Tag Archives: art

Writing Is Art, Too

You know all those posts you see this time of year about how important it is to support artists and local artisans?

I have no quarrel with that. Artists and artisans need and deserve our support. Most of them contribute to the local economy and many are barely squeaking by.

But let’s also give some love and support to the writers. Writing, after all, is an art, too.

Let’s take painting as an example of an art. How, you ask, is writing like painting?

First of all, writing, like painting, takes practice, at least if you want to get better at it. Painters create works that they know they can never – don’t even want to – sell, especially when they are just starting. One thing they can do with these beginning pieces, though, is analyze them. What could I have done better? That section of the painting is muddy? What could I do to adjust the colors next time? That hand doesn’t look realistic. I need to work on painting people’s hands. I can’t just hide them in every painting.

Painters are often influenced by famous painters whose works they admire. They study these paintings. Some even try to paint in the same style or using the same color palette or the same type of subject matter. They may experiment with cubism, pointillism, art nouveau, impressionism, photorealism, or all of the above. They may imitate the style of Monet, Hopper, Cassatt, or O’Keefe. They’re not being copycats or attempted art forgers. They are acknowledging the greats and learning from those who came before them.

Writers, too, must study and practice, if they are to improve, and especially if they want to produce work that is saleable. Most writers have favorite authors and analyze what it is about those authors they admire. Does one a novelist write elegant description? Does a mystery writer use tight plots and exciting dialogue? Does a short story writer pack a wallop in a small space? These are qualities that can be learned and practiced. One writer of my acquaintance pores through her favorite authors’ works and highlights dialogue tags, for example, or sensory descriptions, or foreshadowing.

The next step for many writers is also to imitate the greats. A mystery writer may try to emulate Sue Grafton. An aspiring fantasy writer may study George R.R. Martin or J.R.R. Tolkien. A neophyte poet may be drawn to confessional poets like Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton or to sonneteers like Shakespeare or Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

When it comes to supporting local artists, you can often find their work at local art festivals and craft fairs. Some conventions, such as science fiction conventions have art rooms with paintings and drawings for sale or auction and general merchandise rooms that feature handmade jewelry, glass blowing, and other arts and crafts.

But where do you find the work of local writers? It’s not like anyone’s selling poems door-to-door. Well, just as there are local art fairs, there are also local or regional book fairs, where writers rent tables and try to entice passersby with their works. Frequently, when you buy directly from the author at one of these events, most of the money is likely to go to the author and not to a far-off publishing company.

Readings at bookstores and even libraries are other places to meet local or regional authors and get a sense of their work before you purchase. If you like the writer’s books, but are unable to purchase one, call your local libraries and ask them to stock that title. An author is thrilled to make a sale to a public library and by encouraging that, you are helping that writer.

There are other things you can do to support writers as well. Leaving a review on Amazon – even a two word “Liked it” – is import to writers. Amazon really cares about the number of reviews a book gets. Goodreads is another excellent place to write reviews.

Most of all, show love for your local authors by talking about them. Word-of-mouth sales are still important, even in this digital age. It’s the same with local painters and other artists. The more you spread the word about how good they are, the more you are helping talented community members make a living so they can keep doing what they do best – making art.

Straight From the Art

“I don’t know art, but I know what I like” is an old saying that expresses what many people really feel about art. Unfortunately, what they like is seldom art. More like dreck or kitsch. Maybe not sad puppies, but over-the-sofa mass-produced art. “Art” that doesn’t evoke thoughts or feelings: wonder, awe, challenge, mystery, inspiration, anger, sexuality, tenderness, memory, questions, fascination, laughter, pity. “Art” that doesn’t take you outside of yourself or into yourself.

I did learn a little about art in school – mostly the Impressionists (and a little about the Fauvists) because I was studying French at the time. Later on I learned a bit about cubism, pointillism, and a few other -isms. Still, most of the art hanging in my house is simply what I like.

Oh, I had a Van Gogh Sunflowers poster in my college dorm room and was thrilled beyond words to see the original (or one of the originals) in the Philadelphia Art Museum. Seeing the almost sculptural aspects of the brushwork made me unable to be satisfied with a flat poster ever again.

But gradually, the artwork surrounding me has become more … idiosyncratic.

This was brought home to me recently when, after a natural disaster, most of the many artworks that graced our home were assumed lost. We never knew just how much our artworks meant to us until they were gone. They had become such a fixture in our house that we didn’t really appreciate them as we did when we first acquired them. And that was a shame, because losing them left a distinct hole in our lives.

The rental house that we moved into was entirely devoid of decoration. There were flat, neutral walls; flat, neutral carpeting; flat, neutral furniture. I know they have to make rental houses this way to appeal to renters with various kinds of furniture and taste, but we had nothing to take the edge off all those neutrals. Nothing relieved the eye.

Our “art collection” was nothing elaborate or expensive, but it had meant a lot to us. A large part of my contributions to the household decorations consisted of paintings by Peggy McCarty, a talented friend of mine. These included self-portraits, paintings of food, and a couple of paintings of me or one of our cats, as well as a tiny landscape refrigerator magnet.

Dan collected many posters and prints, some of them signed and numbered, at the science fiction conventions we went to. These featured moody or majestic planet-scapes; cacti bursting off the ground like prickly green rockets on pillars of flame; wizards, changelings, and such; and a carved head of Einstein. Not all of them were to my taste, but, as the saying says, he knew what he liked. And some of them I found stirred my heart as well.

Not that my contributions to our household artwork were all formal and highbrow. One framed poster that Dan got for me was the theatrical poster from the Puss in Boots movie, which had a prominent place on our bedroom wall. The bright orange and yellow background demanded you notice it and, well, I’ve always had a thing for anthropomorphic cats.

Not long ago, we discovered that a number of our beloved artworks had survived the tornado. Some of the unframed, unmatted ones had sustained damage and others still haven’t shown up. But I was so happy to see the ones that did, I almost cried.

Naturally, we went right out and bought a bunch of Command Hooks (“Do. No Harm”) and started alleviating all the neutral walls with things that remind us of our old home while we wait for it to be rebuilt.

My study (actually the small bedroom) walls are graced by four small works: one of apples painted on a board by my artist friend Peggy; a print of a metal tiger from the Chinese Soldiers exhibit at the local art museum; a colorful Debbie Ohi sketch with a Neil Gaiman quote that I won in a raffle; and a framed, round, black-and-white drawing of a cat on a branch with stars in the background.

We each selected one work for special placement in the living room. Dan chose a framed poster of “To Everything There Is a Season” that used to hang in his office. I chose Peggy’s painting of Dan’s first cat, which I had commissioned her to paint for him for his birthday one year.

We haven’t settled on what goes in the master bedroom yet, though there is an evocative blue and white framed print that has a good chance of making the cut. So does Puss in Boots, though it will clash terribly.

But I know what I like.

State of the Arts

It bothers me that the two trends in art that are gaining the most ground nowadays are prettiness and functionality.

Prettiness and functionality have their place in art, of course. Who doesn’t love a Monet landscape? And Soviet Realism, while hardly pretty, performed its function of representing the worker as hero and inspiring comrades to greater effort.

But prettiness is not beauty. If you look beyond the prettiness of a Monet, you see the sheer talent that it took to break the boundaries of then-current art standards and paint in a way that revealed a different way of looking at the world. And that was beauty.

No one would call Picasso’s Guernica either pretty or beautiful. Its clashing shapes and tortured figures do not inspire “awwws.” They aren’t meant to. The painting is a condemnation of the horrors of war, and it performs that function exceedingly well.

Now, I don’t have anything against art that is pretty or functional. I just think that there is a lot more to art than just those qualities.

But art today – or at least what passes for art – is solely about prettiness and functionality. The National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency, was established to “fund, promote, and strengthen the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation.” Now the organization’s existence is in great doubt. The federal budget eliminates it completely (though it hasn’t passed yet).

Why the neglect of the NEA? It isn’t pretty enough. It isn’t functional enough. It supports and promotes a variety of types of art, some of which are challenging, unappreciated, and even shocking. At least that’s what the budgeteers focus on. The NEA, however, also provides grants for projects like arts education in communities and schools, including “the growth of arts activity in areas of the nation that were previously underserved or not served at all, especially in rural and inner-city communities.”

Why, the NEA even collaborates in a program with “more than 2,000 museums in all 50 states that offers free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families during the summer.” But you (and apparently Congress) never hear about things like that.

Arts education in the schools is languishing too. Along with music, it’s been relegated to the heap of the “unnecessary” or watered down to become “art (or music) appreciation,” with little or no thought given to allowing children to create their own art as well as studying “the masters.” It’s like art is now an extracurricular, though not as well-funded a one as sports.

STEM is the current bastion of functionality in school curricula. And admittedly, the U.S. needs more citizens educated in technical fields such as medicine, aeronautics, robotics, engineering, architecture, and so on. Art occasionally sneaks in there, so the programs reluctantly become STEAM, but the focus is still on turning out people who perform what most people consider vital functions in our society – those associated with products, and industry, and money.

But art, even when it’s disturbing, does have a function. It can make us think, love, cry, wonder, or remember. Imagine a world without art. No music, no dancing, no paintings, no sculptures – not even any graphic design. (That would mean no political campaign posters.) Life would be very different and much duller. Even if you don’t believe it, the arts touch you in some way every day of your life.

The arts are far from being a waste of time and money, as some seem to think. Winston Churchill had it right: “The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

 

Projects: The Back Burner

Even regarding a life-long passion, I think a person can be too devoted to something. Note I said “something,” not “someone.” I’m not here to deny that kind of passion. In fact, I rather enjoy it. I just think that, sometimes, being too devoted can get in the way of accomplishing anything.

Take projects, for example. I know many a crafter or artist who has a back room filled with fabric, yarn, beads, canvas, clay, or patterns, but nothing at all in a state of completion. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When the muse refuses to cooperate, it helps to have a backup plan. There’s always a different pillow to stuff, doll to repair, painting to start, song to write, or sweater to knit.

I’ve had my share of unfinished needlepoint, counted-cross stitch, and latchhook projects, but they fell to the wayside as my eyesight has worsened.

I still have partial writing projects, though, simmering on the back burner.

I have recently had my first book published, but I’m here to tell you it’s far from the first one I wrote. I had more or less abandoned it and gone on to other projects when exactly the right publisher appeared, hungry for exactly the manuscript I had in the back of my drawer.

The fact that it was in the back of my proverbial drawer (actually a folder on my computer) may have meant that I had despaired of placing the manuscript, but not that I was done writing. All through my life, I’ve had several writing projects going, in various stages of completion. When one stalled, I would work on another.

I once wrote a murder mystery, a thinly disguised version of killing off my Rotten Ex-Boyfriend Who Almost Ruined My Life. I figured if that didn’t make me feel better, I could kill him off again in the sequel. But aside from a few positive comments on my “voice” and some great advice from Sue Grafton at a writers’ workshop, it went nowhere except to the back burner. And has stayed there ever since. Will I ever turn up the heat on it? I wouldn’t rule it out.

I tried again, with a nonfiction book this time about cartoon character Lisa Simpson. I ignored the fact that Fox would have a thing or two to say about a book based around one of their copyrighted characters. This time when I submitted a proposal to agents, I got back the one thing I never expected: not an acceptance, but a really great rejection letter. It was obvious from it that the person had done a thorough reading of my manuscript and thought about exactly why it wouldn’t fly.  Then she told me, in detail.

I abandoned that project (no back burner for that one, just lessons learned) and moved on to blogging. I had been blogging weekly for several years when it occurred to me that I had enough material for a book. A friend suggested that I give it a try. So off went proposals for Bipolar Me. Dozens of proposals, for several years. No dice. Eventually, I gave up. Back it went, on the burner or in the drawer, until an indie publisher swooped in and resurrected it. Now it’s available on Amazon, Nook, and Apple.

I haven’t completely given up the idea of fiction. I’ve got a new mystery that’s pretty close to being finished – if only I could figure out what needs to happen in that one pivotal chapter that still hasn’t come together. Right now, it’s on the back burner, waiting for a burst of creative fire to get me going on it again.

I’ve also got a number of humorous essays from this blog that I’m eager to turn into something. That’s what I’m working on now while I wait for the mystery to come together. And if neither one of them shows any forward motion, I’ve always got these blogs to write. I may never run out of manuscripts, circulating out in the world, stagnant on my hard drive, or on the back burner, just waiting to bubble.

At least they only clutter up my hard drive and not my whole study.

 

 

Arts and Crafts: What’s the Difference?

Creative things you make with your hands generally get divided into two categories: arts and crafts. But what makes one category different from the other? It’s not always easy to tell, especially if you’re talking definitions. The lines begin to blur and in regard to most kinds of productions, the definition is in the eye of the beholder.

Some separate arts and crafts by type. Paintings and sculpture are art. Crochet and creating chainsaw sculptures are crafts. Baking, which is creative and done with the hands, doesn’t fall into either category unless you’re talking about the cakes you see on Food Network competitions. But food is ephemeral, so let’s focus on the kinds of work that last.

And arts and crafts are work. Make no mistake about that. They can be one’s hobbies, part-time occupations, or livelihood, but both arts and crafts require skill, practice, mindfulness, sensibility, and attention. That’s reflected in the phrase “a work of art.”

But to what efforts do we apply the term “art”? And what is “merely” a craft?

Kits and Patterns. First, the kinds of work that come in kits and with patterns are considered crafts. This includes everything from paint-by-numbers kits to bedazzlers to sewing. But wait a moment. Don’t clothing designers elevate their work from craft to art? In the main, those who design haute couture don’t use patterns. They invent, using only their own imaginations. Knitting and crocheting usually require patterns and are not considered art by most. Most home-made clothing likewise involves patterns. So perhaps one of the criteria for art is that it comes only from the artist’s imagination.

Beauty. This is a tough one since, as we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But famous paintings that are unquestionably art aren’t always beautiful. Sometimes they’re disturbing or make us uncomfortable. Picasso’s Guernica is an artistic masterpiece. It is also a depiction of the horrors of war. Whatever it is, it’s not classically beautiful.

Nor does beauty by itself make a work of art. The paintings that people hang over their sofas depict beautiful scenes, but professional artists and art critics scorn them. Paintings of sad clowns or large-eyed puppies are classed as kitsch or dreck. They may be technically well done or pleasing to the eye, but they are not Art with a capital A.

Age. Art, perhaps, is something that stands the test of time. But if we limit art to the Old Masters, we deny that young artists create meaningful works. It’s a bit like poetry – no one values it unless you’re dead, preferably by suicide, or best-selling like Helen Steiner Rice.

Age, however, can elevate crafts from the mundane into art. A sampler stitched today is virtually worthless, but one made before, say, 1774 is a precious artifact. With most art, the older the better. The decorations on Egyptian tomb goods or the beading on native clothing are museum-worthy if only because they are old enough.

Location. And while we’re talking about museums, let’s talk about location, location, location. To many the distinction goes like this: Art is what you see in a museum. Crafts are what you find at a local outdoor festival or hanging on the walls of a restaurant. They are created by someone you know or at least could get to know. Distance in both time and location seem to make a difference in whether a piece of work is art or not.

There are gray areas, of course, and these are generally called “artisanal.” If a potter has a shop and sells hand-made vases and dinnerware, if a person who makes jewelry from semi-precious stones instead of diamonds has a shop, the general feeling is that they are more than crafters but less than artists, however lovely their creations.

Price. This is a no-brainer. If it sells for thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars it is art. If you buy it online or spend less than $250 on it, it’s not. There are gorgeous quilts hand-sewn every day that look like works of art, but they do not sell for the same prices as for a Van Gogh. We pay for perceived value.

Rarity/Collectibility. And this is how the perceived value is calculated. If there is only a limited number of an item, like Imperial Fabergé eggs (50 were made), their worth and claim to the title of art skyrocket. Of course, this distinction does not hold true for everything. There are models of Hot Wheels cars, Beanie Babies, and Star Wars figures that are quite rare, but no one considers these art.

Personally, I love art, but in many ways I prefer crafts. Blown glass, stained glass, needlework, carvings, calligraphy, and framed prints decorate our home. When I wear jewelry, it’s going to be amber or malachite or amethyst. I think of them as little pieces of art that anyone can own.

 

The Artist and the Art

person with body painting
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

How much do we owe the artist for creating art? And when I say art, I mean not just paintings and sculptures, but music and lyrics and books and films and podcasts and TV shows and more – you know, the things we can’t live without, according to a recent meme. What do we owe the people who create?

Respect. First, we should acknowledge that what they do is worthwhile. Life would be a lot less interesting – and meaningful – without all those things I just mentioned. And I’m not just talking Art with a capital A here. I’m including people who write trashy novels and sing pop songs and paint sad clowns. There are people who like those things and enjoy them. Who am I to judge? (I don’t include people who script so-called “reality” TV. Those people aren’t artists, even if their audiences love them. So I guess I do judge, some.)

Money. Making art takes time and as we all know, time is money. Making art takes skill, and we pay for that too. Making art takes practice, which is another expenditure of time.

Too many people try to cheap out on art. They try to haggle over price, or claim that they (or a monkey) could do it as well (then why don’t they?) or offer to “collaborate” and split the proceeds with the artist who does the work. Do you haggle with your plumber? That takes time and skill and practice too and makes your life more liveable.

Funding. Sadly, few people make a living making art. (I am lucky to know a few who do.) For the rest, there are few sources of income, other than a “day job,” which saps one’s energy and the time needed to make art. There are some sources of funding, such as the National Endowment for the Arts and not-for-profit outlets like National Public Radio and PBS. But when budget cuts need to be made, these public- and government-funded efforts are usually the first to be gutted. Let’s acknowledge that they serve an important purpose and need our support, even if pledge drives are annoying.

Absolution? Here’s the question. Do we owe an artist our attention if he or she has a quality or does something in personal life of which we don’t approve?

Of course, for example, if you don’t approve of swearing, you can choose not to give your money to novelists or filmmakers or comedians who sprinkle f-bombs liberally in what they create. You don’t enjoy that and that’s cool.

But what if you disagree with an artist politically, socially, or religiously? Does that make their art any less valid? Some of the people who make glorious, memorable art have done vile things or hold beliefs repugnant to some. How do we measure that against their art?

If an artist indulges in hate speech or racism or homophobia, that’s a perfectly valid reason to dislike him or her. But is it a reason to say that the person’s work no longer has value? Should a person’s vile behavior toward women or gay people (to use but two examples) end his or her career? Maybe. But does it devalue the work already done? There are certainly differing opinions and of course we must make our own choices about whom to support with our money or votes.

But is left-wing or right-wing ideology enough to make us boycott a person’s art? Do you go to see a film that has a person in it who disagrees with you politically?

Personally, I can no longer view the movie M*A*S*H with the enjoyment I once did because of the infamous shower scene, and I even squick at certain scenes in Young Frankenstein, one of my favorite films, because they make light of rape. But I can’t deny that they are great films and I don’t boycott the works of their creators.

What should we think about the flawed artist? Do we call them out for racism or sexism, for example, or continue to enjoy their art? Or somehow manage to do both? Perhaps we can no longer enter into that person’s art with the joy that we once did, or perhaps we might prefer not to expose children to such ideas (though they will surely encounter them in real life). But do we give a pass to someone whose work means a lot to us? Or do we hold everyone to the same ideal standards?

I think that it’s good that we are reexamining and discussing our attitudes about art and artists in the larger world, and examining our feelings about their behavior. But I still think that local, regional, and unknown artists deserve our support. We generally know nothing of their private lives and can’t judge them that way. Does the guy who plays guitar so well at open mike night cheat on his wife? Does the local food blogger sneer at her trans neighbor? Our communities don’t have the power of Hollywood’s searchlight. All we usually know of local creators is their art and whether we find it great, good, mediocre, or bad.

Even the making of mediocre or bad art is worthwhile. One can always get better with practice. And sometimes people can become better human beings with practice. Not often, perhaps, but I’ve seen it happen.

 

Creative Genius? Are You Crazy?

It is often said that there is a thin line between genius and madness, usually with a further remark about someone who is straddling that line. But do genius and madness really have anything to do with each other?

For a start, let’s use the terms creativity and mental illness. When we talk about genius, we often think of Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein, geniuses in mathematics and theoretical physics. Or we think of prolific and significant inventors, like Thomas Edison and Elon Musk. And when we talk about mental illness, we usually envision killers – suicide bombers, spree killers, sociopaths, and the like.

Those views are limited, however. Creativity – or creative genius – encompasses art of all kinds. Picasso’s paintings, Johann Sebastian Bach’s music, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, Rodin’s sculptures, and so many others are works of creative genius as well.

Now we come to the intersection of creativity and mental illness.

Emily Dickinson had Social Anxiety Disorder.

And Abraham Lincoln suffered clinical depression. So did Charles Dickens.

Bipolar sufferers include Beethoven, Schumann, and Isaac Newton.

Charles Darwin, Michelangelo, and Nikola Tesla were all obsessive-compulsive.

Autism, dyslexia, and various learning disabilities affected Einstein, Galileo, Mozart, and even General Patton.

And Van Gogh! Let me tell you about Van Gogh. He had epilepsy. Or depression. Or psychotic attacks. Or bipolar disorder. Or possibly some combination thereof. Something, anyway.

They must have been! They were geniuses! And some of them acted crazy! Van Gogh cut his ear off! Surely he was insane!

Well, really, no one can tell if any of those diagnoses is true. None of those greats is known to have undergone psychoanalysis by a real doctor who actually met them. Some of the diagnoses didn’t even exist while the creative geniuses were alive. We make assumptions based on what we know about the famous and what we know of psychiatry – very little, in most cases.

The same is true for famous villains and criminals. Nero was a pyromaniac. Saddam Hussein was a narcissist. The Marquis de Sade was, well, a sadist. Ted Bundy was a sociopath, or a necrophiliac, or had antisocial personality disorder, or, well, something. He was crazy!

(In point of fact, mentally ill persons are much more likely to be victims of violence than to commit violence.)

What do we actually know about creativity and mental illness? Damn little. Get five people in a room and try to get them to agree on a definition of “creativity.” Design a scientific experiment to measure the connection between creativity and mental illness. You can’t do it without a definition of creativity and a list of which mental illnesses or conditions you are studying. And any results would therefore be subjective.

One thing I do know about creativity and mental illness is that creative people can be reluctant to admit their diagnoses for fear of being dismissed as a “crazy artist” or stigmatized. Brilliant glass artist Dale Chihuly only recently revealed that he has had bipolar disorder for years. In an interview with the Associated Press, his wife, Leslie Chihuly, said, “Dale’s a great example of somebody who can have a successful marriage and a successful family life and successful career — and suffer from a really debilitating, chronic disease. That might be helpful for other people.”

Indeed. Many people who have psychiatric diagnoses – or who suspect that they might – are reluctant to seek help. Many believe that taking medications for a mental disorder, in particular, might impede their creative flow. That is, they too are equating their creativity with “madness” and refuse to treat one for fear of losing the other.

In fact – and as a person with bipolar disorder I say this from experience – getting treatment can actually improve a person’s imaginative, creative, or scientific output. Level moods, time not lost to depression, freedom from the pain and fear of worsening symptoms, and other benefits of psychological and medical help can increase the time and the vigor and the passion that a creative person puts into her or his work.

That’s one of the reasons that it’s so important to erase the stigma associated with mental disorders. We could be missing out on the next creative genius.

Coloring: Inside or Outside the Lines?

The other day, my husband gave me a little gift with which to amuse myself while he was out of town – a paint-n-bake coffee mug with an intricate mandala sort of design on both sides and a set of four special markers. The idea is that when you finish coloring it, you bake it for 45 minutes and the color becomes permanent. (More or less. You are advised to hand-wash the mug.)cup3

A while back, Dan had given me several coloring books and assorted colored pencils, the latest fad in relaxation techniques. Presumably, focusing on the coloring keeps your mind off your troubles. One of the coloring books I later obtained let you color a bunch of swear words, which are very satisfying to contemplate. (I think the book is English, because it contains epithets like “wank stain,” which I guess is equivalent to American “jerkwad.”)

Anyway, I wrote about the coloring craze some time ago in a blog post (“Color My World” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-jP), in which I said,

I don’t know anyone who admits to coloring within the lines when they were kids. Coloring outside the lines … was a badge of freedom and creativity and, for some, poor fine motor skills. It was how the more inhibited of us let our freak flags fly.

The coffee mug, however, was clearly intended to be colored within the lines, unless done as an art project by a five-year-old for Father’s Day.

This presented a little problem for me. I have “essential tremor,” which is doctor-speak for “We don’t know why your hands shake; they just do.” With coloring books, this wasn’t much of an issue, because the pages never even made it as far as the refrigerator door. A coffee mug, however, is meant to be used, though, so conceivably other people might see it. (Not that I’m a great one for having koffee klatches, except by phone with my mother-in-law.)

As I started coloring the first side of the mug, I discovered something useful – until baked, the colors were far from permanent. They could be rubbed away easily with a fingertip or a Kleenex. Or the heel of your hand as you rested it on the mug, trying to get the top half colored. Finally, I decided that the teensy white spaces within the itty-bitty black lines were just suggestions, and colored the larger shapes, staying vaguely between the lines and leaving those little accents of white, just for contrast.

By the time I had accomplished that, my hands were well and truly shaking. I could have stopped there and finished the mug later, on a day when my tremor was less troublesome. (It comes and goes, aggravated by fatigue or stress.) But I wanted to get the damned thing over and done with.cup1

I decided that I would purposely let my freak flag fly on the other side. I would not even try to stay within the lines. Instead I took the markers and colored in bright diagonal streaks of different lengths and widths, with reckless disregard for any and all black lines. It was, in its own way, very satisfying, even if it did resemble the aforementioned Father’s Day gift. It was bright and cheery, and it looked absolutely nothing like the mandala pattern or the other side’s more constrained coloring.

I had warned Dan that I didn’t intend both sides of the mug to look the same, but I think he just supposed I would use different colors for the different parts of the identical design. We’ll see what he says when he gets home. As a child of the sixties, he should appreciate my rebelliousness, and as a fan of the Impressionists, he ought to admire my emotionally free style.

And if he doesn’t, I’ll just use the mug myself. It’s quite a large one, big enough to contain both my outer adult and my inner child. And lots of coffee.

 

P.S. Thanks to Ellen Kollie, friend and former coworker, for suggesting I turn this Facebook post into a blog post. If it doesn’t work, it’s all your fault.

Art Is Love. Art Is Work. Art Is Football.

Art is love.

Deep in our hearts, most of us long to be artists. Most artists, deep in their hearts, long to be some other kind of artist.

I can write, but I would really like to be able to sing.

Dan can sing, but he would really like to be able to draw.

Jason can draw, but he would really like to be able to paint.

Peggy can paint, but she would really like to be able to write.

And all of us wish we could be better at the creative things we can do.

Art Creative Imagination Inspiration ConceptWhen I say “creative things,” I’m not just talking about the fine arts, either. Quilting, cooking, crocheting, and woodworking can all be creative acts. It all depends on the imagination, the love, and the attention you put into it.

Art is a process as much as it is a product. The process itself is valuable, even if the art never reaches professional levels. It expands the mind without drugs. It stretches your creative muscles without workout clothes. It brings frustration, and satisfaction, and courage, and effort, and pleasure, and giving all together. Just like love.

Art is work.

Remember the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice!” It’s not enough to want to create art. Even singers born with perfect pitch have to practice breath control, projection, and reading music.

Dan will not learn to draw unless he tries, fails, tries again, takes classes, studies other people’s drawings, starts with something simple, practices, and practices, and practices. He may never become an artist in the sense of selling his works, but he will improve. And if he doesn’t improve enough to satisfy his inner longing, he can try photography or songwriting.

Art is work for your brains. And for your hands. And for making them work in sync. No one was ever born at the height of their creative powers. (Well, maybe Mozart, but I bet his compositions improved from when he was a child prodigy to his later works.) You may be born with creativity – we all are – but you will never make anything of it unless you use it.

The workers who made up the Bread and Roses movement had it right. Originally a call for both fair wages and dignified conditions for workers, the slogan has been used in poems and songs: “Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread but give us roses.” Roses are what feed the heart. So does art. Art is necessary to our lives, a fact that has apparently been forgotten by everyone from politicians to businesspeople to educators.

Giving up on art is a sad thing. Never trying is worse. You may not be depriving the world of brilliance, but you are depriving yourself of potential and joy.

Art is football.

Young people playing sports imagine that it will propel them to the Good Life – fame, glory, sex, and millions and millions of dollars. Art can do that too. It allows a person to aspire to gallery shows, museums, art auctions, becoming a household name, and millions and millions of dollars.

Of course, that happens to only a select few persons – football players and artists alike.

But that’s not the point. If you truly love your art – or your sport – you do it anyway.

That’s not to say there are no ways to get recognition. You can teach art to others, just as you can coach pee-wee football. You can enter your artwork in local competitions and even state fairs. You can sell it at a booth at an outdoor art fair. You can give it to friends as birthday and holiday presents. Or you can keep it to yourself, for your own enjoyment, as Emily Dickinson did. You can even combine two of your passions and do art about athletics, like Leroy Neiman.

Nurture your art as you would a relationship. Throw yourself into it as you would work. Improve at it as you would at sports. Grow and your art grows with you. And as your art grows, so do you.

 

 

Better Than a Flying Toaster

 

tultr copyWhat a long way we’ve come from the days of flying toasters! Now instead of using a prefab screensaver or lock screen, it’s easy to create one of your own – one that has a special meaning for you.

My husband is a talented amateur photographer, specializing in nature photos. He didn’t have confidence in himself, however, dbl orng copyand I wanted to do something that would let him know how much I appreciate his talent and how much I love the results.

When he started taking photos I had assisted by cropping and color-correcting them. But after he stopped using his camera phone and got a small, peppers copyinexpensive, but fairly good quality digital camera, the most his photos needed was a tiny tweak or crop. There was nothing else I could do to the photos that would improve them.

Without telling him, I arranged a dozen or so of his photos into a photo by Dan Reilyslideshow with Ken Burns dissolves and used that as my screensaver. Then I invited him into my study and made conversation until the screensaver
kicked in. “Hey!” he said, “Those are my photos!” He was really touched that I had liked them enough to use them. Crocus copy

Later that year I selected a number of the photos and had them made into a calendar as a surprise for him and Christmas gifts for our friends and family. It was my way of showing how much I thought of his photography and how much I love him. I don’t think I will ever find a better screensaver, though I may add slides to it as he continues to snap his way through nature.

Photos by Dan Reily