Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Surround yourself with art

Posted: January 30, 2014 in Art
Tags: , , , , ,

SplatterAs a creative person, it is so incredibly important to immerse yourself in a creative world. Surround yourself with other people’s creativity — whether it’s their writing, their drawings, their music, or something else entirely. Living in an artistic environment will transfer some of their energy and creativity into your personal space, guaranteed.

I experience this all the time. I track down artists that I enjoy and like them on Facebook, follow their Tumblr, or add them on Twitter. Most of them time they’re just freelance artists. Sometimes they have regular jobs, and sometimes they have made it enough to turn their hobby into a full-time gig.

If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what it.

My favorite artist is Karen Hallion, who creates incredible works of art, my favorite of which are her Doctor Who/Disney mash-ups. It reminds me to think outside the box (pun intended) and to maybe try to put two things together that might at first seem as though they don’t work. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Looking at art gives me the same sort of feeling that reading a good book does. You get those goosebumps and that swelling feeling in the pit of your stomach. That’s what inspiration feels like for me, and it’s such a great feeling to have. It reminds you that other people are doing exactly what you want to do, that it is possible, and if you can just put in enough effort and enough hours, you’ll be able to have what they have.

Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one doing the inspiring some day.

This all comes down to feeding your muse. Do it in whatever way works best for you, whatever form of art gets her excited and ready to create. I prefer looking at art and reading books, but others enjoy writing to music or watching a good movie. Whatever you choose, do it often.

What do you choose to surround yourself with in order to inspire you? Do you have a favorite artist, writer, or musician that you usually turn to?

Oftentimes when people see an individual with tattoos, assumptions and stereotypes fly through their brain and sometimes out of their mouths.

“Aren’t you worried what that’s going to look like when you’re old?”

“How do you expect to get a job with those things all over your arm?”

“Did that hurt?”

Let me get one thing off the table right now. Yes, getting a tattoo hurts. Anyone who tells you it didn’t hurt or that they fell asleep while getting tattooed is lying. Having a needle stabbed into your skin thousands of times hurts. Sure, it hurts more in some places than others, but it’s a painful experience no matter what. Getting tattooed sucks, which brings me to another often-heard question:

“Why would you do that to yourself?”

The main reason I get tattoos is because it’s my body, it’s my skin, and it’s my business. Getting tattoos is an art form. It’s an expression of my personality and my interests. Just like I show my interest of writing by, well, writing, I also show it by getting tattoos. I show my love for superheroes, writing, and, yes, even bands.


I also show my love for music. I’ve been a vocalist of the screaming variety in three metal bands, and it’s been a big part of my life. I’ve made some great friends because of my love for music, and I chose to show it by getting a tattoo.


As for when I’m older, well, tattoos have come a long way since sailors were getting pinup girls and anchors on their arms. The ink is better, and there are ways of taking care of tattoos that ensure they stay bright and keep their color for a long time. I have no doubt that when I’m older, whether my tattoos have faded some or are still bright and vibrant, I will still love them the same. They represent the things I care about, and the things that mean a lot to me. They’re a part of who I am, and that’s why I proudly display them on my skin.

Thanks for having me on your blog, Karen!


You’re welcome, Chris! And thanks for joining me here. If you want to know a little bit more about Chris, check out his bio and follow him on his various social media platforms. I’ve also included information about his upcoming book The Rotten Apple, which I read and loved!



Chris Stocking is a writer and author who dabbles in the steampunk, young adult, and various other genres. He grew up in Wayland, New York, is currently attending The College at Brockport—majoring in print journalism—and plans to enter the journalism or public relations field until one day he can live off writing novels.

Stocking’s hobbies include blogging, reading, writing and boxing. He has a ferocious addiction to coffee, has published several novels and a collection of short stories and has several other novels in the pipeline.

Stocking is also a freelance editor, a copy editor for Upstate Metal–an online music magazine–and is publishing editor for Eat Your Serial Press, giving him a wide range of skills sets allowing him to be proficient in various areas.

Stocking has also worked as a public relations intern at Noyes Health where he spearheaded an eight-page magazine project, seeing it through from conception to publication, along with covering events and writing press releases for the hospital.

Most recently, he has taken the position of Director of Web Development and Marketing for Brigantine Press, a new book press soon to be launching its flagship publication, Steam Patriots, an alternate-history steampunk series.

He currently resides in Dansville, New York with his wife, Casey.

Follow Chris: Facebook | Twitter | Blog | Goodreads


The Rotten Apple:


New York City, 1950 – Detective Naomi Blake sits in her office, craving a cigarette. Her phone rings. Mark Falco, owner of Falco Corporation, is in interrogation room one. Falco Corp. trucks have been spotted making late-night deliveries to an out-of-business warehouse, and the NYPD wants answers. Mark lawyers his way out. As always.

A woman comes in to the station. Says her husband is missing, possibly kidnapped. Before she can say by whom, a mysterious man bursts through the doors and sinks three slugs into her head, then vanishes. Even picks up the shell casings. The work of a professional.

Suspicious activity by Falco Corp., a missing husband, and a murdered woman. Three separate events? Or a concoction so vile it could mean the end of peace and justice in New York City?

The Rotten Apple is set to be released Saturday, March 22, 2014 in both print and Kindle formats. Add The Rotten Apple on Goodreads!

It’s kind of a loaded question, isn’t it? There are a lot of factors. How well known the artist was. If he had backers that chose to endorse him (or her!). If he got a lot of commissions. If his work was preserved well enough. If he had a lot of friends or a lot of money. Even trivial things like what city he worked out of, whether or not he was a menace to society, or if he had powerful enemies.

But, then again, all of that could be thrown out the window. Van Gogh was never quite in line with the other painters of his time. Michelangelo and da Vinci hated each other. Marcel Duchamp is quite widely hated by those that don’t appreciate modern art, and yet he is one of the most recognizable names of that period.

La Guernica Pablo Picasso

La Guernica by Pablo PIcasso

I guess my question is more based on opinion and less based on fact. Why do certain artists and works speak to us after all this time? Some of them are no longer immediately relevant, like Picasso’s La Guernica. And it takes someone who has studied art to understand what is being depicted in this particular painting. It isn’t exactly for the layman.

And yet people flock to museums every day. They enjoy looking at these works, even if they don’t necessarily understand them. I have a B.A. in Art History, but I wouldn’t even begin to know the meanings of half the paintings I’ve seen. But they still speak to me. I still appreciate them. I still find them beautiful.

But why?

Is it because we’re meant to? Is it because we know that Michelangelo was an incredible artist? Or that da Vinci was a brilliant inventor? Or that Gauguin was truly ahead of his time? Is it based on fact, or is it based on opinion?

The Birth of Venus Sandro Botticelli

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

If you were to look at a painting by Botticelli, without any preconceived biases or notions, would you still enjoy it? Would you still appreciate its beauty? Or, compared to what we can do with computers these days, would you find it primitive? Say it was The Birth of Venus. Could you still relate to its story? Could you understand the meaning?

I guess the notion is a morbid one. Do we appreciate art because we were told to? Because certain people in history, due to influence or money, preserved the works they liked the best? They say that history is told by the winning side. Can the same principle be applied here?

What do you think? Do we appreciate the Greats because we were told they are great, or do we appreciate them because we still connect to their artwork? If it’s the latter, what makes them still relevant to our modern world?

I have to preface this blog post with a few things. First, it’s going to be long. Second, the article I’m referencing is old (by nearly six years). And third, just by reading said article, I cried big sloppy tears I usually reserve for the 2011 Doctor Who Christmas special and that moment in Deathly Hallows when Fred dies. So, yeah. You know this is going to be something special.

I came across this article a week or so ago. It was posted in April of 2007, written by Gene Weingarten and contributed to by Emily Shroder, Rachel Manteuffel, John W. Poole and Magazine Editor Tom Shroder of the Washington Post. But this is the first that I’m hearing of it. I’m shame-faced to say that. I wish I’d had it in my life a lot sooner than now.

In a nutshell, it’s a story about Joshua Bell, the world-famous violinist, who dressed in jeans and a baseball cap to go play in a metro station in Washington D.C. It was an experiment hosted by the Washington Post. Would people recognize the talent? Would they recognize that they, quite literally, had a front row seat to one of the best classical musicians on the planet?

Please go read the article. It is very, VERY long, but it is so worth your time. Underlying it all, it’s about taking the time to appreciate beauty in a world that moves so fast that we aren’t even aware of what is around us anymore. If you can’t take the time to read this beautiful and emotional and spot-on-correct article, then I’m sorry to say that you fall right into the same category as all those people who passed by Bell without a second glance. Don’t be a statistic.

So go read it now and come back so we can cry and hug and ramble on about it together, ‘kay?

I just read it a second time and – ugh – tears. Again.

Where to start? There are so many brilliant pieces in this article. Moving and emotional and funny and infuriating. I think, however, the best place to start would be with the man himself, Joshua Bell.

Interview magazine once said his playing “does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.”

Shouldn’t all art do that? I’m not opposed to the frivolous entertainment that we’re subjected to on a daily basis. I like to read fun, meaningless stories. I like to watch TV shows that make me laugh rather than think. I’m constantly pummeled by information that, frankly, is completely and utterly pointless.

And that’s fine.

But I wish it wasn’t all like that. I feel like art – true art – is a dying breed. Whatever happened to reading something or watching something that meant something to you? That taught you lessons and made you want to be a better person? That’s why a silly little show about a vampire slayer named Buffy is so insanely popular after all this time. That’s why 1984 hasn’t lost its brilliance even though the story is outdated and outlandish. Those things are entertaining and funny and witty. But they’re also thought-provoking and memorable and make us want to be better human beings.

Shouldn’t everything we consume strive to do the same?

“I’m not comfortable if you call this genius.” “Genius” is an overused word, he said: It can be applied to some of the composers whose work he plays, but not to him. His skills are largely interpretive, he said, and to imply otherwise would be unseemly and inaccurate.

It was an interesting request, and under the circumstances, one that will be honored. The word will not again appear in this article.

Continuing on with Joshua Bell, I just wanted to point out this section because, well, we need more people like him in the world. Talk about humble. Can you imagine literally being one of the greatest classical musicians on the EARTH, and saying, ‘Please don’t call me a genius. I don’t deserve it.’

We can pretend that we would have the same response, but 99.9% of us would be in denial. How could you not get a big head when you become that famous based on a talent that is obviously not common or simple?

There are people who become famous because they have money and a pretty face. The talentless oftentimes are more arrogant than those who are actually deserving of the spotlight, the people we wouldn’t blame if they admitted that they were the best of the best.

And, yet, those people are never the ones to do that. Strange, isn’t it?

At the top of the escalators are a shoeshine stand and a busy kiosk that sells newspapers, lottery tickets and a wallfull of magazines with titles such as Mammazons and Girls of Barely Legal. The skin mags move, but it’s that lottery ticket dispenser that stays the busiest, with customers queuing up for Daily 6 lotto and Powerball and the ultimate suckers’ bait, those pamphlets that sell random number combinations purporting to be “hot.” They sell briskly. There’s also a quick-check machine to slide in your lotto ticket, post-drawing, to see if you’ve won. Beneath it is a forlorn pile of crumpled slips.

This is less of a comment on the situation itself and more of a, ‘hey, let’s just pause here for a second and marvel at the beauty of this paragraph.’ It’s a good lesson in how to write description succinctly. Not too many details, yet the words jump off the page and form images of those things in your mind. We get a sense of the atmosphere – of the attitude of the people – from the description of the setting.

If Bell’s encomium to “Chaconne” seems overly effusive, consider this from the 19th-century composer Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann: “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”

So, that’s the piece Bell started with.

This just speaks volumes about Bell, doesn’t it? A song like that – something so powerful and passionate and obviously extremely intricate and difficult – is performed as the opening piece. The talent must just seep from his pours at night. I wonder if he’d be willing to bottle it up and sell it to the rest of us? I’ll take six gallons, thank you very much.

Bell was, by the way, merely 39 when this article was written. It is, I would think, a young age for a musician as talented as he is, one that has gone so far in such a short amount of time. I do believe that people are pre-disposed with talent. I’ve been rubbish at math my entire life, yet writing has always come easily to me. There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason why a child picks up a guitar rather than a soccer ball. We gravitate toward the things that interest us, the things that we are good at.

But that’s not what makes someone talented and famous and a master of their craft. Sure, it helps. But Bell says it best when he talked about the fact that he executes his pieces not focusing on the actual playing of the instrument, but on the emotion he is evoking and the story he is telling. The pieces are performed by memory – muscle memory. And how do you get that? Practice.

Talent makes us good. Hard work and practice make us great.

Only then do you see it: He is the one who is real. They are the ghosts.

This is one of the truest statements in this article. It seems like we’re all ghosts these days. Those commuters – heads bowed, no eye contact, rushing off to work, on their phones, listening to their iPods – they don’t exist. Or maybe they do exist, but they’re not present. They’re not corporeal.

We have a tendency to work as hard as we can now so we can relax later. But do we ever relax? The age of retirement keeps going up, and I know plenty of people who can’t retire until well after that point passes them by. From a young age – maybe about 16, when we determine we want our own job so we can spend our own money on whatever we want – it is ingrained into our minds to work hard. Hard work means more money. More money means more happiness.


Maybe. Maybe not. The saying ‘work hard, play harder,’ has a negative connotation associated with it, but I’ve got half a mind to think that’s one of the most brilliant philosophies I’ve ever heard. I don’t discount working hard – I said just a few paragraphs ago that it’s the only way we’re going to become masters of our crafts – but I also think too many people don’t understand that working hard for the majority of their lives isn’t going to bring them happiness.

I’m in a unique position to say that I enjoy my jobs – all of them. I love selling on eBay, and I actually look forward to going into work each day. Hypable is my dream job, and I have fun writing articles and recording podcasts and editing posts. My freelance copyediting stint is growing organically, and it makes me excited. I love it. I love all of it.

Does that mean I don’t work too hard? No. I absolutely think I push myself too hard at times. But there’s a huge difference between working hard at something you loathe with every cell in your body and working hard at something that you enjoy because of the thrill you get when you’re doing it.

Work hard to become great at what you love to do. But don’t be a ghost.


It’s an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

We’ll go with Kant, because he’s obviously right, and because he brings us pretty directly to Joshua Bell, sitting there in a hotel restaurant, picking at his breakfast, wryly trying to figure out what the hell had just happened back there at the Metro.

“At the beginning,” Bell says, “I was just concentrating on playing the music. I wasn’t really watching what was happening around me . . .”

Playing the violin looks all-consuming, mentally and physically, but Bell says that for him the mechanics of it are partly second nature, cemented by practice and muscle memory: It’s like a juggler, he says, who can keep those balls in play while interacting with a crowd. What he’s mostly thinking about as he plays, Bell says, is capturing emotion as a narrative: “When you play a violin piece, you are a storyteller, and you’re telling a story.”

With “Chaconne,” the opening is filled with a building sense of awe. That kept him busy for a while. Eventually, though, he began to steal a sidelong glance.

“It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah . . .”

The word doesn’t come easily.

“. . . ignoring me.”

Bell is laughing. It’s at himself.

“At a music hall, I’ll get upset if someone coughs or if someone’s cellphone goes off. But here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up. I was oddly grateful when someone threw in a dollar instead of change.” This is from a man whose talents can command $1,000 a minute.

This passage, coupled with this one…

“It wasn’t exactly stage fright, but there were butterflies,” he says. “I was stressing a little.”

Bell has played, literally, before crowned heads of Europe. Why the anxiety at the Washington Metro?

“When you play for ticket-holders,” Bell explains, “you are already validated. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I’m already accepted. Here, there was this thought: What if they don’t like me? What if they resent my presence . . .”

He was, in short, art without a frame. Which, it turns out, may have a lot to do with what happened — or, more precisely, what didn’t happen — on January 12.

…is astounding isn’t it? Exceptional. A man who had played all across the world in front of some of the most important and influential people of our time was stressed out playing a little gig in a metro station in downtown D.C.

Instead of taking this for what it is – the obvious portrayal of an artist who reflects all artists’ insecurities about whether or not they’re good enough even AFTER they’ve been validated a hundred times over – I’d just like to say that we have hope. Hope that if – no, when – we do make it, we will be set. Sure, there’s a lot more pressure. And yes, there are expectations that you will want to live up to. And of course there will be people who will always be disappointed. But – and this is the clincher – it gets easier with time.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But look at Bell. He’s talented, and he put in his hard work. He’s on top of the world right now. He’s played in front of the crowned heads of Europe. He’s certified. People go in expecting greatness and, in turn, they see greatness. It’s only when you take that sort of thing out of context that people see average because they expect average.

So, yes. There’s hope for us. When you write your stories and put them out to the world and honestly and truthfully feel that they are great, people will pick up on that. And when more and more people find your works to be great, the trend will continue. When you become great, you will continue to be great. It’s hard to see that sort of thing happening when you’re so far away from it now. It’s difficult to realize that once you dig your claws in, they’re going to be there forever. As long as you keep producing and keep being you, you will keep being great.

Unless you take yourself out of context. But only a masochist would do that. And, apparently, Joshua Bell. Or Stephen King a la the Richard Bachman pen name. Obviously there are some people in this world that just like to hold a flame to their hand to see what will happen.

MARK LEITHAUSER HAS HELD IN HIS HANDS MORE GREAT WORKS OF ART THAN ANY KING OR POPE OR MEDICI EVER DID. A senior curator at the National Gallery, he oversees the framing of the paintings. Leithauser thinks he has some idea of what happened at that Metro station.

“Let’s say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52 steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It’s a $5 million painting. And it’s one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to notice it. An art curator might look up and say: ‘Hey, that looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.'”

Leithauser’s point is that we shouldn’t be too ready to label the Metro passersby unsophisticated boobs. Context matters.

Kant said the same thing. He took beauty seriously: In his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, Kant argued that one’s ability to appreciate beauty is related to one’s ability to make moral judgments. But there was a caveat. Paul Guyer of the University of Pennsylvania, one of America’s most prominent Kantian scholars, says the 18th-century German philosopher felt that to properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal.

“Optimal,” Guyer said, “doesn’t mean heading to work, focusing on your report to the boss, maybe your shoes don’t fit right.”

So, if Kant had been at the Metro watching as Joshua Bell play to a thousand unimpressed passersby?

“He would have inferred about them,” Guyer said, “absolutely nothing.”

So, does this mean that there’s hope for us, the human race? When I first read this article, I was outraged, and possibly feeling a little guilty. I was outraged because here was this divine person playing this incredible music amongst the ‘little people.’ This was a once in a lifetime chance to literally stand inches from an exceptional violinist. And people were ignoring him. Some people were even annoyed. Annoyed! It’s unbelievable.

And, yes, I felt guilty because I know that I don’t always take the time to look around me and observe the beauty of the world. Beauty doesn’t have to come in the form of Joshua Bell playing “Ave Maria” in a metro station in D.C. Beauty can be how the snow is lying on the tree branches in my back yard right now. I hate to say it, but I don’t always see that. Sometimes I’m too busy.

But, according to Guyer and Kant, it might not be our fault. In order to appreciate beauty, we must have optimal conditions. So, cool. We don’t have to feel too guilty for putting our nose to the grindstone and ignoring the brilliance around us.

But – and this is a big, giant but – I do think it’s up to us to make conditions optimal once in a while. What is life without beauty? Empty. You might as well be a ghost. At least you’d have an excuse. It’s important to work hard to become great at what we love to do, but it’s also important to notice that there is beauty in this world. Without noticing that, how can we hope to replicate it in our stories? Writers are in the unique position of being able to take literally anything – books, movies, TV shows, the flower out back, the dead squirrel on the side of the road, the cows in the pasture, the car accident on the highway – and replicate it. We view it, we internalize it, and we spew it forth colored with our own interpretations and call it something new.

It’s so important to make those conditions optimal once in a while. Allow yourself to see the beauty. If you can’t see the point in doing so simply to make yourself a better human being – and I feel sorry for you if you can’t – then at least do it in order to make your writing stronger. Because it will. And you owe it to yourself to experience those things.

THERE ARE SIX MOMENTS IN THE VIDEO THAT BELL FINDS PARTICULARLY PAINFUL TO RELIVE: “The awkward times,” he calls them. It’s what happens right after each piece ends: nothing. The music stops. The same people who hadn’t noticed him playing don’t notice that he has finished. No applause, no acknowledgment. So Bell just saws out a small, nervous chord — the embarrassed musician’s equivalent of, “Er, okay, moving right along . . .” — and begins the next piece.

The parallels between these moments for Bell and similar moments for authors should be glaringly obvious. It’s that moment when we finally press the publish button on our story. It goes out into cyberspace and we wait for the crowds to flock and herald us as a genius of our time.

Only, they don’t.

Ouch. It is painful, and it can be intimidating and disheartening and frustrating. But look at Bell. He went through the same thing and he IS validated as an artist. He can charge pretty much whatever he wants for a concert and people will pay it because he’s that good.

Yet when that same person plays in front of unsuspecting strangers, they don’t flock to him and herald him as a genius of his time. As stated before, Bell was a painting without a frame. Newly published authors are quite similar – their frame is still being built. It still needs to be pieced together and varnished and placed around them like a laurel wreath on top of their head.

You’ll get there. Just be patient and never, ever give up.

The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.

It’s so accurate, isn’t it? I know so many people who don’t read. Why? Because they hated reading in school. Poetry and classics were shoved down their throats. They were forced to dissect each sentence. It was torture. No wonder they were turned off by it.

Faults in our school systems aside, life finds other ways to cheat us. Why read the book when you can watch the movie? Why go to a museum and appreciate three hundred year old art when you can just pull up Why watch opera when you can turn on American Idol and laugh at the people who clearly don’t have a talented bone in their body?

But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

Nothing more needs to be said than, ‘I told you so.’ We’re doing it to ourselves. We’re doing it to our children.

For many of us, the explosion in technology has perversely limited, not expanded, our exposure to new experiences. Increasingly, we get our news from sources that think as we already do. And with iPods, we hear what we already know; we program our own playlists.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? We have something like the internet at our fingertips. It grows exponentially every day. Nothing is deleted from it, not truly, and millions of people add to its files with each passing second. Yet, we’re so limited. We stick those headphones in our ears and we walk by the likes of Joshua Bell. Oh, maybe not in the literal sense – unless, of course, you were one of those people in the metro station that day – but in a metaphorical sense. We limit ourselves because it’s comfortable. We don’t expand because staying the same is safer. We don’t seek beauty because we don’t have time.

“YES, I SAW THE VIOLINIST,” Jackie Hessian says, “but nothing about him struck me as much of anything.”

You couldn’t tell that by watching her. Hessian was one of those people who gave Bell a long, hard look before walking on. It turns out that she wasn’t noticing the music at all.

“I really didn’t hear that much,” she said. “I was just trying to figure out what he was doing there, how does this work for him, can he make much money, would it be better to start with some money in the case, or for it to be empty, so people feel sorry for you? I was analyzing it financially.”

And even when we make time, we can’t stop working. We can’t stop analyzing. We can’t stop dissecting the beauty until it’s unrecognizable as the thing it was before. No longer is it Joshua Bell’s masterful rendition of timeless classical music. Now it’s money. It’s a means of living. It’s a list of pros and cons.

So, even when we slow down to appreciate the beauty, we can’t see it for what it really is. And that’s the biggest shame of all.

We’re busy. Americans have been busy, as a people, since at least 1831, when a young French sociologist named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the States and found himself impressed, bemused and slightly dismayed at the degree to which people were driven, to the exclusion of everything else, by hard work and the accumulation of wealth.

Not much has changed. Pop in a DVD of “Koyaanisqatsi,” the wordless, darkly brilliant, avant-garde 1982 film about the frenetic speed of modern life. Backed by the minimalist music of Philip Glass, director Godfrey Reggio takes film clips of Americans going about their daily business, but speeds them up until they resemble assembly-line machines, robots marching lockstep to nowhere. Now look at the video from L’Enfant Plaza, in fast-forward. The Philip Glass soundtrack fits it perfectly.

“Koyaanisqatsi” is a Hopi word. It means “life out of balance.”

And this is the point. I’m sorry it took 4,000+ words to get here, but I hope you’ve stuck with me so far. I hope you haven’t become a statistic.

Work is good. We need to work. Unfortunately, we can’t run around open fields with daisies in our hair praising the sunshine and looking for four leaf clovers all day long. For better or for worse, life just doesn’t happen that way.

And, hey. That’s fine. Jobs are vital. We’re a consumerist society, and jobs are how we survive the world. Jobs can be fun and beneficial and make us grow as people. We should work, or else we tend to start looking like our couch, all stationary and poofy and lumpy in odd places, and that is a very bad thing.

But please, I’m begging you. Stop. Look around. Appreciate the beauty. Don’t dissect it. Don’t analyze it. Hell, don’t even try to understand it. Just soak it all in. Let it speak to you in words that your mind doesn’t understand but your heart does. It’ll teach you things you didn’t even know you still needed to learn.

In his 2003 book, Timeless Beauty: In the Arts and Everyday Life, British author John Lane writes about the loss of the appreciation for beauty in the modern world. The experiment at L’Enfant Plaza may be symptomatic of that, he said — not because people didn’t have the capacity to understand beauty, but because it was irrelevant to them.

Beauty is irrelevant to people. Or so this experiment seems to be telling us. What do YOU think? I didn’t write this blog post – this essay – to spew forth my ideas into the void, not even hearing an echo in return. I want to have a discussion. I want to know what you think. I want to know if you agree or disagree with this article and with what I’ve said here in this post.

Do you stop to appreciate music? Art? Beauty? Do you try to tear it apart and see what makes it tick, or do you just immerse yourself in it and enjoy it for exactly what it is? Do you think the results of this experiment are skewed because of the conditions? Do you think most people are like this?

Bell headed off on a concert tour of European capitals. But he is back in the States this week. He has to be. On Tuesday, he will be accepting the Avery Fisher prize, recognizing the Flop of L’Enfant Plaza as the best classical musician in America.

The Art of David Walker

Posted: January 9, 2013 in Art
Tags: , , ,

You guys remember the awesome spray paint video I shared with you a while back? The one where the guy makes some cool planetary designs using the lid to a pot and some magazine papers?

I’ve got something better.

My dad likes to browse the internet for cool things he knows I’ll like. He saw this post about David Walker and it reminded him of what I wrote about a few weeks ago. But David Walker blows everything out of the water. This guy is seriously talented.

Unfortunately, I can’t share his images without written permission, so just hop on over here and take a quick look at some of his art. You won’t be sorry you did. I’ll wait.

Yeah, told you it was good, didn’t I?

I think the article on Colossal by Christopher Jobson says it best:

Without aid of stencils or brushes London-based artist David Walker creates elaborately explosive portraits using directly applied spray paint. Even as the colors drip and mix on large outdoor walls it’s hard to imagine the level of control and detail the artist must possess to create the shadows, lines, and textures that create each piece.

What I love about Walker’s art is that it’s entirely realistic, and yet it is just bursting with color. It seems so contradictory, so unnatural, but you look at the eyes and the lips and the images just feel so real. Even better, he’s taken something that could have been viewed negatively – spray paint and street art – and turned it into something that beautifies the street rather than defaces it.

That’s what art should always strive to do – contradict itself, be beautiful, be thought-provoking, be mesmerizing, challenge pre-conceived notions. It should seem like it shouldn’t work, and yet it just does. We don’t know how and we don’t know why. It’s like magic, and who are we to deny the simple wonder that it creates within us?





I’m just going to let the video speak for itself:


As someone who struggles to make a decent stick figure, this blows my mind. HOW DOES HE DO THAT? A better question would be: how does he do that with a couple of cans of spray paint, an old lid, and some magazine pages?


I’ve seen a few of these in action, and they’re captivating to watch. Have you seen any done live?

The life of an artist and the works they produce can teach us so much about writing. And it doesn’t have to be boring! Check out the latest post in this series: “Artists through the ages: Botticelli.”

It was only a matter of time before I got to Artemisia Gentileschi. She’s one of my all-time favorite artists, and definitely my favorite female artist. If you guys don’t remember it, I raved about her over on Jessica’s blog a while back.

Artemisia lived from the late 1500s to the mid-1600s. She was a talented Italian painter who was lucky enough to get noticed in a time that was dominated by male artists. She was an exceptional talent and her resistance of the idea that women did not have the intelligence to be an artist paved the way to recognition and admiration, both during her time and after. Her story is a sad one, having been raped when she was 18. But instead of hiding away, she took part in a trial to put the man behind bars (though this was eventually unsuccessful) and used her experiences to influence her paintings, which were quite violent and expressive.

Interesting facts:

  1. She was tortured with thumbscrews while on trial for her rape.
  2. She received commissions from both the Medici family and Charles I.
  3. She was the first woman accepted into the Academy of the Arts and Drawing.
  4. Her actions and life are often praised by contemporary feminists.
  5. She frequently worked with her father, and they shared a competitive but close bond.

Artemisia is best known for Judith Slaying Holofernes. Another great one is Susanna and the Elders, and I quite like Minerva too.

There’s just one quote from her that I decided to use today because I think it is profound and appropriate and there’s no reason to bother with any others when this is perfect all by itself.

“As long as I live, I will have control over my being.”

Now, obviously the feminists in the crowd go crazy over this one. It has its implications, which I think are fitting. I think its face-value is important to note, but I also think that there’s so much more to this too.

It’s not just about the physical being, the body. It’s also about her spiritual being: her life, her imagination, her art. And if we take this idea and apply it to our lives, we can also insert the word writing in there.

As long as you are alive and capable, you have control over your writing. Your writing is just that: your. writing. No one can tell you what to write about if you don’t let them. And, better yet, no one can hold you back but yourself.

Think of Artemisia and everything that she went through. She was a young girl in Italy in the 17th century. She was raped. Then she was put on a public trial and tortured. She “won” the case, but the man never served time. She was an artist that most didn’t take seriously at first, if ever. She had to fight for every inch of her dream and she never stopped fighting.

If she could do all that, what’s holding us back, if only ourselves?

A friend of mine from college (a fellow art history major) passed this video along to me and I just had to share it with you guys.

You know I’m an advocate for taking subjects that are normally very boring and turning them around so that they’re interesting. Art history can definitely be one of those stuffy topics that people usually steer clear from.

What’s great about the video below is that it teaches you how to sound like you know a lot about art. You can put in a minimal amount of effort and still sound like an art snob! How cool is that?

The video is about 30 minutes long, but it’s pretty funny. It’ll also give you some basics about Pre-Raphaelites and Surrealists, not to mention some modern works as well.

Did you make it through the whole thing? What did you think? Do you have a favorite line? (Mine is the one about the three nymphs, LOL.)

The life of an artist and the works they produce can teach us so much about writing. And it doesn’t have to be boring! Check out the latest post in this series: “Artists through the ages: Leonardo da Vinci.”

Botticelli is another favorite artist of mine. He doesn’t get quite as much attention and Michelangelo and da Vinci, but he deserves to be recognized for his talents. He was also born in the mid 1400s and lived until the very early 1500s. Whereas both Michelangelo and da Vinci were a part of the High Renaissance, Botticelli was their predecessor and is considered to be a part of the Early Renaissance, although they did co-exist for a short time.

Interesting Facts:

  1. He was initially trained as a goldsmith.
  2. He was a part of the committee that decided where Michelangelo’s David should be placed.
  3. He also contributed some frescoes to the Sistine Chapel.
  4. He was never married, and actually had a strong aversion to the idea of marriage.

If you know any painting by Botticelli, it’s The Birth of Venus. He’s also famous for La Primavera and Venus and Mars.

I’m going to do something a little different with this blog post – and it’s not only because I couldn’t find any quotes from Botticelli (okay, it IS because I couldn’t find any quotes).

I’ve always been in love with La Primavera. If you look closely, the painting is chock full of tiny details that give you an overall impression of the painting even if you don’t pick up on them individually. For example, the oranges symbolize the Medici family, which were huge supporters of the creation of art during this period. The myrtle is symbolic for Venus, as that’s what she was wrapped in after she was born and came to shore on her conch shell.

These are just a few of the things you can pick out in the painting to help you interpret it. And in this same way, a book should be written. A good book should be a lot like a good painting, and vice versa, because the tiny details should also give you an overall impression of the novel, even if you don’t pick up on them individually.

For example, the color in a painting is very important. Is it realistic or surreal? Is it bright or dark? This sets the tone for the painting and puts us in a certain mood. The coloring can tell us that the painting is supposed to be exciting and happy, or it can tell us that it’s supposed to be tragic and powerful.

Along the same lines, your words in your story are like the colors in a painting. They set the tone of your story, depending on which ones you choose. Whether you color your book with bright, happy colors or with dark, terrifying colors is up to you – as long as you keep the words and the tone of your story consistent.

Art is laden with symbolism, but that’s the nature of the beast. This is especially true in older paintings, and particularly in Christian-based artwork. Art back then was used to convey a message to the illiterate masses, so symbols were necessary in order to get the point across.

To a lesser extent, it’s important to have symbols in your story as well. You don’t have to go so far as to make the whole story an allegory, like The Chronicles of Narnia, but even if people don’t pick up on the exact meaning and purpose of the symbols, they’ll still get a broad idea of what they’re doing in the story. When I first saw The Sixth Sense, a lot of the symbolism was lost on me, even though – subconsciously – certain things still influenced my viewing of the film. When I went back and re-watched it, I picked up on a lot more. Nothing changed, other than the fact that I became more aware. A painting, a movie, and a novel can all work in similar ways.

In La Primavera, the figures are realistic. This is no Picasso. The women are curvy and have soft, angelic faces. The man on the left is muscled and stoic. In short, they’re portrayals of both men and women that are appropriate to how someone like Botticelli would have view these people.

The characters in a book should work in a similar fashion. Whether you choose to have this naturalistic, idealistic portrayal of your characters is up to you. You can even go the Picasso route and have a character that’s out of sorts, as long the character is relatable. That’s always the most important thing. As long as we can still pick out the eyes, the nose, and the face in a Picasso painting, we can believe that this disfigured and strange being is in fact still human.

Something that you get automatically with a painting – or any other piece of art for that matter – is that the story is shown. There’s no telling in art. The piece should always speak for itself and show you the story that is trying to be told. Books struggle with this a lot more, and that’s why I believe it’s important for writers to study art. Look at all we can learn! Look at how, in La Primavera, the man on the left is stirring the storm clouds. We can infer that this is the god Mercury without having the artist paint his name on his chest. Even the simple fact that the women are dressed in white and Zephyrus is a dark, ominous blue tells us how we’re supposed to feel about the two different figures.

Writing should always work in the same way. We’re badgered into believing that we must always show and never tell, and I’ll never purport that to be untrue. But it can be hard! Sometimes you’re telling and you’re not even aware of it. Sometimes you think you’re showing (in the best way possible, get your minds out of the gutters!) and you’re really just telling your audience everything. Artists like Botticelli didn’t have the luxury (or the need, really) to explain their paintings. They let the artwork speak for itself, and we should always strive for our books to do the same.

The life of an artist and the works they produce can teach us so much about writing. And it doesn’t have to be boring! Check out the latest post in this series: “Artists through the ages: Michelangelo.”

The only logical follow up to Michelangelo would be da Vinci, don’t you think? He was also born in the mid 1400s and died in the early 1500s. He was a true Renaissance man – a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, inventor, and engineer among other things.

Interesting facts:

  1. He is considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time.
  2. He may be the most diversely talented person ever to have lived.
  3. He was born out of wedlock.
  4. He was a procrastinator (something we all can relate to!).
  5. He had drawn up things like a helicopter, a tank, and a calculator well before the time when these things were invented.
  6. Michelangelo and Leonardo were active artists at the same time and generally in the same place (Florence being one of the hotspots). They were notorious enemies.

Some of his most famous works include the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and the Vitruvian Man. Again, this is an extremely short list, as da Vinci’s accomplishments are wide spread and much too lengthy to note in a single blog post.

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes from anybody, and for good reason. All of the people we look up to as exceptional human beings – the artists, the movie stars, the athletes, and the great figures of history – those things didn’t just happen to them. They didn’t wake up one day and become president or the greatest cyclist the world has ever seen. They worked hard and chased their dreams.

As writers, we can’t expect stories or inspiration to just come to us. We have to chase down our muse and work toward that final goal of getting published. No matter how good of a writer you are, that’s not just going to happen. You have to make it happen.

“Obstacles cannot crush me; every obstacle yields to stern resolve.”

Every time I hear something about how writing is not a good career path, or how it’s such a hard business to get into, it makes me want to work that much harder. Obstacles stand in our way so that when we overcome them, we know that we truly deserve to be where we are. You can take a car to the finish line of the race, but it won’t be nearly as rewarding as if you ran the whole way yourself.

“Time stays long enough for those who use it.”

Just think about how much da Vinci accomplished in his lifetime. All of those paintings, those notes, those inventions. He worked with a 24 hour day, just like we do. And he had time for everything. Of course, the world back then is quite a bit different than it is today…

But that’s still no excuse. You have 24 hours to work with. There are obviously things that must get done – eating and sleeping and spending time with family, but the point is that there is still room to write. It’s up to YOU how you use those remaining hours. If you put it to good use, then there will be more than enough time in a single day to accomplish all that you want to get done.

 “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

I love this quote because it is so true. Do you think that when da Vinci put the final stroke on the Mona Lisa, he said, “Well, that’s perfect! There’s absolutely not one thing I would change about this.”

Yeah, not a chance.

I’m sure he hated some of his paintings and drawings. He was probably just as insecure as we are about our writing. But he didn’t let that stop him, and we shouldn’t either. A book will never be done. A sentence can always be tweaked, a paragraph can always be fixed, and a character can always be fleshed out just a little bit more.

But that kind of attitude comes from a person who will never get a book published. At some point you just have to say, “enough is enough.” This is as good as it’s going to get. It’s not perfect, but perfect just doesn’t exist (especially in our line of business). You have to lay down your pen and move on to the next thing in life, otherwise you’ll never move forward at all.

“A poet knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

This goes very well with the previous quote. It’s obvious that da Vinci doesn’t mean “perfect” in the literal sense of the word, for the very reason stated above. However, when you’ve chiseled at the novel for months, tweaking and tucking and nipping at every detail you can, you have to finally put it down and call it “perfect.”

Details can always be added. They may or may not be necessary. But when you finally have the right amount of everything – setting, description, characterization, etc. – and there is nothing left to take away that will not absolutely destroy the story, you know that your work is done. Most books, I believe, suffer from too much rather than not enough.

“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”

This idea floats around heavily amongst writers. “Take a day or two off and then go back to your story, things will just fall into place!” And it’s so true, isn’t it? Sometimes your brain just needs a break, and the only way it can truly get it is if it can completely forget about the project for a while. Even da Vinci, master of everything, knew how important it was to stop for a little R&R.

“I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”

This quote makes me so sad. Da Vinci was one of the greatest men to have ever lived. We’re lucky to have known of him, even if it is only through the scribblings in his notebook and the accounts of those who were blessed to have lived when he did. Yet here he is, thinking that he did not do his best, and that he could always have done better.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. You will never believe your work is important enough. Or good enough. You’ll never think that you tried your hardest or did your best. You’ll probably never feel as though you’ve reached that nirvana of perfection where absolutely every minute detail is flawlessly placed.

But that doesn’t mean that you haven’t done all of those things.

And even if you haven’t, that doesn’t mean that your work isn’t important, period. Or good, period. You did try your hardest and did do you best, even if you didn’t feel like it. Nobody reaches perfection, not even the gods and goddesses of the writing universe like JKR and Stephen King. Not even every minute detail in their works is perfect.

So give yourself a break. Lay off. Do what you do best: write. Da Vinci didn’t think he was all that great either, and look at the mark he left on history.

You can do that too, in time, if you let yourself.