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An Artist’s Notebook of Sorts

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11 June 2015

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No. 7,111 (cartoon)

Follow your dreams.

I wake up every time I try.

12 June 2015

No Free Jazz

Dr. McMullen is one of the smartest people I know, especially when it comes to music. I was reminded of that when I read that Ornette Coleman died. Were it not for Dr. McMullen’s encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary music, I would still believe that Ornette Coleman was a woman.

Although Coleman’s obituaries described him as a “free jazz” pioneer, Dr. McMullen assures me that’s not true. She had to pay quite a bit of money to hear his performances; it wasn’t free jazz at all.

13 June 2015

A Ass Pocket of Whiskey

Once upon a time—25 May 1996 to be exact—R.L. Burnside released his seventh album, A Ass Pocket of Whiskey. I enjoyed the good albeit unexceptional music, but the name of the album has to be some of the best poetry I’ve ever read. It merits a line of its own:

A Ass Pocket of Whiskey

I can’t get past the second word without being completely engrossed. The first word should obviously be “An,” but it ain’t. And then there’s the equally jarring concept of a liquid-filled pocket. Finally, the whiskey suggests a plethora of possibilities, leaving me pleasingly discombobulated in wonderment.

I suppose that such exceptional poems are, by definition, exceptional. I shall continue to assume that all poetry is rubbish, a critical approach that’s always served me well.

14 June 2015

It’s Too Late

Never mind; it’s too late to do anything about it. I’m sorry I wasted your time, and even more sorry that I wasted mine.

15 June 2015

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Jean Cocteau’s Amazing Day

This is the fifteenth day of June, time to again observe Jean Cocteau’s Amazing Day. It’s a joyous time to savor his insight, “Stupidity is always amazing, no matter how used to it you become.”

I’m thinking of the Richmond, California, city council; its members recently passed legislation “to ensure that individuals will not be targets of space-based weapons.” The new law has been problematical for some of my learned colleagues at the Internet Archive who are providing free wireless Internet access to Richmond residents. To prevent any misunderstandings—and possibly even physical attacks—I provided identity badges to the field technicians who are installing transmitters, repeaters, antennae, et cetera. The copy is straightforward, and easy for even the most moronic moron to understand:

Fear not, for I am a peaceful EARTHLING. My rays will do you no harm.

So far, it’s working. Richmond residents are apparently much more intelligent than their elected officials, although that’s not saying much.

16 June 2015

The Summer of a Lifetime

Half a dozen young people died in the middle of the night when an apartment balcony collapsed in Berkeley. Most of the victims were Irish students who traveled here to experience, “the summer of a lifetime.”

Bad idea!

The only way to guarantee that anything will be “the [blank] of a lifetime” is to ensure it’s the final [blank]. When a black widow spider tells a male that he’s about to have the best sex of his life, one of them knows what that really means.

17 June 2015

Art & Fear

Athena asked me to critique her paintings. I told her that I thought they were good, but she wanted to hear more. And that’s a problem for me; I don’t have significantly more to say. Her work appears to be her own, i.e., I don’t think she’s imitating famous artists or styles, consciously or otherwise. She’s making fine paintings that aren’t copies of anyone else’s, what more could she want? I shall have to ask her the next time I see her.

In the interim, I sent her a review of Art & Fear I wrote many years ago. The 1994 book is still timely, perhaps my review of it is as well.

. . .

From Pablo Picasso’s rather innocent remark that “People who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree” to Man Ray’s somewhat less charitable pronouncement that “All critics should be assassinated,” twentieth century Western artists indulge a rich, if somewhat schizophrenic, tradition of dismissing intellectual discussions about art. Seldon Rodman has the best take on this phenomenon: “One thing about artists is that most of them agree in thinking that nothing important can be said about art. Another is that without exception they love to talk about it.”

In Art & Fear, Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland cleverly avoid the dangers of the talking-about-art trap by talking about artmaking. The distinction is not semantic sophistry; it is the foundation of a compelling and passionate book.

Bayles and Orland begin by succinctly explaining how one becomes a successful artist: “In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and following your voice, which makes it distinctive.” They later use a lovely anecdote from Howard Ikemoto to illustrate that at one time in their lives almost everyone was a successful artist: “When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college—that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, ‘You mean they forget?’ ”

Why are so few of us successful artists after we’ve “matured?” Bayles and Orland have a one-word answer: fear. As two artists who have avoided the traps and pitfalls that have turned so many of their colleagues and students into former artists, the authors know what they’re talking about. And more to the point, they talk about it very well.

Bayles and Orland believe that “what we really learn from the artmaking of others is courage-by-association.” And that’s the charm of reading Art & Fear; the volume has the ambiance of a long conversation with trusted mentors that goes on into the night over a bottle of wine. (Perhaps it’s not coincidental that one of the authors says that’s how part of the book was written.)

And, how does one defeat what seem to be indefatigable odds and so remain an artist? Art & Fear offers a bonus, an Operation Manual For Not Quitting, reprinted here in its entirety: “A. Make friends with others who make art, and share your in-progress work with each other frequently. B. Learn to think of [A], rather than the Museum of Modern Art, as the destination of your work. (Look at it this way: If all goes well, MOMA will eventually come to you.)”

It’s a fine line between speaking simply as opposed to simplistically, and the authors stay on the smart side of this perilous divide. Bayles and Orland employ a light-handed and frequently light-hearted style that never belies the passion of their convictions. By presenting their beliefs so persuasively, readers may easily be left with the impression that most of what they say is a priori knowledge.

The co-authors haven’t been as stylistically successful at the difficult art of blending their identities. Various passages in the book are spoken by “the authors,” “the author,” and “I.” It’s a minor quibble with an otherwise seamless collaboration, an important presentation that these critical comments can only begin to discuss in an unhappily abbreviated detail.

Art & Fear should appeal to anyone with even a peripheral interest in the arts. Successful artists will appreciate just how clever they really are, and everyone else can benefit from the courage-by-association observations from a couple of smart survivors. Get Art & Fear and get back to work.


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©2015 David Glenn Rinehart

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