How To Hurt An Artist …

Earlier this week I came across a clever cartoon over on Hyperallergic concerning the trite and backhanded comments people dole out to artists. If you’ve been involved in any type of art, be it writing, visual, music, etc, I’m sure you’ve come across people like those in the cartoon. Comments like ‘My five year old could do that!’ or ‘People pay you for this?’

My personal favorite is when someone says to me something along the lines of, ‘Do you know (insert name of trendy author/artist/etc)? He’s awesome and makes a lot of money. You should do stuff like him!’

It’s always a gringe inducing experience when someone says something like that. I remember when I was back in community college and taking my first painting course. We had to do critiques in class of each others’ work and one of the things that drove the instructor (a man I learned a ton about making art from) nuts was when one of the little old ladies in the class would say, ‘Well … it’s interesting.’ The reason it pissed him off was because that phrase really doesn’t say anything at all. It would be fine if it was followed up by some constructive feedback, but by itself it is simply code for ‘I’m uncomfortable with this and can’t put together any real thought.’ Which an insult to the artist and the class as a whole.

Years ago, before I met my wife, I went on a date with this woman who asked me if I felt ‘depressed or angry’ because I was a connoisseur of people like H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger as well making art along similar themes. I seem to remember laughing in her face, and telling her ‘No.’ Art and the themes I chose to work with are a creative/intellectual experiment and a form of escapism. If they made me depressed or angry I don’t think I’d be going to work everyday or going out on dates, let alone making more Art.

I suppose that from the outside the world of the creative person can be alien to some people but such callous remarks that mean next to nothing or are just plain insulting aren’t excusable.

These days I don’t get horribly upset if someone says something trite or belittling to me about my persuit of writing and drawing. I realize not everyone gets it and that some people want to knock people down. But I’m passionate and making the Art that I do, and those type of people aren’t going to get in my way.

The other day I saw this quote from Georgia O’Keefe which I thing sums it  all up very well.

“I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”

Feel free to leave any experiences you’ve had with back handed compliments etc from others in regard to your creative work.

Why Damn you? Why!?

Funny and crazy man using a computer

 

After reading Prophecy Six’s blog post about why she writes (read it here) I pondered my own reasons. I mean I’m a *gasp* 40+ year old man who has a wife and a two year old running amuck as well as another baby  on the way. On top of that I got a mortgage payment now.

Surely, I should drop the writing and settle into middle age with no greater amibitions or dreams than binge watching Netflix and bitchin’ about the latest football game or election results.

But fuck all that.

The main reason I write today is very similar to the reason I started writing in the first place, to entertain myself and delve into the depths of imagination. I grew up in a boring ass middle of nowhere area where there were few kids my own age and I tended to be ‘shy’ or as the hipsters like to call it ‘introverted’. I never considered myself either and still don’t give a good goddamn about such terms. Regardless, I spent a lot of time creating adventures with action figures in my sandbox out in the old storage shed my parents had in the backyard. Those were my most treasured days, and I look back at them fondly. It allowed me to escape the tedium of my surroundings and I surrounded myself with characters that were vivid and entertaining.

As I got older I began to draw and write stories very much based on similar adventure ideas and was influenced by the fantasy books and movies I saw back in the 1980’s. People like Tolkien, Moorcock, and Alexander fed my imagination. During my adolescence writing allowed me to escape a life of bullies and teachers/parents. In my writing I could overcome the threats and have exciting experiences that were far beyond the banality of growing up in the rural community of my childhood. I had always wanted to get out of there, but as a teenager I lack the means to do so. Writing, and reading, allowed me to get away from it and create my own world and fate. It was a safe place and realm that had limitless possibilities to explore without being under the dominion of parents or school. A place where I was in control.

After I graduated from high school I went off to college a few hours from my child hood home. That’s a time and place which really helped me develop my critical thinking and creativity. I began to create art and write to explore esoteric ideas such as surrealism and dream symbolism as well as get drawn into the idea of automatic writing a la Kerouac and the other Beat writers.  I also got more into the writings and ideas of writers like H.P. Lovecraft and his comrades such as Clark Ashton Smith. The whole idea  of the pulp/weird fiction really appealed to me and had a great influence on my writing at the time. I think in part because the writers themselves were not part of the upper echelon of the literary world, and were delving into ideas that dealt with madness, sorcery, and antediluvian gods which fascinated me. The idea that mankind was nothing more than a mote of dust in the eye of the universe was one of profound interest to me. During this time writing was not an escape from reality, so much as an instrument to explore the possibilities of creativity. It was time surrounded by supportive and encouraging peers that shared my zest for the Arts and is a time that I cherish.

Now that I’m part of the daily capitalistic rat race, writing and making art is still partially an escape like it was in my childhood. Instead of escaping the tedium and the bullies, it allows me to escape the daily bullshit of work and the current social-political malstorm. It is my favorite form of entertainment, a far cry from TV or Netflix/Hulu. A big part of the appeal these days is the act of creation, creating a world that isn’t as fucked up as our own and filling it with characters that I find fascinating and situations that pique my interest.

In a lot of ways I write for myself. I’m not driven by the need to get a book deal or self publish. Those may be secondary goals once something is polished, but if I were never to get a traditional publisher to sign me I would not feel like I was a failure. If only a handful of people read my stuff or download an ebook I would not regret it.

The only thing I would regret or feel was a failure would be if I gave up on writing or sketching/drawing. If I ignored or repressed the ideas that fill my imagination. The amount of time I have for such expeditions of the imagination are not as plentiful these days, which I don’t regret, but still appreciate and make use of them to the fullest extent I can. And I do not see that ever changing.

 

Review: Ghouls of the Miskatonic by Graham McNeill

Ghouls of the Miskatonic is the first book in the Dark Waters triology by Graham McNeill. It is set in the ficitional town of Arkham and the university of Miskatonic, both of which were created by H.P. Lovecraft. The plot of the book involves the discovery of a young woman’s mutilated corpse on the campus, which ultimately brings together a motley group of characters ranging from a college proffesor to a Pinkerton agent and a bootlegger/thug. They soon discover themselves up against a force that not only threatens the town of Arkham, but their own sanity. McNeil has a good handle on the mythos that Lovecraft created in his short fiction and does a good job on expanding it through his characters and the conflict that they face over the course of the plot.

If you’re not familiar with Lovecraft’s mythos and ‘Elder Gods’, McNeill writes in a way in which the reader learns along with the characters through various encounters and situations along the way rather then bogging down the plot with needless exposition and ‘telling’. I felt that McNeill did a good job of keeping the overall plot going while revealing what the ‘Elder Gods’ were and what their plans were for humanity.

McNeill’s other strong point was use of description and action. He’s the type of writer that can paint the proverbial picture in your mind with his use of words. This makes his action scenes powerful and unlike Lovecraft he provides graphic descriptions of the creatures which are fantastic and horrorific which make for powerful reading.

Ghouls of the Miskatonic features several characters that really stood out me. In particular the reporter and photographer from the local newspaper as well as the thug/bootlegger, Finn. Unfortunately some of the other characters felt rather flat.

McNeill can get carried away with his use of description at times. There were a few times early in the book where he spent a bit too long describing a rather banal setting where a more concise one would’ve been sufficent. I felt that these scenes really dragged down the plot and felt more like filler. There’s also a rather long scene where the characters finally meet up and discuss recent events. Instead of simply telling the reader that the characters recap, McNeill spends way too much time spelling out information that he already went over earlier. I found myself skimming over these parts since it was far too redundant.  There are few other times where he repeats the same information or drawing it out too long.

Luckily, McNeill manages to get the plot back on track and the final confrontation is a great one. His style really shines during the raid/rescue attempt and it was one of those scenes where I found myself glued to the page. At no point was I certain that any of the main characters would survive. Great stuff which ends up bringing the main plot line to a good conclusion. Since this is the first book of the triology there are of course loose ends that aren’t closed. The way the book ends, I defintely want to read the next one.

Overall I enjoyed this book. It was a fun read with the plodding plot line of a typical investigation/detective/crime novel mixed with supernatural horror/weird fiction. McNeil isn’t merely writing a homage to Lovecraft’s mythos but adding to the pantheon.

I would recommend it to any horror fan that enjoys supernatural horror and/or Lovecraftian-esque stories.

For The Love of Reading

This morning I read a post on a writers’ forum that posed the question as to whether or not schools encouraged a love of reading in students, and/or how you developed your own.

A lot of people seem to despise the idea of ‘required’ reading in schools, but I never had a problem with it and still do not. I think that the writings of literary giants like Mark Twain, Jane Austin, Emily Dickerson, Edgar Allen Poe, Hemmingway, and etc have value in terms of themes and historical importance. It doesn’t matter if Twain wrote Tom Sawyer in the 19th century or not. Anyone with the capacity to comprehend what they’re reading will realize what’s being said and why it’s still relevant today. It seems like the value of reading comprehension is on the decline which is a sad state of affairs, if the attitude toward required reading is any indicator.

When I was in school we were also encourage/required to read what we wanted and were required to write a book report on it. I don’t know if schools still do this or not, but for me it encouraged my interest in reading and writing. Some of my best childhood memories are of being in a library and discovering new authors and books. I remember my mother taking me to the local library and bookshop when I was a kid on a regular basis. When I was in school and had study hall I would go to the library. For me it represented a place where I could escape the tedium and boredom of the rural area I lived in. I could go to wonderous worlds and encounter fascinating characters. Like a lot of kids I dealt with bullying and reading gave me an escape from that as well. My love of writing grew from my love of reading and they still continue to grow to this day.

A lot of people seem to put the entire development of reading and comprehension to the schools, which is a flawed way of thinking about it. As a fairly new father I’m aware that it is myself and my wife that are the major influences on the development of my young daughter. How we behave and what we do is her template for herself. We started reading to her while she was still in the womb and once she was born we take the time to read to her and encourage to turn pages and look at the pictures. One of the things I hope to pass onto her by encouragement is a love for the written word, regardless if it’s in a hardcover or a download. The most important thing is to enjoy reading and comprehend what it’s all about. Whether she choses to read the latest Young Adult novel or a nonfiction book on quantum mechanics doesn’t matter to me. What does is that she grows into a woman who values and appreciates the written word and can apply it to critical thinking in her everyday life as well as use it as a means of escape and entertainment.