What Is “Bad"?

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   There is particular sort of hubris that comes from anyone bold enough to decide they are qualified to tell people the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ but it grows ever more vast when it becomes more than just a sort of sign-post opinion and is presented as a firm entitlement to tell people their tastes are lacking.

Oh, criticism.

As someone who has reviewed movie for ages I have walked the line for a long time when it came to telling people about the movies I was watching. I have always tried to make it know that the movies I am reviewing are playing to my tastes and that I am reviewing it from that standpoint. I mean, people like different things and for different reasons and that’s what makes us all interesting. Even horror nerds can never agree on what it is we all like, but, again, those differences build the bedrock for what molds interesting discussions and impassioned arguments.

Everything has validity.

It’s not fair to look at the work of one person or a hundred and to dismiss it out of hand, even if the work is clearly awful. As a reviewer you just see some things that blow your mind that they were made. For me, it’s the level of passion that salvages a work though. Some things are not good, are bad, but at least they were made with passion but then there are things that are made to cash in on a trend and that just drives you crazy. But just because I think that the work is silly and derivative doesn’t mean everyone will. There is a customer, a consumer, an appreciator of everything.

But what is there a ‘bad’?

There is a bad but bad is subjective. As is good. The same person that loves Mozart may hate Whistler. The person that loves GWAR may love ballet. And at the core of things, at the center, who the heck said that anything is inherently ‘good’? There is a classism and snobbishness to the idea of dubbing things good and bad with the notion that things that were enjoyed initially by the wealthy are inherently good. The love of classical music does not make one any more cultured than a love of gangster rap makes one a deviant. The idea that there is a base of goodness from which to draw from, to use as the measuring sick is a farce and people need to understand that.

Because…there’s nothing, nothing that is by its nature universally good. Nor universally bad.

  I get very frustrated when people have the gall to go on a crusade to save others from ‘bad art’, as if a degree in art history and an appreciation of obscure artists makes one cultured and enlightened. Any time someone wants to tell me what is ‘bad’ and what is ‘good’ I immediately smell pretension and self service and want to get far far away because there’s always a pitch and the pitch is always their opinion on what is ‘good’.

Oh dear.

The wrongheadedness of such enlightenment is mind numbing. It’s like calling someone fat and telling them to put down the pie instead of helping them see how delicious the food that is better for them is. At its base, any time you tell someone what their opinion should be is presumptuous. If someone chooses to like this or that or whatever it’s their choice to make and it isn’t really our business to tell them otherwise.

Unless…

There is always wiggle room.

I think what bothers me more than anything about the idea of ‘bad’ art is that people are taking a chance to truly enlighten and are using as a way to grandstand. You go in to broaden your horizon and get a lecture on art styles that do little to piqué your interest. Art is such a subjective thing that it’s a little silly to think there’s a one size fits all sort of taste meter.

So where do we start?

Why don’t we go about things with a new focus with less shaming on someone’s taste and more horizon growing of that taste. Not because what we like is better but because what we like is different and may be something THEY also like. I look at it this way – there are a lot of people who love the artwork of Thomas Kincaid. Mr. Kincaid’s work reached a level of pop fame and crossover appeal that made the general public fall in love and the art major cringe. So here’s the thing, instead of shaming someone for liking his art and mass-marketed art why not show how that art is similar to another artist, or other artists, and help to expand that person’s artistic palate. THAT needs to be the thrust of this conversation, not to shame or to speak ill of ANY sort of art. The hope of anyone that is well versed in something should be to help teach people some of the things they have learned. Education baby, not degree flaunting.

I think people forget that as a nation, as a people we are not the most educated in the arts. People would rather spend money too see a movie more than they to read a book. They’d rather buy a poster of a celebrity than they would a print of classic art. We need to not shame people for their tastes and their interests and work to help broaden those tastes. There’s room for the profane and the divine. There is room to like modern pop music and to love roots music. People don’t need to be shamed, to be lectured to about how bad what they like, or what they love is. Instead we should see if there’s room to teach them about what we love to see if they’ll love it also. We need to treat one another more like friends because a friend influences without judging, inspires without forcing, and accepts that sometimes our tastes are not always going to be compatible.

Bad Art?

I suppose but that’s a little subjective, isn’t it, despite what degree gives you the self determination that your understanding and grasp of art is so rounded as to tell people their own appreciation is lacking. Perhaps we should focus less on how ‘bad’ things are and instead focus on how inspiring art in general is because every art, every artist goes through phases, and grows in skill, talent, and vision and to dismiss art, and its artists out of hand is unfair to the artist and those that may hold their art dear.

Hey, what do I know, I’m just someone who makes art. I sure as hell ain’t no artist.

Self Serving Lane

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   I have posted about this before but I think it bears repeating. 

If it’s your passion – you find a way to make it happen. 

BUT…

Sometimes YOU need to make it happen. 

With the advent of donation websites artists are suddenly becoming fancy panhandlers, shaking their paint brushes and camera bags for money for projects they want to work on. Now, we all should know that artists don’t make a lot of money. Like every ‘art’, unless you are part of a small percentage of people who find that niche and really become a ‘name’ you just don’t make a lot of money doing Art. And that’s fine. Art is a passion. If it’s a job then you better put out plainly marketable and salable stuff. But if you do Art because it makes you happy and you like it, well, you have to go in understanding that you may not make a living at it. 

Why?

Because there’s a weird line that we’ve crossed. 

People need to understand that ANYONE can create art. Truly, ANYONE. But it takes time, and practice, and patience, and work. So because people feel like ‘I can do THAT’ they don’t take art seriously and don’t feel it’s worth what people want to make for it. 

There’s also the issue that artists need to appreciate the market and not get mad when they don’t always get paid what THEY think the art is worth. Sadly, it’s the buyer that has the power. Unless you have a very salable piece or a name you can sell you are at the mercy of the buyer and the buyer doesn’t always want to pay what art is ‘worth’. I have sold paintings and books that I felt were ‘worth’ more than they sold for but then I stepped back and realized – Hey, someone wanted that, they HAVE it, neat. And that worked for me. But I am not a ‘professional’ artist. At all. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously. 

The thing of late is that marketing for art has become too easy. Too easy because we don’t work to market anymore. We do some shows, meet some other artists and be-friend them, and then we just sell to one another. And that’s cool but, well, I wanna sell to strangers. I want people with no investment in ME to want my work. I don’t want to guilt friends into doing it. 

And it does hurt when you don’t get the support you wish you did from friends – I always wish more friends cared about my books and art than do but, if they care about me that is all that matters, isn’t it? But there’s a bad, bad habit artists get into when they pitch over and over and over to friends because you focus more on them and less on the new customers and clients. 

We stop working at being artists and work at being panhandlers. 

We set up donation sites for our projects, and funding sites and beg people to support us and our art because it’s our passion, and that’s awesome but, well, it’s OUR passion, not theirs. This is a project for you but for them maybe the project is putting up drywall, or helping sell Girl Scout cookies, or saving the eco-system. And you have to ask yourself – what am I doing for them?

Because that’s the thing – you are asking a favor with no collateral on the line. Sure, you will give them a memento of you project but it’s YOUR project. YOUR business. Not theirs. All too often these days we artists are happy to turn to a funding site to raise money for thing we want to do. We don’t generally NEED to do them because if we did we’d find another way to do it. I mean, so I want to paint with orange. Well, I can go buy orange paint. I don’t have the money. Well then, I guess I mix up some yellow and red and see what I come up with. That’s Art. 

And that is why not everyone can do it. 

Everyone can take a picture, write a story, sing a song, but not everyone can do it well, or find ways to do it that are unique, or find a way to do it when it looks impossible. 

That’s the work of Art. 

We can’t do every project we want to do. There isn’t enough time, aren’t enough resources, and there isn’t enough US to go around. We have to make the hard choices. And to me, one of those choices is when to go to others to fund what you want to do. 

I don’t know that I could do it. Being a writer it’s a little easier to say that, but I do also paint, and do take photos. I am sure I could find stuff for people to fund and support. For me though, I can’t do that because this is MY work, MY business, and MY benefit if it works out. I need to find a way to make it work. We’re artists, we’re supposed to make it up as we go along and find ways to make the impossible happen. 

We can’t keep relying on friends to buy our work and support us and make our dreams come true. That’s our job, and maybe it’s time we started putting the work back into that part of things once more. 

…c…

Trimming The Fat

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   For me there’s few things as upsetting as editing my writing. Well, wait, that’s not true, I really like editing my work when I am doing the editing but when it comes to someone else, well…I think loathe is letting the act get off a little easy. There is just something so clinical and cold to it all that it really rubs me the wrong way…when someone else does it.

Ah, and there’s the rub.

Now, I am not going to tell anyone that I am some genius that can edit their own work and can make stories into pieces of magic that transcend the page. No. That isn’t me. BUT I can tell you that I know the story I want to tell and know it pretty well. And in knowing the story I want to tell I am a pretty good person to go back to find errors, fix errors, and fill out the story where it’s a little weak. I know what the story is trying to be, and in that, I am a pretty good person to get it to where it is heading.

Ah, but not always.

Because sometimes you’re just too darn close and you NEED other eyes on the work. You need someone else to look at it and tell you what you’re missing, where the story is weak, and can sometimes tell you the brutal truth when something just doesn’t work.

And the truth then is brutal, and it hurts, but if it’s a longer work, if it’s a big work it’s easy to lose sight of the road you’re on and easier to stray off into unnecessary tangents. You are just too close to the work to get a good feel for what needs to be done so you need someone to step in and to pull you back onto the path again. But there’s a fine line there, a very, very fine line in how to do it.

My issue with editing and editors specifically is that they are looking at the story the in a way that benefits THEM – they are helping to shape the story that THEY want to read, and I guess that’s fine if it’s their book that the piece is going in, or if it is something they commissioned, but outside of that the editor has to be VERY cautious on how they mold that work. An editor is great for grammar, for repetition, and for the mechanics of what makes a piece work. An editor knows the cold mechanics of all of this, but what they don’t know is the emotional context and the reasoning behind it. They don’t always appreciate the writer’s stylistic choices, choices which oft times SEEM repetitious and awkward yet are part of the story.

I have gone through that more than a few times where editors felt that aspects of my style didn’t work, and where they wanted to re-shape the story to fit what they wanted it to be. Now, I was putting these stories into their publications so I wasn’t going to really argue much beyond the cursory bit of standing my ground because it’s THEIR release, not mine, but I also made sure that whatever changes I made were only for THAT version of the work and that when it came time to release it myself I would put MY version out then. Because I would rather the story be a tad awkward and reflect MY vision than be something that reflects someone else’s vision because it’s MY story, not theirs. Something I do wonder if editors forget.

The writer, love it or hate it, is an artist, just an artist that uses words and I wonder if too often the artistry of what they are doing, or trying to do, is lost under the axe of an editor. And heck, we need editors to make sure we don’t let fail something that could be special were it not for some simple mistakes. I needed one on the novel because my grammar is poor at best and some things needed to be tightened. And I lucked out in getting a friend to do it that respected the vision of what I was trying to do and they helped me make the book better. Ah, but my editor on the novel also brought distance with them, a distance that didn’t get them involved too deeply in the shaping of the book beyond the cosmetics. And I suppose that’s my personal preference – I would rather my story, my book, fail because of me, because I didn’t do my job than to have someone step in and change what I intended the work to be. I would rather fail or succeed by  my own hand rather than trust someone else to do what is right, what is best.

In saying all of this I have to admit that I am very, very curious what the relationship with an author and an editor are like when it comes to professional work because I bet you it’s a lot different. I would like to think so at least. In MY mind I picture the editor and writer sitting down to discuss changes, ideas, reasoning, and together shaping the book. It still would feel weird to me, but an editor is like a music producer – there to help you ‘sound’ better, but again, it’s a find line between making sure the sound is clean and the song moving forward and the producer/editor stepping in to change the music, the tune, or add or subtract something that they don’t fully appreciate.

Writers need editors. It’s just a simple fact. We need them because we don’t always get it right. We don’t always make the path clear. And in a perfect relationship the editor will come in and make sure that the story moves forward with as few obstacles as possible and will guide the author forward so that they can make sure that they feel the work still reflects their ideals and vision. And if that isn’t the goal of the editor, well, maybe they need to look into other work.

c

www.meepsheep.com

Why We Do It

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Every so often I find myself asking – why do I do this?

And sometimes I don’t know.

Sometimes I am just staring up from the bottom of a deep, dark well and I honestly don’t know why I do it. Why I write. Why I paint. Why I draw. Why I take photos. Why I put events together.

Sometimes I just don’t know.

And that’s normal.

And it’s good.

We need to re-examine things from time to time, especially the things we love and are passionate about. Without constant questioning we start to meander and lose sight of what it is that drives us on and fuels us with that passion. There’s a point where you need to ask yourself – why am I doing this? What’s the point?

And why do I do it?

I do it because I love to write. I love to tell stories. I love create worlds and people to fill them. And I love to shine the light on the things people don’t always see. Sometimes these are ugly things but so be it. We need to face the ugly from time to time to appreciate the beautiful when we find it.

I draw because I love it. I am not a good artist but it makes me smile. It lets out my silly side and taps into my creative side. I doodle more than outright draw but that’s what gives me the joy. Sometime quick and dirty and simple. I still prefer pen and paper since I can do things more precisely but I have grown to love drawing on my phone since it’s a quick fix with immediate results. Yeah, I know – typical American.

I paint because I love it. I had wanted to learn to paint for years and was too timid to do it until a friend gave me a starter set for Christmas one year and I have been painting since. About five years now. I am not a good painter, at all, but I have fun, and I think that comes through. I have slowed down for about eighteen different reasons, but really, part of me is still in that – Why Do I Do This phase and looking at a box of twenty paintings makes me question myself, much like looking at a box of unsold books does.

I take photos because I love it. Again, not good, but sometimes, sometimes I am not bad at all. I don’t take photos as much as I would to but I do love it. It’s another way to be creative and to set scenes. I am still too timid to really give myself to it, to go with all of my ideas, but I am trying, inch by inch, to get better and get more of my personality into things.

I do events because I love them. I love putting people together who have similar passions. I love working with people who are still finding themselves, their audience, and their path. I love adding to the culture of Flint, even if but in a small way. And I love creating things that inspire people in some way.

Why Do I Do It?

Because I have to. I do the things I do because it drives me crazy to see how little thought and imagination goes into some of the events I see. It drives me crazy to see how so many always seem to have their hands out waiting for someone to fund them and their convention, hobby, whatever. There’s so much that can be done if people just work together, and in a city like where I live, Flint, we need to work together more than anything. I love this place, as many flaws as it has, and want to help to make it better. Sure, art shows and horror cons don’t do much to change people’s safety, and doesn’t create a future perhaps but it’s only by inspiring people and passing our passions on that we can actively change the future. Without that passion, without a reason to stay, people will leave. And if moving makes you happy, then do it, but sometimes staying means more because you can effect the place you live.

You can change it.

Why do I do what I do?

Because I want the things I do to create my legacy. And hell, even if people forget who the hell I am, at least I want to know that I tried to make a difference. I cared enough to try. And the future is only created moment to moment and if we give up inspiring others, inspiring ourselves then we give up on the future. There is so much indifference and apathy anymore, so much negativity about everything that we have to keep the fires burning for one another because someone has to. I do this stuff because it isn’t about fame, or money, but about trying to make a difference. Heck, we all want to make enough to survive and then some to be silly with but that can’t be what we live for. It can’t or we live for nothing. And it’s easy to forget all that as we struggle day to day and the debt piles up, and the stress compounds, but what the Arts give us, what passion gives us is a way to see past those things and into the future, or the past, or anywhere we want. We do the things we love because we have to, not because we want to, but because we have to. Because not doing them drives us crazy. Not doing them makes us feel as if we are wasting away.

And the only thing that can outlive us is the future and it’s better to help create that future than to help destroy it.

So, take a moment and ask yourself my simple question -

Why Do You Do It?

- c

www.meepsheep.com

Raising A Glass To 625 pt. 2 – Where I Come From…

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It’s interesting how something can rile up so many feelings in yourself and others. I had posted elsewhere a status that I had tired of holding my tongue on the state of Flint’s ‘art scene’. It ended up getting a bit of response, some pro my thought and some con, but it made me realize that maybe this isn’t a topic I am done speaking about.

Or thinking about.

When I was a kid I loved to draw. I was never really very good but I was imaginative. For the release of my novel I collected all of old drawings, from around ten years old to now, in one binder, and I was shocked at how much I had kept and even more shocked to see patterns.

I went through a space battle phase, a cartoon phase, a zombie phase, a parody phase, a monster and death phase, and then there is a long dead period of about ten or more years (I think more) where I didn’t actively do anything, then it’s into the modern era where I just do weird and silly characters. Lately I paint more than draw but occasionally I will sketch something out, just because I still love it. Even though I am no good at it. Oh, I can sorta draw and sorta paint but on both I am self-taught and it shows.

Which may be why I love both so much.

I stopped doing art after a commercial art instructor told me I was no artist.

I had gotten into his class in a way he didn’t like – you were to be allowed in via your portfolio, I got in because I was in Special Ed., fair, no, but why get an attitude with me about it, not the most mature thing to do but, hey, that’s an aside – and he never felt I belonged there. And ya know, maybe I didn’t. But the thing is, I took the class seriously, and I did the assignments, and I did the best I could and honestly, the stuff wasn’t bad. I was leagues away from the best artists in there but it was commercial art, so it was about message and content, not how pretty your lines were. But when the class was ending he told me as part of my evaluation that I was no artist and his words stung me for a long, long time.

It was one thing not to have people fall all over themselves and your art, that’s just life, but to have someone actively tell you that essentially you’re no good is so much more, and at that point in my life it was like a dagger.

So I stopped drawing and focused on writing. So maybe what he did was set me on the path I needed to be on, though he didn’t do it on purpose, but I gave up art, save for random sketches here and there, for a very long time.

It was fifteen years after high school that I got back involved in the arts and fell in love with them all over again. A friend had joined a small arts organization called the Creative Alliance that had begun as a way for musicians to network and work together on shows and became, member by member, a group that embraced all the arts in Flint, and with my friend joining he wanted me to take a look at joining too. I was reluctant, quiet, and hung to the back but as more people came, and as the group grew, and as we worked together on events I began to feel at home and began to let my voice be heard. I became a member. And it was amazing. Surrounded by so much passion, it really pulled me back into wanting to do art again. There weren’t a lot of venues available to young artists and the three galleries that were open showed only member works or were juried in and it’s not the easiest thing to get a show or in a show at a gallery if you are still developing as an artist. The group, the core of it coming from a musical background, started booking shows at local bars, and it worked. It wasn’t idea, but it worked. The shows would many times include music at their core but would also add poets, sometimes authors, and would have some art on display. They were a mishmash of things but the shows worked and over time, this group of people who were doing this out of their own pockets, and from a place of wanting to just do shows the group made a place for itself in Flint and funders started to take notice. As long as I was with the group, which was around three years and change, we kick-started the big crafting group in town, helped create space for young artists among the established galleries, and created events that added to the culture of the city. And eventually, we became part of the arts status quo and were welcomed into the galleries we couldn’t get into before, if but for the occasional show during off months.

I loved those times.

I left when I realized that what I wanted to do, needed to do, wasn’t always going to jibe with what the group needed to do. I wanted to do more events with writing, and I wanted to work on my own events. But without that kickstart, without the Creative Alliance and the friendships I made and the inspiration I got from those people I wouldn’t have re-discovered art or my passion for it.

During this time, not long after the CA founded, an alternative gallery opened called Red Ink. Red Ink was an arts non-profit that began in San Francisco and was built around re-claiming unused property and turning it into a gallery for a couple years where artists would have space to show and to work and then after that short lease, after the building had been re-imagined, it would be sold. Some local artists and non-profit people got together and made a case for Red Ink to come here, to Flint, a city that could use that sort of space, and they got their wish, Red Ink came.

Red Ink was incredible. It was the right management at the right time and the right artists. You got to see artists that were here, in Flint, that had not found a place to show  yet. They did shows that were things you felt you had to be at. And they helped a generation of artists become professionals. The short time we had Red Ink, they made a huge impact. Red Ink’s undoing was heartbreaking and it left a huge hole in the Flint arts community. The toll of inner turmoil had changed the venue and organization and a lot of the big plans that had been laid never saw fruition but it was such an incredible time and space. If there was a major negative I would offer that it was that at the openings of shows it allowed the artists to get a little full of themselves mad the shows sometimes felt as if it was about the artist and not the art. I honestly think that’s part of the arts culture though, whatever the discipline –  you will always have people who their popularity, fame, or success goes to their heads. And honestly, never having had that issue, never having to deal with it, I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same.

Though I probably wouldn’t.

Red Ink returned, in a much smaller way, a time later but despite some amazing artists it wasn’t the same. The vibe was never the same. And in the end, that second incarnation was just as doomed.

In the middle of all this is where I began to really get involved in things. In ‘the scene’, though some would prefer such a name not be given. For me it’s easier to say ‘scene’ because, well, it was, and it is. Some people were part of it, active and involved, some weren’t, and worked independently or not at all, but there always was a sort of scene. But I wanted to go back, to how things started before I explained my part in them. When I got involved in the arts in Flint there wasn’t a lot happening. There were bands that played shows, there were artists that did their thing, and I am sure there were some poetry slams at the college but that was about it. If you wanted to see art you went to the galleries. If you wanted music you went to a bar or a venue. Without the work of the CA and the existence of Red Ink there was no indie arts scene. I am sure one would have developed, eventually, but there wasn’t one already there. These were the pioneers.

And if those organizations were the pioneers, I was part of the boom.

During this time my friends and I had started to go to art shows and alternative craft shows and other weird shows (I remember an underground ‘circus’ we went to that was pretty fun) and we started to make friends and some of us HAD friends that were part of those happenings. It really inspired us, going out there and seeing what people were doing. I remember sitting down with friends out in Detroit and talking about the kinds of shows WE’D all like to see. There was such vibrancy in Detroit, in where shows were happening, in what they were, and how they were being done, it was amazing to us. We had never been a part of or seen the big shows of other cities, just what Flint did, and it was like – we can do this, this can all be done IN FLINT! And it was so exciting. And it was exciting to hear how our friend was influenced by what the CA was doing to do her own shows in Detroit.

So we did some Detroit shows, craft and art and rummage shows set up in a bar, and we became inspired. We invited other area folks to come down for these and take part, because that was the thing for us – to get the Detroiters into Flint for shows and the Flint folks to Detroit. To get an ebb and flow where we all got inspired by one another and where we could show people how vibrant Flint was becoming.

Our first show happened by accident of sorts. Some friends and I were living in the upstairs of a building in downtown Flint and our landlord decided to do a sort of art show/garage sale on the unoccupied first floor during one of Flint’s Art walks. He referred to it as a ‘guerilla art show’. Fun name, amazing concept – take this unused space and fill it with artists for one night. We were inspired and asked him if we could take up that idea and use the space and he was thrilled.

We gathered together some other arty friends we’d made along the way and started reaching out to artists from Flint and from Detroit, and we pitched the idea. It was strange but people liked it. A lot. The first show was awkward but it worked out. We decided to do our shows during Art Walk, so we could get that foot traffic and add to that atmosphere, and we lucked out in that it snowed during our first show as ‘guerilla artists’ and because of that a DJ that had been booked for Flint’s yearly motorcycle show – Bikes on the Bricks – got freed up due to that lack of good weather so he volunteered to set up in our space and spin tunes. So in the back of the building we had a DJ and in the front we had a singer and we filled the place with art, with people, and with a show that hadn’t been done before. We embraced art, craft, music, and writing, all of it, and made it about the artists and not ourselves.

If the first show was a success, the second was astounding.

After the first show we really wanted to plan the second so a bunch of us got together and worked on the poster art for the show, on the strategy to promote it, and on who to invite. We wanted to stick with the mix of Flint and Detroit and elsewhere and wanted to keep it varied. And we wanted a lot of artists. A lot of stuff. We put a ton of work into the show, months of work, and we were thrilled to have it come.

Heck, even my folks came out to see it.

And what was special to me was we were getting people who had never shown before, didn’t like to show, or who had all but given up showing to participate. They were friends and trusted us, and trusted our vision and so they did it.

We never could have anticipated the outrage that the name ‘guerilla art show’ – something we used as a fun description of what we did, which was an unconventional show in borrowed space with unconventional artists – would stir. A local ‘indie’ paper had fashioned themselves as guerilla news and when people saw someone else using that word they immediately linked the paper and the show. Maybe we were naive to not see that happening, but maybe, just maybe the paper got a little upset over nothing. What happened was that several people, getting deeply offended that we used the word ‘guerilla’ in our name decided to protest us. They dressed as zombies, met up, and came in a flash mob to the show. Not a big deal, until they got out of hand. The place was packed. At least twenty artists, tons of art, and a LOT of people in there hanging out. It was a great atmosphere. We even had a DJ. The zombies came through, moaning, groaning, shuffling, and they they started throwing their newspaper at people, tossing them, I guess, as a zombie would. The papers hit people, hit art, and almost knocked over a candle a tarot reader had lit in a side room. I was at the front and didn’t realize what was going on as the zombies bumped into people and artwork and threw the paper around. I had thought it was obnoxious but funny at first but as I saw them exiting my attitude changed. I saw that they were being aggressive at our show and, as they were leaving one of them started to unfurl a banner on the ground inside the space. I saw this and became enraged and rolled the banner up, which was full of fake dollar bills and said something about how art shouldn’t be a product of sold or some such thing. Seeing me roll it up, the guy that had laid it down grabbed it from me and tried to unroll it again, and i went red line and unrolled a few things of my own, some choice curse words that couldn’t have been intelligible but were heartfelt nonetheless. He and I got into a very heated exchange and I threw the banner outside so he just went out there and unrolled it there and left this mess of fake money and this banner and ambled off.

They had done their job.

What we learned later was that this was something that had been planned, and coordinated, and in their minds justified. We were misusing a word and selling art when it shouldn’t be sold. Our contention was that they crashed something for Flint, for its artists, and which was meant as a positive. If artists chose to sell or show, that was their concern, not ours. We took no profit, made no money, took no donations, and were not charging for space. It was a free show. And for us, for me, to think that someone got so upset, so upset and didn’t approach us about their concerns or thoughts and did this, I am shocked and I was ashamed for Flint.

We were outraged, the people we’d set the show up with were outraged, and many of the artists were outraged. This outrage bubbled and grew as the days went on and created a very lively debate in art classes at our local community college. It got so intense that I had to take part of a day off of work to go to the school to present our side about what happened. The audacity that someone protested us, an art show, and then wanted to have some sort of referendum was outrageous. And so was this referendum. It amounted to a lot of – uh, yeah, someone else wanted to do the zombie part and we wanted to take papers around so we worked together, but we didn’t do nothin’ bad – crap from the indie newspaper, and a written diatribe about how wrong we were in the use of guerilla and on and on that had to be read because the person who wrote it was working…or a coward. Whatever.

I have never been so angry, so blindly angry than at this time. Suddenly we didn’t know if we wanted to do shows anymore. Would we be protested? Was it worth the trouble? This was supposed to be fun.

It wasn’t fun anymore.

The indie paper folded, the seasons changed, and we decided we didn’t want to stop doing something we loved. So we did more shows, smaller, simpler, but still trying to bring people together from near and far and to help people who weren’t doing a lot of shows, or any, get their work out there. And we impacted the art scene. We had created an alternative venue that would pop up from time to time with shows and other people started doing similar things, setting up shows at other local places to add even more to the Art Walk. The Art Walk had been established years earlier by the Greater Flint Arts Council and was their way to link the galleries downtown and to get people out to all of them for show openings. After many years of it just being the galleries though other people, like the CA, and us, started to use that same night for alternative shows and the GFAC was happy to have everyone joining it. The more the merrier was truly how it was.

It was a great time.

Things came to a crashing halt when plans for what would have been our biggest show, and woulda been something to see, fell apart. There were disagreements, there were arguments, and in the end friendships were fractured and the shows stopped and that was that.

It just wasn’t fun anymore.

And it was only through time, and getting over things that in the end weren’t important that the friendships were saved. But the shows how they’d been, those were gone.

And that was that. Only, it wasn’t.

It took some time but the bug was still in me. I loved doing the shows. I loved being involved. Reluctantly, very, very reluctantly I started to plan shows without the people I had started with. Small, but with the same idea behind them – fun, free shows that were about the art and the artists. I was happy as a clam not to be seen as being involved. I wasn’t in it for that. I want recognition for my writing, not for events. The writing is mine, and just mine, so that’s what I want to be known for, the rest was just something I liked to do. So we started doing shows again, me and other friends, and we loved it. The faces changed, and the venue changed, but we loved it.

With the fracturing of the initial group though it created a void that was filled and so other people started booking space in 625 and doing shows there. And I was bitter, bitter because these people had an attitude that we were sloppy and didn’t do things right and they were doing it better, and they said as much. And it drove me crazy that we did so much work and never got a drop of ink written about the shows but these people came in and were constantly in the paper. And it bittered me on a lot. The shows we had been doing were intentionally meant to not have people know who we were but these shows were inherently about the people putting them on. They were in every show, and they were front and center and it drove me crazy.

And I am jerk for that I guess.

And I needed to get over it.

But as bitter as I was, it didn’t stop me.

I just changed what I was doing.

I began doing Punk Rock Rummage Sales.

Over the years we had seen people take the things we were doing and do it themselves, in some cases better, in others just…differently, but I had soured on those kinds of shows and wanted to change things so I took a page from our friends in Detroit and we (and I mean ‘we’ since I can’t do these things alone, there are always friends that help and supporters there somewhere, so it was always a ‘we’) started doing rummage and art shows at a local bar. This was far from ground breaking but it was new to the area and it was fun.

And people liked it.

They looked forward to it.

The idea was to bring the art show to a rummage show, and bring together weird stuff, fun stuff, and fun people with some music and libations to keep people happy. And it wasn’t, to quote a local character ‘rocket scientry’ but it was fun and it was something different. The idea was to keep things evolving.

And I have watched the art scene shift and change, have seen artists come and go, and have seen the factions and the friction, and all of it over the past several years. I have said and done some ridiculous things and have heard the same sort of craziness from others. I have been influenced and have been jaded and it’s all part of this big, crazy tapestry we have here.

I was still doing shows this year, did a rummage sale, and put together a book release for my novel and a friend’s books, and helped plan a dark art show, so I am still involved, I am just not AS involved. And part of it is bitterness. Especially as I see now that 625, the place that inspired me and helped create me, and so many events, and laid the groundwork for the Flint Horror Convention, has closed as a venue due to the selfishness of some artists.

And that is what changed, for me.

The scene changed, because it IS a scene. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s not a negative, but it’s the collective artists, they have changed. I haven’t changed with them. I still love shows, love the arts, and admire any artist that keeps doing it. Because artists DO have to find ways to re-invent themselves and what they do. They need to find ways to get themselves and their art out there. Witness the popularity of ‘street’ art. My problem though is that some of us old guard have changed, as organizations have waned, and as people have moved on it has changed the culture.

We made it commonplace to do bar shows here.

We made it commonplace to do shows in any space we could find.

We made it cool to bring art and craft together and mix it all up.

We that were here so many years ago to re-write the arts in the city.

We were the ones that broke the mold.

And by ‘we’ I mean a LOT of people. A lot of people that worked to get the permissions, to get the minds changed, and to change the culture as it was here.

I am removed from the scene now because it’s become so much about the promoter, about the party, about the scene and not about the art or artists. Oh, there is still art, there are still artists but it’s not a community. It’s not working together. It’s factions. It’s entitlement.

It’s ‘I am an ARTIST, so, whatever, you won’t understand.’

But I do.
We all do.

We understand because we were there years ago.

I hate that artists don’t take breaks from shows locally. They are always doing shows, always bigger than life, always in your face. And does it work, does it make more sales or grow the art? Does it? Or are you only selling to yourself and your friends? Are you engaging new artists? Are you fostering young artists? Are you getting out of the area?

Are you doing it yourself?

It is about changing things up. About creating something new. And that is happening, but it is all so fractured.

So many factions all working to make sure they get the attention. HEY, HEY, HEY LOOK AT US! Bigger, louder, more garish. Art that doesn’t involve local artists, or that doesn’t reflect anything but a need for attention.

LOOK AT ME!

No one is working together. They are working in opposition because you don’t wanna lose that ‘cool’, you don’t want to lose the attention…you don’t want to lose the funding.

And it all feels sad, and loud, and…wrong. I don’t feel as if I am going to art shows but parties where there’s art and artists. I loved our guerilla shows because they WERE so stripped down. They were so   un-gallery.

It all feels obnoxious and planned.

And it’s sad because there is SO MUCH talent here, and so many people to do want to work together, and with people, and want just to get their art out there but the venues have shrunk now, the opportunities are shrinking, and it’s all becoming a clique.

And I hope I am wrong.

I hope I am the bitter old guy who is just overreacting to a scene, and a scenery change that – to an evolution of the scene and I am just so far removed that I have literally lost touch. That’s a sad thought but it is probably the truth. Art will survive. The artists will survive. It’s just hard not to be sad to see how much has changed in these few years and not all of it for the better. When someone doesn’t have the common sense not to screw things up for the artists coming after them, when their actions lose you a space – which has happened before, and again, and will ever happen I am afraid – it worries me.

Because in the end, if we don’t look out for one another to some degree, we artists of Flint, Michigan, then who the hell is gonna look out for us? In the end it isn’t about the parties, about the money, about the scene but about the art and the people behind it, who are just trying to say something…even if it’s nothing at all. There has to be cooperation, even as we work for our own gains, our own goals, there has to be cooperation. Filmmakers, and painters, and sculptors, and writers, and dancers, and poets, and musicians, and singers, and people who draw, and crafters and EVERYONE has to work together to make sure that everyone has a chance. That this rises about the artist, to a sense of community, to a sense that you may succeed personally but without passing that torch, without helping someone else you aren’t growing. That is what is missing. That is what worries me.

That we are becoming a city of All About The Me where the artist is a clown on a stage, a commodity, a actor playing at artiste, and the sense of togetherness, of working to make things easier, and better is fading. Sure, people will work together…with friends, but how many will work with strangers…or ‘enemies’ because it’s the right thing to do?

How many are willing to step away from the mic and give someone else a moment on stage?

Consider this my exercise in nothing, and my testament to everything.

My personal history for a scene that may not even exist and the very small part I played in things.

The story of a writer who became an artist, who had something to say.

…c…

http://www.meepsheep.com

Raising A Glass To The 625

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   When I learned that the place I used to live for many years and where I had put art shows together with friends for those years was finally putting an end to the art show aspect of the building I wanted to write a memorial of sorts.  Something to mark the occasion and what the place meant to me and so many of us that did shows there.  I wanted to convey how much this place meant to ME. Only, in trying to write this story it comes off so pretentious, so false because the place wasn’t like that, wasn’t about one person, or one view, it was about everyone, and how special it was when artists worked together to create something.

   625 came about when our landlord, seeing the success of the space when used as an arts venue, said – someone should do guerilla art shows there.  That was how it started, with permission to create, and from there, from us, it became part of the established monthly Art Walk in Flint, a venue that changed and evolved as the shows did, and as the artists did.  My friends and I did some huge shows there, that had not been seen downtown before, but after us there was a more refined presence of artists there, and the space changed, and the scene changed, and it was an ebb and flow of creativity there and it fed into this greater arts movement that Flint has seen over the past several years and it’s been so amazing to witness.  And kind of amazing to go through because it was what made me really fall in love with doing shows and putting shows together.  And it made me really want to help other people the way these shows helped me.

   We had a lot of ups and downs at this place, from our huge initial shows to a show filled with needless drama and silliness when a local group decided that our use of the word ‘guerilla’ was offensive, but through it all we learned that there’s a place for indie art, and for small, interesting art shows.  It was a plain, empty space that became whatever the people the show and the artists in the show needed it to become and man, to think of some of the things done with the space I can only smile because we were all a part of something very special.

For over six years artists were able to use this space and put on shows outside the norm, outside the comfort zone, and outside of what the establishment was doing.  I am proud and honored to have been a part of that.  My part in it is its own story, a story that means the world to me, and I am happy to have it.  I am sad to see that this space will no longer be used for these shows but to have had the time there, the opportunities to positively impact Flint and its art scene, and to help young artists find confidence, find a voice, and find their passion, that’s a legacy that space will never lose.

625 was more than a home for me for the time I was there, it was the spark of inspiration that drove me, and changed me, and it will always be a part of who I am and what I do.

…c…

www.meepsheep.com

Contempt

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The saying goes ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ and it couldn’t be more true – when you are an artist or a writer and you don’t get your book further out than your immediate area you will hit a very, very large wall of indifference.  It isn’t that people don’t like you, and not that they don’t like your work but that they have seen both, even the new stuff, so often and so many times that at a point they are bored with you.  You are backdrop.  And heck, they can see/buy your work any old time, right, because they have seen you a few times before.

This happens with friends and strangers alike, and it’s heartbreaking and it’s something I struggle with.  For me, I have been writing for a looong time and doing shows for almost as long and I have been doing this long enough that I have run out of steam.  There are only so many times you can query publishers, do art shows, and hype up new work to little interest where you just get burned out.  And for me, someone who had ten years between books, I feel like I have wasted enough time and don’t want to waste it anymore.  Alas, in haste to produce I didn’t realize that I was becoming furniture.  And I see this all the time at conventions when they get the same guests year after year after year, and with artists who do the same shows over and over again.  And it isn’t you, per se, it’s that people get bored of seeing the same or similar work all the time.

Just how people are.

Heck, I am still coming to terms with the general indifference I have faced from many after publishing my first, and odds are last, novel.  To me it’s a big deal but everyone else, it’s nothing.  Part of that is that I have released five other books in the past three years, and part too is that in the era of social media, when EVERY event is OHMYGOD big it’s hard to really get people to react to some things.  It seems like someone is ALWAYS getting married, or engaged, or having kids, or breaking up, and it’s hard to really make people care.  We’ve just become a very self involved culture.  Not having to help your neighbors build a barn, or fight off invaders, or grow food, or having to do a hundred other things that we used to have to do has made us lose touch with each other.  (which, parenthetically, has also made a lot of us utter cads out in public but that’s for other blogs to examine).

Familiarity breeds contempt.

You have to pace yourself and your work.

You have to time your releases and shows so that you give people space and room to breathe.

You have to make sure you do shows out of your immediate area so you can give yourself a chance to reach a new audience.

And you must be patient, with yourself and those around you because it isn’t you that they are bored with but with the familiarity of everything these days, and that’s what breeds the contempt.

c