Thursday, 21 August 2014

Where is Your Well?

On Sunday I was out looking for oysters to photograph for a some lyrics I'm working on. The post will be up by the weekend so check back later if you want to read them. I wanted to use the photo as a thumbnail, but more importantly I wanted to have it as a reference for the song so that I could draw on it if I needed to check something out. The song is not so much about oysters as it is a love song that takes place in New Orleans. I wanted to make sure that the details of the song were accurate and since there is a repeated reference to oysters, some research was required. The oysters found in Vancouver are likely to be a different variety than those found in New Orleans but at least it was better than having no oysters at all.

Oysters are one of my favourite foods, and in my seven years of selling fish, I also sold quite a few. The problem is that knowing oysters as a food, or even as a product for sale is not the same as knowing them as a symbol in a song. We look at things differently depending on the context we find them and sometimes those things that are most familiar to us we look not at but past. Occasionally things are worth looking at intensely, especially if we expect to draw meaning from them, or to offer them to others in the context of art.

Years ago a sculptor told me that before he started sculpting the stone his art was made from, he would always study the stone and his subject; he would study the part of nature that he was imitating. If he was sculpting a bear, he would spend hours looking at photographs and videos of bears in different contexts, if possible he would observe one personally. He would draw the bear, he would contemplate its proportions, its movement and its habits. He would consider precise measurements, angles, and attributes. Once he felt he understood the subject intimately, he would then, and only then start to sculpt. His work was astounding. He made art look easy. The work appeared to flow effortlessly from his hands and it did, but that is only because his hands were guided by a mind and a soul that was well prepared, and confident that he knew his subject in detail. He knew not just facts about it, he new the subject intimately.

The second time he sculpted a bear, he did not have to do as much preparation as the first time, but rather simply had to tap into that well he had stored up from previous experience. Painters prime the canvas to give it a foundation for their work. We talk about prime time, prime cuts and prime locations; things that are first choice and first place. As artists everyone wants to do work that is great, that is prime, and that perhaps even brings in financial rewards. It is easy to spend our days thinking of the end result, about our completed art and praise it might receive for being first-rate.

We talk about priming the pump, and that is the problem, we talk about it rather than breaking the sweat to actually do it. If we are fortunate, eventually we catch on to the fact that priming the pump is not something we do now and then; we do it until the water or ideas start to flow. If we stop before that happens, the preparation is for nothing and the pressure drops, perhaps just one pump short of that first refreshing trickle. It takes continued effort to keep things flowing, but the effort gets easier as the process and the habits are developed. If the habit of priming the pump is not established, art is frustrating, painful, and tiring.

People are always looking for ways to lessen the effort required to make art. How can we keep the ideas and creativity gushing, flowing or at least trickling out so that we can be refreshed by them? We can talk of ways to continually prime the pump, or we can learn to fill the well so that it overflows or at least rises quickly when a bit of pressure is applied. 

Enriching our lives with great art that has been passed on through the generations helps us fill our own well.The sculptor looking at the bear didn't say, “I need to look at the latest version of the bear; only the cubs born last spring will do”. Bears do not change that quickly, and neither do we. If you want to find out what makes man tick what makes humans laugh, cry and pause to wonder, look back; look way back deep into the wells from which artists have drawn their inspiration for centuries. Look at the great literature that we cared enough about to preserve; look at the religious books from which they drew their inspiration; look at nature in all its completeness and complexity. From what well do these things flow? Who was the artist first bold enough to draw from that source? How rich do we become when we realize that same vein of life is ours to tap into? How open we become when we see that river of influence runs everywhere. We do not have to go somewhere, we just need to become more aware of our surroundings and the richness that is lying just beneath the surface.

After getting the photos of the oysters, I felt like I was on a roll so I headed down to the bus station to do some research for the 2015 “Life is like a Rocket tour”. On the way there I passed an abandoned building on Main street. The building appeared to be held together by the various posters that were plastered to its face. My eye was caught by the Heineken ad and the tag line “Making hits since 1873.” Although I'd seen the ad campaign many times this summer, somehow the brilliance of its double meaning really struck me this time. “Brilliant.” I said and kept walking.

Then out of the corner of my eye I caught another ad campaign. “Freaking Brilliant” I said, and I stopped to take a picture, actually several. Heineken no doubt spent millions on its campaign and after saturating my world with it, eventually the cleverness of the ad seeped in. Not enough to get me to buy their product but enough to make me note the art of the ad. What the other artist did was much less expensive, but much more expressive. It was dramatic because it drew deep from the well of human experience and brought it to the surface right where people are most thirsty. Right on Main Street on a hot summer day. The artist put the work right next to the Heineken ad as if to say, “My art owns this place.”

The art I'm talking about was a handwritten page, containing photocopied verses from the bible. Someone took the time not only to read the verses, but to compile them, write them out by hand, comment on the source and then photocopy and their work in a way that was somehow reminiscent of Andy Warhol. Then, most importantly, they shipped it out for the world to see. It was this bold act of shipping the work that got me to stop; take the photo; stare at it for a long time and then write this post which you are now reading. It was this art that made we wonder about the person who placed the art there. Who were they and what was their story? Isn't that what every artist is really asking for? For someone to be moved enough by their story that they go and do something artful in response? Or that at the very least someone takes the time to pause and tell another human being about the art, and the artist?  Don't we all want someone to wonder what is beneath the surface of our work?

I draw your attention to the line in the photo that says, "It speaks for itself." If you want to experience the art of the person who was bold enough to plaster photocopied bible verses to an abandoned building, I've blown up that part of the photo. “It speaks for itself”.

People sometimes think what they do doesn't matter, that their contributions to the world are insignificant or incomplete. Because of this they wait, and they wait and they wait. Nobody ever seems to be quite sure about what it is they are waiting for, but waiting is safer than doing, and it's easy for people to buy the excuse that you are waiting for more money; for a deal from a record company; for a call from a publisher, or an an e-mail from some girl or guy who was the inspiration for your last song and might be for your next. While you wait behind these excuses, most of the people you are waiting for don't even know you are there. Your silence speaks volumes. Your absence, not theirs is the reason you don't get what you want. Show up and do something; stand up and say something; live out loud and be something. Don't worry about being some better version of who you are, be yourself completely. It's o.k. to be an emerging artist and to have work that is still in progress, but get some art out into the world. Ship and then again tomorrow and the day after that. If a handwritten photocopied bible verse can get this much attention, maybe what you're doing will get some attention too. Don't wait; ship.

Liquor and publishing companies spend millions of dollars getting their product noticed. It was not their millions or their clever images that caused me to stop and take this photo and then post it on the internet with an opinion about my response to it. I don't know who posted the hand written photocopied black and white bible verses on this abandoned building, but I'm glad they did. If your message comes from deep within, if it draws deeply from the well that feeds the human soul, send your message to the world. If it strikes a chord, someone else will magnify it for you. If no one is passing on your message, go back to the well and drink some more. It could be you're still thirsty, and that is the message you wanted people to know.

These are the some of the sources I regularly pour into my well

  1. The Bible (try randomly opening a page and see what jumps out at your)
  2. Great Speeches of the 20th Century (someone gave me a box set of these years ago)
  3. G.K. Chesterton books and quotes (audiobooks of G.K.'s works are often on while I am sewing...great stuff)
  4. Shakespeare (watch it live; reading allowed, but read it out loud!)
  5. Ovid (great source for transitions)
  6. Homer (best travel writer every; art is an Odyssey not a weekend get away)
  7. Street signs (helps you get to the point and point others in that direction)
  8. Comics (if you get the daily comics; you're up on current events)
  9. Jimmy Fallon (he magnifies other artists and has broad musical tastes)
  10. Automotive and product manuals (great for helping to focus on details and ensuring no steps are missed)
  11. Work of emerging artists that arrives in my inbox (maybe yours next?)

I also fill my well with lots of other music; this lists of musical influences is constantly growing.

Where is your well? 
Draw from it, or fill it until it overflows.

No comments:

Post a Comment