Where to?


Soon after Jack passed his first birthday, we started collecting his art. I have a shelf full of his drawings and paintings neatly stored in plastic sleeves, binder after binder of his collected works. So many of his passions – soccer, Warhammer, Pokemon, Harry Potter, Tintin,  drums — have ebbed and waned, but, through thick and thin, he has continued to paint and draw and make art for year after year. Certainly, Patti and I encouraged his interest, but Jack is the one who sustained it. He has a will of his own and no matter how many crayons and markers we bought him, he wouldn’t have continued if he didn’t have an innate desire to make things.

Jack has had a solid art education so far. He’s done some sort of formal art program every summer, in competitive programs filled with talented kids. He was accepted into the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and has spent the last three years augmenting his regular classes with two hours of  drawing and painting every single day. This consistency shows in his work – he can draw anything fearlessly and accurately, he has a great eye for composition and color, and increasingly he is taking bold and imaginative steps forward, challenging himself to do new things in new media. Recently he has decided he is interested in pursuing design. He loves typography, he likes problem solving, and the more he learns about all of the things designers do in the course of their work, the more intrigued he becomes.

So far, so good.

Now Jack is a junior in high school and we are putting together the list of colleges he’ll apply to this fall. The big question is, should he put all his efforts into polishing his portfolio and vying for a great art school like RISD or SVA ? Or should he go to a solid, creative liberal arts college where he can take some art classes, maybe even in major in design but also get a well-rounded education.

Now if Jack was good at nothing but art, the decision would be simpler. But the fact is, he’s a good student in all his classes, hard working, smart, critical but involved. He’s also a natural leader, a popular person who has always had his mother’s social skills.

For me, as someone who has long encouraged people to bravely embrace their artistic side, who wishes he could go to art school himself, this is no time to encourage him to toe the straight and narrow, to face the bleak future most art school grads purportedly have, saddled with enormous student loans that they must pay off by working in Starbucks for the rest of their lives. Art schools, we hear, are full of rich kids and directionless losers. We both know that’s an exaggeration. We both know that you should follow your passion and the rest will straighten itself out. We also both know that most of the passions of 16 year-olds are rarely long-lived, that Jack does not want to wake up in a  dorm room some day and wonder whether he’s actually learning anything useful.

There’s no simple answer to this common dilemma. We are going into it with our eyes open, accumulating impressions and advice, balancing pros and cons, and waiting to see which way fortune blows us.

It would be a lot easier to tackle this all-important crossroad if Patti was here to lend us her wisdom and hold our hands. But I think  she’d tell us to do what we’re doing. We haven’t screwed anything up too badly so far. Let’s hope we do okay on this round too.

 

—– Post script.

We just met with Jack’s guidance counsellor who assure me that Jack is in great shape for next year and that we really needn’t make any decisions at this point. I am starting to think this process will only be as difficult as we let ourselves make it.

 

You suck. But enough about you.

Creative people care so very much what others think of them. They ask, “Is it any good?” and then wait not just for what you say but for how you say it. It’s not enough to be effusive in your praise. Were you sincere? Really? And does the fact that you say you like it mean your opinion isn’t worth listening to? Are you Paula Abdul? Or Simon Cowell? Is there a ‘But…” lurking in your praise? If you give constructive advice. is it personal? Are you saying I, as well as my work, suck?
(Sure, there are the rare, apparent exceptions who don’t give a good god-damn what anyone else says, but I suspect that they too are motivated by the perceptions of others — they just hide it better.)
Sometimes, others’ verdicts are integral to what you’re making.
In my business, the success of an idea is entirely decided by what someone else decides it’s worth. Does the client think it’s good? Does the consumer think it’s good? Does my boss like it? Do my peers? Award show judges? Et cetera.
If I was showing my work in a gallery, the dealers’, critics’ and patrons’ opinions would make or break me. If I act in a show, a review could take bread off my table. Some person I’ve never met at the New York Times could devastate my next book.
When I draw in public, a passerby might possibly be sneering, even if just to himself, at my presumption at being ‘an artist’ while scrawling in my sketchbook. If I yank the page out of my book, I must be careful to tear it up so no one piece sit back together and scoffs. I shred the pieces small so no one thinks that I myself don’t know how much it sucks: Sure , I can’t draw, but at least I have the taste and judgment to know it. Or, maybe I’ll leave it in my book but write a long essay next to it about how bad it is, like a reminder and a slap in the head not to do such crap again. If anyone sees it, well, they’ll read my notation and know I know better.
Do you go through this? So did I, until I discovered a little fact, that boils down to this: by and large, no one cares about anyone else but themselves. I don’t mean that we’re all hateful and selfish, just that we’re almost always wrapped up in our own issues and can’t much be bothered with anyone elses’s actions, except as to how they pertain to us.
Doubt me? Prove it to yourself. Start a conversation with anyone and see how long it takes them to steer the conversation back to themselves:

“I love your shirt.
“Thanks. It’s new.
“Really? I can never wear pink.
“I didn’t think I could either…
“But you look great in it. Where’d you get it? Loehman’s?
“No, I …
“I love Loehman’s. When I can find stuff that fits me.
“Huh.
“Yeah, I must have gained ten pounds since Christmas…

Try listening instead of talking and see how long the other person will talk about themselves. Be prepared to wait because virtually anyone, if given the stage, will hold on to it eternally.

“What are you doing?”
“Drawing”
“I can’t draw a straight line. Even as a kid, I never could. You’re great. You must have taken a lot of lesssons.
“No, not really.
“Well, I just have no talent. I used to play the guitar but you know, who has the time. I’m so busy at work since I got that promotion…

Sound familiar? A couple of years ago, I gave a colleague, a ‘creative’ person, a copy of Everyday Matters. A month later, he hadn’t said anything about it so I asked him what he’d thought of it. He said,

“Yeah, it was great. You have that stuff in there about Wales and my father’s from Wales so I thought it was interesting.”
“Wales, really?”
Yeah.”

I waited for more but that was it.Wales. Sigh.

I’m not talking about hard-core self-involved people, mega-bores. I mean everyone, including me (goes without saying, I hope) spends most of their time thinking about themselves or how what others are doing affects them.
Put simply: no one is nearly as interested in what you do as you are. No one is judging it as hard as you, or analysing it, or wondering about it. The only time they really get involved is when your success or failure could effect them. Will looking at your work entertain or divert them for a moment (oh, your drawing sucks, never mind then) If you draw and they don’t are they less than you? WiIl your work make theirs look worse? Will it make them money? Can they use your technique to improve their work? WiIl praising you oblige you to them?
Seriously, what other motives do they have? And are those sufficient reasons for your to be concerned? Are these sorts of opinions what drive your work? Are you making art so others can make money or feel better about their own abilities (or worse)?
Think about it: we all, even Brad Pitt or George Bush, occupy a tiny percentage of any other given person’s interest, That’s why some of us are interested in achieving fame: because it takes all those tiny percentages and multiplies them across millions of people. Eventually that adds up to something.
And because we are all, at best, living in our own self-reflecting bubbles, you should relax and do what you want. Stop caring so much about externals. Make what you like in the way that you do. Sure, maybe you’ll manage to be a blip on someone else’s radar, but that’s not why you bother. Live and make art for the only person that matters or truly cares.

[Originally published  on: Apr 21, 2006 @ 19:17]

Slow=Know

shoot1

[Seth Apter of The Altered Page is conducting a Buried Treasure hunt and encouraged bloggers to resurrect one of their favorite long ago posts. I like this one. I may put up a couple more golden oldies to follow. Then back to the normal sturm and drang of the present.]

Dear H______:
Think less. Draw more.
When you draw a thing, see it just as that. Not a head, not perspective, not crosshatching, just pure observation as if you’ve never seen it before. The more preconceptions you bring to the drawing, the shittier it will be.
Clear your mind, and start drawing what you see. Start anywhere. I tend to start in the upper left hand corner because I am right handed. I move across observing, recording, until I get to the lower left hand corner. Then I am done.
If my subject is sufficiently complex, this will take me a half hour or more. I go as slowly as I can stand to go. But I don’t know how long it is usually; my left-brain has no sense of time.
As I draw, I avoid evaluation. I avoid thinking of the purpose of the drawing. I avoid commenting on what I am drawing, even in the quality of the line. I am empty and the drawing fills me up. Drawing is meditation, not production. Drawing is entirely in the present with no attempt to create context.
Do not think about style. Add shadows as you see them. But better to avoid shadows all together and stay engaged with the contours of things. When you have done that for months, even years, then add shadows and crosshatching (My pal, d.price has been drawing for a dozen years. Only on his trip to New York last week did he decide to start concentrating on the effects of light. He still almost never uses color). For now, none of that is important. What matters is to see deeply and let your hand respond.
And if you start at huge length before you draw, you risk becoming bored, or forming mental notes, theories, ideas about what you are seeing. The reason to let your hand and pen take over is to shut the hell up, silence the internal voice, the endless chattering of the mind, the distractions, the pointless pontificating that insists on meaning for the meaningless. The moment does not need meaning or context. It just is.
Drawing is about reaching for pure being. Not making pretty pictures to put in frames and on websites. The world doesn’t need more pictures. It needs peace and connection. It needs people who can accept reality and don’t feel compelled to control their environments. If you can look at a boot, at a rotting apple, at car’s worn tire, at an old man’s foot, and see it for what it is, without value or judgement, can see the beauty and particularity of the thing, you will find peace. You will avoid being covetous. You will be happy with what you have. You will accept others more readily, will see the sunshine on a cloudy day.
Life is a wonderful business, though fools blow up London tube stations and sell each other crap and waste time with gossip about movie stars. If you can draw, you will always have a place to go that is beautiful and honest and true. As you sit in an airport you will find pleasure in the folds of a crumpled lunch bag. As you bide your time in a doctor’s waiting room, you will find peace in the arrangement of the shadows on the wall. Even without putting ink on paper, you will be able to slip in to Drawing Mind.
The point is not what your lines look like or how accurate your crosshatching might be.
The point is not the drawings on the page or the pages in the book.
The point is not the opinions of others who love/hate/ignore those lines you made on the page.
The point is not the money you make selling your work to galleries or publishers.
The point of practicing your craft is not to rise in the rankings of those who draw. It’s not to have your style dominate (sorry, Dan!).
The point is to more easily gain access to the moment, to the deeper more peaceful recesses of your Self.
The point is to live as well and as fully as you can today, right now, whether your pen is in your hand or not.
The point is to See and to Be.
Your pal,
Danny

[Originally published on: Jul 7, 2005 @ 8:58]

What next?

Summer 09: Drawing in Enterprise, ORDanny:

I love to draw. I am happiest when I am drawing. There is a peacefulness.
I have a blog that I began almost literally at the same moment that I started to draw: Up and Down Town
I have no art training whatsoever.
What advice would you give someone who loves to do this? To go to school and study illustration, or to keep on keeping on?

Jennifer


Dear Jennifer:

I love to draw too. And the only training I’ve gotten is by filling lots of books with drawing and looking long and hard at the art of people whose work I like.
Because I like drawing, I draw. On occasion, I have been asked and paid to draw something. It’s a lot less fun than drawing whatever whenever I like. It’s fun getting checks and it’s fun seeing my work in print. But not nearly as much fun as drawing. (well, unless the checks are stupendous but for most illustrators, they rarely are).
I have met quite a lot of people who like to draw and then went to school to study art and, by and large, school did not do much to make them love art more. Sure, they got to draw or paint all day, but they also became a lot more anxious and self-critical and overly-intellectual, and eventually lost a lot of the spirit that drive them to art school in the first place. Ironically, they invite me to schools to remind illustration students of how much drawing can be.
Now of course I know nothing about you or what else you love to do or have considered studying, but I would say that if you have to ask me whether you should go to school to study illustration, then no, you probably shouldn’t. If you felt there was a lot to learn about drawing that you couldn’t get without paying a school to teach you, then, you’d probably have applied already. But if you just love to draw and want to try more and more ways to do it, then get some books from the library, take a few life-drawing classes, go out sketching buildings and zoos and the like with your friends, and see where it leads you. You are already sharing your work on the web so chances are, if it is to be, you will develop a following and eventually someone will offer to pay you to draw them something. See how that makes you feel. See how it makes you feel the tenth time. See how many times you have to do it before you have paid off your student loans.
I hope I’m not disappointing you with my advice. The fact is you are enormously lucky to have discovered that you love to draw. However, liking drawing and making a profession of it are two very different things. I like to cook but I don’t feel the need to work in a restaurant kitchen. I like to drive, but I ‘m not getting my taxi or trucking license. I like to walk, to breathe, to take naps,listen to music, and read books, but I am perfectly able to advance in those disciplines without professional help.
Now, this is all of course, my own very particular POV, but then you did ask me what I think. Perhaps you should ask people who have a bit more experience with studying art in school and what they say.
I hope this has been helpful to you, Jennifer. Please keep drawing, whatever you decided to do.

Your pal,
Danny


Danny:

Because you don’t know me, you can’t have anticipated that I would love your response, so I will tip you off – I loved it. Thank you. Not only did I love your response, but I also really really appreciated that you took the time to write it. I did approach a few academic advisers before writing to you, and of course they were going to recommend a program for me (shock, I know). I suppose I love your response because it was what I already knew. (Everyone sounds smart when they sound like me.)
I’ve been paid to write and to edit. That is easy, but not fun. As much as I like to nap, I have absolutely never desired a career in this field – my husband, on the other hand, would faint in rapture at the mere thought.
I don’t need stupendous checks. I will explore my own drawing some more, and see what happens.
And thank you again. Very much.

Jennifer

Anti- and Procrastination.

An interesting discussion on procrastination and its antidotes flared up on our Facebook group this morning. In case you’re not yet a member, I am reproducing my response here. There were even more  interesting POVs from other members posted there.

Self portraits with blotches

Self portraits with blotches

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao-tzu

I find that if I really want to do something, I find the time, The question is how to make myself really want to do what I think I should do. Sometimes drawing falls into that category because I know that if I become more and more irregular in my practice, the results are less satisfying which decreases my desire to do it, and so on.
The biggest obstacle generally lies across the threshold, the first step is the biggest one. Once I start in on a project, it becomes all encompassing and procrastination is no longer a factor. The ball is rolling.
My most potent solution has been to break any task into bite size pieces. I can conceive of  doing a small drawing in ink but not painting a whole canvas or filling a sketchbook. So I think about it when I walk to work, mull over the things I could draw and what sort of significance they might have to me. I find that writing is rolle dinto that contemplation and sometimes I’ll write down a sentence on the pievce of paper I carry in my jacket or text myself a line or two on my phone. That sort of early work keeps the embers glowing so when I get home, I am raring to go. Then I’ll do the drawing in ink, telling myself that’s all I need to do, it’ll just take a few minutes. Then , as I get into doing the drawing, I find time evaporates and I spend more and more time until I like the results. Then I walk away. One of the things about working with a dip pen is you have to leave the piece a while to let it dry. That brief intermission gives me perspective and then I think of the painted layer as a new project, but also bite sized. I have all my paints and sumi ink hand and I just hop on it. Sometimes, I am too impatient and screw things up because my India ink is still not 100% dry. I guess that sort of sloppiness is my signature style, at least that’s what I tell myself.
Anyway, this approach, convincing oneself to just spend a minute climbing to the first rung, seems to work quite well for me. I have written a  dozen books this way, one paragraph at a time (Anne Lamott calls it “One bird at a time” in her book of the same name), fitting in the time to create between meetings and obligations and family time and haircuts.
It’s how I wrote this overlong answer to your question*, when I really should be brushing my teeth and getting to work.

* A member kicked off the discussion with her question: “Procrastination seems to be a real roadblock to creativity…I do it myself, I would like to hear how others overcome the urge to *do other things* instead of art…”

What do you think? Answer here or on the Facebook group page. Don’t put it off!