Over the last few days in my contemplations I have revisited one of my pet philosophical/religious concepts, mujō meaning “transience” or “mutability”. In looking at my surroundings I find almost everybody obsessed with permanence. They are searching for something permanent, striving to make something permanent, or assuming that things are permanent. All in the face of insanely rapid change that marks our culture in American. We are constantly looking for something better while simultaneously believing in or assuming the permanence of things that are not within our current focus.

In my opinion this is best exemplified in how we treat ourselves. We are in constantly striving to maintain a youthful physical appearance and deny our ages to paraphrase the commercials. We deny our mortality and tend to shove our elderly relatives into assisted living homes where they are someone else’s problem and we don’t have to be reminded of our mortality. In fact, we have a tendency to recreate many of the symptoms of old age as diseases or conditions and then try to cure them or provide means to hide them from others. We strive to maintain a permanent self-image of who we were as an 18 – 30 year old and we attempt to project that to others. On an even deeper level, we assume a permanent self. We are who we are. The core of who we are was developed at a young age and all experiences merely add to that core being.

On the other hand, we are a culture of redemption. We love those who have fallen but repented and have become better people for it. Visiting a psychologist often involves determining why you act in certain way, whether it is due to past experiences, false assumptions, or combination and then “reprogram” ourselves to overcome those behaviors. As the so-called “baby boomer” generation has aged we also see the older portion of our population reinventing themselves, usually upon retirement. Former doctors become poets; sedentary accountants become world travelers, etc. Yet still we approach each of these changes as permanent.

I lost my point some time ago, but if I were to revision it now, I would say we place too much emphasis on permanence. We try so hard to lock things in place that we become static in our struggle. I don’t mean just “go with the flow”, nor am I advocating for my own personal belief that “individuals” are more a string of constantly changing interdependent factors than a permanent self. What I am saying is that when you approach life realize that it is by its very nature impermanent and fleeting. Change is in essence neither good nor bad, it just is.

Eric in a Word: mansuetude
Book of the Day: Under the Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakauer
Song of the Day: American Face Dust- Black Moth Super Rainbow
Religious Figure of the Day: Lauma
Medium: graphite on business card


Elizabeth Gilbert, Tom Waits, and the daemon

I was watching Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk “A new way to think about creativity” via the New Art blog early this morning and I was fascinated by her resurrection of the concept of creative inspiration coming at least partly from an external source. In particular the story she told about Tom Waits was entertaining and enlightening. The gist of the story is that Tom Waits was driving when he was inspired by a snippet of music that started in his head. This triggered stress and angst over the possibility of losing the inspiration since he couldn’t stop and write it down. In response, he looked to the sky and exclaimed something like, “Hey, can’t you see I’m driving here. Can’t you wait for a more appropriate time? If not, just give it to someone else and stop torturing me.”

The funny and enlightening thing is that this is exactly type of situation I’m usually in when I get inspired. More often than not I lose it before I can get to where it can be captured. Studio time is often spent trying to remember and recapture the fleeting moments. It is a frustrating and often futile effort. However, just occasionally, the daemon appears and I wrestle the devil out of me and capture it in my materials (I think my song of the day captures the feel of it quite well). It is not an easy flowing for me. It is an intense, focused, and physical expulsion. It’s like fighting to catch that itch in the middle of your back. Hard to reach but it is damn satisfying when you finally scratch it.

Eric in a Word: skirr
Book of the Day: Aesthetics and Ethics - Jerrold Levinson
Song of the Day: Keep the Devil Down - North Mississippi Allstars
Religious Figure of the Day: Garmr
Medium: graphite, masking tape, white out and ink on paper


An explanation, or what seminal means to me

At the end of my last entry I used the phrase “How much harder is it to create that one seminal piece of work, that one incredible song, that one thing that changes the way people view the world?” Well, someone called me on it and asked what I meant by seminal? Was I striving to create a masterpiece? Something that would change the course of art history? Or did I mean something more personal and less grandiose?

I would be lying to say I wasn’t hoping for the grandiose, world altering work, but that has to start with the personal. When I enter the studio all thoughts of the larger world cease, it’s just me and my medium of choice. When I work to please an external audience it always ends in failure. So when I pick up my instruments of creation I attempt to operate solely out of my vision and my experience for me and me alone.

So, where do I land on the “seminal” question? I would say I am always striving for something personal and grandiose. I want every creation to mark a break from my past, it should a self-defining piece that leads me into new territory, something to jump off from and break from as I move on to another work. I am not always successful, in fact I am rarely successful, but that is part of it. I get more out of the process than the finished product. It’s the problems and puzzles of the work that keep me engaged, not an ability to churn out polished, refined work that everyone loves.

Eric in a Word: hapaxanthous
Book of the Day: Against Interpretation- Susan Sontag
Song of the Day: Sexual Healing- The Hot 8 Brass Band
Religious Figure of the Day:Bedawang Nala

Medium: graphite, green tea, black tea, and rooibos on card stock


Art is hard

I am stuck, bogged down, blocked; you name it, I’m in it. I can’t seem to complete anything beyond a sketch. It’s not that I don’t have ideas; it’s more that once I begin to implement the intent slips away and degrades. I’ve painted over, destroyed, or hidden more than 90% of my work the last few years. It’s as if I’ve lost my voice and can’t find it. I don’t bring this up for pity or as an attempt to jumpstart my output. It is part of the creative process and that's what I want to talk about.

Creators- artists, musicians, inventors, etc.- don’t just sit back, pull something out of the air, and slap something successful together. We have to work at it. Every spark of insight or intuition has a foundation in experience and hard work. You can’t recognize a good idea unless you have a library full of bad ones to compare it to. It can take years of work, stops and starts, frustration and even abandonment to find your voice and find your work. Since I’m on a de Kooning kick lately, I’ll use him as an example. After the completion of his master painting Excavation (1950) de Kooning worked and reworked, erased and planned, struggled and railed against, abandoned and restarted his next piece, Woman I, for almost three years before he was able to complete it. That’s three years on basically one painting. The Beatles went from an average, some would even say crappy, little garage band from Liverpool to, well, The Beatles by playing thousands upon thousands of hours in Hamburg, Germany and anywhere else that would give them a stage.

My point? Creativity and art are fucking work and it’s not always fun. To throw in a sports metaphor, if you get a hit in baseball one out of every three at bats you can be a Hall of Famer. How much harder is it to create that one seminal piece of work, that one incredible song, that one thing that changes the way people view the world? I don’t know, but I guess I’ll keep picking up my brushes, sharpening my chisels, and sketching until I find out.
Eric in a Word: cachinnation
Book of the Day: Darwin's Worms- Adam Phillips
Song of the Day: They Made Frogs Smoke 'Til They Exploded- Múm
Religious Figure of the Day: Þjazi
Medium: graphite and black tea on qaud-ruled notebook paper

Aesthetics and Ethics

May 6

May 7

A driving force in my artistic and intellectual development has been the intersection of aesthetics and ethics. These are two aspects of so-called “value theory” that have been intimately linked philosophically for centuries, although in my experience the past few decades have been dominated by writings on either ethics or aesthetics with only lip service paid to the connection between the two. As an artist I am particularly interested in the common assumptions and issues in both ethics an aesthetics as well as ethical issues in art making and aesthetics. I am constantly asking myself and examining the answers to questions around these areas:

Is there objectivity in ethics and art? If so, what form does it take? If so, how do you reconcile the apparent differences in ethics, art styles, and forms? Are there moral and aesthetics truths? What is the relationship between aesthetic value and value in general? Is aesthetic value a part of a larger value paradigm or a more fundamental anchor value? Can or should art have moral value? If so, how is it related to the assessment of art? Can you have morally abhorrent art that is at the same time aesthetically excellent? Are there limits to what can or should be appreciated aesthetically? Are there limits on what can or should be approached or attempted artistically? Are there moral obligations for artists? Are there moral obligations for viewers of art? If so, how are they related?

I don’t at present have any hard and fast answers to any of these questions. In fact, I think asking the questions are probably more important than answering them. Where I fall in my answers at any given time determines my artistic and moral experiences in that given moment. To blatantly steal from Emerson, I express my art and ethical standing in actions as hard as cannonballs even though they contradict everything I expressed the moment before.

Eric in a Word: oblatrate
Book of the Day: The Spartans - Paul Cartledge
Song of the Day: Odin's Raven Magic - Sigur Ros and Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson
Religious Figure of the Day: Shabbetai Tzevi
graphite and green tea on qaud-ruled notebook paper (May 6)
charcoal pencil, graphite, and coffee on business card (May 7)