Listen To The Crows [on DR Thursday]

“Sculpture,” they said. “We think you need to do some sculpture.” They were pushing me to get out of my painter-comfort-zone. It was our agreement as an artist collective: help each other grow. Our group shows were driven by a clear intention. Challenge the art-wheels to exit the art-rut.

All of my life I’ve had a special relationship with birds. Owls show up at auspicious moments. Hawks visit when I need to step back and take the long view. The surprise turkey on our roof, harbinger of good things to come. At the time of my sculpture challenge, I was, each and every day, assaulted by crows.

I read that crows have facial recognition so I told myself the daily assault was a case of mistaken identity. I’d never done harm to a crow. Yet, everyday during my walk, I was dive-bombed. Once, a crow was so relentless that I took refuge in a coffeehouse.

The worst was the day, lost in thought as I approached the door to my studio, at the last moment, I saw a baby crow perched on the door step. I heard them before I saw them. An entire murder of crows came to the baby’s defense. I leapt over the baby and into the studio. They pounded the door and pecked at the windows. They circled my studio for hours. Angry cawing. It was a scene straight out of Alfred Hitchcock.

Crows seemed like the obvious subject matter for my first stab at sculpture.

I decided to use found objects: wood, wire hangers, newspaper, string, a plastic clamp. India ink and glue.

Creating my sculptures became something of a meditation. As I bent the wire and glued the paper it occurred to me that perhaps the crows weren’t confusing me with someone else. Perhaps their attacks were meant for me. Perhaps I needed to listen. In some traditions, crows are the keeper of sacred law. They are heralds of consciousness change, shape-shifting. They thump you on the head when you need to wake up, when you are not living in alignment with your best interests. That was certainly true of me at the time. The crows were literally hitting me on the head.

I loved making my sculptures. I love what they brought me to understand. My artist-friends were more right than they knew; I needed to do some sculpture. I needed to exit my rut and step into a scary void and, in that way, invite new seeing, new forms, and finally, a new way of being.

read Kerri’s blog post about CROW

crow ©️ 2010 david robinson

Leave The Studio [on DR Thursday]

Kerri calls this snippet REACH

One day at the farmer’s market we saw a little girl chasing an enormous soap bubble. She was gleeful, squealing with delight. Looking at the faces of the adults watching the little girl, it was clear that they wished they were also racing across the grass, gleefully chasing bubbles. It was clear that they yearned to feel that carefree. In some distant place, they remembered.

These days I occasionally sit in my studio but I do not touch my brushes. There is a canvas on the easel. It’s good and worn and chunky just as I like them. It is waiting. I am waiting.

I believe, as Tom McK. taught me, that “a writer writes and a painter paints.” There is no magic to it. Well, that’s a lie. There’s plenty of magic when the painting begins, when the artist disappears. But first, the paint has to hit the canvas. Before disappearing the artist has to show up.

Yesterday, Skip sent me this lovely reminder. It’s from a tweet:

“I believe it was John Cage who once told me, ‘When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, your enemies, the art world, and above all, you own ideas – all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one-by-one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.'”

That little girl chasing bubbles, her glee, is what happens when “even you leave.” All of the ideas of who you are or what you need to do or achieve, the expectations, the burdens and worries, the pandemic, the politics, the notions of success and failure, all leave the room. That’s when the bubble chasing begins. That’s when there is ample space for glee and delight.

Kerri chose this morsel for today and I’m so glad she did. “I want to do another version of this painting,” I said. That little girl, so long ago chasing an enormous soap bubble at a farmer’s market, is calling me back to my easel, she’s pointing to the studio door and asking me to leave.

Chasing Bubbles, mixed media, 33.25 x 48IN

read Kerri’s blog post about REACH

reach/chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

Value The Cake [on Two Artists Tuesday]

available copy

When you choose an artist’s path the odds are you will always be looking for work. In the United States it is the rare artist that makes their living through their artistry. Staying afloat requires a layer-cake-strategy: the bottom layer is the job you take to make money (waiting tables). The second layer is the job you take that somehow relates or comes close to the artistry (teaching). The top layer, the holy grail layer, is the art itself. Few artists resent or resist this reality. They are called to it. It’s more a question of who they are than what they choose to do. It’s also true that few artists survive the hardship beyond the age of 30.

In my life I have dug ditches, cleaned chicken coups, delivered bread, unloaded mattresses from semis, waited tables and been licensed as a massage therapist (to name only a few). I’ve been credentialed twice, been an adjunct professor a few times, founded an experiential learning program, been a general manager and managing director of theatre companies, and an artistic director twice. I’ve had a consulting practice, an international coaching practice, run around in the world of entrepreneurs, drawn cartoons and children’s books. I’ve painted all my life. I’ve directed plays and written plays. I have seven book outlines in my files, none of which will make it to a final form. I’ve performed with symphonies, written and told stories at conferences. At this point, I have a very hard time answering the dinner party question, “So, what do you do?”

What do I do? My friends in Seattle used to tell me that I was the most successful unsuccessful person that they knew. Yes. I am an artist.

If I answer the dinner-party-question with the truth, I am an artist, the inevitable follow-up question,”Do you make a living doing that?” used to make me cringe and feel as though I needed to hide or make excuses for my life. Or lie. “Well, I have this layer cake…” Last year my dear friend, Dwight, popped back into my life for an evening. He asked the question and I started the old tap-dance. I thought if I talked long enough I might find credibility in the eyes of my friend. And, then I remembered that the life lesson is not to find credibility in my friend’s eye, but in my own. I stopped the dance and said, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” We laughed.

I do know this: I am an artist. I chose this path and it chose me. Sometimes I make money through my work. Mostly I do not. I’ve tried putting that piece of myself on the shelf in the closet and I failed. I can’t do it. Artistry, for me, is about much more than making paintings or plays. It is not something I do. It is something I am. It’s a path, a way of fully living this life.

I am in the job hunt cycle again. Writing resumes feels akin to answering the dinner-party-question. How can I make you see that I have value when the only value you recognize is monetary? I can’t. How can I make potential employers see value in my rich diverse set of experiences and, therefore, skills, when the bot weeds me out because I am not singular? I can’t. What the HR-world sees as unfocused is, in actuality, a hyper focus. How can I make the HR-world see the rich value of an artist when they only understand the word as an ego-uplift-phrase for hard working sandwich makers? I can’t.

I just read this question: what are the limits you have set for your life? Many years ago I worked with a man. He owned a tent and party supply business. He worked very, very hard. He drank too much. He bought the business on the day he forever stopped playing his trumpet for a living. I asked if he ever missed playing. He looked away and said, “I can’t think about it.”

I think about it everyday. And, luckily for me, I know beyond doubt that my artistry is central, essential. It is who I am, not what I do. It is not a word I’d pair with “sandwich.” It is what calls me beyond limits. It serves as a constant threshold. It stirs me, challenges me, causes me to listen deeply and feel keenly. It requires me to take chances. It asks me to open my eyes and see beyond what I think. Is there value in that?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTISTS (sandwich and otherwise)

 

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Mourn The Loss [on KS Friday]

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28 years ago, on this day, Kerri’s older brother, Wayne, died of lung cancer. If you want to know how she feels about it, you need only listen to LAST I SAW YOU. Grief made utterly beautiful in its yearning.

It is the gift of the artist to transform, to turn the darkest day, the breaking heart, into something bearable. It is the gift of the artist to communicate what cannot be captured in language, to transport us, in a safe way, into and through the hurt so we might touch the unfathomable depth of love. It is the gift of the artist to open new pathways and possibilities, to guide communities into and through impossible conversations. To point the way to a new story, a new perspective growing from an old and ancient root.

In my mind it is the greatest loss when an artist turns against their artistry. The entire world loses on the day an artists says, “Why bother.” There’s no money in it. The artist loses most of all because they’ve bitten the poison in the American apple. They wither and die. Not everything is or should operate like a business. Education is not nor ever should be a business. Worship is not a business. Healthcare is not nor ever should be a business. Run them that way and the priorities flip. The greater is lost in the lesser. When making money becomes more important than health or care or spirit or the expansion of minds, we lose our way. We send our kids back to school during a pandemic to open the economy. Sacrificial lambs. Throw them into a volcano to make it rain.

What we value in this nation is abhorrent.

And then there is Kerri. What a gift. What a loss. She read today that someone is now making silverware out of old CDs. “Look,” she said, showing me the article. “We have a basement filled with CDs! Maybe we should have gone into the silverware business!” Proving to herself once again that her gift is less than worthless. Worth less gift. No business.

Great! I thought but did not say. A world filled with forks but void of your music. No one to lead us through the dark, no way to reach the truly beautiful.

“My paintings,” I said, feigning alliance, “are destined for a thrift store.” I’ve given up the fight with her (though, by this post you can see that I am a liar).

I continue to paint with no illusion about “sales” or “showing” or the other necessities of “business.” It’s for me, now. Transformation of dark to light can be selfish, too. Personal. After all, for me, it’s always been a spiritual path. Business necessities pale in the comparison.

If you want to know what I [and Wayne] feel about Kerri turning her back on her artistry, you need only listen to LAST I SAW YOU. Listen for the strings. It will break your heart.

 

LAST I SAW YOU is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LAST I SAW YOU

 

ray of light WI website box copy

 

 

last i saw you/this part of the journey ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

meditation ©️ 2015 david robinson

Causal Your Effectual [on DR Thursday]

KDOT Underpainting copy

under-painting of One Chord Ahead

This is my version of under painting. It’s the base layer for what-comes-next. In school, they teach that under-painting is mostly monochromatic. It’s meant to give value definition and basic shape to an-already-determined composition. For me, it serves another purpose altogether.

It is true that I already know what this painting looks like when it is finished. I have the image in my head. It is also true that I have absolutely no idea what this painting will look like when finished. There’s a magic point in the process when the painting takes over and I follow the leader. I’ve learned that the real dance of artistry is to let both of these truths be…true. Know and not know. Lead and follow.

Under painting, for me, is psychological prep work, readiness to enter the paradox. It is my process of thinking-things-through so I can stop-thinking-things-through and enter the dance without focusing on the steps.

Causal and effectual. I first encountered these phrases when I waded into the world of entrepreneurs. They are process terms. Causal basically means that you begin with a goal in mind and map your steps to meet the predetermined goal. Effectual is the inverse. Looking at the maps (choices) and available resources, the goal is identified based on what’s available; the goal is fluid and changes as you progress.

Raphael was causal. Jackson Pollock was effectual. Maybe.

I laughed when I first heard the terms. They gave me some good language to use for my creative process. Causal/Effectual. Both/And. For me, one cannot live separate from the other. Start with an image in mind or start with a canvas, some paint, and see what happens. Either way, one process will inevitably cross paths with the other. Jackson Pollock, at some point in his random painting dance, became intentional and compositional with his spatter. Raphael, at some point in his tightly predetermined composition, allowed his brush to flow, to move intuitively, freely.

Under painting = I have to make color messes and utterly stifle a composition before I can stand at the edge, jump, and set myself free.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDER PAINTING

 

their palettes website box copy

 

 

unfettered ©️ 2018 david robinson

 

 

 

Draw A Blank [on DR Thursday]

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A white canvas. Or is it a blank canvas? This could be a finished piece of art or a scary beginning. Having the 20th century of art firmly in the books, art historians weigh in, saying “yes,” it could be complete. It could also be inception. As confusing or clarifying as it might sound, the determining factor is the artist’s intention.

In 1918, the Russian artist Kazmir Malevich painted Suprematist Composition: White On White. White, he believed, was the color of infinity. It recently sold at auction for $15 million dollars.

In 1963, Ad Reinhardt painted his Abstract Painting, at first glance a black canvas that reveals itself as a symphony of shades and tones. He called his canvases “pure, timeless, ideal, transcendent.” His paintings sell at auction for millions.

Yasmina Reza wrote a play, Art, that explores the question “What is art? In it, friends debate and debase the $200,000.00 purchase of a completely white painting.

Does this sound crazy? The artist decides the reality? Beginning or end? Is it the artist’s intention or the eye of the beholder that gives meaning and value to art? Both?

It is breathtaking when you recognize that artists do not create from thin air. Artists reflect the society in which they live and work. 1918 was the end of a world war. It was the beginning of a global pandemic. Who could blame Kazmir Malevich for exploring infinity? Of wanting to reach beyond an external reality that was horrific?

I stare at my blank canvas. It is an invitation. A call.

I/We live in a time of absurdity – farcical abstraction from observable reality. Angry bubbles. Insulated information tribes. Data collection more valuable than gold. We are reducing ourselves to so many numbers. What’s your credit score? Your personality rating? Perhaps I should fill my canvas with zeros and ones? What would you see?

Mostly, we constantly weigh our interests against values and values lose every time. Weird calculations creating ludicrous reality. Yesterday, for instance, 3000 young people packed into a mega church during a pandemic – in a virus hotspot – to cheer a demagogue; they were told they were safe because there was a new and special corona virus killing air system.  The pile of farces grows higher and higher. The propaganda machine grows louder and louder. How rich a field for an artist to explore! The most individualistic nation on earth creating lemmings who will believe anything.

What should I paint? Do I want to comment on the ridiculous? The obscene?

I find myself understanding Kazmir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt as I never have before. Look beyond the angry horror story. I do not want to spend my precious few years on this earth meditating on the ugly abstractions, the made-up-in-the-moment divisions. The blank surface of my canvas calls me to look beyond the noise. There is so much to love in this passing moment. Change, real change, is always in this direction.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on BLANK CANVASES

 

 

 

picnic table website box copy

 

 

all my loves/the draw sunsets ©️ 2020/2017 david robinson

 

 

Give It Away [on Very Flawed Wednesday]

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There’s a yearly ritual in our home that I have come to dread. The arrival of the BMI statement. Broadcast Music, Inc., one of the performing rights organizations (royalty collectors) that track and collect royalties for the worldwide play of Kerri’s music. If I could hide the envelope and feel good about myself I would do it.

The BMI envelope evokes a dark cloud. Kerri clutches it and disappears into a corner of the house where she meticulously adds the numbers. With each number, her inner emotional rubber band winds tighter and tighter and tighter until it approaches the snapping point. I hear mutters and curses, “Listen to this,” she shouts to no one, “27,000 plays and I made a whopping 6 cents! 50,000 plays and get this! I made 6 bucks! Six whole bucks!!!”

I stand by, phone in hand, ready to dial the medical rescue squad. If her exclamation is ever followed by hysterical laughter, I’m dialing. I swear it.  “Are you alright?” I call out as part of the ritual. There is never a reply, just more clicking sounds from her phone calculator. Click, click, click…More mutters. More frustration. More anger. She is no longer adding numbers, she is adding abuses. Stacking her fury. She is consciously stoking her discontent.

I lose her for days in the black BMI cloud. Ritual anger. Hot fire.

In the old world, these numbers would add up to a very healthy living, a very successful career. In the new world, the numbers mean Apple Music and Spotify and Rhapsody and SoundCloud and YouTube…are making a healthy living on her music and the work of other independent artists. The artists are circumvented from realizing the profits of their work.

“You know it’s coming,” I tell her, “so why put yourself through this every time? You aren’t going to change it.” My ritual appeal.

She doesn’t acknowledge my question. She doesn’t acknowledge my presence. Click, click, click…”Oh Great!” she exclaims! “I’ve had a decrease! Last time it was .00079 and now it’s .00074! OF A CENT!”

I go to the far side of the house where DogDog is hiding from the dark and angry storm. We sit together, DogDog and me, phone at the ready.

The thing is, I agree with her. It is not fair. It is not right. It is a sign of the times that the organizations intended to protect her rights are active participants in selling her out. They make more money by ensuring that the artists makes less. Far less. “It costs them more per penny to send me the check than I’m getting per performance play!” she writhes. “Ten Times As Much!” She’s done the calculation; her indignation is numerically exact.

It is also not healthy to obsess on it. They’ve literally taken her livelihood. For several weeks each year she freely gives them her sanity. She drop-kicks her peace out the door. Her health suffers. Her heart breaks. And, for some reason, she waits with anticipation for the next letter to come so she can descend into darkness and rail again at the injustice. It’s as if the BMI letter is the only real, last remaining validation to her artistry. Over a million people enjoy her music each year.  The red hot anger is her only remaining thread to that deep rich pool of creativity.

In the meantime, she refuses to go into her studio and compose.”Why Bother!” she shouts to no one listening. Click, click, click…

She has, of course, given them far more than they have taken. During one of these rituals, the rubber band will snap as happens to all artists who turn against their artistry. After the snap, after I dial the phone and the good people come to take the pieces away, I will play her albums – all of them – and listen to the life-giving beauty that came from that deep creative pool before she could no longer see beyond the BMI betrayal, before she allowed the clicking numbers to parch her wild abundant artistry.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BMI

 

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Doubt It [on DR Thursday]

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In our vast catalogue of projects-that-went-nowhere is a single panel cartoon proposal we called At The Door. A dog and a cat at the door. One wants to go out and explore the world. The other is content to stay forever inside in a known and predictable world. One dreams of adventure, the other dreams of lunch. The progressive instinct meets the conservative impulse.

Because it was largely existential and mostly not funny, we were certain that it would never gain traction. We developed it anyway. Why?

One of the great mysteries of an artist’s life is the Riddle Of Attraction. Why are some pieces popular and others are not? The crux of the riddle is this: what I consider my best work usually collects dust on the shelf while the pieces that I think inferior fly out the door. Kerri and I write everyday. We have a ritual call-and-response when we write something that we feel is meaningful or has real depth. I’ll say, “That’s a really good post.” She’ll reply, “That means no one will read it.” And, inevitably, it is true. The maddening moment comes when we post work that feels lacking and it is read widely across the globe.

There can be only one logical explanation: we must be the worst judges of our own artistic expression. We must have an inverted relationship with what has value and what does not when it comes to our own pieces. It must be true that artists are the last to objectively see their work. It’s a terrifying notion; if I think it is awful, it must be good. If I think it is good, it must be a delusion.

And so, we happily wrote and drew a cartoon with a dog and a cat at the door. Both critters looking out on the big world, one pulled to it while the other is repelled. It seemed like a bad idea so it just might have been good!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AT THE DOOR

 

 

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Lose The Argument [on KS Friday]

in a split second copy

I’m losing the argument and it just became nearly impossible for me to make my case. My loss goes like this:

In the school of great ironies comes this latest and greatest entry: recently when Kerri posts her music to Facebook, the platform often pulls it down with a copyright claim.

Don’t yet see the irony? Let me unpack it. She composed the music. Recorded it. She formed a holding company to protect the rights of her music. No matter how you spin the legal rubik’s cube, she owns the rights to her artistry (as it should be). A social media platform is blocking her from using her music for copyright infringement on music that she holds the copyright. There is no customer service person to pick up the phone. All appeals go into the black hole of “email us and we’ll get back to you.” There is a bot with nary a mind in its matter or care in the world.

Wait. There’s more. We have, since we met, spent entire evenings surfing the web to find the millions of people who use her music (royalty free) to play beneath their home movies, their nature videos, their wedding collages, their graduation montages, the news stories, the documentary previews, moving baby albums. It seems anyone has been able to pull down and use her music without nod or consideration to copyright or royalty.

Over the course of her career, entities like Napster and Spotify and Pandora and Apple Music sprang fully grown from Zeus’ head. They play her music – paying her – dare I call it a royalty – of .000079 of penny for every play (that’s documented). She has well over a million listeners each year (that are documented). Had she any form of royalty and copyright protection -any at all – she’d be a very wealthy artist, indeed.

The argument that I lost? I’ve been nagging her incessantly to record the pieces that now grow yellow in her composition book. Some of her best work. Her generic answer is, “Why bother.” In the past year, my campaign was gaining ground! She was considering it. And then, in a split second, the last avenue where she could exercise a modicum of control over her artistry – locked her out from sharing her own music.

Irony. In a split second.

 

IN A SPLIT SECOND on the album AS SURE AS THE SUN  is available on iTunes or you can, like so many, get it almost anywhere you look (that’s facetious).

 

read Kerri’s blog post on IN A SPLIT SECOND

 

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in a split second/as sure as the sun ©️ (though you’d never know it) 2002 kerri sherwood

Learn It Again and Again [on DR Thursday]

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“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.” ~ Pablo Picasso

This trail of images, all on the same canvas, is an idea trying hard not to become something else. It is a series of fitful starts and dissatisfied restarts.  It is not uncommon, when I feel that my well is dry, to start a painting and shove it through many phases of discontent. I pull on it and push on it like so much taffy.

I’ve learned (or I am making it up at this very moment) that this exercise of discontent is important. It is a necessary skill to develop – not to get too attached to an idea or invested in how it “should” be. When my well is empty, I generally stumble into this old mistake: I try to force a result. I try to make it happen. I somehow forget that the best work is a relationship, a process that has very little to do with muscle and everything to do with heart. And so, I roll through a series of forced images.

And then, one day, I throw up my hands and all thoughts of my precious idea go out the window. I let go. And that is the exact moment that the idea becomes something else and the painting can finally begin.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE STORY OF A MISS

 

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