Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Some Participation Required

     I missed my one chance to participate in the Wall Project at SXSW music festival this past week. What makes this regrettable to me is that this project is the example of the action (of taking art outside the walls of the church and into the community) which I so frequently assert is consistent with the heart of God.

     Sure, I had my excuses, most notably that hesitancy born of an angst over the atmosphere of commercialization of art inherent to SXSW. Why would I suspect to find the genuine artistic experience of a group of like minded artists in a context so commercially driven and rife with those hoping to finally make it on the radar of some label scout?

      Sure I read the tweets of younger (much younger) friends whom were out and about partying it up - and yes, there was plenty of "slurred drunk, texting" in those tweets, enough to make me thankful I was home and not having to punch some jackass in his throat. (I assure you the heart of God in not found in that sentiment.)

     But all these are excuses, or are excuse-driven thoughts. At the end of the day, there was an art project out in the community which I rejoiced in for that very reason (it being out in the community), but which I did not rejoice in as a participant. I lost out.

     They say in parenting and marriage that showing up is 90% of what constitutes success. In leading as an artist, for me this week, this has surely been shown to be true - if, sadly, not experienced. Being able to say they showed up may well be all to which an artist gets to lay claim, especially if the venue of exhibition is temporary or transient, as with the Wall Project. Likely the artist will never hear from the guy, say from Ireland or Australia, whom was touched and enlivened by the Wall. Likewise, who knows how this collaborative project may motivate others to collaboration in the future.

     Not knowing what it will be means it can be anything, and so showing up is just showing up without any expectations needing to be born or carried out; by "it" I  only mean the showing up to an artistic endeavor being carried out in public.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"No Exit Stage Left"

     Anne Lamott recently posted to her Facebook page a status update which, for all intents and purposes, was a sort of coming out of the Christian closet. In typical fashion she wrote beautifully and engagingly, but this time with such profound humility and transparency that it set a new whole new bar for me for writing.

     I of course read about 50 comments or so, before feeling compelled to respond to one individual. I felt compelled to defend Christ's message, to point out the man's very likely overlooked legalistic and religious-like moral criteria for people - the very thing in his comments he was redressing. He had written his comment with a somewhat admirable acceptance in his heart; an acceptance at odds with and conflicted in his moral criteria. I just wanted the beauty of the truth seen, that was all.

     I read on through more comments. I think I also made a call for a civility in comments of kind and manner like Anne Lamott's humble tone, and also a statement to Anne Lamott about the calibre of her writing.

     I do not know why I expected responses of others all to be positive, and to have come from clear understanding of what Lamott had written. Call me "Ishmael-optimistic," I guess.

    The experience was good, I suppose, to see a certain reality to literary prose or creative expositional writing: no matter how well written, readers are going to "read" / "hear" what they will in any piece, and it may well be the case the artist will be misunderstood. One slight caveat which just now dawns on me as I write: it is very likely the ones which enjoyed the piece likely were enjoying it for whatever  they were going to hear in it as well, and maybe not what I heard or was intended by the writer.

    Really, this subjectivity - and, I am stealing and tweaking just a bit from Sartre - and the "Hell of the Audience" is always at work.  This is not a new revelation, but I think it is one I am coming to accept. It is a hard lesson, but one which is critically necessary.

    It is a necessary component to Leading as an Artist that of being loving towards one's audience and the Lord. Most artists I know have a blessed precociousness leading them to want to challenge or shock people with the truth. Many artists I know have a compassionate fascination with the darker side to life, preferring to be emotionally honest to the point of "suffering with" the subject in his or her dark place - albeit thrusting the beautiful within the dark into everyone else's face in the process.

    Lamott didn't do that - she was humble, transparent, and carefully articulated. Still didn't help her. But for me it was beautiful, and man oh man I want to write like that. Leaving aside the philosophical question of how do I know if I was "gnostically privy" to the truth I seem to think everyone else was missing, it is one of those undeniable facets of Christian epistemology that the spirit knows the Spirit, and agape will be seen as agape, always accomplishing the purposes for which it was sent, and never failing. Those that didn't "get it" or hear it, well, they may still "hear it" as the Spirit prompts - it is not for us as artists (and I speak generally now, of any our work) to know beyond the question of if we have loved in the moment, selflessly and submitted to the God Who is  Love.


Vegan Barbecue and Manhood Compasses

     To hear my wife tell the story, as she was growing up my father-in-law didn't know the business end of a screwdriver, the difference between a chisel or a screwdriver, or how to spell awl (and how do you spell that word anyways, especially since their version of spellcheck in my wife's day normally collected dust on the bookshelf). Short of changing a lightbulb my father-in-law (in my wife's remembrance) was about as functional around the house, car, or "other manly spheres" as a side of brisket is useful to a vegan barbecue. Though he is a fan of brisket... but my wife and I are vegan. Anyways.

     It really matters not what I believe of the man, or even if my wife is right in her childhood-tinged perspective. What does matter is that she thinks this was the case.

    I say this because, right about now, I am looking like Superman in her eyes, and while that wasn't my main goal or main take away it doesn't hurt any at all. See, over the past month I have: fixed the garbage disposal, fixed the plumbing beneath the sink (jimmy-rigging no less because the one hardware box store did not have the items I needed and the other was entirely sold out across every store in town), and (for the second time since buying the home 2 years ago) completely removed and re-installed a toilet. As to this last task I even solved the clog issue.

    Not without too much fanfaronade, on the day I performed the latter "manly miracle" I had also fed the children twice, done a load of laundry, a load of dishes, and been to the store, planted a flower bed, and insect-treated the garden.

     It all felt like a series of "wins," and I had been needing such a bolstering to my flagging sense of self.

     I would like to draw some profound meaning from this, but I am not sure it is there. Once, a long time ago, as a single man, I had stripped and re-finished an antique, drop-leaf table. It was a long process, and the pay-off had been that I felt issued into a "club of manhood," a universal equality in terms of essential manly nature. What maintained my status in this "club" was continued manly activity, say, like fixing the plumbing (extra points for successful jimmy-rigging), or changing out a toilet. Really, though, well, I enjoy a good vegan smoothie - and zen koan obscureness aside, that is about all I can think to say on the matter of profound meaning found in the sense of elation over performing a "manly" task.

    What does make me feel like a man, these days at least, is when my children act out some self-confidence and independence in simple responsible tasks (like getting dressed, or brushing their teeth, or electing (un-harangued even) to sit down and do their kindergarten homework). Also, I feel like a man when I write, when I actually get something nailed down which has merit and style wed, and I can sit back and say I have said what I wanted to say while yet aware of it being said artfully. Now, "artfully" is a purely subjective standard, and, well, I tend to like grilled portabellas but my wife is allergic to mushrooms.

     Now, at this point I could so step up on a soapbox and launch into a diatribe about the emasculation of men and misandry existent long before even the feminist movement, or go off on how there is some categorical confusion of the domestic role and masculine identity, but I figure if I am not going to get listened to it ought to be because I said something someone wanted to hear.

     I will say that for me, in a season when I feel a great gulf between who I am and how I am moving through life, the sources of a sense of manhood are a compass to which I ought to be paying attention.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pinterest, man cards, Tips for an Artist's Success, and Soul Iconography

     Despite putting my man-card in jeopardy by doing this I went ahead and started a Pinterest Page - it was, sadly, my wife threatening the confiscation of the tenuously held status-laminate when she found out. It is but one of a few, intentional moves of late to move within electronic environs, embracing the phenomena of internet entity status. 

     It started innocently enough (and this a commonly told tale) with me wanting to be able to keep abreast of extended family-in-laws, and a few church community members (and, admittedly, an interest in an ease in keeping them all abreast with me), by starting a Facebook page. This page grew (Friends-wise), and was whittled down, and re-grew again over the years since its inception. I added the Spotify application and found myself rather content for a while with that being that. 

     Recently my pastor "encouraged the flock" - via a brief presentation co-hosted by the "czarina" of communication in our church and a young, Millennial-aged public-speaking adept of some congregational notariety - to expand our social media visibility.  

     The reasoning for said expansion likely was seated in some evangelical-oriented end goal, but truth be told, I had pretty much blocked their voices out as soon as they had begun. Why? Good question. In part it might have been due to some calcifying in my person towards this idea so far removed from me by an ever-expanding generational gulf, maybe, sure, though more likely it has to do with a very particular personal annoyance I have with a particular representative youth of that Millennial-ilk (upon which I decline to elaborate).

    As an aside, albeit an important (if not a self-defining) aside, I have of late seen my "Facebook ministry" ("he said, with a sardonic cheekiness and wry mischievousness") actually to be a "ministry of safe harbor," wherein those whom follow my updates and feed can find mirthful delight and human connection with the "real" of life, as narratively as the living of it may be presented. But, then again, I guess that is what a blog is for.

      "Hey," you might interject, "haven't we strayed from a conversation regarding some ephemeral correspondence between a man-card and the Pinterest page you started? A conversation that devolved into a narrative of your interaction with Facebook, and now devolving further into, well, an unnavigable  morass of your social media history? "

      "Well, yes, but stick with me, baby," I say in my best zen master Tom Jones-schtick voice.

        As can be told by a savvy deconstructive view of my post history, my blog had been somewhat of an anemic offshoot of my already apparitional-esque electronic specter. The blog phenomena, however, was one which I had eschewed on a basis, ironically, that I was a writer intending to seriously write. See, concurrent with the coalescing sense of my ministry-of-safe-harbor-and-cutesie-toddler-stories (complete with pictures) I was trying to nail down some orientation of myself as a writer. I had had article published in a local newspaper (an article about my favorite stay-at-home daddy stratagem "Pet Crawl" for those interested), but was not interested in going down a path of mommy-blogger / stay-at-home-daddy niche type writing. Likely for the same reasons I get around many stay-at-home-dads - they make me uncomfortable and I don't like those whole high school-esque competitive male pissing contest type interactions. 

     Blogging, at that time, seemed somewhat like a very pernicious scam, preying upon the human desire to be heard with the promise of granting a voice - forget it is a voice amid the din of multitudes of other voices, none of which were being heard unless they had some savvy internet marketing jedi powers and really developed blogger voice (not to mention a following which passed their blog name around a niche-based circle). Blogging daddies were just blogosphere nerds getting revenge on real, non-geek writers like myself.

      When I started being mentored in my writing by my Arts Pastor I found I had something about which to write. I was "expositorily" exploring the idea of "Leading as an Artist" (see post history and current series of post to the right), and because I wanted to draw in the artistic community in which I was growing in relationship I turned to the long-dormant blog as a means to do just that - draw them into the dialectic.  

     "Stick with me, baby."

     Well, the desire to grow as a writer, and the desire to be a serious and professional artist, as well as the sense developed by my pastor's urging (to which, remember, I tuned out), a sense of the place and importance and pragmatic purpose of a social media online presence grew in me, and man oh man but then things really got serious. What I am really trying to say is, well, i heard two stories (from a professional artist and art historian) about two other professional artists' approaches to the "business side" of being an artist, and this whole networking and self-promotional thing was at the core of their efforts. And I really am serious about this "writing thing". I want to be professional about what I am doing, it is not a have to sort of motivation. So, having an online "witness at the gates," so to speak, is just part and parcel to growing as a writer. 

     The efforts I had undertaken at the Facebook group for Writer's at my church re-doubled, I downloaded the Goodreads app to my iPhone, I joined a myriad of LinkedIn writer's groups, and I even started Tweeting on Twitter - mainly just that I had a new blog post up. See, again, Twitter had initially been a baneful scourge in my mind when, on a cheap cell text plan I would get the random pointless updates by inlaws regarding having found the odd random green roll of toilet paper in a bathroom. That little tidbit just cost me 20 cents, thank you very much. Well, so, the tip for an artist success is somewhere in all that, but I have to get back to the Pinterest thing. All of these efforts occurred, like I said, with sights set on being as professional a writer as I could be... whilst firstly being chief poopy changer and snack fixer and butler-extraordinaire in my household. I am thankful my wife is too young to have ever watched the tv shows "Soap" and "Benson".

     As an artist and a writer I perhaps am utterly unable to do anything without there being layers of layers of metaphorical relevance, and this Pinterest thing is no exception. I went to the PinterestPinterest thing to chelate even more this internet entity which is electronic-me, only to find a whole other reason for doing it - a reason tied to the artist and writer in me.

    I have started following those pages and persons only which I feel will post those things which ultimately (I feel) are the sublimating aestheticism of my soul into this internet entity of me, that will metaphor iconographically my soul. Thusly Pinterest, and what I pin, my boards, it all manifesting in metaphorical identity - I even have a board devoted specifically to this end, entitled "Soul Iconography". 

    Sure, in some way my pastor's urgings are being met, my evangelical impetus towards lifestyle witness is expanded in a new dimension. Sure, it is a visually metaphorical component in the grand meta-dialectic between me and my artistic community. No doubt, like this blog itself my Pinterest page gets my name out to random internet surfer, and may invariably provide some social media scroller or investigative minion of some future professional interest with insight into me - or into what I tailor of my online entity's identity. Thus, I (online-speaking) am my biggest and most developed character, into which I put not so much truth as I put personage truthfully. But the whole online personae (for a writer) is a matter of an entirely different discussion. Ultimately, though, at the end of the day and end of the blog post, my Pinterest thing is a matter of my moving and my being in this world, and that "is what it is"- follow me to engage in the dialectic.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Mr. Philosophically-Pants", or, "I Want Off This Ride"

     I was talking with someone recently, and the subject of art and creation came up. That's going to happen, I guess, given the crowds I run with, so to speak. The person with whom I was talking sought to expand the definitions of creativity and artistry, and like the good little philosophically-trained punk-chump I am, I pressed my fellow conversationalist's conceptions.

     See, that is what I think good conversation / argument is: pushing the other person so they have to come back and push harder, thus causing you to have to come back even harder and sharper, philosophically speaking, until you've ferreted through your thoughts and presuppositions as thoroughly  as two persons alone can. I like a good intellectual ass-whoopin' that way - giving or receiving. What I think makes for good conversation (and my penchant for cerebral masochism) is neither here nor there, but it is the context for the change in some of my thoughts on the nature of art and creation.

     Lest I get ahead of myself, I have to divulge that in my closest circles of artist friends and community members the perennial questions of the nature of art and creation and faith and God-as-Creator are frequent fare around the intellectual table at which we sup.

     Now, my "associate" (whom I mentioned earlier, and with whom I was discussing art and creation) was want to say that art was anything that caused an emotive and intellectual response, i.e. struck peoples hearts and made them think. One of the pursued threads of thought along this topic was the implication that good art was that which effected the most people. My associate, being an ever-loving, self-avowed narcissist was only comfortable saying the matter stopped at what effected him the most. But there was also a turn in the discussion, an opening of the notion of artist to include everyone whom created, thus, everyone was an artist since, on some level we all create. "Many of us will "create" children," was my associates grounding. I guess we, arguably, could argue that we all create abstract thought and psychological propping-ups and so on.

     That's when all the discussions amongst all those in my artist communities and all those pontifical car rides taken while trying to ignore the prattle of the little combatants in the back seat (and the annoyingly saccharine  Christian music dj's on the radio) finally hit me.

     If we are going, if I am going to discuss what it means to Lead as an Artist, or God as Creator, or the relationship of Christian art to non-Christian art, or what it means to bear the creative stamp of a creator God, then we are going to have to look at the nature of creation, and look at creating as God models creating. And if we are going to understand ourselves and our roles as artists, then we are going to have to see how we, yes we, metaphor God's creating as the created beings we are - not just as the artist which some of us are. And we are not going to be able to understand what it means to lead as an artist, or understand what defines success in art, or even understand what is good art until we expand our notion of creating / creation.

     "Whoa Whoa Whoa, Mr. Philosophically-pants, how can you make such bold statements about what we can or can not understand, and the nature of blah, blah, blah," you demand of me. "Don't you need to shore up those positions and flesh out those presuppositions and blah blah blah? And isn't this whole ramble long enough, a veritable, Millennial-Generation's internet equivalent to 'Moby Dick' ..."

     Ok, well, fair point. Maybe my leaving you, intrepid reader, without satisfaction of either a a defense or a conclusion will be my hook to get you to read the next article, or maybe not, but don't you want to confirm you are right and I am wrong, and so aren't you going to have to wait for the next installment to do so?