AWOL – but with a couple of excuses

One should not be a blogger and be absent without leave for months at a time.  What it means in my case is that personal projects too often get cast aside as other projects take precedence.  There were some bright spots and hard work though.  I was part of a team writing several grant proposals.  Two out of three where I played a role were fully funded.  One produced a yellow light and the granting body wanted us to come back to answer questions – which we can. In May I visited Harvard for the first time to celebrate a graduation in the family.  Two inspirations came out of that.  I posted an article on Medium about the Harvard visit that was picked up by others. And I was so inspired by higher learning that I looked at some Harvard/MIT MOOCs in the fall.  In the interim I signed up for a course on Coursera on surrealist art out of the University of Pennsylvania – and as of today I have graduated with distinction.

Online courses are well worth a try.  Most who sign up of course never finish them. The only real requirement is self discipline and determination to learn – and you are responsible solely to yourself.  My course included readings, videos, quizzes and studio assignments.  There were two of the last required to graduate with distinction.  I did five.  I have done art courses at an excellent school but there are advantages in the online process.  In my local art school, one basically had to complete a project (usually a still life or portrait in pastels) in a three hour time frame.  In this case I took as much time as I needed – and I was able to stretch the assignments over a week. Here is one example:

Choose a portrait
Choose a portrait in black and white
Recreate it using torn paper from newspapers or magazines
Recreate it using torn paper from newspapers or magazines
Close up
Close up

The studio assignments included mainly collages based on the historical aspect of the course. Assessment of one’s work was by peers. I was gratified both with the responses to my own work and the opportunity to assess the work of others. It was a chance to learn to be a good and fair critic.  Mail art was fun too.

2013-06-15 16.53.35

While the course was an introductory one, I now feel that I have a context for modern work that I didn’t have in the past.  So now I’ll move on to song writing and jazz improvization.  But I’ll try to write about the experience as I go.

And what about the media history – probably online is not the best place to do it – but it is still on the to-do list.

Where arts and technology meet

This inspiring story shows how using what we have – or don’t have! – can lead us in positive new directions. It’s all about convergence of different kinds of capability coming together to produce a beautiful thing.

A couple of good suggestions

One from Seth Godin – Write down what you delivered this year. He even uses the word “shipped” to make it specific. It might be a nice surprise if you thought you hadn’t done much. But whatever it is, it describes where you are now.

The other from Robert Genn. Make bets on what is on the way out. Genn cites newspapers and paper paper books for a start – fewer trees disappearing – and he lives in BC so it takes some imagination to imagine how many trees are disappearing from there when there are still so many. He likes the fact that authors still get paid – in fact they may be paid more. Paper mail is also lessening. Notice how your holiday cards are already down this year. But the good news is that fine art is up.

So what other things will go? Video stores, obviously. I’m prepared to bet that social networking will be in for a change when one of my sons threatens to leave Facebook. What will grab him next? The good thing about a new decade is that change is in store – and open to possibilities. May yours be great ones.

Overworking

Robert Genn recently talked about this and how it relates to painting – but as he so often does, he makes some good observations metaphorically about overworking in life. Here are some of them:

“Perfectionism presses atavistically on the human soul. The need for something better, something perfect is hard wired into our DNA. Unfortunately, some people think perfection can be achieved by simply continuing.”

“Guilt is that part of human nature that has us think we need to give or do something penitent to be more worthwhile within ourselves. Unnatural sacrifice and latent guilt are the wrong reasons to do anything.”

Facility is the persistence of a particular skill or technique. The mere presence of cleverness does not obligate its use. Example: A talented draftsman may become tedious with too much drawing.

“The fear of unknown outcome. This is a tricky one. While a lot of art involves exploration and discovery, another ploy is to have a pretty clear idea of how you want to end up, and stop there. When an outcome is unknown, there’s a tendency to continue to work toward an unsatisfactory one. “To be a painter,” said Picasso, “you need to know how to paint, and when to stop.”

“Too much riding on it. Artists often notice overworking when expectations or obligations are highest such as commissions or solo shows. Spontaneity fails. A casual attitude begets freshness.”

“Thinking too much. Sure, thinking is good, but your brain is perpetually thundering down the tracks with intent to derail your creativity.”

Where we actually learn

Still Life 2009
Robert Genn gave excellent advice again this morning. He had received a query from an artist who didn’t like the fact that work completed in art class was not allowed to be considered for a juried show – the reason being that it might be too much influenced by the instructor.

My own art class experience in recent years is just the opposite. The still life that the instructor and my classmates liked best was set up by the instructor – though the tea pot is my own. But the real point was about how and where we learn. Here’s in part was Robert’s reply:

“Fact is, walls or not, all the world’s a classroom. Fact is, life’s a classroom where curiosity reigns with both over-the-shoulder interest and the joys of struggling alone. Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson is a new book that analyzes historic waves of human brilliance. Gutenberg, Darwin, the Wright Brothers and even modern computer whiz-bangs show that innovation comes from accumulated knowledge, constructive errors and the magnificent happenstance of “information spillover” (information intended for one gets picked up, carried, and improved by another). And good stuff happens anywhere–labs, workshops, hangars, garages and, yep, classrooms.”

Sounds like the book in question is worth a read too.

NJA

Robert Genn is a highly successful visual artist who has written a twice weekly newsletter for many years. Recently when he was painting on Moraine Lake in the Rockies, some American visitors noticed him and remarked that his style was very like the celebrated artist Robert Genn. Had he ever heard of him? Yes, he thought he had and actually thought he might still be alive.

But today in response to a visual artist who complained about her addiction to internet images, he offers some advice for artists of life as well as other media:

“It’s all about procrastination. Hanging out at a cabaret or hanging on to a computer, artists will do anything to avoid going to their room and going to work. Fear of failure and fear of success are just two of the issues that lead to escapism. With the quality and variety on the Internet, today’s painters face a hazard like never before.

Net Junkies are the new alcoholics. Artists who allow the Internet to take them where it will, throw in the towel of creative individualism. Too much non-directed exposure to the work of others humbles, discourages, and sullies our own best efforts. The result, if you stay at it long enough, can be rudderless dilettantism. But there’s help. It’s called NJA.

Net Junkies Anonymous knows that artists procrastinate in the name of research. They get hooked. The solution is to make research a process-driven activity. It starts with the easel station. Attend to your easel before you go near your machine. As you think of your needs, put notes beside your easel. Let your work tell you what you need to study. When the time is appropriate, take your list to the machine. Be efficient and cagey. The Internet is a great slave but also a cunning master. You have to go there on your own terms.”

And yes, of course I allow Robert’s regular communications to enter my world. But it is very rare when they are not worthwhile. You can catch him at the Painters Keys or on Facebook.

Back from holidays – and starting to take one

So how did we do? Well there was wi-fi access for the phone but none for the computer, which apparently was never set up for it. Whether it is age or setup I didn’t know or care. A trip to the bank solved a bill paying issue and e-mail arrived by phone. Most of it wasn’t very exciting.

But there were compensations. there was time to read my entire website and tweak it a bit. There was time to read the only e-book on the laptop, Robert Fritz‘s Your Life as Art and realize again how good it is. My granddaughter and I had almost daily painting sessions. She produced several water-scapes to my three or four and one highly dramatic volcano, along with numerous drawings of her favorite things in the whole world, – horses. We took in the Goderich ON Celtic Festival and heard lots of good performers and groups, – the unbelievable Gareth Pearson from Wales who can make one guitar sound like a substantial ensemble and has incredible self parody to accompany some masterful playing, and Quebec’s DeTemps Antan and Newfoundland’s The Once among the favorites.

Back home, the multitasking starts almost immediately. While reading e-mail, the phone rings. Incoming news rates entering an appointment in the Blackberry. I’m not joined at the hip to Ipods or Ipads – yet. A short pause suggests playing a computer game while I wait for someone with an appointment to arrive. Technology is starting to control me again.

So I am turning everything off for a bit. There are a couple of projects that require some major thought. I’ll take a walk in the nearby ravine. I’ll do some personal writing that I have promised myself to do that is getting swamped by all this stuff. I’ll practice the penny whistle that I bought at the music festival. And I’ll produce a watercolour. These can’t be done by multitasking – and they are creative pursuits as opposed to entertainment. There are still two key meetings toward the end of the day. But the brain needs some focus and these alternatives are ways of letting some different neurons come out to play.