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.

No Fear Here

Fear is a topic that is floating around the blogs of a number of people that I respect. Fear of doing The Work. Fear of success. Fear of the unknown. What I find interesting about that is the climate that it creates. If enough people are talking about the fear then that means that a significant number are feeling it. And that’s the precursor to great things.

I’m ignoring my fear. In reframing my work and my outlook on life, in some simple and not so simple ways, I’ve decided that the only thing to fear is rejection. If you choose your audience carefully, there is a lot less risk.

What does that mean?

It means that I’m really only interested in about 200 people. Most of my collections of songs have been downloaded by 200 unique persons. Or to 200 unique devices. It’s pretty consistent so that tells me that there are some folks who actually care about or enjoy what I do. That’s my audience and they are the ones that I need to please. Bringing it down to 200 from, you know, THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF THE INTERNET seems to take the edge off.

Besides, I don’t have time to deal with fear. My only real fear now is not getting The Work done. I have two projects right now that can’t die. That’s about all that I can juggle and I’m not doing a fantastic job of it yet. Still, they are alive and well. As long as there is meaningful motion, the is room for great things.

What’s the Problem?

Because communication is no longer a problem in our culture, that is to say, access to a large audience no longer requires a large capital investment, there is a belief that any individual should be able to pursue their passion without compromise. This is false.

Life is a web of compromises. Dropping everything to pursue my dream of writing art music would mean sacrificing things that are just as important to me, if not more so, than The Work. That is, if I wanted to pursue my dream in its purest from.

My dream is to spend hours creating beautiful canvases of sound that follow organic forms. I want to explore the limits of technology and music. I imagine trying to capture the sound of Love or Death or Joy. The means exist. If only I could translate that passion and its product into food and shelter. Then I could live the life that is so obviously within my reach, right? And with blogs and the Internet, that’s a breeze, right? Problem solved!

And that’s the source of my frustration. Not every artist has work that can be monetized. And not everyone wants to monetize her work. Does that mean that The Work isn’t important? Does that mean that the artist is a failure? Does that mean that this individual will not contribute to the canon or to the cultural consciousness? Clearly not.

I have been reading a lot lately about creativity and how it fits into the world today. From writing a memoir with no intention of publishing it to finding ways of sneaking in bits and pieces of what we consider to be our calling into our daily lives it seems to me that there has been a demonization of The Day Job in the life of a creative person. As a result, I started writing something down the other day and it won’t stop pouring out. I struck a nerve and it turns out that my relationship to my creative work and what I do for a living is important enough to me to take the time to explain it.

There is a lot of ranting to come. My inner monologue is pretty high pitched right now and the six people who read this blog will be subjected to my manifesto soon enough! But for now, this is a public declaration for accountability purposes. Getting this thing down is important to me and maybe it will be to you.

In the mean time, I am back in the studio tonight and recording more tunes for an upcoming collaboration. Stay tuned!