How many books?

A friend recently asked me how many more books I have in me – on a rough count 8 are already to be assembled / edited.

– the short stories “Short and Strange”

– secular poetry

– a novella called “The Visitors” – speculative fiction.

– a book on creativity, to inspire other people to create

– women’s issues/rights

– other short stories inspired by ephemera

– yet more short stories – no particular theme

– Bible study (yes, there is some in Free Range Faith, but other stuff, and just Bible study – no essays)

There are probably more. These are what I can think of right now, based on what is already written. I have written a lot of material in the five years since I started my blog. I have slowed down on creating and producing new material and am assembling books with what I wrote. I might assemble a book based on my “Invisible House” musings. This will include pictures.

I will also write a book using the pictures my husband and I have taken using the Doctor Who action figures as models – a story based on those characters. Just taking them has been fun.

My art inspiration list

A random collection of artists and other creators that inspire my writing and art.

Maira Kalman
Dave Pilkey
David Shannon
Chris Van Allsburg
Matisse
Nick Bantock
Vivian Swift.

Handwritten, illustrated journals

Daily reading. Affirmations.

Sara Miles
Barbara Brown Taylor
Anne Lamott

Graffiti
Day of the Dead

Alice in wonderland
“Grover and the everything in the whole wide world museum”
Madeline L’Engle
Jesus

The Pern novels by Anne McCaffrey

Music – —
Punk and funk
Red hot chili peppers
Old Stevie Wonder
Soul Coughing
Michael Hedges

E E Cummings.

Sutton Hoo helmet
Celtic. Woad.

Rob Gonsalves
Escher
Bev Doolittle
(Hidden in plain sight, different perspective)

Stamps (tiny art)

I don’t write fiction. I report it.

I don’t write fiction. I report it. This may make no sense. Reporting is something you do with facts, and fiction isn’t real. Right?

I didn’t used to write fiction. It all started with pictures. I found a box of old photographs of people (family photographs from albums, most likely) at an antique mall in Boone, NC. I bought a few because they were intriguing. It is as if they reminded me of something I didn’t know yet. I needed to write about it to understand it. This too makes no sense. Stick with me here.

I’ve heard of other writers creating detailed maps of their stories before they even start to write it. They like to know where they are going before they get there. I’ve heard of others who just write. They start and see where it goes. The first way seemed too difficult, while the second seemed unlikely. I couldn’t see how a story could be constructed and make sense without a plan, but I’d been doing the same with collages and paintings for years, so I decided to try with words.

I am just as surprised as you are by how these stories develop. Writing for me is like reading the slowest book ever. I discover as I go.

I don’t normally write fiction. Essays and Bible study are my thing. They are solid, verifiable. It is like putting together a paper for English class – something I’m very familiar with. Fiction? That is out there. I love reading it, but have never felt that it was something I could do.

What do I mean when I say I am a reporter instead of a writer? I ask the basic questions – who, what, where, why, when. And then it goes from there. When I get to a place where I’m not sure what is next, I ask the questions again. Often I know just one step at a time what happens. It is rare when I know the goal and have to write to catch up with it.

I’ve heard that you should always write things that you’d like to read. If you as the author aren’t interested in it, then your readers won’t be either. I like reading things that surprise me, thus I write things that are surprising even to me. This too makes no sense. I, the author, should know what is happening, what is going to happen, right? Yet it is often sentence by sentence that I discover where the story is going. I don’t make up stories so much as write them down, almost as if I’m taking dictation.

I start by looking at the picture. These days I find unusual pictures of people online, since I don’t have ready access to family photos from strangers. I look very closely because there are often details I’d miss in a brief look. So often our eyes look but don’t see. Details make the difference. There is so little to the image, I need all that I can get out of it.

I’m OK with deviating from the picture if the story calls for it. The picture is a seed, a starting point. It is not a frame that limits, but a doorway that suggests and invites. Once I get inside the story, I can see more.

Could I use photos of people I know? I doubt it. They already have their own stories that I know. I think I’d be limited. I also think they’d get angry at my fabrication of their lives. I often use ideas and events from reality to flesh out my stories, however. People I know might find themselves, for good or not, in my words. You have to write about what you know, even if you are writing fiction. Saying it as fiction helps express it, get it out, in a way that can’t be construed as insulting someone’s character, because their name isn’t mentioned.

Time to make art?

People sometimes ask how long a piece I made took. This usually is in reference to beaded jewelry, but I soon expect it to happen for my collages. I’ve not been creating in that manner as long, and I’ve not started to try to seriously sell them.

Why does it matter how long something took to make? Does that devalue it if it didn’t take the artist very long? Does it mean that it should cost more if it took more time?

How long does it really take? When do you start the clock? When you first had the idea? When you bought the materials? When you started putting paint or ephemera onto the canvas? Or does it start before that – with classes and study, learning how to use the materials?

There have been plenty of times when I’ve realized that the only way I could have learned how to make the piece I just did was to have made the twenty other ones that the potential customer does not see. Sure, this one took two days to make. But in reality, it took two years of trial and error to learn how to do this in two days.

If a necklace took twenty minutes to make, does that mean that it shouldn’t cost $45, because you only make $15 an hour? What if the same customer would spend $30 on a meal that took ten minutes to cook?

Food is a good analogy – the raw ingredients have to be raised or grown or processed (chicken, asparagus, pasta). All of these things take time and skill – before you even get to cook them into a meal. Learning how to cook takes time and a lot of practice.

Making art is the same. The materials used have to be created and / or purchased. The expense (time and money) involved in just the materials alone must be considered, as well as the time it took for the chef to learn how to prepare it.

Perhaps artists should start saying the real time it took, starting with when they first had the idea for that piece or bought the first supply that was used. or when they first learned a technique they used in that piece. In some cases, that would be 20 years for me.

Why so many people feel dissatisfied with modern conceptual art.

I read a post on an artist group page recently that wondered what was wrong with modern conceptual art. The video that was used to spark discussion had a commentator that said that it was all crap, and showed recent examples to prove his point, some of which was in fact fecal matter. No, I’m not being euphemistic. It was actual fecal matter, used as “art” and hanging in a museum. There were other examples that were equally bizarre and unsettling.

What I found most interesting is that the people who commented in defense of the “art” said that at least it provoked a reaction. To them, simply making someone react was proof that the artist had done a good job.

The issue is, however, that the reaction isn’t a healthy one, or one that inspires. It is a reaction of confusion (what is the artist trying to say?), or anger (how did this random paint smear get into a museum/get bought for a million dollars?).

Perhaps the reason so many people like modern conceptual art is because it reminds them of their own feelings. It is “misery loves company”. People like things that remind them of who they are. Deep down they must be very lost and confused and broken. Therefore they like art that is also lost and confused and broken. This art is a reflection of a feeling of loss, of anger, of destruction, of violence, of hopelessness. This art tries to show us how meaningless our existence is, how random, how pointless.

Madeline L’Engle, the author of the “Wrinkle in Time” series, said that art should elevate and make us feel better. This does not mean that it should be used as a palliative agent to make us feel better when all hope is lost. Rather, art should point the way out of the bad situation. Art should remind us of our inner strength and point us towards hope.

Art that is purely used to express rage and destruction and violence and anger can be useful as a catharsis. It can be a way to get out those feelings rather than letting them bottle up inside. It can tell other people that it is safe to have and express those feelings. But the problem occurs when we get stuck there with that kind of art, when we are only shown the darkness of the world or ourselves.

At that point we are idolizing pain. We are making a fetish of our failure. We are saying that loss and destruction is our lot in life and where we must stay.

There must be another way. Art should be a rope ladder rather than a noose. Art should inspire and encourage and enlighten in the truest sense of the word. It should shed light on a dark situation and reach that small part of ourselves that wants healing, that knows how to heal.

Rather than being a passive thing where we expect others to save us or heal us or help us, art should remind us of our own inner healing nature. It should be a map to the center of our being that shows us how to get out of the hole we are in.

Art that is only about loss and violence and anger cheats us, because it speaks only to itself and does not point beyond.

Consider this – poetry that is purely descriptive, that details for us what is right now isn’t poetry. It is merely a news story written in verse form. True poetry elevates and points beyond itself and hints to other and greater things. True poetry guides us back to the best parts of ourselves. Likewise, art that only shows the ugly side of life is not art. It is a photograph that happens to use paint or collage.

True poetry, like true art, can speak about the horrors of life, but to make it poetry or art, it has to show us a way out of it. Art and poetry have to be doors that are open. They show us that while we are on one side of the door, there is a way out of it to another place.

Use your words (a meditation on making art)

Parents tell children to “use your words” when they are feeling frustrated. But what if they don’t have words? What if the problem is that the things that they are experiencing are too large for words? It is important to give children as many different ways of expressing themselves as possible. Consider this – studies have proven that babies who are taught sign language before they are able to communicate verbally show a greatly reduced level of frustration.

I think that learning many ways for self expression is the cure for everything. Everyone needs to learn different ways to communicate. Sometimes words fail us.

The arts provide us with many other ways to communicate. Dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument, drawing, painting, knitting, beading – the list is endless. It is only limited by your imagination. Whatever you try is good.

Plenty of people are upset that the public schools are cutting their budgets and eliminating the arts. You don’t need to go to school to make art. In fact, school can’t teach you how to make art. You already know how to do that. Children do it without thinking, and this is the best way. Just have fun playing and you are on your way.

Not having a lot of money is also not an excuse. Crayons and paper are cheap. You can find used musical instruments at a thrift store. You can even create your own tools to create with.

I used to write a lot before my parents died. After they passed, writing was too much for me. Every time I tried, too much would come out and it would get tangled up. My feelings were too big to be expressed with words. Thankfully, I had beads as a form of self-expression at the time. I would string together beads like I had strung together words. They had rhythm and feeling. There was an internal logic to them. Did others know what I was saying? Not always. But that isn’t always necessary. In that instance, it wasn’t important that I communicate an idea to others. It was essential that I got those feelings through and then out of me.

These days I work on visual arts such as painting and collage as well. I find I can process deep emotions this way, handling them in a safe and healing way. Some things that come up while I’m making art were so buried that I didn’t even know they were there. I’m grateful for my practice of making art as a form of self-healing.

Art doesn’t have to be “good” to be useful. It can be more abstract than representational and still do the job. Nobody else has to even see it. In fact, not thinking about an audience usually means that you’ll do more and better work because you aren’t trying to edit it to make it “safe”.

If you want to use images and you aren’t good at drawing (yet), you can cut out pictures from magazines. Don’t have any? Ask your friends – someone has a few that they would normally throw away. Not good at mixing paint? Buy art paper with pretty designs and cut it up and glue it on. Consider having an art-supply swap meet, where everybody brings materials that they are tired of and switches out. You’ll find new ways to express yourself with new supplies.

Remember that anything you want to do well takes time and practice. Nobody is a Rembrandt overnight. Have patience with yourself, but most of all – play.

Quotes about making art

“Artists paint apples because they have the urge to paint apples. And if people like the art, that’s a bonus.” – Jeanne-Claude (partner of Christo)

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“You should paint pictures because you want to paint them, not because everyone wants you to paint them.”

“It’s your picture, and all that is important is developing your own vision. It only needs to please you semicolon pleasing everyone is impossible, anyway.”

From “Urban Watercolor Sketching” by Felix Scheinberger

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“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” – Andy Warhol

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“The point is, art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed…because people are changed by art – enriched, ennobled, encouraged – they then act in a way that may affect the course of events…by the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.” -Leonard Bernstein

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“If you hear a voice within you say ‘You cannot paint’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh