November 27, 2010

A Moment to Make Your Mark

This week’s exercise will feature no moral, no agenda, and no deep insight. This week will simply be: for fun, for wasting time, and for goofing off at work. If you believe that you’re too busy, too important, or too concerned with being caught to be fooling around, then you are the one that needs this Moment the most.

This will also be the first Moment upon which we will place our signatures. Neither our initial in a corner nor our name scribed in cursive will do. Instead, we will leave an unmistakable mark, that which cannot be counterfeited. These Moments will be created with our fingerprints.

No brushes, no markers, no pencils no stencils no pens, only our fingertips will apply the paint to our canvas this week. Of course, this canvas can be whatever is within reach: paper, lumber, fabric, tabletop, dinner plate, anything that we can grasp. We will not, however, paint on anything that we shouldn’t (our boss’s desk, for example). As much as we need to let go in one respect, we certainly do not want to be in the other.

The procedure couldn’t be simpler: cover your fingertips with paint, and then with them, apply the paint to your canvas.

Like the canvas, the paint can be whatever you choose. Colour your fingertips with an ink pen, a marker, finger paint, acrylic, oil, gravy; it doesn’t matter. Apply the medium, and mash. You certainly can, and should, use many different colours. Make your Moment dramatic. Give it panache. Repeat this until your entire canvas is littered with fingerprints.

Most importantly, do not allow your Moment to look like anything in particular. Make this Moment abstract and incoherent. As soon as you decide that it needs to resemble something, it will lose its flavour, and you will begin to worry about whether or not you’re succeeding in accurately portraying this image. If you really need it to look like something, make it look like a mess.

Messy is desirable here. The longer it takes to clean up after your Moment, the better. Dive right in, touch your canvas, and really feel it. Experience the texture of the paper, or the grain of the wood. The purpose is not to have a respectable piece of artwork that you can frame and show. The purpose is solely to enjoy your Moment.

In short, the point here is that there is no point here. Not every moment needs an intention, and not every Moment needs an agenda. Just let it be. When you are finished, leave your Moment where it is, and on your way to the restroom to wash up, be sure to touch as many things and shake as many hands as possible.

Now to be fair, here's my Moment:
Acrylic on Yellow Pages applied with fingertips.

November 22, 2010

Time for your first solo.

Good afternoon, Artists!

I will be on a blogging hiatus this week. Until then, what I would like to see from all of us is a dedication to continue creating our Moments on a daily basis. Come up with some ideas of your own, and remember that there are no rules here. Don't hold back. If you are finding it difficult to be inspired at that moment, then revisit previous weeks' Moments, or attempt those that you may have missed. Likewise, you can visit our forums to see what others may be doing.

If all else fails and you are finding it impossible to find time or a theme or inspiration or anything, please feel free to contact me in the forums. I will answer any questions you may have there.

More to the point: Happy Thanksgiving my friends! Until next week...


November 14, 2010

Defragmentation of Thought

Computers are fast. Incalculable numbers are crunched and transmitted at light speed to deliver text, music, and photos to our hungry senses. Our brains are quick enough to keep up, and we want more. More information. Right now. Over time, our computers begin running slower, unable to deliver our wants to us instantly. Are we patient enough to wait for them? No. Click. Click-click-click and suddenly light speed just isn’t fast enough. At this point, hard drive defragmentation is in order.

Defragmentation, as many of us are intimately aware, is the process by which the computer’s hard disk is combed through sector by sector, byte by bit, in an attempt to collect scattered pieces of information and place them together in an efficient and contiguous fashion. When the process is complete, every random bit of code is aligned and covered like a disciplined platoon of obedient files. Everything is in order and close at the computer’s hand, so that it can resume processing expediently without having to search its entire memory every time we’d like to type another memo.

But what happens when our mind and memory, normally operated at speeds and efficiencies above and beyond that of our personal computers, become as scattered and disarrayed as the non-volatile disks of magnets and motors in our computers? As simple a solution as it sounds: We defrag our brain.

Like in a hard drive, those roguish bits of information that have no permanent home within our minds impede our ability to think quickly and creatively. They are the reason a word stays on the tip our tongues. They are the reason we make little progress in finishing what we’ve started. They are the reason why we “have so many amazing ideas for a poem or story,” but we “just haven’t been able to get it started.” With what we can safely call defrag poetry, we will find a home for this clutter and give our thoughts a clean living space for healthy growth.

The procedure is this: write down the first phrase that comes to your mind. Regardless of how ridiculous or offensive it sounds, this will be the title of your poem. Now, like the free association game, the remainder of your poem will be whatever comes into your brain next.

Your defrag poems will probably not make sense. They will likely sound childish and, at times, like utter gibberish (like L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, to some). This is perfectly acceptable and greatly encouraged. The point here is not to compose a concrete and publishable poem about your childhood by the pond. The point here is to clear out all of the nonsense that’s floating around upstairs and store it, neatly arranged, in a location outside of your mind. Chances are, the more absurd and risible your poem sounds, then from it, the better benefit you’ll obtain.

While not required, I’ve found that defrag poetry is enhanced through the help of a partner. As you both freely associate untidy ideas, even more junk can be extracted from you, from both of you. My wife and I do this frequently; it helps to clear away much unrecognized anxiety, and is a crisp, mental refreshment.

This poem will have no set length, so write until you’ve decided that you’re finished. If you have more brain debris, create another title and write another. Have some water, and repeat. When you’ve decided that your Moment is done, make a simple card from your poem and give it to the most miserable uptight in your office. They need it more than you do.

But I haven’t created a poem; this is unrecognizable and indecipherable garbage.

Says who, your college Creative Writing professor, who has chosen to remain in an academic setting to teach rigid methods of style within gradationally quantifiable standards to aspiring poets in order to justify “poetry as a paycheck”? Don’t listen to him; he’s unhappy.

Know that what you’ve created is poetry. It is a snapshot representing your thoughts and expressions at that exact point in time. It is something that nobody else could write if they tried, and it is beautiful (or grotesque, or insane, or incoherent, but in any way: perfect).

When our computers are running at optimal speed, we can get all of our memos, reports, designs, and proposals finished without the added stress of impatience. When our minds are running unhindered, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. Plans can be drawn, brick can be laid and cement poured, all so that the neighbourhood muralist may have a canvas of free expression. If the nonsense that floats around your head is getting in your creative way, give it a home. Let the world enjoy it.

We appreciate it.

As always, here’s my Moment:

Acrylic on Plywood; Poetry in partnership with Jeff Aicken.


November 7, 2010

Art as Child's Play

Picture by Solomon Higgs, age 10

There’s competition for jobs, competition for promotion, competition for college, for classes, for road space, for birthday and Christmas presents, for boyfriends and girlfriends, and nowadays, competition to enter grade school. So what will my son, who is currently competing for middle school acceptance and is very much like me, learn from this? Like me, he will probably learn that if he tries his best, holds many talents, and struggles to compete with his peers his whole life and isn’t number one in a world with no room for second best, then all of his blood, sweat and tears will be for nothing.

Hopefully not.

I stopped drawing at age twelve because my friend Todd was better skilled than I could ever hope to be. I quit playing guitar at age seventeen because another friend, Randy, had savant-like fretting abilities. Competition can generate unimaginable feats and push us beyond where we thought possible. The downside, however, is that if we are not competitive by nature, we end up passing the torch to the very best and moving on through another course. For most of us, this is what happened, long ago, to our creative endeavors.

Picture by Sharlotte Higgs, age 8
Disregarding the almost complete disappearance of artistic education coupled with the onslaught of standardized testing in our schools, the most likely cause of why we don’t create like we love to is our competitive nature. We don’t write because we’ll “never write poetry like that guy.” We don’t draw because we’ll “never paint such vivid portraits as that gal.” We don’t sing because “she has such a beautiful voice, I sound awful compared to her.”


Why do we care how we compare to others? From where does this forfeiture of competition arise? In a natural survival setting, the surrender of competition would mean death. We may not be able to cook a gourmet spread like our favourite nationally syndicated chef, but we cook nonetheless. Why? Because we want to eat. Why shouldn’t we also, because we want to write, paint, or compose, be able to do so without the supposed shame of mediocrity?

This week I want us to think back to when we were five years old, when we would paint landscapes that had no form and write words with no perceptive meaning, when we were in competition with nothing but our limitless imagination. In the style of this child, this uninhibited free spirit uninhabited by chagrin, this left-behind us, we will open ourselves up and discover a moment not experienced for twenty, thirty, forty or more years. We will readdress all of our hopes and dreams that were squashed along the way to adulthood, and kindle and ignite new fires. We will discover the fountain pen of youth.

Picture by Simion Higgs, age 6
The first thing you need to do is to decide, for each Moment, what you wanted to be at a certain moment in your past. Astronaut, fireman, cowgirl or rock star, we all had aspirations that fell by the wayside. After you choose your theme, you will draw/paint a picture, exactly how your five-year-old self would illustrate their future self.

This may prove a little more difficult than you might initially think. Finely tuned motor skills and learned techniques may impede the production of a truly juvenile portrait. Ignore ideas of shading, proportion, depth and perspective. If you need to, try drawing with your non-dominant hand. Use tools with which you are not acquainted, like a large unwieldy marker, or finger paint. Anything you would be using for the first time would give a realistically awkward approach; this is a good thing. This means that if you’re out to lunch at any contemporary chain restaurant, then grab the pack of crayons and the place mat. Pens, pencils, highlighters–mix them up as a child, who’ll grab anything within reach, would.

When you are finished with the drawing, you will write a quick little poem. Like the drawing, the poem will read as a five-year-old’s would read, with short and simple words and phrases. Don’t be concerned with spelling, grammar, or punctuation, but at the same time, don’t pressure yourself to write poorly. If you don’t already know the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re,” then don’t look it up. If you can’t quite figure out how to use “myriad” properly, then use it as it sounds right to you, but ask yourself: “Would a five-year-old use ‘myriad’ in a sentence anyway?” If not, just use “many” or “lots.” In academic and professional writing, you need to know these rules. Your Moments are neither.

Your poem should, somewhere, include the words: “I want to be.” Also, state the reason that you did not become that person. If you honestly don’t know, then admit it and say so. Recognize the point at which you deviated from your childhood dreams. These fantasies, at one point, were the most sacred things in the universe. Honour them.

When you are finished with your Moment, fold it up tightly and shove it into your pocket. Carry it around and play with it for the day. When you get home, if it has appropriate content, give it to your children. If you don’t have kids, then give it to a young relative, or your friend’s children, and tell them to always follow their dreams (to them, this has yet to become a cliché).

Competition for survival is fierce; competition for dreams is brutal. The last thing that I want is for us to read through these essays and then decide that we can’t follow through because “my coworker is very artistic, she’ll probably laugh.” There’s no competition here. No matter how bad we think we are, our art is unique and non-imitable; I promise. No one can do it quite like you. Open up; be naïve; feel like a kid again. We know that we’re probably not going to be the artist, the great American novelist, or the platinum-selling rock star that we’ve always imagined, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pretend.

Don’t be afraid to pretend. When you become fearless and shame-free, true innovation and artistry really do become child’s play.

Now to be fair, here's my Moment:

Acrylic and ink on construction paper.