Monday, March 29, 2010

The Land of Diminishing Returns

My father always railed against the Pursuit of the Almighty Dollar.  As a child I never understood his furor and frustration.  As a child you only dully grasp the source, and function of money.  It's there.  You get stuff with it.  It grows on trees.  What happens along the way is that we forget money's purpose.  It becomes an end in  itself. 
And it's indicative of and in direct proportion to our sadness as a species.

I think Douglas Adams nailed it when he said,
"This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy."
Pretty good, huh?  Why are our solutions for unhappiness always fringed with greenbacks? The paper's happy enough.

I was taught much the same thing as most of the rest of us: You go to school and study hard so that you can get a decent-paying job.  You get a house and some cars.  You have a family.  Aaaaand then sometime thereafter you kick the bucket.  As a teenager you naturally rebel against this thinking, but what happens more often than not is that you wind up doing exactly that which you swore you'd never do.  Before you know it you've got a house (mortgage), cars (loans), TVs, stereos, furniture (credit cards), and children(medical bills, etc, etc)... and expectations to live up to.  We've been taught that this is the normal course of things.  We've been taught to follow the money because we have to do all of these things to lead a normal, fulfilling life.  Oh, and don't forget... bigger is better.

If watching our televisions has taught us anything it's that being rich is no guarantee of happiness.  We see a constant stream of celebrity train-wrecks.  The pain of Love, intrigue, betrayal, jealousy, hatred, indifference... these things don't care how much you take home after taxes.  You routinely see people who could literally spend money for the duration of their lives and never go broke crash and burn like gnats around a bug zapper or drown soaked in their own despair.

What does this mean?  To me it means that money doesn't necessarily have a direct correlation to happiness.  Everyone has heard this.  Not everyone believes it.  Those that do rarely take it to heart.  I make pretty decent money at my day job.  Not enough so that I didn't have to find other ways to earn cash to keep the lifestyle I'd lived afloat.  I'd pursued money and possessions beyond my means.  I'm not ashamed to say that now.  Looking back I let myself get caught up in that very thing I said I'd never do: Allow myself to get over-burdened with things and the pursuit of The Almighty Dollar.  I had things.  Not tons of things and I was never much for keeping up with the Joneses, but a fair lot of things nonetheless.  Turns out these things did not make me happy.  They did not resuscitate my marriage.  They did not shield me from self-loathing or a crushing self-doubt.  No amount of money was going to fill in the gaps.

You see somewhere along the line I'd hit a plateau.  Seems to me you can only get so happy and you peak.  Throwing wads of cash on top doesn't really improve the experience.  My favorite experiences in life came from the simplest events: A canoe trip with friends. Watching leaves float down the gutter toward the storm drain when I was a kid.  Bass fishing with my dad.  Playing with my sons.  Drawing and painting late into the night.

But Gordon Gekko in Wallstreet told us that Greed is good.  Good for the economy.  Good for America.  Good for you and me.  Wrong.  Unbridled greed has landed us where we are today.  Our air, land, water, and culture have all been poisoned in the pursuit of the Dollar Almighty.  We're some greedy bastards and we've gotten what we deserved and it's landed us in some serious shit, but no one seems to care because we're getting what we want and so long as we get what we want that's OK, right?

Pass the Budweiser, baby, Jersey Shore's on.

We want what we want and we sure as hell want more of it... and cheaper while you're at it.  It's become a religion.  In some cases it's even been adopted into popular religion.  If you're looking you'll see it.  Funny what a little "translation" can do. 

What's it all for though?  Really?  I like games, but does an XBox360 make me smarter?  Does an expensive suit make me more of a man?  Do I really sleep better on a $3000 bed?  Or is it all just more junk?  Maybe if we were hermit crabs and carried our homes around we'd be more selective about how choose to fill our lives.  In truth we do carry the weight of these possessions with us everyday.  If we didn't want all of this stuff would we need the money?  And if we didn't need the money well, what would we do?

I'm not saying I'm going to give up all of my possessions and live in a tent, but recent events have made me consider just where my level of diminishing returns is.  Where is the point where I've got the things I need and I'm happy?  How can I simplify my life?  How can I be fruitful without taking more than I really need? 

I'll leave off by restating this burning question:  If you didn't need the money what would you do with your life?

If you can answer that question you're like me.  If you're like me... you've got some work to do. 



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Lucky One

Just a quick note this morning to post a pic of my new charcoal, The Lucky One. There are still some funky issues that I'll be working out in the finished painting if and when that comes around. I like him the way he is right now and that's enough for me. He gave me some food for thought and now my studio chalk board is filling with ideas. Many of them may never see the light of day, but that's the way it is with ideas sometimes. Some of them come along to help us find others.



Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tales from the Happy Hour

I knew from the moment I was struck with the impulse (notice I don't say "Idea", but "Impulse") to give one of my best friends the head of a crow that the resulting character would inevitably gain companions.
I've had a number of the characters milling around in my skull for more than a few years, but I never really knew what they were for until recently. Some are nightmares from my past. Some are permutations of characters I've come to know through books I've read, songs I've heard, or stories I've been told. I want to keep them rooted somehow in a reality that's tangible to the viewer. I've decided that I want to base these characters on some sort of photographic reference. That poses some interesting problems and possibilities for me. Thankfully these days we have the miracle of Photoshop, but that's only going to get me so far. I've got some very specific ideas about some of my new works. I'm sure that with enough web-dredging I'd be able to come up with an acceptable series of images upon which I could base my next piece. My problem with that is simple however: The images wouldn't be mine. With a very few exceptions I've always taken... exception to working from someone else's photos. There's a connection missing that keeps me at an uncomfortable distance. Like if I never knew the subject first-hand I'd never truly understand the context. I want these to be my own images or engineered by my hand at least. I've had some opportunities open up recently that might help with that. Oh the new-found joys of working in a studio setting. I'll have better access to models, decent lighting, and photographers who actually know what they're doing. I've got some pretty specific things in mind and I'm going to need a hand. I've been so used to walking around and finding the shots that show me potential. I stumbled on many of my favorite images. While I'm always open to the joys of the happy accident I want to try to achieve something more intentional. I really want to embrace a different way of working.

We'll see how I do. Frankly, I'm excited. So I'll introduce you to Cocktails with the Crimson King II: The Lucky One. This is a preliminary study and it's not finished, but I'm pleased with many things about him. We'll see how much of it makes it to the final painting. Doing studies like this has encouraged me to start including some larger charcoal work into my upcoming shows. I'm looking for recommendations on a good, over-sized charcoal paper. Let me know if you've got any favorites.

In the meantime I'm going to keep finding ways to help these guys and gals come out into the light... or at least a dim, lounge-y glow.



Monday, March 8, 2010

Let it Shine

There's a a line from a Morphine song that always gets me. It goes something like, "People always wanna give ya free advice. Well, it's something that I always try, but you get what you pay for that's what I say..."

A long time ago I got some free advice. Actually it wasn't the only time I ever got this particular bit of advice. One time it came from a college prof. The others were from gallery owners. I was told to eschew one side of my work in favor of the other. I've discussed in the past how my work tends to swing from the highly representational to the personal and surreal. To use a bit from an interview I did last week:
"I've always felt like I had two distinctive sides to my work. I've wanted to find a middle ground between the two. On one hand I paint buildings and streets. I work mainly from photos I take myself. They're somewhat orderly and rooted more or less in reality. Then I paint these other pieces because I've got these pictures bouncing around in my head. They're snippets from dreams and stories."
I was told early on that the more surreal pieces, although more personal, would have little or no commercial value and that most galleries would avoid them like the plague. I respected the sources so I followed the advice. I still drew and painted my rogue's list of characters and dream-scenes on the side when possible, but my focus became architectural painting. Urban Landscape, if you will. Let me be the first to point out that the advice wasn't necessarily wrong. Galleries, for the most part, did like the Urban Landscapes and did turn me down when I presented my menagerie of characters for review. I enjoy painting architecture so it's not like I was really sacrificing per se, but it did create a situation where I began to stagnate. I've gone on about that at length already so I'll spare you. If you really want to read about it check my posts from last Fall. With the show I put up last week at The Lift I wanted explore how my two styles interconnected. Hanging them all together seemed like the perfect way to go about it.

You know what happened? The response to my more personal work was overwhelming. It was surprising and reaffirming. It cemented the notion that my bizarre ideas and characters do indeed have worth that others can perceive. They come from a place deeper inside my Self and is, to quote one of my good friends and strongest critics, "...more honest and open. Some of your best work."

So it seems that for all my blogging, showing, & self-promotion I've really been hiding my light under a bushel.

Think I'm gonna let it shine.
Better watch out.