Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Because I Am An (expletive delayed) Artist, (expletive delayed) It.

This is a little busy, but it's going to be printed as a diptych, so the composition will look a lot more reasonable on the page. Now I'm down to three illustrations (and two revisions of illustrations I thought I'd finished) before I'm done with Swill.

I've got a confession, though. I am officially at the, "Just scan a bunch of crap and make a nice composition out of it," stage. The, "Oh, they'll be able to read something into it," stage. The fraud stage.

Last night, Rob said, "Someone was asking me why Swill was taking so long to produce, and I told them it was because Sean had to do twice as many illustrations this time. They asked me why you had to do all the illustrations and I told them it was because Swill was an entity."

Yes. That would be the case.

(Posted later, after I placed the above in the magazine -- it looks swell as a diptych. While I was working on it, I had two layers that had gray rectangles that blocked off either the left or the right side so I could see how each half would look on its own. The resulting centerfold is a lot more pleasing than the whole thing in one slab.)

So this morning, the missus played one of her tapes for me. It was the, "You should stop wasting your time on art and focus on your writing," one. This is something that I have to address every once in a while -- I explain things to her and sometimes she gets it and sometimes she doesn't. She's a brilliant woman but she has a knack for forgetting things that don't fit her needs...

(And oh! my best beloved, to whom this post is directed, you didn't pull that crap on me when this was happening.)

Anyway, I came up with a good one this time. "That's like telling a boxer that they should give up track work and spend all their time working on punching."

I've talked about this a bit here and there but this seems like a good excuse to explain why I'm not just a writer or visual artist or musician. Why I have to do all that stuff -- and why I'm thinking about the day when I can try my hand at sculpture and film making and...

Well, it pisses me off when she starts talking like that. So I've got to make an overly-elaborate reply, even though I shut her down in a somewhat high-handed fashion. (L'amour est guerre, baby, and in this case I'm the occupied nation...) So get ready for a boring diatribe that will probably sound like bragging a lot of the time.

Now I could defend myself from a practical standpoint. I could say that my art is an important element of Swill and that Swill has given me some very valuable contacts in the writing community. Or I could point out that this site, which has been of great value to me, owes most of its tiny-but-treasured fistful of readers to my visual art.

But the real issue is that creativity is the set, and writing is just a subset. Art is the experience of the world filtered through an individual. Even the most trivial art is the result of a lifetime's living as interpreted by its creator. Art is a fractal -- if you look at it from the proper distance, everything has the same shape.

As the Bellman said, "What I tell you three times is true." I wrote about this in one of my posts about plotting. To paraphrase, many of the crucial elements in the arts are used across the board. Rhythm and timing exist in both music and prose -- and in art, the same element translates to composition. Repetition and variation occur in all arts. A sense of where to let things open up and where to include lots of detail -- again, that concept can be beneficially applied to any creative field.

Working in different arts gives you a variety of perspectives on these principles that you can't get in any other way -- and once you start feeling them in one arena, you can use them in others. That's one of the keys to art -- learning those principles so well that you don't have to think about them. If you don't do that you can't riff, you can't freestyle, you can't jam. You're static. You're fucked.

And one of the crucial elements in my writing is that I don't limit myself to verbal thinking when I work. When I write I perceive/hallucinate my subject matter with as many of my senses as possible -- and then I describe what I've 'experienced.'

If I just wrote, I would imagine in words -- and I think that would weaken my work. Yeah, I'd be more technically skilled, my prose would be more polished, but I think that one of my gifts as a writer is my ability to immerse the reader in a scene. I would not be able to do this if I were limited to verbal thinking. And I think this ability is more important to most readers than an elegant prose style or a graceful plot.

(Not to denigrate two skills with which I am fucking obsessed.)

And to be a little bit more specific... Writing is my primary concern. Visual art was my primary concern for years. And music is something I do purely for fun. But the novel? It's about a musician, and music is central to the plot. And I wouldn't be able to write about it if I didn't play a little myself. Many of the fantastic elements in the book originated as artworks, and my art continues to be a primary source of inspiration for the writing. I believe these influences are crucial to the quality of the work I'm doing, such as it is. The novel wasn't written by writing. I drew the novel, composited the novel, composed the novel, played the novel. If I just wrote I would have nothing but words on the page. Fuck that.

And anyway, sweetie (this is for the missus, you're reading over her shoulder) I tried to give up art, remember? Got rid of my art supplies, joined a writer's group? It didn't fucking work, did it?

I know you're gonna give me a hard time over this again. But be warned. My reaction will be even more ridiculous than writing a fucking essay justifying myself. I'll go further. I have no idea what my response will be, but I can tell you this much.

It will probably involve illustrations.

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