across to state leaders that a marketing emphasis in economic development was ill-advised. We stated correctly that there would always be someplace come along that could do things cheaper than we could, and that we needed wholistic policies to build broadly based community and economic development initiatives that would build economic capacity with local and sustainable resources. They responded first by ignoring us, then by deconstructing and disenfranchising anything contrary to their political policies. (Sound familiar?)
WE. TOLD. YOU. THIS. WOULD. HAPPEN. Thirty years ago.
It seems like, from the day I was born, I have flown in the face of “normal”. A one-armed guy oblivious to any notion of disability, a Cubs fan living in Cardinals country, serving in Peace Corps instead of the military, preaching public service over politics, into music and movies almost nobody else around here is, wearing not just sandals but sandals with socks, an open-wheel racer on a stock car track, riding a bike in traffic. An artist using a computer to create art. Damn. Photo. Artist. In the face of normal.
Among the greatest of personal human foibles is the act of thinking too much. A young person might overthink the future. With age comes overthinking the past as well as the time to do it.
Everyone’s past includes moments of triumph and moments of grief, surrounded by long periods of mediocracy. Everyone’s the same in that regard – differences in personality create a predisposition to dwelling on one or the other.
I find the more I create and the happier I am with my work the less I dwell on anything at all. It was just someone else’s life. All the mistakes I made, and there were a boatload, and whatever I managed to accomplish are wrapped up and put away – they matter not all anymore. The act of creation has placed a final coda on previous lives. Someone new exists in its place. I did something wrong once, well gee, sorry about that; it doesn’t matter anymore. See who I am now.
I’ve noticed while out and about over the past week, as things are beginning a post-quarantine opening up, at least in this state, that people are being remarkably surly towards each other. Traffic is angry and impatient. People snarl. They seem fed up with being ‘nice’. Their lives have been inconvenienced and it annoys them. What stores are open, only roughly half the shoppers are wearing masks, and I’ve actually felt like some of those who aren’t have given me dirty looks (I’m obviously one of the folks wearing one).
There’s talk that sporting venues may open up somewhere around July, albeit with empty stands. Entertainment venues want to reopen with one-tenth their capacity, and to get in one has to have their temperature taken and be wearing a mask – I suspect that will hold with all public venues. Imagine a 38,000-capacity stadium opening with a limit of about 5,000 mask wearing fans. Does that even pay to open the doors? How does one drink beer and eat stadium-nachos while wearing a mask?
We’re a minimum of a year before there’s a tested vaccine, and a minimum of two years, and more likely three, before it’s distributed widely enough to support a full reopening of society. It’s not going to move any faster by treating each other like crap. Which, in an election year with a completely polarized electorate, is already propagating.
Show some backbone. Buck the trend. Be more kind.
Another way of doing sort of the same thing as my last work; but that’s part of the experimenting process, yes? Create something new, then create a variation, then create another variation, then another variation, pretty soon the artist has a series of works exploring a similar theme, all from different approaches. When that seems played out, move on – don’t get stagnate. You’ve only so much time to do this.
* * *
In my lifetime there have been many changes in the way we consume broadcast media. We went from black and white to color, smaller TV’s to enormous consoles, a handful of broadcast channels to a whole dozen channels on cable. Cable channels grew from a dozen to several dozen. Satellite joined cable as another source. VCR’s made it possible to consume on one’s own time rather than adhering to a broadcast schedule (so long as one could program the VCR) as well as the ability to consume movies and other productions at home. DVR’s and DVD players supplanted VCR’s, and BluRay supplanted DVD’s. Now streaming services, using an Internet backbone, kick all that to new levels, giving artists vast new platforms for creating new work; there are so many streamers looking for content. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, Apple+, HBO Max, Showtime, Starz, CBS All Access, Peacock, BritBox, Sundance Now, Curiosity Stream; I’m certainly forgetting something. It’s an embarrassment of riches. And, believe it or not, the traditional networks and basic cable channels still produce good stuff, particularly AMC and FX (though, please note, I detest ‘reality TV’ in all it’s forms).
Here’s the problem: Nobody can afford all that shit.
Here’s the other problem: Nobody has time to watch it all.
I pay full price for just one of the services listed above. Two more I get at reduced rates due to sales, and one I get for free on a promotional deal. And if I spent every waking second for the next week watching the things I’d like to see on those services I still wouldn’t get through it all. There’s an array of acclaimed works I’ve never seen simply because I don’t subscribe to their services: Game Of Thrones, Homeland, The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld, The Man In The High Castle, Star Trek Discovery, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Granted, I could subscribe to a service, pretty much catch up, then cancel that service and move on to a different one. I take it a lot of people do that, but geez …
Sheltering at home has greatly ratcheted up the amount of time many people watch programming. Me, maybe just an extra hour or two here and there. In a way, streaming only illustrates existence as a whole. There’s only so much time to do anything. How much do you want to spend.
One of the joys of experimenting in art is coming up with something not achieved before, at least not by the artist doing the experimenting. It’s different from seeing a work, seeing how it was done, then following the recipe – that routine does not occupy the same creative level. It doesn’t necessarily matter if that “something new” is good or bad or whatever. It’s the thrill of new birth.
Once an artist achieves something new, the creative act shifts towards refinement; towards its application to different visions. That process has its own joys and may even be ultimately more fulfilling. But it doesn’t have the surprise element that happens when “once” happens.
* * *
Today, May the 4th, 2020, my state begins a phased ‘re-opening’ after Coronavirus Quarantine, recognizing, some have suggested, that there is now room for new arrivals in the ICU. At this writing I don’t know yet what exactly it means or how it will affect my family; leave us in full knowledge that this was only the first quarantine and that more will be coming. A combination of boredom and lack of imagination implores a reopening for an economy that has just proved itself unsustainable. But arriving at a new outcome requires more … experimenting.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.