Saturday, April 21, 2018

Ways Out Of The Starting Blocks

1. Steal from the best. Listen to better music. Read better literature -- poems, prayers, stories, and lies (if you can listen to them it's even better). Good artists can take you to different worlds. Those worlds are a good stepping off place to create your own. You're not copying. It's just that it's much harder to get somewhere from nowhere.
Nephew, Stephen Bauman at work

2. Draw from life. When I was very young I loved to draw and paint. My family encouraged me by telling me I was talented. What they meant was that they could tell what I was drawing better than, say, what my dog Tippy might have drawn with the same crayon in hand. So I kept at it. I was never satisfied. My images made sense and looked like the thing I intended. Sort of. Then I took life drawing in college. Oh...

There's nothing like the illumination that comes when you realize for the first time that the reason your drawings were lifeless is because you weren't drawing them from life.

So there's that. And there's this: Art isn't really about art. You're going to do your best writing while you're driving. Or cooking. Or sailing. My mom wrote while she knitted. I write while I'm at the potter's wheel. I'm not saying anything about the quality of my writing. I'm just saying that that's when it happens most frequently.

What I'm talking about there is called "The Effortless Custody of Automatism". It's the converse of "The idle mind is the devil's playground". It's the observation that when doing practiced tasks that no longer require thought, the mind is free to create -- and often does with a greater facility than the mind of a body at rest.

There's a bit of a star-gazing phenomenon to it too. What I mean by that is: You ever notice that when you look into the night sky you can see stars in your peripheral vision that you can't see when you then turn to stare at them? Some things come better to us when we're not approaching them directly.

You also avoid the intimidation of the blank page.

A word picture within a word picture -- a thought within a thought: Perhaps if you become so proficient at the skill of guitar that you can be in its effortless custody, you can more easily add words while playing. If that's so, then you can have your cake and eat it to. You can write lyrics while you're playing music -- and not while driving or cooking or potting or knitting. Maybe.

3. Disregard everything I said before and realize that some art is about art. Some really good art. Noodle on the guitar. Write the next "Jabberwocky" by simply playing with words. Don't draw from life. Simply write down one word and follow it with the next one. Play one chord and follow it with the next one. Find a fit. Find a song.

4. Sit in the darkness and be somebody else. Write something in somebody else's voice. Write as if you are somebody else. Write "Angel From Montgomery" even though you're a man. Write "Millworker" even though you're a man and never worked a day in a mill. Oh, but get ready to be ridiculed because you didn't fact check your imagination.

5. Copy a rhythm first and then match chords and words to that.

6. Backwards engineer a song. Find a song and write a different lyric to it. Find a song and write a new melody to it.

7. "Muse" is what we call the 1000th visitor to the door we keep opening. We call all the other visitors "Attempts".


  1. words to make me think. Good.

    Now how does one approach an "artists statement" ?

    1. That's one of the hardest tasks required of an artist. I never had one I liked until last year.