Category Archives: art

Pickin’ and Trimmin’

I watched this short documentary by Matt Morris last night that illustrates perfectly the function of music in our real lives as well as why I need to patronize a real barber shop instead of the Hair-O-Rama.

Check it out here or dig my embed. 

Pickin’ & Trimmin’ from Matt Morris Films on Vimeo.

The War of Art – Yes, Again

I’m going to come clean and admit that I have a horrible case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I’ve fallen victim to it since my relocation from more civilized latitudes to the harsh climate of Texas. One of the compromises that we made when I moved here was that I would get to complain about the heat from May through September. And all kidding aside, it’s pretty brutal. In Houston we’ve had serious drought and 20+ days of temperatures over 100F. Seriously. It’s painful.

In these dog days of summer, I find that my creative output drops significantly. I can’t bring myself to read anything worthwhile. My attention is captured by the Internet, video games, and watching beads of condensation run down my ever full glass of ice water. I complain about not getting anything done and my wife, patient as ever, reminds me that what usually works is re-reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. And she’s right.

I’ve given away several copies of the book and have turned on at least a dozen people to it. Some of them clicked with it the way that I did and others got a weird taste from it. All agreed that it was good stuff, but the presentation worked for some and not others. I feel good for getting other eyes on the book, but the eyes that really need to be on it are mine because the book Just Works™ for me.

I don’t know if it’s the simple structure – generally one page per idea – or the voice of the author that makes it hit home for me the way that it does. Honestly, like most of the things surrounding my creative process, I don’t question it much because it works. And when something works, I don’t really want to mess with it. What Pressfield does, better than anyone else I’ve read, is remind me of why it is I do what I do. I do it because I have to. And like everything else that I really, really have to do, I feel really, really bad when I don’t do it. Much like eating, drinking, and sleeping, creative work is something that I do because it is necessary. And like those other things, I can only go so long without it before negative effects set in.

I’ve been in a rut for the past 3 or 4 weeks. Finally, Sunday morning, I sat down and started to go through The War of Art again. Again I found it instantly inspiring and I’m ready to get my ass back in the seat and get back to work. Yes, my wife is right again. And yes, you should read or re-read Pressfield’s genius right now. No matter what you’re doing, it will help.

A Bit On Craft

Craft feels like a loaded word to me. It’s more than method or technique or skill. All of those things play into it but it’s so much more. Without craft, there can be no art. But it’s wrong to say that art is the output of craft. I believe that one can pursue the mastery of a craft in the absence of a desire to make art. Craft is deeper than that.

A craft is practiced. It is devotional in on sense. That devotion can be an end in itself. That isn’t to say that the output is unimportant. It simply might not be the goal.

banjo

For a long time, I confused craft with procedure or method. I was careless in my study of music theory when I was younger. When I met the work of John Cage and saw for the first time that the definition of music was broader than I was previously led to believe, I became obsessed with systems for composition. I followed several serial schools and dug deep into aleatoric music. I labored to design a way of composing that I could follow slavishly. I though that I was pursuing craft. I wasn’t. I was engaged in sophomore year academic masturbation (c’mon…sophomore year was when you read /Atlas Shrugged/…admit it!). After a few years of hard work with great teachers, I settled down and found something akin to real craft. Careful attention and experimentation. Focus on techniques and results. I wrote scores of scores and in the process learned a little more about the craft of composition.

Years later, when I took up instrument construction, I learned a lot more. Working with physical materials can illustrate concepts more directly sometimes. Like all revelations though, one must be ready to receive. My first instrument, a banjo, was built during the lowest point of my life. My mind was a mess and the only peace that I could find was in my garage with a block of sandpaper in my hand. I studied my materials. Watched them work. Experienced the steady pressure of clamps and the drying time of glue. In each of these processes I found a measure of joy. The precise and sometimes repetitive nature of the work rewarding me for a consistent performance and punishing deviations. There was a sense of right and wrong. Something beautiful and concrete that stepped beyond intent and desire into a place where the measure of success was relative and absolute at the same time.

So often in art technique gets its due where craft does not. What I try to remember is that when technique runs out, craft will carry me on.