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How ‘Can’ is different from ‘Do’

Many times, as soon as someone learns I write a blog, and specifically a blog about art, I am bombarded with well-meant but unsolicited opinions. I find that sometimes some of these folks voice their opinion so vociferously because they want to see if it will influence one of my posts. (And so, Mr Tryhard from the party I left early, this one’s for you…)

My favorite is the vitriol I hear from arts-detractors. Though the form and context varies, the point is always the same: “How is that art if I could do it?”

And now, a caveat

I’m not going to start into a diatribe about what art is and what defines art and creation and an artist. What I want to talk about instead is creativity, and how you should concern yourself with detractors in much the same way you do the weather.

One morning my blackberry blinked (as it does every morning, who am I kidding?) with a new article from Copyblogger. On this day it was about creativity and success. It jump-started me on this post because it elucidated how easy it is for absolutely anyone to be creative — a statement that speaks to the multitude of iterations and forms creativity can take.

The Factory

The outside world comes inside then goes back out again, in matters of creativity like anything else. First you perceive something in your world, then you internalize it and imbue it and understand it with your own thoughts and feelings, then you react to it, producing something else that can be similarly digested.

Tethered to creativity is also the concept of individualism. What singularly seems to define creativity is that one person can see something, think something, feel something, and make something that no one else can. And that, I believe, is why it’s so easy for some people to say “Yeah, that’s cool. But I (or my five year old, or a monkey, etc) could have done that!”

(And now to invoke the words of the man himself,) Damien Hirst already rebuffed this with the most poignant answer there is: “But you didn’t, did you?” And that friends, is what this entire argument hinges upon.

You’re special

When we were children, Mom would coo and pat our head and tell us that we’re special — more special than anyone else. It’s her imperative as a parent to make you feel like the most powerful person on the planet. While this is a healthy thing for kids and their self-esteem — feeling like they can grow up to be a doctor or a dancer or a world-explorer means they’ll push their own boundaries without fear — it has an affect on our adult lives. It seems that some of us forget how special everyone else’s contributions to life are.

It is a good thing to believe that you can do anything, that you can meet any challenge, fulfill any dream. We should feel this way. The reality is that, while you can strap on your trainers and run your heart out for 7 or 8kms, you’re not about to win the Boston Marathon. Maybe with work, but not tomorrow.

beam me up

Remember in high school when you sat in the cafeteria all by yourself trying to discretely eat your ham sandwich while wearing your replica Star Trek communicator (what, just me?) and you felt alone and like no one could understand you? Remember the elation you felt when you realized that your school had a Trekkie fan club that met every Tuesday in the A/V room and suddenly you had people to sit with at lunch and talk about how hot Riker is?

That, dear friends, is what it’s like to be part of a community. The idea of community goes beyond the concept of a group; I’m not talking about a motley huddle of people with whom you share an interest or two. I’m talking about a group of people you can depend on for support, appreciation and constructive criticism.

It is absolutely possible to create from within a vacuum; artists, writers, and countless other creatives do it all the time. Oftentimes it’s not the starting that’s challenging, it’s the finishing. A community can mean many things depending on what you need — it can be a source of inspiration, of constructive criticism, it can even be a great distraction if that’s really what you need. Your community won’t look at your work (half-started, half-finished, whatever stage it’s at) and ask you how it’s art. Your community won’t shrug their shoulders at you and wonder aloud why you’re wasting your time blogging/painting/carving landscapes out of old phonebooks when you could be doing something else.

I hinted at how helpful community can be with a post a few weeks ago about Fundrazr — the PayPal product that helps you solicit mini-donations from family, friends, colleagues and fans through Facebook — who better to support your art than the folks who support you already?

Where the party’s at

Your community won’t just appear over night, you must seek it out. Who do you identify with? Go where they are. Ask them for help, or offer your own. Go to art events, join art societies, visit studios — heck, get a twitter account, start a blog! You’ll find those likeminded folks!

I struggled writing this post. It started off feeling forced, contrived even — definitely not how I wanted a post on creativity to feel! Luckily I’m part of a community of writers, people I trust and respect who won’t hurt my feelings when they offer up input like “the whole opening paragraph is flat” and “when you finally got rolling, it ends. And not well.” (SC – thank you, love you, owe you)

My community reads my blog; they comment on it or they send me little notes. They realize that there are a million blogs out there (they’d know, they’re writing them too!) and that it’s not the product that’s unique per se, it’s the process, the effort, the perspective, and the balance of a myriad other variables.

Anybody can play the piano, but there’s only one Mozart; anybody can pick up a paint brush but there’s only one Basquiat.

Anybody can make art.

What makes art special is that anybody doesn’t do it.

You do it. And you do it well.

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Art for a moment, for a millenium

Growing up with both parents working as teachers definitely had it’s ups and downs. Luckiuly they were college teachers and so not specially atuned to the cycle of report cards per se, but they certainly added a considerable amount of red ink to every page I printed.

Mom, an English major, and Dad, a Fine Arts major, both found their calling teaching communications types of courses at a community college in my hometown. I overheard many heated conversations about the bastardization and complete obliteration of the english language. Especially in the last ten years, the number of times they said they found short-forms and slang better used in text or messenger messages in formal reprots was astounding.

While I concede to my teacher-parents that there is a time and place when certain things aren’t appropriate, I object to the idea that the english language is being bastardized or devolving. As a student of linguistic anthropology I learned that the lexicon is an organic beast — it changes, adapts, grows — language defined by the users needs and usage. Not such a strange thing; Oxford adds new words to the dictionary every year based on careful studies of ‘common’ uses of such new words.

I digress, I’m not blogging about language, but this is a post about communication and perception.

A lot of more traditional folks like to believe that most technologically based things and specifically things internet-based are just flash-in-the-pan stuff. Or two-dimensional. Sure, you can use it but can you manipulate it?? To these luddites I respond with an emphatic YES.

Artists have been appropriating pop culture for use in their works as long as there has been such a thing as ‘pop’. But more recently artists have been turning elements of pop culture into the art itself. I’ll give a few of the myriad of fantastic examples out there.

David Hockney recently unveiled a series of works done on his iPhone. Although this is something Jorge Colombo has also done. But my personal favorite of the week is Stacey Williams-Ng’s exhibition “What Are You Doing Right Now” in which she perused the status of some 247 Facebook friends to pilfer great lines like “Tony R. could’ve died a superhero but instead he lived to become the villain” which became both title and subject of a portrait.

New media like this is flash-in-the-pan. It won’t be around forever. I have no doubt that Facebook, Twitter and the rest of it will enjoy some notoriety and usefulness until they’re subsumed by something else. But these monsters will not be around when my kids are in their 20s. And that’s what makes this kind of art so here and now, so special. It’s what makes contemporary art representative of this exact moment in time. It’s not the 90s or the 60s, it can only be the first decade of this millenium.

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