I came here last autumn not knowing what I was doing or what might become of me, but I felt I needed a place to do it in. And I’ve done quite a bit between these three walls. I picked up a brush again and made forty feet of paintings. I wrote and illustrated a book. And started another. I wrote, shot, and edited films in here. I read books. I thought. I napped.
And we started Sketchbook Skool out of this garage, like real West Coast entrepreneurs. Maybe they’ll put up a plaque.
Jenny and I are hitting the road today. We’re heading eastward on what was Route 66. Don’t know how long we’ll take to get back to New York. A week, two, whatevs. I’ll try to keep you reasonably updated. Follow us on Instagram: dannnyobadiah
Tonight I was thinking about the story of my life. The story that began when I was born and then certain things happened. My parents did certain things, my family was a certain way, we lived in a certain place, I went to certain schools. That was my childhood. In some ways, it was like other people’s childhoods but in other ways it wasn’t. But it was the only childhood that I had.
And then I had my teen years. My adolescence was, what five or six years of my life. They were pretty important years, even though I don’t actually remember that much about them. I remember the first time I kissed a girl, the first time I drank so much I threw up on the subway, the first time I was in a play.
These were all important events in my life. But they were one-time events and I will never have them again. All these events were difficult to judge and put into context at the time. Things happened that seemed incredibly important at the time but now I don’t remember them at all. Whereas other things that seemed trivial have remained with me for decades since.
What I was thinking about tonight was, I guess, this finite quality of my life. Not death, the end, but just the whole arc of my life. Right now I am at a certain point in my life. It feels like it’s probably the middle of my life but I don’t know that for sure — I could be a day away from the end. But assuming it is the middle of my life, I can’t necessarily look at it and see how everything that has preceded it has led to this point. It feels sort of like progress but also somewhat random.
Looking back at those events in the past that had either a significant impact on me or were completely forgettable, I’m struck by the fact that they are so difficult to assess. I look at things that were clearly watersheds, like getting married, having a kid, losing a loved one, but all those events turned out to have a different meaning than I thought they would have the time. It’s just proved impossible to chart the course of my life or even understand it as it unfolds.
So I could look at this very moment, sitting here, a certain point in the summer, when certain events have happened or changes took place, and I can imagine that I could look back on this time and see it for something or other, but right now I have no idea what that is.
The only meaningful way to look at your life is twofold. On one hand, this big sweeping story: I was born, I lived my life, and then it ended. Or the minuscule: one day at a time, one hour at a time, putting down the events of each day in my journal, I ate this for lunch, I talked about that with my friend, I bought new tires, I discovered a lump, I found five dollars on the street. I can’t tell whether it matters, or why, or how much, I can only live through it. And thinking about the big picture reminds me that this is the only time that I will have today, and because I don’t know what role or purpose today will hand I should try to live it fully.
Perhaps this is all just a trite observation. But tonight it struck me that my life is like a TV show and I can pause it and see how much time has passed in the episode so far, but I can’t tell how much time is left. I can look back on what has happened in the episode so far but I can’t change any of it. And what is to come may or may not have as much excitement or laughs as what has transpired so far but I plan to watch the rest of it regardless.
When I look back at what has happened so far, it’s again that feeling that that was my one childhood, that was my one adolescence, that was my one first job, and that’s it. It can make life seem fleeting but it can also show the importance of each one of these sections, including the section I’m in now. And when I think about the uniqueness of this period I’m going through, it makes me want to get the most out of it, to not take it for granted but to live it deeply, richly, cause this is the one I have. ‘One Life to live’, so I guess in the end, yes, the conclusion is trite. But somehow, tonight, that didn’t make It any less true or less important to think about.
Oh, and I know my blog looks different, You’ll get used to it. So will I.
In the 1980s when photocopying technology became increasingly available, David Hockney made a series of prints using a Xerox machine. I was looking at some of these prints recently and trying to overcome my initial dismissive reaction: these aren’t ‘prints’. But of course, they are. They were state-of-the art prints in their day.
Printing is and has always been a mechanical method of making multiple reproductions of an image. In the past artists used woodblocks, etchings, engravings, then lithography, screen printing and so on. Today, many artists sell giclée prints of their work, prints that are digital scans of their drawings which are then processed and printed on inkjet printers. And what if we skip the paper part of it all together and use an iPhone and a distant computer server. Isn’t that basically the same idea?
Our instincts say no. It’s somehow not hard or special enough. Where’s the craft? But of course a good digital scan take experience and tools and work. So that’s not it. Or maybe it’s posterity, the sense that an old Xerox or a computer print out surely won’t survive for hundred of years like a Dürer woodcut. But with archival papers and inks and proper handling, that’s probably not the case either.
No, I think the real issue is scarcity. If you can just push a button and bang out an infinite number of reproductions, it is no longer precious, a limited edition, valuable. If someone can make an infinite number of copies, then there’s no value to any particular one. A Work of Art is reduced to the same status as a call report or a lost pet flyer. So the Art Market has trained us to dismiss this way of looking at it. If it can’t be bought or sold for increasing amounts, don’t bother making it.
Now, if inventive, creative, curious people like Dürer or Rembrandt had been able to make thousands and thousands of copies of their images with just the push of a button, believe me, they would not have been sweating over blocks of wood. They weren’t burdened with the same market concerns that weigh down our view of art. They made limited editions mainly because it took a helluva lot of work to get even a dozen proper prints from a copper plate.
But that’s not what I want to talk about.
Thinking about Hockney’s Xeroxes made me think about how technology is constantly improving the ways it solves basic human problems. Not just labor saving devices, but things that make our lives better and richer. Examples abound.
But what about image making? There was a point when people drew on cave walls with blood and mud, to make some point lost to the sands of time but they were using the best image-making technology they had. Eventually we figured out how to carve stone statues, to make fresco, to stretch canvas, and so on.
This image-making and image-sharing had a purpose. Usually it was to tell a story or pass on some vital information: this is what the Gods did, this is how we won this war, This is how handsome and powerful the King is, this is how Jesus came back, and so on. Nowadays, if Jesus came back again, we would probably use Vine or a Facebook post to share the news, not a fresco or calligraphy on a goatskin.
So if, in one split second and with no real experience or skill, you can use the phone in your pocket to make an image that is technically superior and precise to anything you can make with pencil, why make art at all anymore?
That’s a question people have been asking themselves for almost two centuries. And the answer that Manet and Monet and Seurat and Cezanne and Van Gogh and the rest of the gang came up with over a hundred years ago is that the purpose of art is no longer to reproduce physical reality, it’s to convey how we feel about it. To capture the human condition, the way we see the world through the veils of subjectivity, experience, emotion, history and all the rest of the stuff that make us who we are.
This is something we have to think about when we draw. Stop assessing your work based on how close it is to “reality”. Don’t bother posting a snapshot of your dog next to the drawing you did of it. Who cares if you are almost as good as that camera in your pocket. ‘Cause in fact, you’re not even close. That photo is a far better way to make that image. More efficient, more accurate.
But that image isn’t really what you want, is it? What you want is to capture your soul, your inner state, the love you feel for that dog. You want to make a picture of the inside of your mind.
Don’t worry about Xerox®ing reality with your sketchbook. Focus on capturing You instead.
So far nobody, in Silicon Valley or elsewhere, has come up with an app for that.
Miles Davis’ quartet is working How Deep is the Ocean a few feet away. I have an almost drained but still frosty glass of pilsner next to me on the window sill. There’s a slight breeze coming through the open window, 76 degrees, just a hint of humidity. My neighbor is roasting a chicken, smells like some tasty ‘taters and broccoli too.A cab pulls up to the stoplight downstairs, and I can year the Yankee game on his radio, there’s a pitch, a swing, and then the light changes and the game pulls away. I am just a teeny bit light-headed from the cold beer, the first I’ve had in days.
This is the sort of moment I dreamt of in January, or in a too-long meeting, or in a middle seat to Godknowswheristan, this exact sort of moment — living is easy, all’s right with the world, summertime, deep sigh.
But this moment is only here because I suddenly let it be, put down my book, closed my eyes, felt the breeze, smelled the chicken, heard the ball game. I hadn’t noticed ten breezes, ten chickens, ten cabs before this one, hadn’t heard Miles’ last ten tunes, hadn’t tasted the last ten sips of beer.
And that’s the danger of living in my head, of not being here and now, of wishing for summer when summer is here, of missing her when she is in my arms — the voracious tyranny of imagination and distraction, of the mental life, of modern life, of mature life, of the whole parade passing by as I am busy making plans.
Time to wake up and smell the chicken.