Yearly Archives: 2016

Letters david-bowie_ziggy-stardust

In Francis Whately’s 2013 documentary, David Bowie: Five Years, there’s a scene, shown in split-screen, of David Bowie’s longtime guitarist Carlos Alomar casually riffing, then building layers for the anchoring groove that became the 1975 hit, Fame. In that moment, the shifting shape of an artist seems to unfold in real time. Young Americans would be Bowie’s ninth studio album, releasing past Glam Rock personae to grab at his latest obsession with R&B, funk, soul and dance hall music. In style, Bowie adopted a term for his new sound: “plastic soul.” “I put together all these odds and ends of art and culture that I really adore,” he said. “Every time I’ve made a radical change it’s helped me feel buoyant as an artist.”

Letters Paul-Cezanne_The_Large_Bathers

One of the essential principles of creativity is MAD. It’s also known as OTD, but they amount to the same thing. MAD stands for “Make A Delivery,” OTD for “Out The Door.” These concepts resonate with the idea, long since proven effective, that writers write, painters paint and tortillistas make tortillas. It also says that if you want to be an apple vendor you better have apples in your apple cart. The idea goes beyond commercial considerations. Even poor Cezanne, with all his neuroses, thought a little bit better of himself when, finally at age 55, the Paris dealer Vollard saw fit to give him his first one man show.

Letters RG150-Bright-Pattern-Chatterbox-Princess-Louisa-Inlet-11x14

Patty Oates from California wrote, “Could you comment on the red dots your father used in so many of his paintings? I’ve never seen a word about this practice, which is so effective.”

Thanks, Patty. You’re referring to the personal technique of Dad’s called “counterpoint and colour surprise.” Think of it as a “signature move” — one that bumps up vibrations so the work dazzles and identifies it as uniquely his. While the dots are especially Dad’s, you can find your own signature move by first understanding the mechanics of his.

Letters Johann_Heinrich_Wilhelm_Tischbein_-_Goethe_in_the_Roman_Campagna

I’m laptopping you today from Goethe’s chair. I’m in his “poetry room” here in his family home in Frankfurt. The five-story building, leaning out over a street called Grosser Hirschgraben, was restored after WW2. The surrounding buildings are now a museum and one of the main attractions in this city. Here are manuscripts, drawings, paintings, childhood toys — a furnished interior locked into 1749. There’s a library, picture gallery, theatre and conference center. On the third floor I bumped into a shaggy young poet, his eyes on the ceiling, notebook and stubby pencil in hand. In the library I watched Japanese schoolgirls copying his drawings and giggling at his poetry.

Letters saint-exupery3

Some artists don’t believe in resolutions. Others find talking too much about ideas neutralizes the power needed to execute them. Some artists worry about sabotage. Many value the accountability that comes with a public declaration — they set goals, create a strategy, tweak tactics and pull from ineffable inner resources when needed. Like John Beeden, who this year rowed from San Francisco to Cairns, Australia in his 6-metre boat, “Socks II,” some artists create what once seemed impossible.

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