Post from November, 2011

Celebrating Ephemera

Sunday, 27. November 2011 23:49

One of the unique features of live theatre or a musical concert is that it is live. You watch real actors in the same room with you saying real lines and portraying real emotions. The same is true of concerts. Technology may be present; there will be lights, amplified and sometimes processed sound. There may be multi-media going on in the background, or even pyrotechnics. But what is important is that the artists and the audience are in the same space breathing the same air at the same time. The situation becomes an event. It is not repeatable; the next time the performance happens, it will be different, which is part of the appeal.

Of course, with other technology today, recordings of the concert or the play or the speech or the dance or whatever will appear on You-Tube within hours, or may be placed there before the event to act as advertising. There are complete recordings to be sold on DVD and Blu-Ray. Excerpts may be posted on individual web sites. So when a live performance event comes along that does not allow recording, either by the staff or by the audience members, it’s news.

That’s right, no recordings, not even secret ones. There are absolutely no recordings of this event, and, according to its founder there never will be: “You have to go, or you missed it.” He goes on to say “I find that people watch a thing differently when it really is going to happen once. I think you focus in a different way, I think you remember in a different way.”

This new form of performance ephemera is Pop-Up Magazine, which appears at irregular intervals and different places in San Francisco. In that respect it follows the model of pop-up restaurants.

Unless you’ve been living in a culvert for the past few years, you have probably heard of pop-up restaurants, which appear for hours, days, months, then disappear. It is a form of gastronomic adventure that is publicized via social media and internet. Of course, one of the appeals of pop-up anything is that you never know where it will be or when or even if it will ever be again.

Pop-Up Magazine is, in some ways, reminiscent of the Living Newspaper produced by the Federal Theatre Project, except that in this case the focus in not so much on presenting current events as it is on presenting a varied magazine format: a mixture of shorts and features in which artists tell stories or present ideas. And these presentations are short, running 17seconds to 6 minutes. You can expect to find at least twenty articles in any given issue.

The presentations are not random.  According to Editor-In-Chief Douglas McGray, it is more like “an old fashioned mix-tape where there’s a certain art in figuring out what flows well into something else.”  Even the ads are live presentations.

An additional goal of Pop-Up Magazine is creativity. Contributors are sought for what they can bring to the magazine, but then they might be asked to do something different: “Once we figure out what makes sense to do onstage, sometimes we’ll collaborate really closely and figure out how we can encourage someone to experiment with different forms,” he says. “We’ll have a radio producer who will decide that they’re going to try out using some Super 8 film or using some images. Or we’ll have an illustrator who will get paired with someone who works in sound.

Pop-Up Magazine is not the only live event of its kind out there, but it is one of the most imaginative, and its insistence on no recordings will continue to make it unique and sought after. The last issue, the fifth, “sold out all 2,600 seats at Davies Symphony Hall in two hours.” So if you are interested, you will want to keep an eye on their web site. If you can’t make it to San Francisco, you might want to take in a live theatre or music event near you. It won’t be the same thing, but it will be live and therefore ephemeral and unique.


Category:Communication, Creativity, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

‘Tis the Season…

Monday, 21. November 2011 1:01

At least in Houston, ‘tis the season for art crawls and art markets. Art crawls are a little different from fairs, for those of you who have not experienced one. At an art crawl the artists use existing studio/gallery space and the audience wanders from one studio to another. An art market is more like an art fair, in that artists bring their work to tables inside some building and patrons gather there to look or shop.

Over the weekend, I managed to view all of the tables at WHAM, the Winter Holiday Art Market, and a number of galleries in the Houston Art Crawl. The price range of available art was enormous, varying from just a few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. So, in that regard, there was something for everyone, provided the price and your taste matched.

This was only time that I had been to the art crawl alone and the first time I had visited WHAM, although it’s been around for six years. Going to these events alone gives you a different perspective on the whole experience, and some new ideas occurred to me.

The first thing that became apparent to me was how social these occasions are. I think when you go to one of these things with friends, you form your own social group and then revolve around that cluster. When you go alone, you’re more objective and unconnected. I ran into people that I knew and saw people that I had seen at such events in the past, the “arts people of Houston.”  And I noticed that a number of people did not seem to be there to see the art so much as to socialize with each other, and the crawl provided them with a convenient environment.

In addition to providing a social venue, the art crawl and art market do provide a way for the buyer and the artist to come together. They provide a way to allow the art-interested public to become familiar with the work of artists. And they allow the artists to get their work in front of many potential buyers and interact with those buyers in whatever way they think will benefit their sales.

The degree of artist-patron interaction varied a great deal—from the single artist sitting alone, seemingly paying no attention to the crowd, to couples who were enthusiastic and overly engaging with patrons. Regardless of their approaches, none of the artists I observed seemed to be participating in the direct selling I have seen at art fairs, but seemed rather to be seeking exposure—allowing patrons to become familiar with them and their work. Such indirect methods seemed to be resulting in sales only of smaller, less expensive pieces. This is confirmed on WHAM’s website.  It causes one to wonder if this indirect methodology, which is advised by many art sales experts, really pays off. You cannot exhibit at either arts event without expense.  And even if you were able to look at an artist’s overall sales figures, I’m not sure that you could determine whether or not occasions such as these really contributed to artist income in any significant way.

You may notice that I’ve been talking about the market and not the art. Probably because it is a market, and because it is a market, potential buyers look at the work exhibited as commodities. It is seldom that you see someone actually stop and contemplate a piece as an actual work of art demanding such absorption and attention. The cynical might say, “Maybe none of the art deserved it.” I thought otherwise. But then in this situation, there is no guidance for the buyer, no gallery operator advising on the potential worth of an object. The buyer has nothing to guide him/her except his/her own taste and budget. That, unfortunately, can turn patrons into bargain-hunters looking for decoration or hand-made gifts instead of art-appreciators, and that, I think, is a little sad.

Category:Marketing | Comment (0) | Author:

Art is Not a Luxury!

Monday, 14. November 2011 0:54

This week two friends spoke to me about not being able to pursue their art. When I examined my own situation, I found that I too had been neglecting some of my artistic activity. Although the details in each case are different, they all boil down to the same thing: we are too busy to produce art. The unfortunate side effect is that as we do that we find not only something missing from our lives, but something missing from our psyches as well.

One person, whose work is very stressful said, “I just go to work then go to sleep.” Another person is having financial difficulties and finds it imprudent to spend money on art lessons; additionally, he needs to put the time he used to spend on art toward needed overtime. I find that the non-creative or work-related creative aspects of my life have taken over, leaving little time to do any personal work.

Steven Pressfield or Julia Cameron might say that all three of us are suffering from “resistance,” letting that part of our brain that “protects” us make up reasons that we cannot make our art. And there are lots of those reasons, which are nicely summarized by Jenna Avery in “Resistance is Futile:”  “What am I going to get out of it? I’m too busy. I have more important things to do first. I have to overhaul my whole life first.”  The three of us would probably fall into at least one of these categories. After all, we have to survive, and survival certainly takes precedence over personal creative work.

None of us have enough time. Well, maybe some people do, but I don’t know any of them. Rather, I don’t know any people who are active in the arts who have enough time.  Whether it’s being so tired after a long, stressful day that all you want to do is sleep, or doing so much that there is no time to fit in personal art work, having sufficient time is a problem. Julia Cameron advises that we get up earlier, in order to get the creativity back in our lives, and there are a number of artists, particularly writers, who have used this technique.  Many of us, however, already feel like we are barely getting enough rest as it is, or, in some cases, too little. The fact is the human body has to rest in order to be productive at all, so for some, the early-to-rise method is not really practical. The same thing goes for the stay-up-late approach.  Time is limited, and if we are using 16-20 hours a day to accomplish our money-making jobs, it leaves very little for art.

And then there is the issue of expense. No matter what medium you work in, there are expenses involved, and sometimes significant expenses. Many people take classes to improve their skills; those are not free. For visual and plastic artists there is materials expense. If you exhibit or sell work, there are associated expenditures. So money is not only necessary to live, but is also a requirement for doing art.  It’s not just a matter of having enough time. It’s a matter of both time and money.

Since we cannot create more time, we have to somehow rearrange the time we have, perhaps applying smaller chunks to tasks, perhaps planning better. There are a number of possibilities. As for money, most of us have a finite amount, and often not enough to spend frivolously. Money spent on art-making is not frivolous, but it may be of lower priority than housing or food. But while we are saving our pennies, we can engage in creative endeavors that require little in the way of expense: jot down ideas, sketch, write. Essentially, keep creativity flowing, so that when an extra dollar comes along, we can spend on our art wisely.

We can and must figure out times and ways to allow ourselves to be creative, and not at some vague time in the future when we “have time” or “can afford it.” We must make time now for creativity or suffer for it. Art and creativity are not luxuries; for many of us they are necessities.

Category:Creativity | Comment (0) | Author:

Artist or Artisan?

Sunday, 6. November 2011 23:32

Over the last couple of weeks, I have had occasion to reread two of my favorite plays, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Between readings, I sometimes forget just how good these plays are. Both are complex multi-layered pieces that take full advantage of the unique properties of the live stage situation, albeit in very different ways. What is also very apparent is that these two pieces of theatrical art were penned by writers who were at the top of their game, in terms of both art and craft. The men who wrote these two plays are not just artisans; they are artists.

In an article called “No, Not Everybody’s an Artist (Despite what they may think)” and the follow-up article, “C’est La Vie,” John Stillmunks tries to get at the difference between artists and artisans, pointing out that having a good idea or a new product or a marketing angle does not make someone an artist.  In his first article, Stillmunks says that real art touches the heart and soul of the viewer. In the follow-up, he goes further, saying that “an artist takes something out of his or her heart and soul and places it on that page, canvas, song, or whatever.” For him it’s not about technique, but the notion that the artist takes the “camera, brush, voice or pen to an entirely different level…a unique place.” This is not something that just anyone can do, and Stillmunks is convinced that it cannot be taught.

Stillmunks, a painter, points out that the current art market is just that, a market. There are juried shows and submission requirements and things that just don’t interest a number of real artists. Real artists are about making the art, regardless of the medium, and often regardless of the potential market.

Of the many who have tried to write like Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee, either in terms of style or material, most simply don’t measure up. They may have the technique, the technical knowledge, the skills. What they do not have is the willingness or the ability to put themselves into their work. No matter what medium is involved, that takes guts; sometimes it seems that it takes obsession or worse. Some artists talk about the need to put themselves into the work. This is not merely self-expression; there is a readiness, perhaps a necessity, to put the most personal parts of the inner self on display.

Once that will exists, the rest follows. There is only one of each person and if that person is truly putting him/herself into the work, the artist will do whatever he/she has to do to get the work “right.” The result may not be pretty; it may even be painful, but it will be honest. It will be unique and authentic, and more important, it will speak to people—and not just to their minds, but to their hearts and souls. Art, real art, moves people.

With the current state of the arts market, it seems that many who make things have become more artisans and vendors than artists. There is nothing wrong with creating artifacts that will sell, nor is there anything wrong with selling reproductions of your work. But I have to agree with Stillmunks: technique and sales acumen are not what make people artists.

Artists are those whose work we look at over and over again. I reread plays by Williams and Albee and a few others. We look at certain paintings and photographs and sculptures repeatedly. We watch familiar ballets and listen again to musical masterpieces. The work of artists enriches us, and so we return to it—because even if it’s not pretty, it’s very often beautiful.

Category:Creativity, Originality, Theatre | Comments (2) | Author: