Art

20141223_115147

Kurt Vonnegut is a masterful storyteller. He’s the type of author you might see quoted on social media with a lake at dawn resting calmly in the background – a “post-it note author” who continually calls on us to live a life of thoughtfulness.

Today, I’m offering his lecture on the types of stories we tell. Stories are certain to be a recurring topic in this blog. This is because stories are immensely powerful. From religious texts to the MacBook you bought to the entirety of your self-perception, the human experience is a complex amalgamation of stories, both true and false.

You can find a link to a video of it here. You can also get the gist of it from this infographic:

direct

What is an artist? How does it relate to being a professional? Can you be both? What is the distinction between an amateur and a professional?

These are some of the most intriguing questions. I put them up there with “What’s it mean to be credible?” and “How do you cultivate credibility?” These are such entrenched social constructs, yet we often take them for granted and fail at realizing their fluidity.

The con artist realizes their fluidity. That’s how they manipulate. A masterful con artist can quickly hit all the right cues so you trust them to perform. Then, of course, they pull the carpet.

It’s because of Steven Pressfield’s revelations surrounding these questions that I fell in love with his book The War of Art. There are many definitions offered. Here is the one that has stuck with me most:

A PROFESSIONAL ACCEPTS NO EXCUSES

The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters; he believes the serpent’s voice in his head that says mailing off that manuscript is more important than doing the day’s work.

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work.

I’ve thought about this every day since reading it. It’s so easy in theory though so difficult in practice: a professional doesn’t even pick up the phone. I encourage you to try to remember that line the next time you want to turn to a familiar vice.

If you dreamed of being a great documentary filmmaker, but you ended up developing trailers for movies, you’ve sold out.

But what if you develop movies on the side?

Are you discounting the dream?

If you dreamed of being a great writer, but you’ve taken a job as a local journalist, or worse, a manager at a local bank, are you truly living or are you getting by?

The distinction between commercial and authentic art isn’t easy to determine.

In the end, create what brings you joy.

I recently got an Instagram. I think it’s a fun way to promote ideas, people, and stuff I care about like libraries and comic books. But since joining I’ve noticed something interesting. Namely, it reveals things about people I didn’t realize.

It shows me that people I know like pictures of scantily-clad women. It’s surprising, but perhaps shouldn’t be. I mean it’s normal, I guess, right? And I suppose it could be much worse.

About two months ago, I watched this movie on Netflix called The American Meme. It showed how there is a subculture in America (presumably youth culture) that loves to watch people just act like idiots.

It’s like total Epicureanism – the worship of mental pleasure; ultimate indulgence in absurdist vice, hedonism.

I’m not sure if society has always been plagued by such debauchery or craving to witness irrational, thoughtless activities. Surely, we’ve been racist, sexist, greedy, and selfish for a long time.

However, I think today it’s evolved into something much more extreme, which has been perpetuated by media.

There are so many movies that glorify sex or objectivism, alcoholism, and drug abuse. What’s more, the celebrities in these films have become staples of cultural paradigms thanks to a rise in magazines like People and J-14. I don’t know the answers to these issues, nor do I have them widely explored.

I’m bringing them up because I think it’s important to have an open dialogue about where we’re moving as a society. This conversation at this point might be trite. Think about how many people were up in arms about the rise of rock n’ roll, MTV, hip hop, and Eminem’s mainstream success. The list could go for hours. Though it’s continually necessary to think about whether we’re creating fertile ground for the healthy, thriving development of our children.

These thoughts have led me to start thinking about cultural theorists such as Karl Popper and Theodor Adorno, as well as concepts related to post-consumerism and post-materialism. Hopefully, I’ll get time to read these in the next 3 to 5 years. Meanwhile, I am just striving to get my daily actions in order by reading books like Good to Great and The War of Art.

You can’t change the world until your own motivations are right.

A few days ago I was working on homework at Northern Illinois University’s library when I realized above me were these strange posters. Their messages range from violent to insightful to downright nonsensical. Northern has a lot of really interesting, provocative art in its library. It’s one thing I really appreciate about the school.

20190327_15482220190327_15482820190327_15484220190327_15484620190327_15485520190327_15490120190327_15491320190327_15491720190327_154933

E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings by Edward Weston (Photograph courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography)

So, if you didn’t know, E.E. Cummings is delightful. His words have this strange way of making you feel warm and wonderful inside. It’s probably because he’s a hoper, and hopers inspire.

This is prose. It’s a poetic narrative but not a poem.

It’s about the power of feeling feelings and how feeling feelings is the hardest thing in the world – harder than blowing up the world, actually. And it’s about how feeling feelings makes you the realest you.

From a hoper to (hopefully) another hoper, I present: A Poet’s Advice to Students by E.E. Cummings.

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

For more information, check out this article by Maria Popova.

It’s riveting, really
Ideals and abilities, learning agility
Growing affinities
Higher amenities
Documentaries countering
The movies that lied to me

Buddy cop flicks from the 80s
Creating the standard of ladies
It’s black magic and masochist
Boppity bippty of luxury lavishes
Marked and established the standards of femme mystique

Breed the discreet
50% are set to be sexed or meek
Take to the streets and reveal the disease

Meat in Ibiza
Popping their pills and then smoking their reefer
Corruption of youth who live for the season
Egos in leaders who lead without meaning

The artists are saviors
Revealing the racists
And places where traces
Where our ancestors’ histories bleed

The darkness of cultural ease
Built on the backs of unwilling passengers
Carried by caravans directed by power’s conceit
The oppressive elite

The daughter who wasn’t empowered
Our sons, they sit in their towers
Our fathers who art in their power
Say prayers to the players in games

Say praise to the almighty dollar
On high, please let me win the new lotto
I am a humble new follower
In the dogma of Western armata
I offer my honor and martyr
Please! If not the lotto, I’m fine with a Honda

Sure, you can state the exceptions
Yes, bonds, they have been lessened
And many don’t give in to greed
But many do, so I’m telling you
It’s important to heed this decree:

The wealthy in towers indulge in gluttonous feasts while many minorities, people in poverty, women, and ebonies can’t get a mezzanine
And power and cowardice trample inhabitants from which you can’t get a drink

Note: This is one of the darkest things I’ve ever drafted. In hindsight, I don’t necessarily agree with all the assertions, but I still believe they’re worth consideration. Human nature is complex and nuanced. A discussion of the issues is critical, but it’s important to realize there are a lot of good, loving, and saving qualities to appreciate.