The greatest artistic crisis since the Dark Ages

Dear Members of The Everyday Matters community:

I wanted to share some thoughts about the health of our online community, the Everyday Matters group at Yahoo!, now entering its fifth year as a robust and inspiring home for people who like to draw. Actually, these days it’s a little less than robust, and I thought it was high time I bring that fact up — to wit, the enormous drop off in group participation this month and the dwindling over the past year or so. We have more members than ever (over 4,000) but our group activity is the lowest it has been since 2005 and I am wondering why.

Here are some of my theories:

A) Too much lurking;

B) Too little drawing;

C) Maybe (and this would be music to my ears), everyone is so busy making stuff that they have no time to write about it;

D) My own lack of online activity as I took a hiatus from blogging. If you have been following my example and just sitting back on your laurels and paring your fingernails, it’s time to get off your duff and start drawing and sharing once again;

E) The EDM Challenges. Karen Winters says she needs some help coming up with new topics for the weekly challenges and I think we should all start giving her suggestions. Alternatively, we could bring in a corporate sponsor and have them underwrite the challenges. In that spirit, I suggest you draw a) your favorite financial institution or financial instrument. b) your favorite tooth-whitening agent and c) your favorite medication (please be advised that drawing this medication may cause side effects such as hand cramping,  neck cricks, self-congratulation and an inflated sense of well-being. If these conditions persist, please contact your local art supply store);

edm-vs-dowF) The economic downturn. I have charted the course of the Dow and of EDM posts over the past year and there does seem to be some correlation but it’s nothing an economist would win the Nobel for noticing. There was a lot of great art created during the Great Depression so if you are waiting for a resurrection of the WPA before you get out your sketchbook, I suggest you quite stalling. If you are feeling too financially strapped to make art, I suggest you visit your nearest bank, steal a pen (now you see why they chain them down!), and start drawing on the back of your 401(K) statement.

G) (And this would be sad), the party’s over.

I welcome all observations and suggestions about this dire situation, the greatest artistic crisis since the Dark Ages. Please post here or on the EDM group.

And if you’re not a member yet, please join and give us all a good kick in the butt.

Your pal,
Danny Gregory

How I podcast


DOG by France Belleville

A friend asked me to describe my podcasting setup so she could emulate it. Here’s a recap for anyone else interested in getting on the virtual airwaves.

A) I have an account at liberated syndication:  I decided not to host on my site as I want sure what the traffic would be like. LibSyn is cheap and they specialize in hosting podcasts and the experience has been fine. They set you up with a special podcast blog where you can add art work and write commentary. Plus it;s easy to link it to iTunes and for people to subscribe. I set up the podcast of my mum’s radio show on her iMac account and that works pretty well for her.

B) I use a Snowball microphone. My mum got one too and we are both big fans of it. It has a USB cable so it plugs directly into my MacBook Pro.

C) I use my computer’s hard drive to record. Sound files aren’t too enormous.

D) I generally do my editing via GarageBand. It has a lot of podcast-specific capabilities. It’s very intuitive and easy, I find. Plus I think it came with my mac or was less than $80 with iLife. It also has a lot of filters and things for reducing background noise. You can set it up to send it directly to iTunes. And it’s easy to add tracks of music, SFX, etc.

E) To interview people remotely, I use Skype. It’s cheap and easy, the quality is almost always terrific (I have  a broadband cable connection at home, nothing fancy)., and I use my mic to talk through and a pair of ordinary earphones to listen to the other person with (Obviously you need to shut your computer’s speaker off so you don’t get feedback.

F) I also use a utility called Call Recorder which is just $14.95 and it does several extremely useful things. One is to record the calls to my hard drive. The second is to split Skype calls into two tracks,. one for each conversant. These tracks van then be imported into Garageband and you have control over each track separately. If one person starts monologuing and  a fire truck goes by on the other end, it’s a cinch to cut out the offending noises.

Macs are generally easy to do multimedia stuff . I tend to play around with this stuff a fair amount and via trial and error get it right. My mum , at 70, figured it out on her own, so I imagine anyone can. If you use  a PC, most of my suggestions apply, except perhaps for GarageBand. I assume there is a PC equivalent. I sometimes use Audacity for quick edits, not sure if that’s multi platform.

This looks like a pretty good tutorial:

Hope this is helpful. Can’t wait to hear your first episode!!


[<em>Seth Apter of</em> The Altered Page<em> is conducting a </em><a href="" target="_blank"><em>Buried Treasure</em></a><em> hunt and encouraged bloggers to resurrect one of their favorite long ago posts. I like this one. Next, back to the normal sturm and drang of the present.</em>]</p>

The moment you get up to get your sketchbook to draw, why do you do it? What makes you want to make a sketch your sketchbook? Do you do it for you or does knowing other people will want to see it get you to do it? Is it an obsession? I don’t understand drawing constantly and not hanging it up unless it is a preliminary drawing for a project. If you are accomplished at drawing anything, why do it over and over?
Still in a rut and still depressed and with much gratitude for you,

Gee whiz, Annette, you do sound like you’re in a funk.
Why whistle in the shower?
Why cook a new recipe for your family?
Why tell a joke?
Why put an outfit together?
Why style your hair?
Why arrange some flowers in a vase?
Why read a novel?
Why watch one movie instead of another?
Why not wear a uniform?
Or eat the same Value Meal at McD’s every day?
Why not shave your head?
Why not get a job at the DMV?
Come on outta the rut. It’s Springtime!
Or do you need to know why the bulbs are pushing out daffodils?

Your pal,
Danny Gregory

[Originally published on: Jul 19, 2008 @ 0:01]

Blue Skies

From a comment submitted re. my last post.
What is creativity? Creativity is the ability to come up with productive, enterprising ideas and work that, at the very least, should have aesthetic, if not monetary value. It’s all very well to say that creativity should exist for its own sake; for enabling the self to be conscious of the here and now; but how could you possibly remain calm and poised enough to achieve that state, if your so-called creative work merely represents your inability to produce anything more than eyesores?
Your book, ‘Creative License’, aims to rid people like me of this inconvenient truth, but I’m afraid it fails to do so. I attempted at your EDM group’s weekly assignments one challenge a day, everyday for the past week, struggling to keep my inner critic down and concentrating hard and long so that I may to produce something half-way decent, but the best I have come up with so far is a deep lengthwise scratch in frustration down a page of the Moleskine I’d bought after months of guilt at such indulgence.
I doubt you could really help, but it would be interesting to see what you have to say for such problems.
— Blue Skies

“A creative artist works on his next composition because he was not satisfied with his previous one.” — Shostakovich
Dear Blue Skies:
I’m sorry you are so frustrated with your efforts. I’d suggest you worry less about aesthetics and persevere. The fact is, your desire to make ‘something half way-decent’ is your Achilles heel right now and your harsh inner critic is taking advantage of it.

Spend another week just drawing the same thing over and over. Draw it, turn the page and draw it again, A bowl of fruit, a shoe, a picture of yourself, whatever. Again and again. Don’t look at your work, don’t judge it, just draw and draw.

If your inner critic is jabbering in your ear, blast music.

I know you don’t trust me but heed just this: if you draw a lot you will improve your drawing. It may take longer than you’d like but it will happen.

Aesthetics do not matter at this point. I know you don’t believe this either but it’s true. You are learning how to drive, not how to win the Indy 500. And there will be rewards. Every so often a line an angle, maybe a whole drawing will strike you as not quite so awful. And that feeling will happen more and more.

Force yourself to do it on a schedule so your inner critic can’t talk you out of it each day. Twenty minutes after breakfast, forty five before bed, whatever.

It may sound like bullshit, but your inner critic is the one that is the one convincing you that the whole enterprise is a waste of time. But it is wrong.

Frustration is natural but irrelevant at this point. You are not and are not going to make anything frame-able or even pleasing at this point. That’s not the point. Work out, build your muscles, feel the rhythm and only then run a race. So your inner critic is right: everything you are doing is crap. That’s no reason to stop.

So go on, right now, get off the computer and just draw some object. Don’t think too hard about what it is, just draw it. Then turn the page and do it again.

Don’t think of why I’m wrong. Just do it.


Your pal,
Danny Gregory

PS For more of this sort of useless advice, read on.

Paint it blue

A recent email:
Hi Danny,
Do you think being creative and artistic makes a person more depressed or prone to depression? I read a book about this a long time ago. They actually used Jonathan Winters as an example of the creative mind and artist and his bipolar disorder. Something about how being creative taps into the same part of the brain as the emotional area.

I think that being creative makes one more sensitive which could enhance one’s tendency for depression but that could also translate into increased optimism. I’ve found that focusing on art has shown me the beauty of the world in the face of calamity. I guess everyone’s chemistry is different.
Next question: Do you believe that sketching everyday makes you more conscious and in the moment? (I'm talking more like what the Buddha states about it.) I do seem to remember Dan Price talking about this also.
As I’ve written in my last two books, I know that drawing is a powerful form of meditation and very definitely enhances one’s awareness of the Now.
I guess I'm just curious if doing art everyday creates a more conscious, but also a more likely to be depressed person?

I understand the theorem you are testing here: a) Drawing makes you more sensitive so therefore b) more sensitivity leads to more depression. I know the first part is true, but is the second? And the sort of sensibility one develops through drawing is as much about knowing the outside world as it is one’s inner state, in fact more so. I find that when I draw my brain sort of goes on hold, that the things agitating me recede as I dwell in the moment.
I believe that making art and, importantly, sharing art with other people, enhances my view of the everyday and my positive outlook. I know that I can feel down some days and not even want to draw but that if I kick my butt into doing it it usually makes me feel better. Do I think that making art can drive one deeper into depression? From my limited experience, no. There are certainly many depressed, even deeply depressed people in the history of art but I don’t know that they constitute a disproportionate part of the overall community of art-makers vs. the general community.

Being neither a psychologist nor a depressive, I invite ask any readers with a POV to comment on this topic.

The Mouse Race

In most normal parts of the world, when children graduate from their local middle school (also known as intermediate school or junior high school), they go onto their local high school. Their school choice is pretty much set by their address. New York City, however, given its position as most extraordinary city in the solar system, has to have a far more complex and stressful solution.
Jack, who is now 13, has to submit almost two dozen choices for school next year.
First of all, we had to decide if he should continue to go to private school or return to the public school system. If we had chosen the former, he’d have to take a very long multiple choice math and reading exam, then write essays and be interviewed at however many schools we had visited and thought good candidates. Then, if we he was accepted at one, we would spend over $100,000 to make sure he got a high school diploma.
Because we’ve opted to send him to public school. his choices are multiplied. First we had to go through a directory of NYC High schools that is over 600 pages long, listing choices from the FDNY High School for Fire and Life Safety to the Urban Assembly School for Careers in Sports, from the EL Puente Academy for Peace and Justice to the School for the Future.
Patti, Jack and I, collectively and separately, have gone on scores of school tours, grilled acquaintances for inside info, read books, articles and websites, and finally narrowed down on our list to the mandatory top 12 schools. That’s right — everyone who applies to NYC public high school must rank their top dozen choices to get into even one.
Some of the schools are really amazingand we are so lucky to have them as options (we visited one that just got 12 million bucks from Bill and Melinda Gates, another which takes the kids on trips to Europe) while others are scary and ringed with metal detectors and classrooms full of hooligans and pre-cons.
There’s more. New York also has a group of “Specialized” High schools that includes schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science that are among the very best schools in the country. To even be considered for admission to these schools, Jack had to study for several months and then, last weekend, along with 25,000 other students, took a three hour test with a few insanely hard questions (in helping him prepare for this test I have had to take a nightmarish stroll down memory lanes to my dusty repository of algebra and geometry, knowledge I haven’t accessed once since Carter was in the White House). He also took yet another test for entrance to Bard, which covers all of high school and the first two years of college before the students turn eighteen.
If all all of this sounds like I am a neurotic, over achieving yuppie parent, I promise you, we are merely average in this city. As soon as you enter the maelstrom of high school selection, you inevitably are faced with all these choices and feel you must at least do what you can to give your kid the best options. And, because you have to rank those twelve schools without knowing whether your kid will get his first choice or his twelfth, you must get somewhat involved and get the lay of the land. Every one does it, from bus drivers in Staten Island to investment bankers in Brooklyn to short order cooks in the Bronx. If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere. Otherwise, move to New Jersey (shudder).
Alright, I hear you wondering, so what does all this have to do with drawing?
Well, about a dozen of the schools in town are art schools of one kind of another. Most seem to be training people who will end up in making mechanicals or painting signs, anything to divert talented kids who would otherwise be spraying graffiti everywhere. We checked out a couple of these schools and they seemed quite grim, with lousy facilities, unimaginative teachers and slack-jawed students. One school, however, LaGuardia High School of Music and Performing Arts has been top Jack’s list for a while. The guitar player from his band was admitted last year and he raves about it. LaGuardia was the basis for the movie and TV show “Fame” (“I’m gonna live forever…) and it full of amazing singers, dancers, musicians, actors and artists. Each year thousands of the most talented kids in the most talented town audition for entry. Less than 10% get in.
Jack has been working hard on his portfolio for the art program. He has to submit fewer than twenty mounted pieces and then take a test: drawing a figure from life, a still from memory and a pastel painting form his imagination.
Jack loves to draw and had filled many sketchbooks with masterpieces. However, he has never really taken much in the way of academic art and usually resists formal teaching. For his application, however, he has had to sit down and really concentrate on the sort of art neither of us particularly love to make. He has drawn long careful portraits of Patti and me, has drawn a range of still-lifes in various media, had drawn urnban landscapes, done some watercolors and has even attended four hour life drawing studio classes with me, sticking it out for the whole session (no nudes, alas).
I am amazed at his commitment and at the strength of his drawings, I had neither the ability ntr the commitment at his age.
The question of course is, will he get in? And the next question is, if he does, should he spend this much time on art? That’ss an interesting question coming form me — I have always bemoaned my own lack of formal training and would personally love to go to art school. But Jack is also a very good student, getting As and B+s in every other subject and we are concerned with whether the academics at LaGuardia will be enough. The fact is, other schools offer better social studies and writing and math programs, no question. But he loves to draw… Well, we’ll see what’s what this spring when the decisions are made by the Board of Ed and we learn the options
Meanwhile, I am posting the pieces he has made for his portfolio. Would you accept him?

Jack Tea’s Portfolio gallery

How to avoid having your Creative License revoked.

In the EDM group, a member recently posted the following:

” … I recently read, I forgot where, that gimmicky [drawing] methods, e.g. left hand work, blind contours, upside down, etc, is a not legitimate way to produce a finished, repeat finished, work. Meaning, I can understand
It is a great practice skill sharpener. And yet I would probably be willing to agree that unusual limiting techniques are a bit gimmicky for finished art. But yet, some of the great pieces of history appear exactly as though one were altering his or her usual perceptions and ability. So how do you do produce unusual art? Without gimmicks?”
–Michael, Boston, MA

To which I responded:

Dear Michael:

I believe that you are referring to the Artists and Illustrators Code that was recently revised in the MCLXII International Convocation of the Art and Creativity Authority (CACA) held in The Hague last November.
In Section 73B, article 14, it clearly states:
“…gimmicky methods, e.g. left hand work, blind contours, upside down, etc, is a not legitimate way to produce a finished, repeat finished, work…”
It goes on to stipulate:
“All drawings must be made in spiral bound books clearly labeled on the cover as “Drawing paper”. They may be made only with a lead pencil, not to exceed 3H, and erasures must be neatly and completely done.”
“Any person or persons working with art materials must work only with in the domains of their licensed class:
To wit:
Doodlers: may only draw with ballpoint pen on lined paper intended for class or meeting notes.
Incompetents: may not draw anything ever.
Sunday painter: may only work within the confines of authorized painting and drawing classes in a local junior college, community center or otherwise sanctioned facility and overseen by a bad-tempered and inattentive disillusioned Class 3 watercolorist.
Art School Graduate: Must have completed certificate and must then have spent a minimum of five years working in an art-unrelated field: video store, coffee shop, falafel stand, ad agency. Many not produce any art of any consequence ever again.
Genius: Must be represented by a major gallery, have been on the cover of Art Forum at least twice, and been interviewed by Morley Safer at least once. Must acknowledge and yet in some cute and non-threatening way challenge the current Art establishment. All works must sell for a minimum of five figures.

All works not adhering to these regulations may not be sold, framed or enjoyed in any way under penalty of law.”

I assume that all members of this group are aware of and operating within these international authorized rules. Failure to do so will mean immediate and humiliating expulsion from the community and confiscation of all art supplies.

Thanks for your continuing cooperation. These rules are made for the enjoyment of all.

Your favorite art authority,