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]

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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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Consider Levitation [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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And what does this mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Certainly this was not a naturally occurring event! No pear could possibly achieve so grand a seat without some form of assistance. Or, could it?

Levitation is a possibility but it is doubtful that this pear – or any pear, for that matter – is capable of the necessary powers of concentration required to raise itself to wine bottle heights. And, if levitation is the answer, we are still left with the primary question: what does it mean?

The pear might answer, as George Mallory answered when asked why he might want to place himself atop Mt. Everest, “Because it is there.” Meaning making does not require depth but it does necessitate curiosity. “Because I can” really means “because I want to.” The grass is always greener. Why step on the moon? Why sail to the edge of the world? Why paint a painting or compose a song? Something calls.

Because it feels good. Because it is beautiful in my eyes. Because I might learn something about myself and, therefore, the world in which I create/inhabit. Most explorations are internal journeys even if they look like mountain ascents. Soul searching leads to more experiences with soul. The best questions lead to bigger questions, like this one (last week’s winner for best question): Does the soul live in the body or does the body live within the soul?

It seems like a good time to borrow a title from Joseph Campbell: what exactly are The Inner Reaches Of Outer Space?  What are the outer reaches of inner yearning?

Does this pear have yearnings? What does it mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Believe me, I’ve asked the pear and it remains silent on the subject. Wise pear! It knows I must make my own meaning and hopes that I will never cease asking my questions and, above all, never delude myself into thinking I have even the slightest bit of an answer.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the PEAR & THE BOTTLE

 

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Drop The Condition [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Anyone who tells you that people are not fond of suffering has either 1) never experienced love or 2) never loved an experience. Kerri assures me that giving birth to her children was at the same time the most painful and most joyful experience of her life. It is why humanity, throughout its diverse cultural variations, all bandy-about some version of the phrase “unconditional love.” As they say, love is a sword that cuts both ways. Or, to use a weapon-free metaphor, love is a lemon, both bitter and sweet. All inclusive.  No conditions.

If we are lucky, we do what we love. Whether climbing to the mountaintop or walking the path of an artist, both come with a fair amount of suffering. They also come with an inordinate amount of elation. Moments of passing fulfillment. It is just as I have been taught: the secret to happiness in this life is to  do what you love simply because you love it. Walk toward your love and the suffering will make sense. It will make sense because the suffering-in-love is always transcendent. All inclusive.

Walking toward your love with an added layer of condition (i.e., it has to make money) and you lose what you love. It contorts or goes to dust.

The Buddhists have a phrase: joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. This world is filled with sorrow and suffering and injustice. To be fully alive is not to protect yourself from feeling the sorrows or from experiencing the suffering, but to stand in them. Participate. Engage. Drop the notion that life is an achievement and you will open to the full experience. Colors on the palette.

This is not an abstraction or a dose of idealism.  If you are not walking toward your love you are, in all likelihood, walking away from what you fear. With fear as a motivator, the natural destination is a fort. Separation. Self-preservation. Exclusion. Living in a fortress makes for a very small world, a narrow band of  experience, lots of rules and a multitude of dull and angry days.

We are living in a time of overwhelming challenge. This pandemic mountain is steep. There is undeniable suffering. Fear is being fed. Conflict nurtured. Division fueled. Fear drives people to gather at the governor’s mansion and demand to open the economy. In their blind-fear-madness the protestors rave about acceptable losses. The mind can be a dull angry fortress when the heart is lost in the conditional. Souls twist.

Love, on the other hand, brings nurses and doctors, after attending to the sick and dying, to stand silently in the midst of the fear protestors. Their message is simple. Go home.

Do not doubt that these nurses and doctors are suffering, climbing a very tall and dangerous mountain, but it all makes sense because their love is without condition. They are asking all of us to do no more than think of the suffering of others. They are. Love without condition is simple. All inclusive. No loss is acceptable.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SUFFERING GLORIOUSLY

 

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Keep Playing [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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As I reported several weeks ago, if you where standing on the far side of the piano, you’d never know Kerri was playing with casts on both of her wrists. You’d never know that she was playing with two broken wrists, her right thumb completely out of the line-up. Nine fingers doing the job of ten.

As a composer, singer-songwriter, a person whose entire career, her livelihood, has been about playing the piano, she was at the keyboard four days after her fall. She had to know if she could play. I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. In my best mother hen voice, I suggested, “Maybe you should wait a bit.”

“I have to know,” she said with THAT tone in her voice.

When I first met her, I took note that she stands when she plays the piano. She is not a bench sitter. Rather, she is a full-body player. She is a full body composer. Sometimes the piano literally hops with the force of her playing. She is little but grows exponentially in energy and presence when she steps up to the keys. The first time she played for me I had to step back from the power that came through her.

Now, several weeks into her mending time, the casts are off and the splints are on. I tell her that they make her look all Mad Max. Michael Jackson’s glove is bush-league compared to her performer-fashion-statement: double black splints.  She looks like a pugilist getting into the ring with her piano. The disparity between her bruiser-piano-vogue and the beautiful music she creates makes my head swirl.

Of course, all of that piano punching has brought a new hurdle in the wrist recovery saga: tendonitis. She went on a Google frenzy when the hard nodules began forming in her palm. They hurt. “My palm is on fire!” she said, “What do you think they are?” Google inflamed her already wild imagination with horror diagnoses and none of the scenarios were good. In fact, they were downright dire.

Doctors were called. Photos of palms sent. A scary foray into the medical facility mid-pandemic was arranged. She emerged from the facility, pulled off her protective mask and climbed into the truck. “Well?” I prompted.

“I didn’t touch anything,” she announced.

“I’m asking about your hands,” I huffed. “What did they say about the nodules growing in your hands?”

“My tendons don’t like that I’m playing with casts,” she said. “Probably tendonitis.”

“That’s good news!” I said and she hit me with THAT look. “Okay, so. Well. Not great news. What are you supposed to do?”

“Keep playing,” she said, looking out the front window. “They gave me some exercises. Advil. But, I keep playing. What else can I do?” she asked, a question not to me.

“Good then. You’ll keep playing.” My mother hen suggestion went unvoiced: maybe some rest? I didn’t want to be hit with THAT look two times in a row. Instead, knowing full well that she is not a bench sitter, knowing that she is a full-body artist and that, for her, to play is to heal, I said, “Okay. Let’s do it. Let’s keep playing.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SAGA CONTINUED

 

 

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See Anew [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It seems that everything during the pandemic is a study of circumstance-driven-change. For instance, I am a painter of people. I’ve never been interested in still life studies. Even in school, I cringed at the bowls of fruit placed before us by the instructor. Shape, shade, blah-blah-blah. Give me figure drawing any day! Suddenly, to my great surprise, I am photographing big bowls of fruit. They are gorgeous. I’m thinking about a painting featuring fruit.  What’s happening to me?

The devil is in the pandemic detail. We used to go to the store everyday. We used to buy what we needed for the next 24-48 hours. There were no big piles of fruit, no explosions of color in the fruit bowl or waves of color rolling across the counter. Now, in the time of pandemic, we stock up. We are – like you – buying massive amounts of bananas and oranges and apples and pears. They are, to an artist’s eye, when assembled, simply beautiful. They are, I suspect to an accountant’s eye, also beautiful, but my thoughts stray beyond merely eating.

Beautiful.

We are also in a fit of food experimentation. To delay our need to go into the wild COVID world and shop, we comb the empty larder, asking “What do we have? What can we make with what we have?” We throw our random ingredient list into the Google pool and voila! Yummy options emerge. Bacon wrapped pears. Oh. My. God. It never would have occurred to my bear-brain to wrap a pear in bacon. I savored it. I moaned. My eyes rolled back in my head.

Beautiful. Delicious.

When you study change processes, you bumble across something akin to a rule. It goes like this: if you know where you are going, then it is not really change; it is controlled reordering of what already exists. It may look new but is really the same old wolf in new sheep’s clothing.

Change is what happens when you step into unknown and strange lands, when all of the old points-of-orientation are gone. Only then will you step into something new and surprising. Only then will you see without the old dulling filter. For me, apparently, change looks like a big bowl of beautiful fruit.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BACON WRAPPED PEARS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Look Again [on DR Thursday]

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It’s all a matter of context. As it stands, this is the seventh painting in a series I call Earth Interrupted. This piece would not exist today except Kerri stopped me from painting over it. She likes it. I find it dark. Foreboding. Of the seven paintings, it is the darkest piece in the series. When I painted it, I didn’t know how to place it – I didn’t know its reference point. It wasn’t and isn’t comfortable.

I pulled it out of the stacks last week. Now, in this time of pandemic, I know exactly what it represents. Everyday in the news I see a graphic of the virus. It is dark and foreboding.  Earth interrupted.

In an earlier version of myself I spent a great deal of time trying to educate educators to this simple truth: art is not supposed to be entertainment. It can’t always be comfortable. In fact, it holds diminished value if it doesn’t sometimes challenge, sometimes upset, sometimes confront, sometimes incite. Art is powerful because it confronts us, asks us to question what we see and think and believe.

And now, looking at this painting that makes me uncomfortable, I find it necessary to listen to that earlier version of me. This painting is beautiful, not because it makes me feel good or takes me away, it is vital because it upsets me. It lands me squarely into this inescapable moment in time.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about E.I. 7

 

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earth interrupted vii ©️ 2018 david robinson

Look For The Manatee [on DR Thursday]

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This has never been Kerri’s favorite painting. When I chose it for this week’s melange I asked her why she didn’t like it. She said, “Because there’s a manatee in it.”

“A manatee?”

“Keep in mind,” she said, “that I’m inkblot challenged.”

Wait. What?

Responding to the blank look in my eyes, she added, “I could never see Jesus in the pancake. Stuff like that.”

“The pancake?” My synapse fell short of the hoop. She Googled inkblots to demonstrate her disability.

“See (she pointed to an inkblot on the screen)! There’s Florida and I’m supposed to see Jesus. Wait. Oh. There he is. Wait! There’s a lot of stuff in there!” she marveled, squinting at the blot.

Blink. Blink.

“Oh! Maybe it’s that I see too much stuff in the inkblot!

I pulled up the image of the painting. “It’s called Canopy,” I said. I enlarged the image.

She looked close. “Wait. That’s not a manatee!” she exclaimed. “That’s a person’s leg!” She looked closer. “Hmmm.”

It is, after all, what I love about art: It is never complete. It emerges anew with each new look, each new performance. What I intend has very little to do with what is perceived and in that space between artist and audience, a new creation, a new conversation arises. Imagination is like that. It opens worlds of surprising possibilities. It projects itself into the known, into the painting, and magically transforms it.

“So, you don’t like manatees?” I tease.

“I love manatees!” she huffs. “Just not in your paintings.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post on CANOPY

 

 

 

 

 

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canopy ©️ 2009 david robinson