A New Artistic Paradigm

Once upon a time, when journalism was journalism, gossip was gossip, and propaganda was recognized for what it is, aspiring beat writers learned to begin their news stories by answering six basic questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? 

The useful mnemonic device has a history stretching back to Cicero, although early rhetoricians framed the questions differently, and the form evolved over time. Perhaps most famously, Rudyard Kipling, in his well-known Just So Stories (1902), included this bit of verse in a tale he called “The Elephant’s Child.”

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew).
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me, I give them all a rest.

Questions beginning with one of these six famous words are especially useful for information gathering, since none can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.  Anyone hoping to write an informative news story, provide a good interview, understand historical context, or carry on enjoyable dinner conversation with a stranger soon will appreciate the importance of the five W’s and an H”.

More than a set of tools for professional journalists, Kipling’s honest serving-men pop up in surprising places.  Listening to conversations among aspiring artists — painters and writers, photographers, musicians and poets – I hear them put to use again and again.

 Who would be interested in what I have to say?

 What should I write about?

Where could I exhibit my work?

When would I find the time?

Why should I keep working when no one seems to care?

How can I become a more skilled photographer (writer, painter, musician, poet)?

In a world filled with questions about the creative process, professional photographer Chase Jarvis has a few answers. In an intriguing blog entry titled There are No Excuses,  Jarvis reveals his sensitivity to creative angst.

I’ve heard you say that there’s nothing to take a picture of. I’ve heard you say you don’t know what to make, when to make it, how to make it, what to do.
I’ve heard you say that you don’t know how to get your work “out there.” I’ve heard you say that you don’t know what to put on your blog. I’ve heard. I’ve heard. I’ve heard. And I promise you, I, too, have said all these things.

Then, he goes on to remind us that such questions are rooted in a time when artists required permission from others for their work to be seen. Permission came in the form of being hired to shoot a news story, to write a magazine feature, or produce a graphic layout for a business. As he says:

“They” sat up in fancy corner offices and if you were good  — no, scratch that, good AND lucky — “they” would say “yes” and then you’d be permitted to share your work with the world. 
Not any more. It’s the first time in the history of the world that you can share your work without anyone’s permission. What are you waiting for? Spend your own time and your own money. Then, hit post, publish, share, send, or whatever makes the software push it out into the world.

According to Jarvis, the emerging paradigm for artists of every sort can be summed up with elegant simplicity.

The first step is to create something. It could be a photo, a video, a poem or a painting. For that matter, it could be a blog, a business model or a bit of computer software. In a separate post titled, “Thirteen Things Crucial for Success (In Any Field)”, he expands by saying:

Over-thinking, pontificating, and wondering are tools for the slacker. People don’t care what almost happened, or what your problems are, or why something wasn’t. They care about what is, and what will be.
That requires actually making stuff happen. Pros do; make; ship; send; publish; post; and deliver.  Amateurs sit around and wonder, or worse, scratch their arse.

The next step is to share what’s been created.  Send it to an editor or submit it to a jury if you like, but don’t limit yourself to such traditional means. Post it on a website or blog. Tweet the link. Link on Facebook. Find editors and publishers who accept online submissions and email it.

Finally, sustain yourself. Keep a day job until you can quit your day job and devote yourself full time to your art, or keep your day job and continue creating and sharing for the pure pleasure of it all — especially the pleasure of not requiring “permission” from anyone.

A lifetime of productive beauty and personal satisfaction could emerge as a result of embracing Jarvis’s framework.

Begin by creating, sharing and sustaining something: anything.  Then, do it again, and again, and again, until the rhythm of production becomes as natural as breathing.  Cycles and repetition are as crucial for the creative life as they are for the physical. Just as breath enlivens our bodies, the ebb and flow of creative spirit enlivens a growing body of work that illustrates who we are, what we stand for, where we’re going, and why. 

When we will arrive, and precisely how we’ll travel is, of course, intensely personal,and part of the mystery of creativity.

Had I read Jarvis when I first began writing, I might or might not have recognized the truth of what he says. Today, there’s no question in my mind that what he says is true.  As the rhythms of creation develop, as the skills improve and the body of work begins to build, possibilities become reality. The picture-taker becomes the photographer. The doodler sells a first canvas. The software designer gets a contract. The writer is published.

Everyone forges their own way to creative satisfaction, of course, but I’ve found the path Jarvis describes to be recognizable, enjoyable to travel and amenable to constant revision. My hope is that all of us can be intrigued by his perspective, and encouraged to re-commit to our own journeys: creating, sharing, and sustaining ourselves — and others — in unimaginable ways.

 

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Published in: on October 19, 2014 at 2:55 pm  Comments (80)  
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A Museum Bridges the Gaps

I knew he’d be there, waiting.  I’d seen his photo and heard a story or two, so I wasn’t fearful of missing him. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Still, when I turned and saw him at the end of the gallery, I was taken aback, both by his air of patient weariness and by his obvious disregard for the people who’d clustered around him. Edging closer, I listened to their conversation.

“What’s his name?”
“Don’t think he’s got a name.”
“He sure enough looks real. I was about ready to ask him the time.”
“Yeh, and if he’d answered, you’d have been right surprised.”

At Crystal Bridges, it doesn’t take long to become comfortable enough to join in.

“He reminds me of my dad,” I said. “That’s how he’d look when Mom made him go shopping with her.”

After the laughter subsided, one of the women looked at a man I took to be her husband and said,

“That’s right. I’ve seen that look. But the artist ought to have put a woman on that bench, too – for all the times we’ve been dragged off to hardware stores and farm sales.”

Clearly, Rod Bigelow, Executive Director of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, had it right. Asked about his favorite piece in the collection, he said,

“My favorite work of art changes regularly, but today… it’s a Duane Hanson sculpture titled “Man on a Bench”.  It’s literally a depiction of an older gentleman sitting on a bench. I like it because of the way our visitors interact with the sculpture – they’re surprised by it, intrigued, sometimes taken aback in that they think it’s real. It elicits great response, from all ages.”


There’s a lot to interact with at Crystal Bridges, beginning with WalMart heiress Alice Walton. Once she put her energies – and her considerable money – behind her vision of accessible, quality art for the people of Arkansas and surrounding states, the reactions were swift and often predictable.

(more…)

The Sweet Weight of Memory

Looping around the old wooden house like a graveled and oil-coated oxbow, the driveway eased up into a yard littered with bits of sunlight-snagging metal: enameled porch chairs; galvanized tubs reserved for icing down watermelon; a hand pump hung with dippers and buckets.

At either end of the just slightly bowed roofline, ceramic insulators surrounded an array of lightning rods. Inside the house, ceramics overflowed the kitchen – mis-matched mixing bowls, pie plates, an orange refrigerator jug – while smooth, hexagonal tiles spread across the floor.

Apart from an étagère tucked into a living room corner to provide a resting place for tiny porcelain vases, candy dishes and a caterpillar won at the County Fair, the only purely decorative bit of ceramic art in my grandmother’s house was the cheese board kept in her kitchen.

Given that she departed Sweden for the United States from the Baltic Sea port of Gefle, and given that Bosättningsaffär translates roughly as “household furnishings store”, it seems likely the board was an advertising piece for a local shop. Still, its provenance remains uncertain. Perhaps my grandmother received it as a departure gift. Perhaps she herself purchased it, then wrapped and carried it away as a comforting reminder of her old-country home. Whatever the explanation, it arrived in America as one of her most cherished possessions, and throughout her life it rested, icon-like, inside a glass-fronted cabinet.

Once, I asked if I might hold it. The look she gave me suggested I’d asked to blow up the house, but the cabinet doors swung open and for a moment its surprising weight rested in my hands. “You take it, Grandma,” I said, my heart pounding with anxiety, my child’s mind convinced that, should I drop it, I’d be forever banished from my family.

Today, the weight of it hangs on my wall, sufficiently well-secured to please even my grandmother. An object of beauty in its own right, it testifies beautifully to the power of family ties and history. Still, as far as I know, it’s never held a chunk of cheese. It probably never will. (more…)

Published in: on September 20, 2013 at 10:03 am  Comments (107)  
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William Morris: Useful Bits of Beauty

Caught by its tail, desperate to escape but unable to avoid the shrieking woman who’s discovered it, the poor creature cowers beneath the kitchen sink, held fast by a slice of plywood and a metal spring. 

Unable to summon the courage to carry the mouse outdoors, unwilling to set it free and even more unwilling to dispatch it in place, the woman – my mother – makes a reasonable decision. Snatching up her white enameled dishpan with the pretty red edge and the unfortunate dent, she slaps it over the mouse.

Closing and latching the doors to the storage space beneath the sink, she turns to look at the only witness to her bravery. “There,” she says. “That’ll hold him until your father comes home.” (more…)

A Second View of Toledo

El
Greco,
astonished,
brushes color
with a quickened hand,
tips the canvas sunward
to defy the failing light
half-fearful that his flaming skies
 might fall, his rising shadows catch a
   nascent moon, the sweet-souled stars, in darkness. (more…)
Published in: on August 16, 2013 at 9:04 pm  Comments (81)  
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