Archive for the ‘art and work’ Category
Minnesota Theology of Place: Live Performance Matters in the Twin Cities
If one were rooting around trying to sort what values and practices make a place unique, music would be a good start. Jon Bream, music critic for the StarTribune recently wrote about why Minneapolis/St. Paul has become a home away from home for many rising musical stars. Bream cited four very different artists/bands (Dawes, Brandi Carlisle, Eric Hutchinson and JD McPherson) and noted how audience turn-out in the Twin Cities fuels these artists. Mr. Bream commented:
The key factors are open-minded audiences who love live music; a variety of venues that help artists build a career, and support from radio and other media.
The Current, of course, is a vocal apologist for the new music that grows outside the mainstream (and often, eventually, moves mainstream). I would argue the Cedar Cultural Center has been doing that same good work for years and years. Then there are the high profile, historied venues like First Avenue that have helped audiences and artists form connections. There are many more, of course.
A few days back I wondered aloud what a theology of place might look like for Minnesota. I cited all sorts of influences that would speak to that question. Developing a theology of place is to look at a community from a perspective unfamiliar to most of us. It is a perspective that begins with a commitment to belief in God and then wonders what God is doing in that place, among those people, through their history. It’s a deeply rooted sort of activity: digging down and back to find out who did what and asking what they thought when they did it. And then asking how what they did affected others. And also asking how their belief structure enabled the outcomes before us.
To be intensely local for a moment, what would a theology of place look like for the Twin Cities—just starting with music? Bream’s observation of how audiences love live music fits with the general interest in theater in the cities. Apart from the Guthrie, there are dozens of small theaters in the cities that are producing memorable performances. Does a population that welcomes new music and new artists and helps support dozens of very small theaters mean we like the notion of “live performance” and see it as a way to connect with each other? Maybe we like to see our meaning made right before us—because we know that an audience is part of the meaning making.
Maybe the notion of a fondness for live performance accounts for the 20,000 people who showed up in St. Paul’s Lowertown last weekend for Northern Spark. And maybe our love for live performance accounts for the bike and craft beer cultures that are all about connecting (this year’s Artcrank pulled in an overflowing crowd).
Not that we’re unique in these things—but there’s something happening. As a curious person and one with belief in God, I cannot help but wonder what it means—even as I rejoice in the vibrant commitment to connection.
Philip Glass is known for repetitive structures in his music, among other things. Mr. Glass is famous (ish) today and you hear his music most commonly on film soundtracks. But not everyone likes those minimalist, repetitive structures (some members of the politburo of Kirkistan will sit for only limited doses of Mr. Glass’ music).
The 2008 documentary about Philip Glass contained quite a few unguarded responses to his music. Watch the film for the exact quotes, but the general sense people communicated to Mr. Glass as he developed his unique style was something on the order of “Please go away” or “Please stop playing that” or “I think we’ve heard enough of that. Can you do something different?”
In a 2009 Esquire interview, Mr. Glass, said this about his resolve:
When I struck out in my own music language, I took a step out of the world of serious music, according to most of my teachers. But I didn’t care. I could row the boat by myself, you know? I didn’t need to be on the big liner with everybody else.
I often think of Philip Glass when I get discouraged about writing.
Writing is difficult, so says anyone who writes. Just like with anything worth doing, there are all sorts of missteps and problems and wrong directions and mistakes involved with getting a thought on paper. And then there is the problem with the audience. I might call it the Glass Problem: prolific production of something no one wants.
But one continues forward. Despite responses. One must be just thick-headed enough to continue sorting out what it is one is trying to say. That’s what I understand when I think on Philip Glass: an infusion of courage to move forward despite all outward evidences that I really should stop.
Image credit: IMDB
Because There’s a Pistol in Her Purse
More Art-A-Whirl aftershock.
A few days back I wrote about Cody Kisel’s vision for consumerists. On that same floor of the massive Northup King Building, I had a hard time tearing away from Ray Becoskie’s paintings. Mr. Becoskie’s work transmits a wry humor and a fair amount of joy along with the puzzle of his titles.
Here’s Becoskie on his process:
The work is generally constructed from three things. Things I know, things I believe, and things I make up. I get them all together in a room and I do my best to document the conversation that happens.
Image credit: Ray Becoskie
Where to find courage to create
Designer/entrepreneur Mike Lundborg uttered it dozens of times over a few projects we collaborated on. For me this quote nearly perfectly encapsulates the dance between creativity and work that is the business of freelance life. That’s why I keep the quote front and center in my work space.
Even today I’m working on a story intended to invite prospective patients to participate in a clinical trial. But early review comments indicate my client wants to buff out the narrative parts (that’s right, losing the story itself) and swap it for clinical and corporate language. The story was meant to pull prospective patients toward a clinical trial, but it won’t if the corporation keeps talking.
But this is not a lament. It’s only a statement of reality and maybe a celebration—because this is how we create together. My sizzling hot interpretation of a marketing objective is held in the tongs of review and hammered into shape by my collaborator. And by me. This is my expectation for my ideas and the resulting words, just as it is my expectation for each part of the process.
And now this: as we release a few of the projects physical constraints, my story bounces back—which makes me glad. This is what collaboration looks like. Successive drafts change but the central objective continually informs all the collaborators as we take our turns shaping the project.
Amazingly, it is this very collaborative process that needs to inform my less commercial writing projects. The courage to create actually springs (again) from the sometimes difficult conversations that surround the project. But it also takes courage to produce a rough draft.
Cody Kiser paints his way into the mundane stuff of everyday life and resurrects it in a form that is both familiar and disconcerting. Mr. Kiser’s artist statement says his work functions as commentary on the irrational fears peculiar to people who self-identify as consumers. He strips away language and cultural barriers in his paintings and deposits the viewer on a not-so-distant shore with a view of the backside of our culture.
Mr. Kiser’s paintings drew in Mrs. Kirkistan and myself as we wandered through this year’s Northeast Minneapolis Art-a-Whirl. We like seeing things from a different perspective and Kiser’s work accomplished that instantly. But there is also a sort of gathering darkness to his work that hints at sinister ends. Where have the people gone? And how did I get to this place where I’m shopping for stuff I can barely identify?
Finding patterns and vision in the dreary details of everyday life is itself inspiring. The surprise is that the closer we examine nearly anything, the more we see how wrong were our first assumptions. Upon a close examination, the hard surface becomes porous. Smooth becomes cratered under the right light. It’s funny how often that proves true.
See more of Cody Kiser’s work here.
Seth Godin: Designing Our Ideas to be Spread
I’ve always been utilitarian–not overly concerned with fashion. That’s not a boast, it’s a lament: I confess to being more preoccupied with ideas than the various forms atoms take. But I’m coming around. I’m starting to think more about what is sharable. Pretty things matter because pretty things move around in our culture: photos, design, elegantly packaged ideas. Unexpected videos. Things that are well-lit or unusual. Baubles attract and hold the attention of babies and today’s adults alike. Visual simplicity and elegance are part of what helps an idea stick.
This is sort of a big deal. It is something we know for others but not so much for ourselves. Because we think our own ideas are inherently interesting. Seth Godin talked about this in his post yesterday and the day before. He talked about doing the work whether or not you get picked for fame. And making things sharable. Those posts are worth reading.
If I have some message to deliver, just plopping out the linear logic on paper pulls in only the most interested and committed insiders. Everyone else keeps walking thinking “nothing to see here.” Old school marketing was all about setting features into bullets for the interested reader to scan. But the interested reader was buried in the local cemetery years ago: only distracted readers walk the earth today. I’ve said over and again that blocks of copy scare people away—even people who self-identify as readers. Too much to read. Too slow.
But an image…now that is sharable. An image intrigues in a very different way.
So—today’s writer must sort out how to engage with a visual generation. Sure, we’ve known this for forever and those who have taken it to heart for the messages they need to deliver are the ones being heard today. One of our daughters feels that getting rid of the ugly in the world is part of her life work. As a writer I’m thinking about adopting that stance—I’m becoming more intent on locating images and simple analogies to help me tell the deep story that I need to tell.
When Photojournalists Gather: MNPA Shop Talk
I’d like to see more. And better.
Photography, like sketching, is another way of interacting with what is right before us. Both photography and sketching present opportunities to see differently—both are a kind of active seeing. As a writer, I have an ongoing project of learning to see more and better and differently. Seeing better helps me write better.
That desire prompted me to show up at the Minnesota News Photographers Association last Saturday at Murphy Hall at the University of Minnesota. I wanted to hear how news photographers talked about—and thought about—their work.
What I heard was talk of technique: details about exposure and how to layer different exposures in a single photo, when to wait and when to move when stalking the photo they have already seen in their mind. Several times I heard how photographs were once merely an accompaniment to the article and how that is quickly changing. Glen Stubbe cited an example of his photo of Michelle Bachman escaping a pointed question went on to start a national story thread.
The photographers were exactly right about this last point: as we move to a post-literate culture, visual content moves to the primary spot. How long do stories stick around in any media you consume without some compelling visual anchor? Not long. I’ve often thought readers either fear blocks of copy or simply find them off-putting. But this is nothing new, we’ve know this for some time. As a writer, visual storytelling is a must.
The photojournalists talked about the increasing role of social media and the blurred lines between reporter and photographer. But three things stood out from the panel between Ben Garvin (Pioneer Press), Glen Stubbe (StarTribune) and Jeffrey Thompson (MPR):
- “Tweet Every Assignment.” Ben Garvin said this and I think it could be true for anyone finding their way into social media. Whatever your work (or vocation or avocation), those things that are top of mind are the very things of (potential) interest to others. The premium here is on immediacy.
- Develop and Feed a Personal Vision. There are some things (photos, thoughts, words, quotes) that land outside of our daily work. There is a place for that top-of-mind content—a public place. Ben Garvin feeds that vision at his blog. For Glen Stubbe , it’s his Instagram account. I believe this personal vision is the necessary counterweight to daily work. My respect for the people I work with and read grows as I see the parameters of their thinking outside their primary work.
- Share what is remarkable. It was Glen Stubbe’s quote that helped me see the emotive content that makes something remarkable—a question I’ve wondered for some time. Something is remarkable when it makes us step out of our routine and remark, out loud, to someone else. To Mr. Stubbe, it was photographs he just had to share. The making and sharing of the photos remains a prime driver for him. What amazes us is the very stuff we share with our spouse, our kids, our friends, total strangers. It is good when we can capture what amazes us.
Seeing is no simple thing. I’m grateful for the chance to listen in on the shop talk of this visual and thoughtful group of communicators.
Over time we understand our frame of reference
Photographer Sally Mann talked about her process in Art 21 :
If I can be said to have any kind of esthetic, it is a magpie esthetic. I just go around and pick up whatever is around. It’s very spontaneous. I see a dog bone. I bring it in. I take a picture. I like the picture.
And so she ends up with a dog bone show.
This is the benefit of keeping at our work: over time we sort out what it was we were supposed to say or create.
But about Mann’s magpie esthetic: I’ve noticed the same. This flow of material constantly sweeping past me and I simply reach down and grab something. For me it is an idea, a snippet of conversation, an observation, a word spoken, even a chord strummed, any of these can be fitted together into some semblance of how I understand life.
How does creating work for you?
Trite ideas, or unimaginative translation of those ideas, are often the result not of poor subject matter but of poor interpretation of a problem.
Paul Rand, The Designers Art (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1985) 45