What I Think About My Art.

I was rum­mag­ing through my old sheet music last night in search of some­thing sim­ple enough for me to play on my gui­tar. While doing this I came to the con­clu­sion that eight years ago I was a damn good sax­o­phon­ist. Up until high school march­ing band killed my love of musi­cal per­for­mance [a love that had already waned since becom­ing involved in orga­nized ensem­bles in 6th grade] I was start­ing to play some Coltrane and learn­ing the art of jazz impro­vi­sa­tion. Then I up and quit. The upshot of this is that all of my sheet music is far too com­pli­cat­ed for me to play on my gui­tar. For now at least. But some­thing as mun­dane as this did get me think­ing. [sur­prise!]

I am in a con­stant­ly strug­gling with my art. I have a well of cre­ativ­i­ty and imag­i­na­tion that I can’t quite ever ful­ly tap into. I feel like I am stand­ing in front of a leak­ing dike with a bowl and just catch­ing drib­bles until I have enough to take a drink. I fig­ure this might be the typ­i­cal state for many artists, and the peri­ods of rapid pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and genius are when the lev­ee breaks. Since all art [except for writ­ing*] is, by its nature, inef­fa­ble I think my dif­fi­cul­ty lies in the basic con­nec­tion between trans­lat­ing the inef­fa­ble into some­thing. Which is a pret­ty damn big prob­lem. A fun­da­men­tal one in fact. A prob­lem that says, per­haps I shouldn’t be doing art at all if I can­not trans­late.

My prob­lem is that I’m not very good at any of the art forms I’ve been try­ing. I’ve avoid­ed draw­ing and paint­ing because I don’t know how to do them and I don’t think my mind is arranged prop­er­ly to deal with that type of visu­al artistry. Film­mak­ing is the clos­est visu­al art to my mind­set because it is sig­inif­i­cant­ly eas­i­er to make things look the way I want them to. My writ­ing breaks down because I always end up writ­ing about writ­ing about things. I want to tell sto­ries, not be a writer or film­mak­er. I want to be a poet, not write poems.

So I’m think­ing that per­haps music is an art I can be good at. With music I don’t need to describe the inef­fa­ble because I can make it myself. This strikes me as the reverse of what I have just talked about. Instead of inter­pret­ing that which can­not be ful­ly inter­pret­ed, if I play good music I can lead myself and oth­ers to a place where things can­not and do not need to be inter­pret­ed. Because being there is enough.

17 Replies

  • Re film­mak­ing and art. It seems from your entry that you see visu­al art as tra­di­tion­al object based art — paint­ing, draw­ing, sculp­ture. Since you have an inter­est in film­mak­ing, I would sug­gest look­ing into vidio and video instal­la­tion art. Spe­cif­ic artists to look into include Bill Vio­la, Matthew Bar­ney, and Gary Hill. Also — con­tem­po­rary art expe­di­tions such as Doc­u­men­ta and the Venice Bien­alle have tons of video. All of these can be found on the web, if you feel like surf­ing at work ;).

  • Yeah, when I say visu­al art I mean tra­di­tion­al object based stuff. I think of film­mak­ing as a visu­al art, but a dif­fer­ent sort of viz art. I am used to think­ing about film from the spec­ta­tor stand­point of sit­ting in a the­ater, et cetera, not as instal­la­tions in gal­leries or muse­ums. The times I have seen video instal­la­tions I thought they were pret­ty stu­pid. Then again, I prob­a­bly just saw crap­py ones made by peo­ple who didn’t have train­ing in that kind of stuff. I’m talk­ing bad per­for­man art like POV video of a man walk­ing in a cir­cle for 6 hours or jump­ing into a pool 100 times in a row.

  • http://www.billviola.com/pastexhibitions.htm

    He is my great­est inspi­ra­tion, along with David Lynch. Most of Viola’s work cen­ters on birth, life, death, rebirth and the cycli­cal nature of the uni­verse.

    I would say you prob­a­bly have not been exposed to the right kind of instal­la­tions. It real­ly is the preva­lent art form now — trans­form­ing an entire space instead of cre­at­ing an object.

    Those two exhi­bi­tions I men­tioned are the biggest con­tem­po­rary art exhi­bi­tions in the (west­ern) world cur­rent­ly. They pick artists from all over the world and it is said to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of future art trends. Any­ways — the vast major­i­ty of works in the last Doc­u­men­ta (I saw it via my professor’s boot­leg video) were video instal­la­tions of some kind.

    So I guess my point is that they real­ly run the whole range — just like you can have crap­py den­tist office paint­ings and abstract expres­sion­ism and renais­sance works.

  • how does poet­ry or writ­ing have any more access to the inef­fa­ble than music or paint­ing?

    I see music and paint­ing as inef­fa­ble [i’m already tired of using this word] forms of art. They attempt to pick them­selves up by their boot­straps when they attempt to inter­pret the unsayable. I think if these forms work best when they try to take some­one to where the unsayable ‘lives.’

    Writ­ing I see as the oppo­site process, bring­ing the unsayable to some­place where it can be or almost can be said. Writ­ing has more access because it works in rela­tion to the inef­fa­ble instead of as a form of the inef­fa­ble… …?

    and i’m not sure what you mean by “i want to be a poet, not write poems.”

    I think it takes more to be a poet than just writ­ing poems, or just writ­ing good poems. I’m think­ing of it in terms of the Greek root poiein, to cre­ate. Also, I don’t think the act of writ­ing a poem should be the focus. [I’m not say­ing I think it is, just that I don’t think it should be] The focus should be on hav­ing the right mind­set for cre­ation.

  • REBUTTAL =) :

    and i’m not sure what you mean by “i want to be a poet, not write poems.”

    i think the focus should be on the poem, not the poet OR the act of writ­ing. ulti­mate­ly the poem is the prod­uct of the cre­ation… i am also both­ered by the idea of “the poet.” it implies that there’s a cer­tain weight­i­ness put on the INDIVIDUAL instead of the ART, as though it’s some sil­ly title to tout around and show off.


    how does poet­ry or writ­ing have any more access to the inef­fa­ble than music or paint­ing?

    i would argue that not ALL paint­ing and music is attempt­ing to inter­pret the unsayable. just in the same way that there’s PLENTY of poems that ARE try­ing to inter­pret the unsayable.

    as for “Writ­ing I see as the oppo­site process, bring­ing the unsayable to some­place where it can be or almost can be said,” i think one could eas­i­ly argue that this is the same sor­ta goal of many songs and/or art­work.

  • I agree with Lau­ren about titles.

    But then, isn’t that what our soci­ety is about? When you meet some­one new, often one of the first ques­tions is “what do you do?” I’m an artist, I’m a wwriter, I’m a musi­cian, I’m a design­er. There’s a ten­den­cy to define your­self by your pro­fes­sion and give your­self a self imposed title.

  • yeah, agreed. and i don’t think there’s any­thing real­ly wrong with this. i think i’m just more cyn­i­cal towards it when it comes to writ­ers, b/c MANY (not all) tend to have big egos B/C they’re “poets” or “writ­ers” (*nose in air*), when real­ly, if you real­ly ARE a poet or writer, it shouldn’t be so much about the title as it is about the work…

  • Skip­ping *all* the com­men­tary, I’m going to return to the orig­i­nal post. suck it.
    No, that’s not my reply.
    My com­ment would be this: I don’t if, so much, you are strug­gling with *art*, but tech­nique. As some­one who is severe­ly lack­ing in tech­nique, but over­flow­ing with cre­ative juices, I can def­i­nite­ly under­stand your dilem­ma. You have the mojo run­ning and the need/want to cre­ate, it just seems that you’re dis­cour­aged about your inabil­i­ty to trans­late from your brain to the end medi­um. My opin­ion would be that music isn’t actu­al­ly any eas­i­er than film­mak­ing or poet­ry. I mean, you’re tak­ing class­es and that is going to help bridge the gap you have. But, real­ly, you could do that with any of the out­lets you chase after. Music might just seem eas­i­er because you know it and you’re con­tin­u­ing to learn it. I would guess, if you were to devote the same time into oth­er aspects, it would make the results that much more achiev­able.
    There, and I did not use the word “inef­fa­ble” even once.

  • …i think the focus should be on the poem…

    i agree with you. how­ev­er, since this entry is focused on me try­ing to fig­ure out what sort of mind­set i need to be in to be a poet/creator i am com­ing at it from that stand­point.

    just in the same way that there’s PLENTY of poems that ARE try­ing to inter­pret the unsayable.

    i would argue that ALL writ­ing is an attempt to inter­pret the unsayable.

  • I am using the def­i­n­i­tion of inef­fa­ble as ‘unable to be spo­ken.’ which is why i say that art and music are inef­fa­ble by nature.

    um, music is at least PAR­TIAL­LY-spo­ken (some of it at least), no? i mean, a LOT of music has “spo­ken words” in it.

    I just have this feel­ing that there is a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence in the way, the process, that an idea to be writ­ten or an idea to be filmed becomes art com­pared to the way that and idea to be paint­ed or played becomes art.

    agreed. but i’d also argue that there’s a dif­fer­ence between the way that an idea comes to be writ­ten and the way that an idea comes to be filmed. and there’s a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence between the way that an idea comes to be paint­ed and the way an idea comes to be played. an on and on. i think it’s more a mat­ter of the dif­fer­ence in MEDIUMS than it is a dif­fer­ence in “inef­fa­bil­i­ties.”

  • a LOT of music has “spo­ken words” in it.

    ok, yeah. my bad. i’ve been just think­ing about music played on instru­ments, noth­ing vocal.

  • the only thing that i real­ly dis­agree with you on is that cer­tain types of arts can be lumped togeth­er b/c of their “inef­fa­ble­ness.” i think each of the medi­ums you men­tion dif­fers from every oth­er medi­um men­tioned, some­times in dras­tic ways–but it doesn’t mean that they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly seek out the same kinds of goals. they just dif­fer in HOW they seek them out…

  • alright. i’ll argue since no one else is yet:

    how does poet­ry or writ­ing have any more access to the inef­fa­ble than music or paint­ing?

    and i’m not sure what you mean by “i want to be a poet, not write poems.”

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