A guide to art

Art is the ability to get lost and navigate by the gut.

Art is teachable but its answers require no education at all.

Art is the act of perpetual innovation.

Art is expression on canvass, a business product, a speech, and countless other remarkable creations.

Art is controlled randomness, a collection of disparate things.

Art is a messy mastery of movement and environment.

Art is fun, a playful and professional act.

Art is a wave of endless inspiration.

Art is both free and commercial.

Art is deliberate work, sweat and tears. Failure to acceptance is a long process.

Art is ultimately undefinable. But when you see it, you know it.

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Creativity is a game of inches

It comes as no surprise that bad work begets good work — the more you create, the more you have to play with.

People mistakenly believe that successful artists excelled all along. But what you see as the viewer is mostly the result of trial and error.

What I enjoy about the internet is that you can show your work. Anyone can put their art out into the world and get immediate feedback, even if the latter is crickets. Dead silence may inspire you to be more expressive, in some cases, intensely provocative.

“It is a joy to be hidden, and a disaster not to be found.”– D.W. Winnicott

It takes a lot of time and a ton of practice to recreate what you consider good taste. It also takes a lot of courage to be one of the crazy ones trying something new. But the artist can’t combat convention until they master the basics first.

From emulation to originality, the entire creative process seems to happen slowly and shimmers when it thinks you’re ready. Until then, cultivating talent is a game of inches.

Leonardo’s strange faces

Leonardo da Vinci made ugly beautiful, an approach Francis Bacon did well to mimic nearly five hundred years later.
Leonardo da Vinci made ugly beautiful, an approach Francis Bacon did well to mimic nearly five hundred years later.
Leonardo da Vinci made ugly beautiful, an approach Francis Bacon did well to mimic nearly five hundred years later.
Leonardo da Vinci made ugly beautiful, an approach Francis Bacon did well to mimic nearly five hundred years later.

There’s an excellent piece in the NY Times about Leonardo Da Vinci’s obsession with drawing weird faces:

Leonardo was a true Renaissance man, fascinated with everything — the mechanics of flight, architecture, engineering, botany, artillery and human anatomy — but one of his favorite private pastimes was to draw faces, either as scribbles in the margins of his notebooks or as fully conceived sketches later used for paintings.

Leonardo da Vinci made ugly beautiful, an approach Francis Bacon did well to mimic nearly five hundred years later.

A little bit louder now

Provocation is neither about engagement nor expression — it’s about likes and shares.

The lightning rod on Twitter will always outshine the passive inspirer, hiding from the market.

But it is the quality of interactions that deliver the message. Neither the loud nor the faint succeeds.

Speak softly and carry a big stick.

Creativity is a fancy version of productivity

People confuse busyness with productivity. Answering emails all day is mostly a waste of time, as is instant messaging co-workers. Doing something — typing into little boxes all day — fulfills the human desire to feel useful.

Similarly, people often perceive what artists do is an unnecessary use of time. But creativity is a fancy version of productivity.

When it comes to painting, songwriting, and any other artistic vocations, nothing gets wasted. Scraps and shitty rough drafts lead to the best answer.

Sensible work gets us paid. Yet, when we photograph everything, we look at nothing. Without propelling the imagination and putting work on the canvass, we are just waiting for the next rebound under the basketball hoop rather than looking how to score.

The only reassurance you need

We treat fame and social media status like currency. We presuppose that anonymity or a lack of engagement trivializes what we do.

Even worse, we let TV and Instagram determine our self-worth.

But what and who matters is rarely popular. No one wants to pull back the curtain and see the sweat and tears of a Van Gogh, who toiled in obscurity his entire living life. He never knew publicity.

Even if you’ve achieved some level of recognition, what you consider your best work will almost always contrast with the public perception.

At the end of the day, humans want to feel necessary. They want to commit themselves to a worthy discipline, whether’s it’s expressed through art or driving an Uber to support the art or vice versa.

It’s a canard to think that fame predetermines whether your matter or not. The most important things in your life are provided by the most anonymous people.

Fame is fake stimuli. If you feel like your work matters, that’s the only placebo you need.

Give it time to simmer

Nothing ever gets wasted. It just needs time to ‘simmer.’

Gather everything you need to know, facts and crazy ideas, and then let them have sex while you do other stuff, even procrastinating.

Revelations follow not when you’re always on but when you let the unconscious mind go to work. Being overly wake, in other words, spurns the lucidity of ideas.

Don’t force it.

Wanting discovery and getting it is a process of patience. The rest of the time begs for play.

“The physical universe is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t have a destination that it ought to arrive at. But it is best understood by its analogy to music. Because music as an art form is essentially playful. We say you play the piano, you don’t work the piano.” Alan Watts

gif by David Koblesky

Open to detours

Open to detours, fixated on the wrath of curiosity. The single-minded goal-setter scrounges for practice.

In theory, doggedness is the least path of resistance. Like a magnet, we’re drawn to specialized learning.

But we can’t afford to put the right brain to sleep. Quiescent, it too begs to act.

The creative compulsion knows no boundaries. It explodes in those non-cash working hours, when you’re raging with inspiration.

Like making music, the notion of work and play intertwine.

“The physical universe is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t have a destination that it ought to arrive at. But it is best understood by its analogy to music. Because music as an art form is essentially playful. We say you play the piano, you don’t work the piano.”

Alan Watts

We’re programmed to be ourselves, following the siren song of our vocation. Fight our calling, and we’ll lose. There will be no such luck.

Voice acting with Tara Strong

Tara Strong is a voice actor for cartoons like “The Powerpuff Girls,” “Rugrats” and “The Fairly OddParents.” In this video, she talks about her process in coming up with the character voices for babies, villains, and teens.

It’s absolutely fascinating how she can convert the director’s body language into actionable sounds such as a character tumbling off a cliff or fighting bad guys. Cool nugget: she uses her own original voice as the voice of Batgirl.

What a talent!

“Goldsmith Work” by Celsius Pictor

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I’m sure that for me collage is a tool, another vehicle to express myself and to communicate my ideas, and I think that for me collage is a means, not an end in itself. In fact lately I’ve started drawing again and like Max Ernst did, sometimes I draw parts of my pieces that are integrated with collage images without being able to differentiate, in a mixed technique. I think that’s my point, I’m an illustrator and I use collage as I could use pencils or acrylics, as a tool and not as a purpose.

Celsius Pictor, an illustrator and collage artist who describes his craft as “goldsmith work.”

Confuse the eye

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Tim Newark’s 2007 book Camouflage

There’s a fantastic piece about the history of camouflage in Topic Magazine this week.

Before camouflage hit the runway, French artists (camoufleurs) in World War I used creative techniques to disguise soldiers and protect them from aerial reconnaissance and long-range enemy fire.

To learn how to blend in, the French military turned to an unexpected group—the people who knew best how colors and textures could be used to trick the eye, a resource France had in abundance: artists. Known as camoufleurs, these artists became part of a special military unit that provided camouflage services to the Allied armies during World War I. The camoufleurs would join soldiers in the trenches, painting camouflage patterns directly on weapons, or painting canvas covers with disruptive patterns: brown, black, and green splotches or bold stripes, to make it difficult to see where the weapons’ edges started and stopped. Sometimes devotion to this artistry was dangerous, and in one instance, an artist was shot in the hand when he left a trench to put the final touch on a camouflage pattern.

The camoufleurs also provided the army with color charts that showed different tones of the terrain, depending on the area and season. One such color chart, featured in Tim Newark’s 2007 book Camouflage, looks like an impressionist painting, with golden hues that resemble the sun hitting leaves in the fall, or white and brown tones, like peeking through the leaves of a tree.

Raising the level of consciousness

You can’t program a robot to be bored. It runs on doing. You can’t depend on a robot to pursue a half-baked idea when it doesn’t know what stretches tastes.

At the same time, a robot can multiply randomness. Using AI, It can think of thousands of possibilities at once. It is the ultimate prompt machine.

But human ingenuity is unique. The mind knows when to do nothing but smell the roses. Out of boredom, a melange of neuronal interactions blooms the next big idea, even those half-baked.

Innovation is random, like luck. It is the combination of creativity, timing, and good old cocktail of audacity and persistence.

Raising attentiveness also raises the level of consciousness.

Sharing sameness on the gram

I’ve blogged about it before but it’s worth repeating: Instagram homogenizes creativity.

Scroll your feed, and I bet one of the pictures that comes up includes the following: a selfie, a coffee cup in hand, someone standing on a rock, riding in a canoe, or feet up in the sand or mountains, etc. It all looks the same!

Of course, similar cliche-looking pictures can be seen on Unsplash, where I often pluck images to share on my blog.

Thankfully we have accounts like @insta_repeat to remind people, especially adventure influencers, of their mimetic desire to copy each other. The creator of the account is an unknown artist of their own, with no intention than to call out the patterns of sameness in the digital space.

From Quartz

The creator of Insta_Repeat is a 27-year-old filmmaker and artist, who wants to remain anonymous. “I’m not trying to be the arbiter of what photos have value and what don’t. I am just making observations about the homogeneous content that is popular on Instagram,” she told Quartz over email. She says she is baffled by how many shots there are of humans in canoes and atop SUVs—but does see the positives in the repetitive nature of Instagram. “I also think there’s an incredible amount of value in emulation both when someone is learning and continuing their craft,” she says. “Improving upon and building upon what has been done…is an important part the evolution of art.”

The art of conformity is real. If at first, we copy, then we deduce, mixing and meshing what others do until we develop our own unique style. That’s a creator’s ambition anyway, to do something novel.   

Below are some of the most recent posts from the @insta_repeat account. Make sure to follow along for the latest collages.

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‘The imperfect match, the failure of unity…’

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Mask CCV’ (2016) by John Stezaker © Courtesy TheApproach, London.jpeg

The great thing about collage is that, because production is so minimal, you are always close to the vantage point of the viewer. I am often asked why I don’t just get two people, pose them for photographs and splice the shots more accurately, but that misses the point. It’s the imperfect match, the failure of unity, that makes us identify with these beings.

When people say I’m not a real photographer, I tell them I work with the medium rather than in it. In the internet age, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the producers and the consumers of images. I see my work as merging these two worlds.

John Stezaker, Old Masks