I wrote this book because I needed to read it. It’s my best one yet. You can get a copy here or anywhere books are sold.
Sometimes it’s much easier to get started when you define what it is that you aren’t going to do.
Wire’s aesthetic was built on subtraction, a consistent withdrawal of superfluous elements. “The reduction of ideas, the reduction of things down to the minimal framework—it just seemed completely natural,” explains Colin Newman. “By closing down possibilities, you very often open up possibilities. You have infinite possibilities of simplicity and subtlety within a frame.” Natural minimalists, Wire pursued a negative sensibility, defining themselves in terms of what they were not…
“The only things we could agree on were the things we didn’t like,” observes Bruce Gilbert. “That’s what held it together and made life much simpler.” Recalling some unofficial Wire rules, Graham Lewis summarizes this negative self-definition: “No solos; no decoration; when the words run out, it stops; we don’t chorus out; no rocking out; keep it to the point; no Americanisms.”
(If that story sounds familiar, I used it in chapter one of Keep Going.)
In the book Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment, David Levine tells of “The Worst Assignment I Ever Gave.”
Hoping to get the students to find their “artistic allies,” Levine passed out a bunch of art magazines to his students and told them to find an artist they liked that they’d never heard of and report back the next week to the class.
The assignment was a total failure: none of the students liked anything they saw.
So Levine told them to come back next week and give a report on an artist they hated. Bingo.
“The students performed totally engaged, specific, ten-minute critiques, followed by adrenalized argument… which inevitably led back to a positive discussion of each student’s own practice.”
What I found interesting about this turn of events was how much easier it is, as a first step, to define your own position negatively, and how the beginnings of articulating taste are almost always through discovering what you don’t like.
See also: “The Negative Approach.”
“I keep thinking that I shall have no more to say,” said philosopher Mary Midgley, “and then finding some wonderfully idiotic doctrine which I can contradict.” She admitted it was “a negative approach, as they say, but one that doesn’t seem to run out.”
She was 81 when she said that. She wrote well into her 90s.
This is what writing often is for me: Making a list of everything stupid and idiotic that someone else is saying and then sitting down and trying to articulate the exact opposite.
There. Now you know my secret!
Here are some linocut prints carved by my six-year-old, printed by me on a photo and an advertisement from the New York Times. (The one on the left reminds me of Corita Kent. “Save up” vs. “Power up.”)
I like how the prints (made with cheap Speedball blocks and ink) look like laser print-outs low on toner. Raw and spooky. The one on the left had little bits dirt or food stuck to it, so it ended up looking like stars around the tower. (I was thinking while we were making these that there’s no reason to ever participate in an art-making process unless there’s some chance for happy accidents and moments of serendipity.)
Here’s what the kitchen table looked like by 9AM.
I love cutting up the discarded prints and collaging them into something else…
…and extending abstract shapes into new forms.
Another thing I love about block printing is the ability to merge different blocks into a single print. Here I’ve printed out the six-year-old’s tower and added a big bad wolf head copied from a drawing by the four-year-old. (The Big Wolf Energy has not subsided.)
Here is my beloved Wayne White painting that my wife bought me for my 32nd birthday. I look at it every day and it reminds me, yes, to unfollow: to trim my feeds, to cease hate-following, cut the vampires out of my life. But it also reminds me to unfollow myself. Try to Destroy the ego, abandon my sense of who or what I am, forget the noun and do the verbs.
I shouldn’t tell this story, but it was my first or second day, and we were rehearsing, and when we were leaving rehearsal, Rip had a car, and he said, “Do you want me to show you the town?” I said, “Sure!” So, you know, he’s driving around, he’s showing me this and showing me that, and I said, “My God, how long have you been here?” And he said, “Oh, I just got here two days ago.” And I went, “How in the world are you so familiar with everything?” He goes, “I make it a point to know every way out of town in any town I’m in.”
“Know your exits,” as they say.
I’m reminded of Iggy Pop in his John Peel lecture: “Be careful to maintain a spiritual exit.” (Whatever that is.)
Here’s hoping Rip smelled the Glenlivet on God’s breath.
It’s my least favorite season in what’s shaping up to be one of my least favorite years. (Is it half empty or half full?) I’m trying to take it easy. Sitting around drinking coffee and reading books and scribbling notes to myself. Not feeling much like blogging. Might be quiet around here for a bit. (I’ll still be sending out the newsletter.)
Filed under: Sunday collage
“The tops of mountains are among the unfinished parts of the globe, whither it is a slight insult to the gods to climb and pry into their secrets, and try their effect on our humanity. Only daring and insolent men, perchance, go there.”
—Henry David Thoreau
Debbie Millman told me she asked Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth what it was like to be the biggest rock star in the world.
He said when you get to the top of the mountain it’s cold and you’re alone and the only way back is down.
(As sage an answer as that is, one of the weakest chapters in DLR’s otherwise excellent Crazy From The Heat is the one about mountain climbing.)
I’m not a mountain climber and I never will be, but yesterday in Edinburgh I climbed up an extinct volcano called Arthur’s Seat. (Robert Louis Stevenson described it as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.”)
There are a bunch of ways to get up up the hill, some more popular than others. The whole time I was hiking, I would stop, turn around, and admire the view. As I got higher and less-winded, I kept thinking, “This seems good enough. Do I really need to get to the top?”
When I got to the top, my suspicion was correct: The view, while majestic and panoramic, wasn’t really any more interesting than many of the other spots going up the hill. And, worse than that, it was crowded. There were people everywhere scrambling up the rocks to get selfies.
I stood there maybe 5 minutes then climbed back down to a more deserted grassy area and had a picnic with a seagull as a companion.
I thought about that photo of climbers waiting in line to get to the top of Mount Everest:
It’s an obvious metaphor, but people kill themselves for the view on the top of the mountain.
(I hate lines and nothing would turn me into an angry ghost more than dying while waiting in one.)
I walked down an easy grassy slope to the east and walked past the Dunsapie Loch, which looked, from the angle on foot, like it continued out to the sea:
A little further, I found a path by a stone wall that took me all the way through a wooded area back to Queens Road. I was alone the whole walk.
I came across these beautiful foxgloves:
And I felt happy.
Later, I walked through town and along the Water of Leith a few miles to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art. It was even better than climbing up the crags.
No more climbing mountains for me. There are more interesting views in the foothills.