02 August 2007

If I'm not sleeping, I'd better be screaming

Both Picasso and T.S. Eliot are credited with saying, "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." Credit it to Picasso and it comes across as bravado, a declaration that great art comes from those who appropriate whatever they damn well please. Credit the quote to Eliot and it seems more like word play; to borrow is to imitate and give back, to steal is to make it one's own. But did they both brilliantly steal a quote about stealing from Igor Stravinsky? Stravinsky's version is quoted as "Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal." Yes, 'lesser' sounds more like Stravinsky than 'good'. For everything was below great Igor; there was no 'good' - there was 'great' and 'lesser'.

I came across something on Theresa's blog that made a lot of sense to me about the constant involuntary absorption of things on a daily basis from a myriad sources. Throughout the course of an average day we are inundated with images, words, adverts, songs, stories, writings, pictures, movies, paintings, sayings, styles, fashions and so on. And if you have a creative mind, your inbox is always full and starving for more.

"I personally look at a few dozen blogs a day, five or six "official" media websites and probably ten magazines and books. I watch three movies on DVD some days, and my iPod plays continuously, for 24 hours, unless I am watching a movie.

I too was recently accused of taking a line from another woman's blog for a long and quite different article on Slate. I probably did see her blog last fall when she wrote the line. In the sort of overreaction that is now typcial in these situations, the woman acted like I had tried to murder her. "
I once waxed that a ride on the subway for a writer is like a shopping spree at a supermarket for a chef. We absorb inspiration everywhere. You look at a picture and see one thing, I look at it and see another; and thats what is so fascinating about art. I go to a museum and I get restless within a few moments; I need to leave, go home and create... something. It's very hard for me to stare at other people staring at art. I can only wander around a museum for so long before my mind fills up with ideas and I get antsy. That's what art does to me, ever since I was a kid. Why else would they sell paint in a museum gift shop?

It is for the same reason I don't have the patience for fiction when it comes to literature. I don't like reading someone else's imagination when I've got my own. This is why I crave non-fiction; documentaries, etc. Spin the truth on me if you must, but give me the truth somehow and let me add my grains of salt and come out of it with my own opinion; I just don't have the attention span for your fairytales. I don't necessarily know that I can do better, I just know I can do it myself. I have read most all the classics and that's where it ends. Fiction from now? It isn't necessary. Our world is very interesting without make-believe tales. Our world often seems like a dream, does it not? A dream or a nightmare it may seem, but it's real and it's unraveling before our eyes. My life reads like a fiction book; my friends are wonderful and interesting. I make my own fiction; I live my own romantic nightmare; I chase my own love. I don't have time to put my own life down to read someone else's story, I just don't.

My best friend R. and I have been writing music together for years. She'll often tell me when something I've written sounds a bit too... derivative. And I don't mind it because she is a genius and creative in her own right and she's just trying to keep me and the music honest. I respect that. I may not like it, but I respect it. But taking on criticism from the outside can be a lot harder when you feel people are throwing stones out of jealousy. They can't create so they investigate and criticize. Their art is their criticism I suppose. What an ugly art; like an I.A.D. or a Serpico in what should be a free reign environment. Art is no fun when you've got the idea police hovering.

Constructively pointing out sources of inspiration and derivatives can be beautiful and lead to further discovery and appreciation of art; but critically pointing out sources to crucify and condemn betrays motivation. Most critics often just seem jealous. Either that, or artists just don't take to criticism very well.

Then again, "constructive criticism" is a very slippery slope if not an oxymoron. If you love something, if you believe in something the last thing you're looking to hear is criticism. I don't want empty praise, but don't critique what you can't yourself create. There's another misguided quote I've heard from time to time about people that can do and people who can't critique. Sadly, yes, it does seem so.

I don't think any artist truly welcomes criticism. It comes, you swallow it, you can't help but consider it and take it to heart and you try to let it go; whether its good or bad, you don't want it to cloud your vision when you sit down to create your next song or painting or poem. Just as I feel any artist who says they don't give a fuck what people think is lying, I also feel any artist who says they welcome constructive criticism is also lying. I don't create hoping you'll love, I create hoping you'll appreciate, somehow. Appreciation is a broad concept and to me, it doesn't necessarily have any positive or negative connotations. I create because I must, unfortunately a symptom of "creating" is displaying and people knowing about it and discovering it. The age old infinite argument about fame and the audience vs. art and the need to create. If a tree falls in a forest... Would we create just for the sake of creating? Do we create for an audience? Do we secretly seek approval and thats why we yell so much about not caring at all about the opinions of others? Do we yearn to be loved? Do we want to be understood or would we rather be misunderstood? For instance, I think I've a deep affinity for pit bulls in particular because they are misunderstood; because I know they aren't what people think they are. Pit bulls are like the ultimate artists: Misunderstood and beautiful.
"Did I think of it consciously when I designed my poster? No, my excuse was the same as Kaavya Viswanathan's: I saw something, stored it in my memory, forgot where it came from, and pulled it out later — much later — when I needed it."
When a mind is on overdrive, all the time, there is no room for apologies. Just get out of my way and try to catch me when I'm tired. Otherwise, I'm busy.

The great Warren Zevon said "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" and in a song I once wrote about a girl I love, I added: "If I'm not sleeping, I'd better be screaming". Damn right.

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