A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 60: The Age of Idiots

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Clearly, I needed to get something off my chest. It all started after a crowded bus ride after a crazy day at work, then sitting at a franchise hair-cutting place waiting my turn, looking across the parking lot at a sign on a fitness club that said, “Somewhere to Belong”. I took up my pen and notebook and this happened:

The Age of Idiots
by Ronald Kok
We all need somewhere to belong
But do we all belong somewhere?
Some of us drift, carried on an internet stream
Friends defined by who likes our randomly censored lives on Facebook

Is anyone thinking of you now? Right now?
As you sit unplugged and unconnected.
Lost

When you are far from trending
Do you stop existing? Stop being?

Does your skin and bones and hair count for anything?
Virtually nothing, virtually

This world has grown small and small-minded
It no longer smells of soil, tastes of air
Fingertips stroke plastic far more than skin
People become flat and bodiless
Become trolls
Become nothing to you

May be they are next door
Who knows? Who cares?

In touch like never before
The distance between us never greater
Stuck to the same Web
Squirming

Seems there is no way to untangle
We all get consumed
Sucked dry
Withered

Life is lived skin on skin
On the tongue, in the ears, under the feet
Life is moving, growing, changing
What is this then if not death?
Static, unreal, pixilated
Manipulated, creeped
Viruses our greatest fear
Fear now digitized, everywhere

Information Age is the Age of Idiots
The Unenlightenment it may be called
Or the Era of Inertia
How proud we will be
Consumers who are constantly consumed

We may all die of consumption
Many die daily depending on
Likes and followers and hashtags and shares
What possesses us to desire
Smoke and mirrors?
Snake oil?
The Kool-Aid we’re given to drink?

I’m as guilty as you
As my fingers stroke this keyboard
As I stare at a screen
As I post this photo, this thought, this meme, this bit of forgettable crap
For what? I need to know
And find the good at the heart
Of this Age of Idiots
Of this time of my idiocy

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 59: Words About Music By…

“Music is a world within itself”, Stevie sang. Musicians share a common bond but have such different ways of expressing it. Here are some quotes from famous musicians, describing music, their experience of it, their perspectives and opinions. I was struck by what vast variety of commentary there is here yet such a unity of spirit. It made me think that Beethoven would totally get Henry Rollins, and vice versa, or that Leonard Bernstein would have loved to work with Lady Gaga.

Enjoy musicians’ words about music…

“Music is a safe kind of high.” – Jimi Hendrix

“Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman.” – Ludwig von Beethoven

“Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.” – Stevie Wonder

“Music is such a balm. Always has been. It’s such a heartbeat, like blood thrumming through the womb. That’s why music appeals to people.” – Al Jarreau

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it. That’s what happens to me. I can’t help it.” – Elvis Presley

“Music is the arithmetic of sounds as optics is the geometry of light.” – Claude Debussy

“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” – Johann Sebastian Bach

“I believe that music is a spiritual language. My everyday self is pretty mundane and boring, but when I’m making music it allows for me to communicate a kind of transcendence that I can’t communicate otherwise.” – Sufjan Stevens

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” – Billy Joel

“Music is a lady that I still love because she gives me the air that I breathe. We need all sorts of nourishment. And music satisfies and nourishes the hunger within ourselves for connection and harmony.” – Cat Stevens

“The music is the message, the message is the music. So that’s my little ministry that the Big Man upstairs gave to me – a little ministry called love and happiness.” – Al Green

“Once a song’s out there, it’s no longer mine. And that’s the whole purpose of music: to belong to people.” – Sade Adu

“The reason I play music is to touch people – for selfish reasons, as well. It feels good to make someone else feel something, whether it’s a kiss, a painting, good idea or it’s a song.” – Dave Matthews

“I’ve always felt music is the only way to give an instantaneous moment the feel of slow motion. To romanticize it and glorify it and give it a soundtrack and a rhythm.” – Taylor Swift

“Normally, things are viewed in these little segmented boxes. There’s classical, and then there’s jazz; romantic, and then there’s baroque. I find that very dissatisfying. I was trying to find the thread that connects one type of music – one type of musician – to another, and to follow that thread in some kind of natural, evolutionary way.’ – Jerry Lee Lewis

“I try to give to my music the spiritual quality, very deep in the soul, which does something even if you are not realizing it or analyzing it – that’s the duty of the music.” – Ravi Shankar

“…what I like my music to do to me is awaken the ghosts inside of me. Not the demons, you understand, but the ghosts.” – David Bowie

“I don’t care much about music. What I like is sounds.” – Dizzy Gillespie

“Lean your body forward slightly to support the guitar against your chest, for the poetry of the music should resound in your heart.” – Andres Segovia

“God had to create disco music so I could be born and be successful.” – Donna Summer

“Jazz is a white term to define black people. My music is black classical music.” – Nina Simone

“Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.” – Tom Petty

“I think music is the most phenomenal platform for intellectual thought.” – Annie Lennox

“It doesn’t matter the kind of music, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a cowboy hat or a yarmulke. I don’t care if it’s outer space or pop, the spirit is the same.” – David Lee Roth

“I frequently hear music in the very heart of noise.” – George Gershwin

“All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” – Louis Armstrong

“I hope to refine music, study it, try to find some area that I can unlock. I don’t quite know how to explain it but it’s there. These can’t be the only notes in the world, there’s got to be other notes some place, in some dimension, between the cracks on the piano keys.” – Marvin Gaye

“As you begin to realize that every different type of music, everybody’s individual music, has its own rhythm, life, language and heritage, you realize how life changes, and you learn how to be more open and adaptive to what is around us.” – Yo-Yo Ma

“Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes.” – Ludwig von Beethoven

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” – Leonard Bernstein

“If architecture is frozen music then music must be liquid architecture.” – Quincy Jones

“I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me – like food or water.” – Ray Charles

“Why be in music, why write songs, if you can’t use them to explore life or an idealized vision of life? I believe a lot of our lives are spent asleep, and what I’ve been trying to do is hold on to those moments when a little spark cuts through the fog and nudges you.” – Rufus Wainwright

“One person’s roar is another’s whine, just as one person’s music is another’s unendurable noise.” – Henry Rollins

“What’s great about music is it takes so many kinds of people, including me. Everybody is in a different place.” – Jewel

“What I’ve discovered is that in art, as in music, there’s a lot of truth-and then there’s a lie. The artist is essentially creating his work to make this lie a truth, but he slides it in amongst all the others. The tiny little lie is the moment I live for, my moment. It’s the moment that the audience falls in love.” – Lady Gaga

“Music is gathering. Taking our scattered thoughts and senses and coalescing us back into our core. Music is powerful. The first few chords can change us where no self-help books can.” – Jane Siberry

“Music is always a commentary on society.” – Frank Zappa

“Music was your real passion, this thing you held dear even above family. It was this relationship that never betrayed you. Once it became your job – this thing that was highly visible, this thing that became about commerce – that’s when you were holding onto music like it was a palm tree in a hurricane.” – Eddie Vedder

“Change is an internal thing. Different things happen or transform, and music and art is a documentation of that.” – Matisyahu

“I found music to be the therapy of choice. I guess it is for a lot of people.” – David Byrne

“They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.” – Charlie Parker

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 58: Sarah Sang

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some people put their lives into a dream

i put my life inside a song

i believed like believers believe

in the song, in the song, in the song 

Sarah sang for us on Saturday night. She looked right into our eyes as she sang. Is that so unusual? Think about it: How often have you experienced that? And if you have, how long were you able to gaze back, directly into the performer’s eyes? It is a soul-to-soul connection, a fearful connection, but Sarah never wavered. Sarah is fearless. Sarah will sing a song that enters your eyes and makes its way to your toes and back again, giving a spark in return to her as you meet that gaze, and then back again. It was human-to-human, and more than a little magical.

Sarah MacDougall is a Swedish-Canadian singer-songwriter who claims she mistakenly lives in the Yukon. She performed at a house concert my wife and I attended last week in Russell, Ontario. As I experienced her music and her courageous presentation, I realized I was watching a Dangerous Creative live and in person. My wife described her performance using words like “visceral” and “honest”. Her songs were direct and vulnerable. She put herself out there complete in body, spirit and mind. She took the risks great artists take. The song was her vehicle but she was the engine, boldly flying down that road despite the curves and potholes of traveling that human highway.

After that evening of music and more than music, I realized that what separates the good artist from the great artist is that complete commitment to vulnerability, to creating dangerously, to nakedly taking on the world.  The great artists are really exposed nerves, but they are exposed for all our benefit, as pain is a warning, a message, a necessity for survival.  The toll this takes on the artist is immense. So often they deal with depression, with extreme self-doubt, with a feeling of isolation from the world around them because their inner world is the only place they feel at home. This is often misunderstood. They are branded as “moody” or “eccentric” or “self-absorbed” or “freak”. The calling they have can be the curse of the prophet: Given a divine Word to speak that may get them sawed in two.

Sarah helped me feel, again, an immense gratitude for artists who take risks and walk that knife’s edge in life. We may not realize just how much we owe them. She also helped me see what I need to be willing to expose. She helped me to seek the courage to gaze directly into someone’s eyes, even the stranger. She helped me to grasp a bit more what being an artist can be if you’re open to the calling.

The world needs the fearless because it is so full of fear. The world needs more Sarahs. It needs more Dangerous Creatives, maybe more than ever.

Below is a link to a YouTube video of Sarah’s song “I Want to See the Light”

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 57: Sunday God Quote – Karle Wilson Baker

This Sunday’s God quote is a poem by American poet Karle Wilson Baker (1878-1960), a university professor and writer from Texas who succeeded in a field dominated by men in her day.

The flame of my life burns low
Under the cluttered days,
Like a fire of leaves.
But always a little blue, sweet-smelling smoke
Goes up to God.
-“Blue Smoke”

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 56: Saturday Life Quotes #8

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This Saturday’s Life Quotes are snippets from the great American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967):

“Folks, I’m telling you,
birthing is hard
and dying is mean-
so get yourself
a little loving
in between.”

 

“I stay cool, and dig all jive,
That’s the way I stay alive.
My motto,
as I live and learn,
is
Dig and be dug
In return.”

 

“Hold fast to dreams
for if dreams die
life is a broken-winged bird
that can not fly.

Hold fast to dreams
for when dreams go
life is a barren field
frozen with snow.”

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 55: Album Art Gallery, part 3

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Here is part 3 of my Album Art Gallery. To quote the great philosopher and theologian Stevie Wonder:

Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands

“Sir Duke” from Songs in the Key of Life

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More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking Heads

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 54: Album Art Gallery, part 2

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As promised, part 2 of an Album Art Gallery, each cover from something in my own collection…

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Renegades by Rage Against the Machine

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Shack-Man by Medeski, Martin & Wood

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 53: Album Art Gallery, part 1

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A couple of birthdays ago, my wife gave me the book pictured here: The Art of the Album Cover, by Richard Evans. She knows I love music and I love art so it was a double-whammy kind of present. It is a great book to peruse and take in the creativity that is album art. Some believe it is a dying art as we no longer have the LP and it’s large format to accommodate designs. Though there is something lost in the tiny icons on a screen or the small format of a CD cover, there are still some great examples of the art that is meant to convey and/or accompany the musicians and music for the listener.

I believe there is much to be enjoyed by viewing album covers as art. A good cover not only communicates so much about the content of the album but can also stand alone on its own merits. For those of us who love music, that cover wrapped around our favorites songs is the image imprinted in our brains. We see the cover image and immediately songs spring to mind. And vice versa. It is a wonderful marriage of artistic genres.

I am a major music fan. As I began to look through my collection to decide what album covers I really love for their creativity and design, I realized my list was getting longer and longer… So I am slicing up this Gallery of Album Art into three pieces. I narrowed it down to albums I own so there will be favorites of yours that will not be included. My apologies but it is my blog after all. If you want a different gallery, get your own blog!

Here is the first installment of the Gallery. Most of images are self-explanatory but I’ve included captions if I felt it was necessary to do so. Try making it through these images without a song or two popping into your head. I dare you…

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Earth and Sun and Moon by Midnight Oil

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Dark Sid of the Moon by Pink Floyd

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 52: Maya Rising

At the beginning of the year I set two goals for myself:

First, to use the avenue of this blog to post daily creativity, either from myself or from other artists, in order to make 2017, for me, a year of “creating dangerously”, that is, a year of making art public, open, vulnerable, accessible, engaged with the world; in other words, art where and what it is supposed to be. I wanted to take in a wide spectrum of artists and creative expression so this blog touches on visual art, music, movies, writing, oratory, poetry, and on and on…

Second, I challenged myself to get back into painting and set the goal of creating at least one new piece per month. I haven’t worked on any “serious” painting since college (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth). I decided to use the theme of artists who inspire me, who created or create “dangerously”, and honor them in my paintings. The first painting was actually completed at the tail end of 2016 but it was, fittingly, of Joe Strummer. If you know anything about me, you know I have a thing for Joe. To me, he’s top of the heap when it comes to creative types I am inspired by. Here is that first painting again:

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“Punk Rock Warlord (Joe Strummer Vs. the Void)” Mixed media 2016

My second painting was just completed a few days ago. It is meant to honor Maya Angelou (1928-2014), the glorious author, poet, dancer, speaker and all-around phenomenal woman.  It seemed fitting to finish this in February, acknowledged as Black History Month. Here is a closer view of “Maya Rising”:

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Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos of the process of creating this work. I wish I had. But I do want to describe some things that I planned and things I did not.

First, I took my 16″by 20″ canvas (each painting in this series will be that size) and affixed photocopied pages from “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, the first and most celebrated memoir of Angelou’s career. My goal was to make her words the “backdrop” to her portrait, with the text coming through as shading and detail. She often spoke of writing as her greatest passion and, certainly, she is known best through her prose and poetry. I let the pages wrap around the canvas. I didn’t have any plan for laying the pages out, I just did it and hoped for the best.

Second, I looked for an appropriate photo of Maya to work from. I ended up visiting the Facebook page dedicated to her. There we a lot of great images but I was struck by one in particular. Most photos of her are sweet and beautiful, that big smile figuring prominently, truly conveying the joyful and intelligent person that she was. But this photo had something different: Defiance, power, pride. It was so different from the others that I was immediately drawn to it and thought, “That’s the one.” Here it is:

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Thirdly, I worked on ideas of adding one of Maya’s poems to the piece. At first I thought of her poem “Phenomenal Woman” but it wasn’t resonating with me as I looked at the photograph. Then it hit me: “Still I Rise” would be much more apropos to this particular portrait. That poem is defiant, powerful, proud – It was a big “Aha!” moment for me. As it may be difficult for you to read it in the photo I posted of the painting, here is the poem in it’s entirety:

Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

I decided instead of writing the poem myself on the canvas, to print it up and divide up the “stanzas”, making them “rise”, in a way, along the left side of the piece. I was originally going to layer a few of these on top of each other but is was turning out too busy and too distracting.

Fourthly, I sketched out where I wanted Maya to be on the canvas, giving myself enough room for the pieces of her poem but also getting here entire profile in the image. Then I dove in with an art marker. That was a scary moment where I didn’t want to screw anything up! I drew out the shape of her face and head, neck, chest, etc. with the pen. I thought the black of the marker would help bring out the contrast of the photograph. I chose to “remove” the jewelry she was wearing in the original photograph. I thought the effect of seeing her neck, shoulders and chest unadorned was more stark and direct, befitting the poem.

Fifth, I took some watered down black paint and a sponge and darkened the background around the portrait. I wanted it dark but not too dark, so you could still see some of her words coming through. Then I added paint to the portrait I had drawn with pencil and marker. I only used three colors – brown, white and black, with a bit of mixing and adding water to give different shades. I kept a “sketchy” quality to it as it seemed to fit with the whole look of the painting.

Sixth, I glued on the bits of poem. After it dried, I used three layers of varnish to seal the artwork well.

As I was working on it, and after it was done, a couple of things surprised me. First, the lines of the photocopied paper, one following her neck line, another following the line of her chin – I did not plan that at all. In fact, I didn’t notice it until everything was done. I was also able to keep the white of the paper as the color of the bit of dress you can see at her breast, helping to create the strong contrasts. Secondly, the fact that in this photo she is facing left – her determined gaze going that way – but all her words run left-to-right, so as you read the poem, you come to the end of a line and confront her portrait each time you do so. It adds extra punch to this punch-filled poem. I’d like to take credit for figuring all this out beforehand but that would be a big fib.

In the end, I believe Maya and her words really did inspire me, both consciously and subconsciously. And, really, isn’t that what a great artist is able to accomplish in their art?

Thanks, Maya. God bless. We miss you.

maya-rising

 

 

 

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 51: A Gallery of Ice

Today is the final day of Winterlude 2017 here in Canada’s capital city. One of the privileges of living in Ottawa is being able to easily access special events like these. 2017 also happens to be the year of Canada’s 150th birthday. Ottawa will be at the center of that celebration and I am looking forward to all that is in store.

Each year Winterlude provides a great context to enjoy the season that must be embraced to be survived in our part of the world. By that I don’t mean you are necessarily in any physical danger (we do have central heating, wooly socks, Tim’s coffee and other Canadians to keep us warm). What I mean is that winter can drag you down with its short days, cold temps, seemingly endless shovelings, ice pellets, and potholes… lots of potholes. But to only focus on the negative of the season is to miss the magic and the beauty, the fun and brilliant sunshine, the sheer joy of the bracing cold that makes you feel wondrously alive. Embracing it is key to making it through.

Thank God, then, for Winterlude. The city of Ottawa puts on a wintry party every year with lots of opportunities for fun, music, food and, the annual highlight, sculptures of ice. Last week Friday evening, my wife, son and I went downtown to take in some of the festivities and to enjoy the skillful and creative work of sculptors from all over the world.

Below is a gallery of these impermanent masterpieces (they will all melt, after all). If you aren’t able to be in Ottawa to enjoy Winterlude or have the misfortune of living somewhere where there is no winter (poor you), here’s a chance to see the beauty of this frigid season captured in ice…

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“Surfing with Dolphins” by Ross & Antonio Baises, the Philippines

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“Dew Drop” by Kevin Ashe & Nathan McKeough, Canada

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“Sweet Dreams” by Lawrence MacFarlane & Scott Harrison, Canada

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“To a Lucky Star” by Valeriy Batalov & Eduard Ponomarenko, Russia

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“Liquid Dream” by Angelito Baban & Fermin Jr. Gomez, the Philippines

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“Dream Come True Bird” by Junichi Nakamura & Hideshi Terada ,Japan

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“Wish for a Fish” by Egor Stepanov & Alexey Andreev, Russia

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“Whale in the Wind” by Stephen Koch & Heather Brice, U.S.A.

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“Dream Weaver” by Dean Murray & Michael Stoddart , U.S.A.

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“Peace and Love in the World” by Samuel Girault (France) & Michael Mizula (Poland) – Grand Prize winner