Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Multi-(Tasking, Media, Directional) 2

As a follow-up, I'll mention that I've written about what Joni Mitchell calls artistic crop rotation here, so I won't repeat all that.

But I do seem to have pushed some buttons. Some summary dismissals of my viewpoint have been streaming in and around since I posted my original essay on this topic. (Summary dismissals of my style of writing about it, for that matter, which are ad hominem at best, since they don't really address the topic itself.)

My basic response is a shrug.

Of course, you can never get anyone who doesn't practice more than one artform to believe that it's possible—so it's probably wisest not to try. What I find amusing is the rush to dismiss the very idea: as though it were somehow a dangerous, threatening idea. The fact that an artist can be good in more than one artform seems to threaten some artists, the same way that the Unknown and Other can be threatening, Are they so insecure in their own artistic practices that they cannot imagine any other practices without fear or contempt?

The crop rotation idea is a good one to return to, though, because it highlights the truth that there is no such thing as "writer's block." Even generalized to "creative block," I still question its existence. Psychological blocks exist; and pathological psychology can indeed inhibit creativity, but it can also enhance it, or the stereotype of the Crazy Artist Outsider wouldn't have become an archetype. But the two are separate axes of human function, and shouldn't be confused or conflated.

If you're stuck in one area (or think you are, which is a more accurate description), move over to a new field, and cultivate that one for awhile. It doesn't mean that the art you make, in all your various fields, will be great art, or even good art.

What it does mean, though, is that it keeps the juices flowing, and keeps you active in the practice of being creative. If you stop playing piano for a month, your fingers can stiffen up, and lose their dexterity. The point of creative practice is that, when you need the tools, they're available and ready for use. (The issue of "mental practice," which I learned from martial arts, is worth exploring in detail, another day.)

The truth of my own practice, which I noted years ago, is thus: when I am active musically, and artistically satisfied with the music I am doing, I don't write much poetry; when I don't have much going on, musically, for whatever reason (including being on the road, or camping out in the woods away from my studio, or caregiving, or living through a period of high distraction), I tend to write a lot more poetry. I tend to write more essays than poetry, when I'm in a musical period, nevertheless I do write every single day. (Five-finger exercises.) I tend to do a lot more visual art during and after a road trip; much of my visual art is based on photography, no matter how it ends up in terms of media; when I am home for weeks at a time, I still photograph all the time, almost daily, but I tend to view that too as exercises, and the truth is, a lot of that photography is dull. But it's all practice.

Now, I am the first to say that winning awards doesn't really mean much. (Several Nobel Prize lauerates in literature were not good writers, but were chosen for political reasons.) I am also the first to say that winning a literary award, or an Oscar, can be a popularity contest as much as anything else.

Yet, I have received awards in all my creative fields, notably music, visual art, photography, graphic design, and writing. I don't think awards mean all that much, as I say; yet I notice that among the summary dismissals that I have been receiving, of the idea of an artist being able to work in more than one media, many of them have said, But of course we don't mean you: you're the exception that proves the rule.

But even one exception means that the "rule" is therefore false, or at least incomplete, and should be re-examined.

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Anonymous Canterbury Soul said...

i'm new here, and i must say i love your poetry. looking forward to more.

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there. I'm hoping that I didn't miscommunicate what I wanted to say in my post. I was writing about why I thought people have that reaction to those who work in more than one field--and in my mind, it is because those who can't excel in more than one of the arts outnumber those who can. And these days, if people can make a buck, they will happily put out cds, books, etc. that clog the marketplace. So it naturally leads to a cynicism about anyone who ventures outside of whatever field they are known for, and anyone who is not committed to a single art is viewed as a dilettante. It's not that I think this attitude is fair, I can just see why it is so pervasive.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Anthony, you make some valid points within the realm of art that you're discussing, but I think you're missing the boat that I launched.

I agree the attitude is unfair, and also pervasive, but I wasn't talking about actors who release CDs of pop music, or pop musicians who put out books of poetry. We're not talking about Jewel or William Shatner here, we're talking about fine artists. In other words, we're not talking about celebrity-culture exploitation, but about folks who are serious artists. (Okay, that may be a permeable membrane between those categories, but you get the point, I hope.)

I was talking more about folks like Leonardo da Vinci, who I mentioned in the first post, as someone who did excel in several different media, including music and architecture, not just painting.

Or John Cage, who succeeded in leaving behind a significant body of work (whether you like the work of not, his ideas must be reckoned with, for any artist working today) in music, literature (poetry and essay), visual artwork, and conceptual art.

Comparing Jewel or Billy Corgan's abyssmal books of poetry to these artists is a category error: apples and oranges, indeed.

5:49 PM  

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