Monday, October 27, 2014

Why You Will Fail to Do Something Great

I saw a YouTube video, "Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career," and the gist of the message has tremendous carryover value. First I want to give credit where credit is due: This was a TEDx  talk, given by Larry Smith, an economics professor. I recommend you watch it before proceeding with reading my stuff here. Let him build up to the finale that spurred this writing.

Have you watched it yet? Okay then.

Now just substitute whatever accomplishment/item/task/you-get-the-idea for "career" in the talk's title. And then wrap your mind around the meaning--for you--of the magic word "unless." Savor the implications. Let it compel you, impel you to act differently, better. As this is ostensibly an art blog, imagine: Why you will fail to make a great painting...unless....

I find that electrifying. To preface your prospective actions with some version of "Why I will fail at _____ unless" is eye-opening. I'm not going to articulate an answer to the "unless" here. I like to think that that is answerable in its own respective way for everybody--not entirely unlike Curly's "One Thing" in the movie "City Slickers".

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

If You KNOW the Grass Is Greener, Don't Pick This Side

Some years ago my brother learned that I was taking art classes at a community center, saw some of my work, and commissioned me to do a colored pencil drawing. It was to be a "group, action" basketball scene/portrait, as it were. It would show his then-favorite player on a fast break. He also asked to have certain specific supporting players in the scene. He wanted this 'n that in the crowd. Oh, and he wanted the star to have a certain expression on his face. I was only too happy to agree. I'd just gotten back into doing art, and I feld validated to be hired to make a piece of art.

The problem, I soon realized, was that I didn't want to draw group portraits. I didn't want to be a hired gun. I had ideas rolling around my head, and I began taking art classes to develop some chops so that I might more convincingly get my images rendered. By saying "yes" to commissions I was saying "no" to the art I was intending to create. And, no, it's not like commission work would have been what put food on the table anyway.

Be that as it may, I started slogging my way through sketching some semblance of a composition that would fulfill my bother's wants. What he wanted was a basketball scene that threw in everything but the kitchen sink. I figured I'd gather references of what he various players looked like in the nearest sports magazine du jour. Oh, but it's not that easy. Those magazines had the gall not to have the actual reference pictures for which I was looking. All right: I'll trot on down to the library and find the right sports book. Wait a sec: Did you know the poses my brother wanted weren't readily available already wrapped up in a bow for me? Well (so to speak) I didn't. Fine. Now was time to use my "Photoshop" skills--minus actual Photoshop. Let's see...I put this head on this body. I move and tweak the perspective on the basketball court. Oh and also, do you realize the gargantuan task of creating a large, looks-like-it's-for-the-NBA audience? At the correct angle? With matching lighting vis a vis the focal point? The ovals I resigned myself to throwing in for heads/faces looked a lot more like a bunch of Easter eggs.

I trudged along. Insofar as I'm not a sports person, it was interesting learning about different players and simply the sport itself. I actually did start to get a smidgeon of inspiration from reading about the stars. On a lark, I even bought some "cheap seat" tickets to a real NBA game just to get the experience. I admit I liked that bit of research.

As for the drawing... Well, I'd quickly lose interest shortly after I'd begin working on it. It wasn't coming together in a way that at least mildly mimicked my brother's vision. Sitting on a (to me) gold mine of inspiring picture ideas of my own--that I'm not working on, made this an increasingly frustrating experience. I kept feeling like the grass was greener on the other side. I wanted to throw in the towel, but I'd made a promise.

While there was not designated "due date," more and more time went by, making my brother wonder what this was taking so long.. So much so, that, well yeah, my brother contacted me and bailed me out: "Send what you have actually finished. I'll send you a few bucks for your trouble."

So here's the thing: If you KNOW the grass is greener on the other side, don't CHOOSE this side. Do the art that you're here to do. That's it. That might mean forgoing artwork for which you might've been remunerated. That's okay. You'll be happier, get more done, and the audience at large will benefit more assuredly from your passion.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Jacuzzi Music

It was a big deal when it was announced that, on February 26th, 1987, the first four Beatles albums were coming out on CD. I was working at a record store at the time, and it was decided that we would promote this release like crazy. My recollection of the promotion, though, consisted of playing nothing but Beatles albums in the store. All. Day. Long.

I really don't dislike the Beatles, but I sure did get tired of them that day. You listen to song after song after song, and many of those songs even are repeated several times through the day. (I considered listing a few songs here to underscore the point, but I'm confident something would be left out.) Anyway, expecting to have to endure this onslaught for my entire shift, the following curious turn of events proved to be (sort of) life-changing. It was around 11:30 pm. Yet another Beatles' album had finished--and they really were vinyl albums we were playing, and I was considering what other Beatles record I should (force myself to) put on. As we were going to close within half an hour, I asked that evening's supervisor if I could play something else. She said, "Yeah...as long as it's not rock." No problem. I sifted through the box of records we had behind the cash register, and stumbled upon a Tchaikovsky record I'd not heard before. It was his Serenade for Strings. (Yeah, I gave a link for if you're not familiar with the serenade--which I supposed was reasonably possible. I decided you didn't need a link for the Beatles however: If you're not familiar with them by now, well, welcome to our planet.)

When I heard this new piece of music...Oh my! It was as musical to the ears--after having been subjected to 7 1/2 hours of Beatles--as slipping into a nice hot jacuzzi is to the body--after a hard day at work. (And yes, I too see the play on words I so easily could have put). The Serenade for Strings instantly became my favorite piece of music, and it held that distinction for years.

Where am I going with all this? Mostly I was recalling this experience and kicking around the idea of "What would a prospective viewer of a work of art have to be subjected to to be able to engage more acutely than ever in the creation?...to make the work more appealing than previously thought possible?" The thing is, you can see how the contrast primed my aesthetic sensibilities to really soak up the Tchaikovsky, to really revel in it and enjoy it. Could an experience of that sort be orchestrated more regularly?

A similar experience occurred for me one Saturday about eight years ago. I'd rented four movies I thought I'd like to watch--in one day. Three of them were relatively serious/dramatic movies, and one was a comedy. I don't remember intentionally arranging to see the comedy last, but that's what happened. And it's hard not to think that I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen precisely because of the contrast I'd unwittingly orchestrated leading up to it.

So here again, I'm thinking: What can one do to arrange for the maximum appeal for a work of art? Sure, this question essentially is a thought experiment. But maybe the query will catalyze some new thinking and some insights into how one exposes, and gets exposed to, art.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Eye of the Beholder - Only If Money Goes Where Mouth Is

I subscribed to a couple of rock music magazines back in the 80s. Frequently the magazines had polls about who the best band was, the best guitarist, the best singer, etc. I was a musician, and I loved all permutations of heavy metal and hard rock. Of course I had my opinions as to who and what was "the best." And every time the poll results came out I was aghast at the choices for top picks. How could they?! How could they not recognize that so-and-so is a better guitarist? ...that he's faster, more virtuostic, flashier? And best bands: Are you kidding? Why would you pick them?

Over time I thought a lot about results like that. I concluded that the musicality, such that it was (manifested more quantifiably in airplay and album sales), and overall performance (manifested in concert success) trumped so-called technical ability. I could now get on board with the reasoning of why the winners won. If the band is selling records better than anybody else and/or selling out concerts more than anybody else how do such benchmarks not constitute a standard of "bestness". In a simpler way, music that people actually want to listen to should certainly fare better than flashy music qua flashy music.

Which brings us to today: I participated in an art contest recently (having entered some oil paintings). It was a little online thing of which the winnings were little more than a pat on the back. I thought I should win, but no, I didn't prevail.  And yes, I can appreciate how this diatribe might look a tad like sour grapes. It doesn't mean my point is without merit.

The thing is: The victor is just like the bands and guitarists I thought should have won 30 odd years ago. Technically the work was well done. It's full of meticulous detail; it's dark; it's disturbing. My contention, however, is that it is not the sort of work that people actually want to hang on their walls. They'd say, "Yeah, that's very good," but then they'd go and buy something a little more easy on the eyes. Like my stuff.

You see, this time around, the voters were the guitarists, as it were (see above), not the actual record buyers and concert goers (figuratively speaking). Yet art really should only be judged by prospective buyers (including artists, if they're truly considering buying said pieces), by the people who decide what to put on the wall--not pretentiously criticism-prone artists already in the field, who are apt to judge based on sheer technical ability (as happened in my aforementioned contest). A pretty good litmus test to inform the judgment might well be: "How much do I want that in my living room?"

The answer to that question should be the beginning and end of how well a creative work should do.