On the left is a raw sketch for a new interactive map I made based on New York City, its home now on my projects page). I had the idea of creating a map in this vein for awhile -- the original title was much less SFW -- and cranked it out on an unusually productive Sunday afternoon. To be fair, I left out a lot of the admittedly good stuff about New York in order to keep the integrity of the thesis, including my cousin Laura's amazing studio in Williamsburg, the view from the top of the Museum of Art and Design, and the unfortunately-named Burp Castle which is a bar where the bartender shushes you if you talk too loudly, which I so wish bartenders everywhere would do. But overall, I think it's safe to say that the city hasn't quite embraced me with open arms. (On a side note, I am pleased that the two projects whose ideas I blatantly swiped both resulted in pleasant receptions from their original creators.) I'm working on a similar map of DC now, but am finding that writing up the little blurbs is far more difficult. If you hate a city, it's easy to find you have lots of things to say. If you like a place -- or at least don't find it maddeningly cruel on a daily basis -- it's too easy for all of your comments to sound gushy and dull. But stay tuned.
I have a soft spot for Valentine's Day, which always seemed like a holiday that should be a cheerful celebration of the drugstore brand of love ("LUV"), expressed solely by heart-shaped candy and cute teddy bears stitched with bad puns. (The fact that the holiday somehow morphed into something weighty enough to inspire 'anti-Valentine's Day' parties just makes me sad. For a day, let's ignore betrayal and heartbreak and all of the other complications love usually entails, shall we? Let's all just give each other Reeses's Peanut Butter Cups in the shape of a heart and call it day.) So, even though a part of me thinks that if your Valentine's Day gifts are NOT purchased at a CVS, you have probably tried too hard, I'm making my own style of Valentine's Day cards. Also, because my printer just broke, they are each now Limited Edition by default. I'll be selling them at The Fridge (and giving them to friends with candy scotch-taped to the envelopes, natch) but if you're reading this and would like one, send me a message and I may have a comp or two.
The other day I stumbled on an article on Slate, "My New Year's Resolution: Read a Book Every Day" wherein the writer, Jeff Ryan, resolves to read a book every day in 2012. And then he actually he does it (audiobooks, comics and short books were the secret, apparently). On paper it's certainly an impressive achievement, but my main takeaway from the piece--other than that Internet commenters seem unfairly dismissive of audiobooks--was mostly amazement that someone could, in adulthood, approach the task of reading as would a fourth grader trying to win his class a pizza party. I'm not saying that Ryan necessarily shouldn't be reading books with a number goal in mind; it must have been satisfying to polish off Book No. 366 and overall probably a better use of his time than skimming articles online or playing videogames (the two activities he curbed in order to reach his book-a-day goal). But his piece overlooked one of the best perks of growing up and being out of a classroom setting, namely that it really doesn't matter how many books you've read, or even which ones. Because no one else cares. Once you move beyond assignments or quizzes or trying to impress people (which never works anyhow, and mostly just makes you insufferable), it's a pleasure done solely for its own sake, and if you would like to be challenged or enlightened or comforted or fed a tale about vampires, there is a book that will suit each one of those perfectly reasonable desires. "Reading for enjoyment is what we should all be doing," Nick Hornby once pointed out. "Because here's something no one else will tell you: if you don't read the classics, or the novel that won this year's Booker Prize, then nothing bad will happen to you; more importantly, nothing good will happen to you if you do."
A few days before New Year I started listening to Half Empty by David Rakoff, the second chapter of which wound up being the right thing to hear at the right time; he captured the strain of being an artist and an unhappy person at the exact moment I was feeling both of those things, and needed someone more articulate than myself to phrase it right for me. Which is the whole point of reading, at least for me.
I remember one afternoon during the Blended installation I stepped out to buy some art supplies, and realized, while biking to Utrecht, that I had left my sketchbook lying on the warehouse floor. Just asking to be perused or stolen, if any other artists were inclined to pick it up. I panicked momentarily. What was it about those notebooks that compel us to capture every tiny snippet thought that goes through our heads? Of course, my sketchbook was waiting for me untouched when I returned, which should not have been a surprise. As anyone who has ever blogged or saw a friend's eyes glaze over in the middle of an anecdote knows, the contents of your head are never quite so interesting to other people as they are to you. Sketchbooks tend to be fetishized in the art community, seen as containing the raw honesty that can sometimes be absent from finished pieces, and I will never turn down a chance to poke through other artists' sketchbooks (if they let me).
But it is often forgotten that they also contain a load of crap you would never dream of inflicting on the world. They're a holding ground for scribbles, unfinished to-do lists, boring thoughts, bad ideas--or worse, no ideas--and drawings that belie the fact you have a degree in illustration.
And they take on lives and personalities of their own. My current sketchbook, a moleskin with too-thin paper (I'm very picky) feels like an entity I've been fighting with the last several months. Sometimes it's been a fun ride--other times it's been a physical manifestation of every single limitation I have as an artist. (To a normal person, this probably sounds like a highly melodramatic way of characterizing what is essentially a collection of blank paper, but hopefully at least a few other artists out there are nodding their heads.)
Still, there are occasionally a few examples of sketches that might not be good per se, but still strike me as important. For those curious I've interspersed a few acceptable examples of my current sketchbook here, and I post raw stuff on my tumblr site on a semi-regular basis. Right now most of them are based on a little story I'm working on called, "The Bachelor Cat" which I finally figured out how to end this weekend.
I was very pleased to be invited to participate in Eames Armstrong's Drawing Residency last night. I wasn't sure what to expect--'show up and draw' was the gist of the invite--but as it turned out it was exactly what I'd want out of any residency--namely a venue to draw, drink beer and have thoughtful conversations. The fact that all of this occurred on Philippa's lovely roofdeck on an uncharacteristically not-muggy August evening was an added bonus. A variety of materials were provided for the residency, but I tackled some small pieces I'd been carrying in my sketchbook, that I'd been working on in fits and starts. And I used my own pens since when it comes to my art, I am about as much as a prissy prima donna as they come. "I can’t draw that. It doesn’t interest me. I’ll only use this material and this pen, thank you very much. And this nice paper." And so forth. This can either be constued as choosing the path of least resistance or having artistic integrity, I’m not sure which.
On a related note I was pleased to find the Wikipedia page for centipede syndrome, from which I suffer tremendously when it comes to my art. Specifically it's called, The Centipede's Dilemma, which occurs "when a normally automatic or unconscious activity is disrupted by consciousness of it or reflection on it." Or as the original story goes, a centipede is asked how it walks by some other creature, and then, once it mulls over the question, finds itself unable to move.
Though I appreciate having an official diagnosis, for the most part being afflicted with the centipede syndrome is incredibly annoying. It would be far more useful to have the ability to, (to paraphrase Homer Simpson) draw something that 'looks like the way it looks like' or provide satisfying answers when people ask me questions about my work. Though at the same time, it's a good way to appreciate how marvelous and complex the human mind is, that you can allow a part of your brain that seems to have nothing to do with you to call the shots and create things.
Anyway, an exhibit with some of the work displayed from the Residency will be up at Aether Art Projects and open next Friday. More details and pictures to be come soon, but it should be a good show.
Today I was wheatpasting on the white 14th street strip walkway when a man got out of his car, said hello, and asked me what I was doing. "Wheatpasting," I told him.
"Why?" he asked.
It's a perfectly fair question, just not an enjoyable one to answer; similar to when someone points to a section of one of my drawings and asks, "what's that?" I can't begrudge the curiosity, even if the answer is long and requires me to explain how I draw in the first place. Unfortunately, there's no good reason to be wheatpasting, other than, I felt like it, or more specifically, I had created a drawing that seemed particularly wheatpaste appropriate and there was no reason not to do it. I didn't have a call to action, or a band I was trying to promote; it was pure art for art's sake, if you're the sort of person who classifies wheatpasting as art.
So I told him that I liked the idea of taking a single drawing and seeing it in various contexts, and that the section of the wall I'd been pasting was one that was probably was overlooked and I wanted to activate the space, and I had an image on hand that seemed to fit the area well, and that technique-wise, yeah it was better to be pasting in the morning when fewer people are around but of course it's hard to get up that early. He was friendly, but didn't seem completely satisfied—as though there had to be some other motive I wasn't revealing. But I guess that's the risk with asking why, as anyone whose interacted with a toddler knows. Eventually, you hit the end of the line, sometimes sooner rather than later.
Anyway, more details for the curious: the piece above was inspired by a quote I saw in the London Times Style magazine about various coffee drinkers (not a Dana original, sadly, though I wish it was). The drawing is composed of the sketch on the right, and you can see it around 14th street before the next torrential rain fall or someone else decides to cover it up.
I am constantly impressed by artists whose sketchbooks don't look at though their brain barfed all over their Moleskine pages. I just got a new one--keeping track of coasters and bits of Stonehedge paper was becoming too much of a hassle--and so far it's been addicting, but also very...messy. I know that's the point and all, but still I'm surprised at how often these drawings will to lead to more visual problems than they solve. Anyway, a few samples below. For inspiration I've been looking at the utterly fantastic sketchbooks of Juana Medina and Wendy MacNaughton and the folks at the Sketchnote Army to see if I can learn a thing or two.
Is it just me, or does it seem as though there's a proliferation of Good Advice being offered these days? Don't get me wrong, I love advice. If I'm running short on time when reading the paper, I skip straight to Carolyn Hax; I have Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist top ten list taped over my desk at work (along with Bruce J. MacLennan's Programming Principles, which is a nice counterbalance). I appreciate that everyone has something useful to offer you, even if it's a lead by negative example or cautionary tale. I even offer it myself, at least when it comes to matters on which I feel qualified to offer an opinion. But it's gotten to be--dare I say?--a bit much. All roads seem to lead to some sort of TED talk, or a "you're doing it wrong" themed article, or a "Top Ten Ways You Can Do Something Better Than the Way You Are Currently Doing It by A Self-Proclaimed Expert on the Subject." Perhaps it's a sign we are all furiously looking for reassurance that we're living our lives in the right way, or that advice has gone the way of politics; you just find the people whose opinions you already agree with, and can thus pat yourself on the back for doing the right thing.
The other day, however, I stumbled across Cal Newport's Study Hacks, which I've found useful, particularly the Craftsman Manifesto. It went to the heart of an issue that were always nagging the back of my mind, as someone who deplores simplistic "follow your passion" advice which is all that seems to be offered in the art world, who hated being a student but loves learning things, and struggles with the nagging suspicion that in order to be good at something, you can't rely on flow alone, which can easily lead to not sufficiently challenging yourself. I wish I had a copy of his books when I was a student, too. Probably would've saved me a bit of anguish.
I spent the ten days after Thanksgiving traveling throughout Barcelona, Avignon, and Paris with my mom. It was my first visit to Barcelona, and I was curious to see the Gaudi buildings, since the dripping architectural stuctures in my drawings have been compared to him (okay, one guy said that, one time, but I took it to heart). We went to the Sagrada Familia on a Monday in November, already swarming with fellow tourists at 10:00 AM, but as the guidebooks tell you, nothing prepares you for the impact of seeing it for the first time. That thing is not only huge, it's...bizarre, but wonderfully so, because it's not how a church is supposed to look. It reminded me of a cartoonist I once heard giving a presentation, talking about how he never was able to finish panels. "I just need to add more stuff," was how he put it. And I knew exactly what he meant. A lot of artists don't know when to say when, which I don't mean as a criticism, but as the highest possible compliment. It's the kind of obsessiveness that gives you thinks like the Sagrada Familia, or Chris Ware cartoons, or anything else that requires devoting oneself, full-throttle, to some sort of grand artistic cause, regardless of whether or not it's sensible.
The images below are the four small drawings I did while I was traveling (mostly in cafes, or on the train while looking at the countryside and listening to the new Steve Jobs autobiography, which I highly recommend). I also have high quality prints of works available at the Pleasant Plains, which has a closing party this Tuesday, if you still have last minute Christmas shopping.
Several months ago, I had a very earnest discussion regarding the personalities of various liquor types. For example: vodka I always imagined as a slender, tall blonde. A party girl. Rum is her date, rugged and handsome, but will kick your ass if need be. Gin is the man in the suit in the corner with a flower on his lapel. Beer is the dude in faded jeans watching the game; bourbon is the well dressed philosophy major who is an excellent listener. I mention this because I was recently reading about DC's artistic identity to which the same thought experiment can apply. Saying that lots of people make art in Washington DC doesn't tell you very much, since that's true of a lot of cities. But if you met the DC Art Scene in a bar, how would it compare to New York Art Scene? Or LA Art Scene or Baltimore Art Scene?
Since these personifications are just the first that pop into my head based upon my own experiences (or lack thereof), I'd be curious to hear others. So please put your own visions in the comments. If DC's art scene was a guy in a bar, who would it be?
In my view, there are interesting questions about art, and there are boring questions about art. Boring: What Other Art Does this Look Like? (ie, any sentence that starts with "the work is reminiscent of,"), though I guess if you can't see the piece in question yourself, knowing what it resembles can occasionally be useful. Is it Art in the First Place? discussions get old fast, and tend to result in circular, infuriating conversations. And my least favorite: "This is the Most Important [painting/sculpture/whatever] of the [arbitrary time period]" which I hate because such assertions are gimmicky and impossible to prove.
The questions that really keeps me up at night always center on why I like what I do, and how that can best be articulated. What makes it good? Or what makes it flawed? Why can't I explain what I think is good without sounding like a jackass? If you actually have something to say, is drawing the best way to say it? And so on.
Then there's the fuzzy subject of talking about your art-making experience, which sounds like something that should be interesting, but isn't, at least for me (for Victoria Gaitan, the opposite is true). I've always been astounded that I can take a drawing I adore, and find myself with absolutely nothing to say about it, (which I know you aren't supposed to admit), or that while the art itself may be interesting, its production has made me remarkably dull; my evenings have been spent in solitude drawing for the past couple of weeks, with no funny anecdotes to speak of. But that's the life I have now. The process is wonderful, and the results are fun (and incidentally, I highly recommend All the Devils are Here, One Day, and Freedom, which I've happily listened to while working) but when I try to explain how and why, I got nothing.
A year ago I attended a breast cancer fundraiser, and decided it would be my last. It was held in a dark three-storied club on K Street; upon entrance, there were rose colored drink specials, the prerequisite pink ribbons, and plastic wrists bands given out with a message declaring, “Breast Cancer Sucks!” It’s a perfect illustration of why I care about many things, but hate causes. We can’t just grieve, or complain or make charitable contributions; we all need to become emotional exhibitionists, with “Never Forget” bumper stickers and “We Will Prevail” platitudes and pep rallies. Unless your feelings are public and posted online for the world to see, it’s as though they don’t count.
Which brings me to the latest culture war that’s gripping DC, with the Portrait Gallery yanking David Wojnarowicz's art video after receiving complaints from Eric Cantor and John Boehner. It’s a cheap and dirty trick for the GOP to score points, but in a twisted way, everyone wins; Boener and Cantor get to look like cultural heros to their already-sympathetic base (who probably won’t spend much time researching the issue), and Wojnarowicz's work gets more coverage than it ever would had this whole snafu never erupted.
Also, you get to see the DC art community truly galvanized, which happens about every three to six months. Although I agree wholeheartedly that taking down the art was wrong of the Portrait Gallery, I still can’t get on board the DC art community ire; something about it is just giving me flashbacks to condescending pink bracelets and $12 Breast-cancer-tinis. Maybe it’s an issue of choosing your battles. I have a long and growing list of things that I’m genuinely outraged about, from our lack of universal health care to Glenn Beck, but I can't add an unwatchable art video to the list. Something about this furor strikes me as a little too...self-congratulatory.
There’s a Tim Carman article in this week’s City Paper about drinking that beautifully articulates what makes alcohol so great (much like Esquire did with its brilliant homage a few years back, which I still recall each time I pour myself a vodka tonic). Excellent read, though I challenge anyone who thinks America has a drinking problem to spend a Saturday night in Oxford, England (and this is Oxford, by the way--y’know, dignity incarnate) and witness the debauchery that goes on there, as it makes Adams Morgan look like a Temperance Society church picnic. The relationship between artists and alcohol is often a fascinating one. After all, there’s no doubt drinking is “a tool to unlock a deeper appreciation of immediate surroundings” as Carman points out, though I’m wary of anyone who needs to drink to become creative. (Granted, there’s no place I’d rather draw than a darkly-lit bar, but that’s another story.) I’ve found that drinking best compliments artistic discussions more than output, however. Explaining the artistic choices you’re making, or lack of them; ranting about the things that annoy you, (always a fun conversation to have in the bar, particularly after receiving grant rejection letters); or pinning down any other question that never has a satisfying answer--unless you've had a few, these conversations can be awkward and stilting.
There's a quote from a bookstore owner of Idle Times I read a few months ago on BYT:
Why must people live so safe? Find a book, and if you hate it, well, that’s life. Would you rather discover what you love through trial and error? Finding a good book is like ordering at a restaurant, find something with ingredients you like and try it. People are too safe. Before they go somewhere they have to look up on the Internet if they will like it. Just go! Maybe you hate it but oh well, you know not to go there anymore. You discovered something about yourself, about your preferences.
That is very good advice I am unable to follow. I am horribly guilty of book-researching, falling prey to the mindset that I can’t read just anything.* I just finished the Downtown Owl, and while I'm still haunted by the ending, I'm now stuck in that anxious, familiar spot; I need something to read RIGHT NOW, and it has to be something good, and that I know I'm going to like.
good taste taste similar to mine can recommend good books, but it's still a bit of a crapshoot, and so far I haven’t found that one source who can unequivocally tell me what to read next. I would very much like to meet such a person though, or at least read their blog. A Book Recommender is right up there with Travel Buddy or Awesome Roommate; meet someone who possesses those real life qualities, and it’s probably as close as you’ll ever find to a soul mate.
*My audiobook addiction is probably to blame for this--don’t want to waste my monthly credits, after all.
I heard it's considered bad form to write about all the things you're applying to because then you're stuck blogging with your tail between your legs when you don't get accepted; but God-dammit, I spent the last two weeks working on a grant and a show application, and I want to kvetch about how exhausting it was. And there's another deadline July 23! Good God. On the plus side, I've always been the sort of person who likes carry all of the groceries to the door at once, rather than break it up into shorter, lighter trips. Might as well cram all of the Artist Statements / Proposals / JPEG burning into a reduced timeframe, and then get on with the real art-making. On the plus side, I found time to start the Conversation Series (pictured), which I've been mulling over for awhile. And it looks better than how I imagined it would. I worked on the first batch on a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the Portrait Gallery atrium, listening to Harry Potter and two tourists discussing the atrocious cost of their cafe brownie. I'd say, "good times" but honestly, that doesn't even begin to describe how glorious an afternoon it was.
|Chris Roberts-Antieau New Orleans 6/4/10 12:17 AM|
In my head, I've always personified major US cities as members of an unruly family. New York and LA are the two hot shot fraternal twins (Sweet Valley-esque, as it were--LA is so Jessica Wakefield to New York's Elizabeth, no?). DC is the Type A, industrious one, waking up early to hit the gym; Baltimore is its more artistically talented, but somewhat defensive and disorganized younger sibling, who bristles if you draw comparisons (maintaining that a quirky character is far more impressive than showing up to things on time). Chicago is the hilarious uncle who you always want to sit next to at family gatherings, though beware the nasty temper; Portland is the token hippy, no surprises there; Cleveland's the chain smoker who's been working on his novel for the last several years and is going to finish it eventually, once the kids find jobs and move out of the basement.
And then there's New Orleans, which I visited for the first time last week, the lazier, charming, somewhat alcoholic cousin; a lovable ne'er-do-well. But mostly there was a wonderful artistic casualness to the city that I found refreshing. In a band? Just play on the side of the road and plop down a hat next to your CDs. Draw pictures? Put them in the back of your truck and hawk them on Frenchmen street. You don't need the organizational skills that are one of DC's key selling points--no Facebook groups or laborious grant applications, or public art committees--just throw your stuff out into the world, and see what sticks.
It is with regret that I am going to participate in a favorite pastime of DC art bloggers, and take issue with an aspect of Blake Gopnik's article in the Washington Post today on the Niki de Saint Phalle sculptures on New York Avenue. Gopnik's denounces these for "not being weighty" and therefore, not art. (Incidentally, I say "regret" because I find the knee jerk reactions to Gopnik's articles to be almost as annoying as the articles that inspire the criticism themselves, but that's a separate issue.) I actually mostly agree with him that the works are simplistic, though aesthetically pleasing, so picking out exactly what rubbed me the wrong way was tricky; but I bristled after reading this paragraph:
These works aren't being billed as sweet decor, as cute pick-me-ups or as crowd-pleasing tchotchkes. The museum is calling them "world-class art." But if that's the case, we have to wonder why the art we settle for outside on our streets should be so much less weighty than what we hope to find inside our museums. Titian, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Cassatt, Cézanne, Picasso -- they're hardly purveyors of good clean fun that gets us smiling. Not all the art we've valued most has been grim; some has even been cheerful. But one way or another, all of it has been substantial.
I suppose this mindset goes hand in hand with the idea that art needs to have conflict, the same way you need conflict to make an interesting movie, and how we like to imagine our artists as tortured souls; or that any art which is cheerful also has to be ironic in some way à la Andy Warhol, or how we dismiss artists who commit the sin of creating pieces that are "decorative" as though that automatically makes them lesser work. But this is a slippery slope. Art can be light-hearted and substantial at the same time, though not all of it is necessarily, and the idea of denouncing it because it wasn't as provocative as a giant vagina you could walk through (one of de Saint Phalle's earlier works he cites) seems unfair. Though I'd be kind of curious to see that on New York avenue.
Okay, here's a pet peeve. Art writer/critic finds an obscure and/or arbitrary definition for a term that already has a perfectly adequate definition (eg, illustration, photography, absurdism), then goes on to claim that something in particular does not fit into said obscure and/or arbitrary definition. This isn't criticism so much as a high school English paper assignment, and tells the reader nothing about the work on display, save that the writer finds pleasure in defining terms. Please note that I don't think we should shy away from analyzing the hell out of our opinions, and asking ourselves why we think the way they do. Those are fascinating questions, whether they apply to art, or your friends, or Tucker Max. But I cringe every time I see that whole, "That's not art! It's illustration!" line thrown around, or a convoluted essay that concludes with, "Ergo, according to this guy, this isn't that." Not because the writer is wrong, per se, but because the writer is inventing an argument where there are no rights and wrongs. Rather, he drew lines in the sand, backed it up with a few arbitrary opinions, and gave us a distraction rather than a discussion. And the real message? Because I have concluded that this doesn't count, I do not have to care about it.
I say, grab a copy of Webster's and work from there. And that bizarre "illustration is not art" consensus needs to go off into a corner and die already, but that's a different diatribe.
Tomorrow or the next day I'm finally going to check out the G40 Summit in Crystal City, which I am more excited about now that a) it received both a negative review and a positive review in the Washington Post (both of which made good points, though I think Phillip Kennicott might've been a little too gratuitous with his definition of mediocre--how is it "defined in part by its insistence on being heard," exactly?), and b) I read that a few of the artists took the graffiti concept to its logical conclusion and got arrested for painting on the side of the building. The reason I never became a huge fan of most graffiti is actually similar to Kennicott's, in that I find it horribly repetitive--though to be clear, I'm referring to the illegible-tag-with-poofy-letters kind of graffiti, in which the concept doesn't go deeper than marking territory. But I am looking forward to the show, because it seems to contain lots of excellent draftsmen--including Ben Toleman, whose work I adore--and a fun batch of art that would be difficult to track down in most DC galleries. So, pictures and a proper write-up to follow.