Art Crafting & Cart Bashing

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Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Robert Fripp, circa 2003, suggesting an approach to the art-craft process (as I’m terming it):

“The difficulty with knowing what you do, is that you do what you know. And that’s not interesting. So, within certain structures which are given and certain parameters which are defined, you then proceed hoping you are able to play what you don’t know, or do what you don’t know – trusting the process. If you ask me to rationally address the irrational elements of making the album, I’m not able properly to do it. I can give you my best guess.” [1]

That an artist-craftsman, then, in seeking mastery of his medium – SF novels, for instance – enjoys a more or less brief period of extremely intense, high curve, as it were, learning leading to the freedom of competence but thereafter endures the prison of competence rings true. Copying the masters is legitimate, many of us would argue necessary, when still on the journey to competence but then immediately becomes anathema to the art-craft vision. Copying oneself or, more accurately, producing further iterations on a theme, however, is a different problem for it oftentimes pays dividends vocationally. Meanwhile a certain type of critic, those that supposedly celebrate what they term artistic growth, will object to anything that is not seen as new or transformative or at least as originally inventive as the artist-craftsman’s first significant work. In the end, from the perspective of the person doing the work it’s all bosh, this business of continuous growth that hamstrings both the capitalist and the creative from effectively moving  forward to a legitimate degree with what they know. We are obviously born, each of us, in possession of a certain quotient of creative fecundity, of a limited palate of new ideas, iterations or riffs that arise from them. I have no issue with this. My struggle has rather been to discover my original originality, as it were.

It happened to arrive with Time Crime which came to me, not directly or otherwise consciously pursued, as pure inspiration, as a call, born by the muse, what have you, and despite its inevitably derivative nature – nothing is wholly new or arrives empty of the influence of what already is – it is unique as an iteration. For better or worse. Because its quality, its value as enduring art-craft, is both objective – competence is self-evident to the educated observer (or perhaps Northrup Frye’s “educated imagination”) – and after that subjective on a sliding scale. That is, the degree or level or intensity of impact, resonance or effectiveness of the affecting image (assuming a novel can be regarded as an image  in the broad sense of creative or created images) is arguable after a certain agreed minimum. This or that SF novel is a hackneyed example of its genre, whereas this or that other novel clearly signifies remarkable talent. Likeability, something my brother investigates by way of his own work, plays its part within perceived quality and perhaps it really does comprise the entire story, so to say, regarding a work’s value. We like things in different ways, that is to say, whether on one hand we term a thing’s appeal to be based largely upon respect (which has to do with how much we are pleasurably challenged or otherwise pedagogically engaged outside of our so-called comfort zone) or on the other hand whether we experience an immediate intuitive connection with everything about a thing, as if there’s nothing more we need to learn to appreciate it. To experience this sliding scale of likeability one need only tour an art museum and if you start at one end and continue dutifully to the other and don’t allow your education or lack of it to bog you down you will find yourself liking this, not liking that, loving this and hating that with everything else falling somewhere in between on your scale of appreciation. Then, you can go back the next day or day after day and the next and reexperience the same pieces, the same works, perhaps having read up on them or listened to a curator explain something about them and your list of likes and dislikes with inevitably shuffle itself, sometimes dramatically. Gosh, you say, I used to hate that painting but now I really like it. You’ve acquired a taste for it, as they say. Why the delay? Does it have to do with complexity, with the artist-craftsman’s erudition, with the depth or height of their talent or vision? What is substance versus the lack thereof in a work? Why is the so-called popular considered less valuable in the long run? Staying power, lasting appeal versus trendy, more transitory appeal, or appeal to the uneducated masses versus the keenly knowledgeable, how is all this to be regarded? Does a popular piece have more or less value, intrinsically, than an obscure version?

I would argue that following competence it’s all context. That it’s the responsibility of the observer to make an effort to locate, obtain, ascertain, or otherwise devise a relevant context for a work so as to appreciate it with sympathy for its vision and hence receive it most affectingly. Or to provide the conditions, the environment, the psychological stage for a work’s most affecting effect. Some things take time to appreciate, to become affected by whereas for others we are gobsmacked.

The last thing I intended to journal about today was aesthetics. Or the idea of what is art-craft and what isn’t. Or to stick my nose into Kev’s investigation into the nature of liking. But I have been thinking about what I think of Time Crime, of where I would place it within the context of quality. Perhaps in a kind of subconscious (as opposed to unconscious), indubitably foolish anticipation, of any reviews. So that if they indeed happen, against all odds, and they’re disparaging, I’ll not want to die. Does Time Crime suck? No. But it may appear amateurish and naïve, light without begin lighthearted and lacking in irony. Irony deficiency, as some critic termed it, at least as far as I can make out, equates to obviousness. And blind over-earnestness. To blindness to how almost everything contains an aspect of what it isn’t just as it tries to be exactly what it is. Intentional irony, in my opinion, isn’t because it’s merely an example of deception, of attempting to fool, embarrass or disparage somebody’s take on something by way of requiring insider knowledge or information that is otherwise not readily at hand. No, that’s not what I’m doing you ignorant viewer, it’s this, can’t you see?

What’s the artist-craftsman’s obligation to effectively communicate all the information required for the “correct” interpretation? There isn’t any obligation when the work is true, when it in my terms it’s mythologically fully functional and authentic. But there are no rules even in that “context.” Heuristic hermeneutics describes the process of following your nose towards an understanding. Yours. Not necessarily that of the artist-craftsman but, interestingly, a shared perspective which may amount to a shared context (psychological?) seems to result when each of us has the advantage of functioning – interpreting – out of our own authentic personal mythology. We see things. Not so much correctly or effectively as affectively or affectedly.

But what is irony in art-craft? I imagine it’s a life’s work to study. But clearly it’s when a work (or the artist or both) lacks a reference to the possibility or potential for its opposite or an outcome seemingly in conflict with expectations or intention. Irony is said to reveal the thing that happens when I may think it’s doing something that in the eyes of others it is not. Hence it would lack substance. It would be hackneyed and contrived. Irony has to do by definition with the dynamic or interaction or interplay between intention and expectation. I’m convinced, then, that the best, most affecting and effective and therefore valuable form of irony is not intentional; rather it is expressive; it arises from the creative act, it is born of the muse. Create with blind earnestness, within seizure or the grip of overwhelming, essentially irrational inspiration and you’re not keen to insert irony. No. You create and realize the irony of it afterwards. Or during a thing’s creation, a novel, you begin to understand the irony and not so much play to it but allow it its full expression to the best of your abilities at least. I think this is how it works. But irony is shifty and dicey and mysterious in its function. We know it when we see it. But sometimes it’s there and we miss it. Does it make a work shitty if the irony is too obscure or occult? Ought irony to be obvious? If it is then doesn’t the work suffer as much as if irony were not present? Shouldn’t the job of irony in a work be to enhance it’s dimension and substance, by way of the mystery of our own subjective experience of it, of the irony and everything else about a piece? It can’t all be irony or it’s just a definition and not a work of expression, of art-craft. Which returns me to the idea expressed by Mr. Fripp of knowing and somehow intentionally not knowing what you are doing. Whether I know enough about my fiction for it to be worthy of communication, of making it available to the marketplace is one thing and whether it’s any good is another. Once again:

The difficulty with knowing what you do, is that you do what you know. And that’s not interesting. So, within certain structures which are given and certain parameters which are defined, you then proceed hoping you are able to play [write] what you don’t know, or do what you don’t know – trusting the process. If you ask me to rationally address the irrational elements of making the album [novels], I’m not able properly to do it. I can give you my best guess.

Meanwhile, I miss selling books. Two in a week felt grand. But now back to nothing. I hate that my sales graphs are spikey, by month, with zeros spanning the distance between the action. I don’t demand action, nor do I demand a certain number of sales beyond the breakeven point economically, so that even if my business must remain a so-called hobby business, one that does not earn a profit but at least  earns back its financial expenses (it can never earn back the whole expense of my personal investment) then so be it. Only because that will be something beyond zero. Readers, even if just a handful, that is communication. And the work intends to communicate. It’s also the validation, of course, the sense of legitimization. But also it just feels good. It feels right vocationally. Which is to say I don’t regard anything about being an authorpreneur as troubling or bothersome or in any way a burden. Least of all does the idea of commerce stifle my writing; rather, it inspires it: the more outside interest, the more interior interest, inspiration and motivation I experience. I see it all of a thing, a potentially healthy dynamic: the inspiration, workaday creation and marketplace participation. It’s just that way with me, namely, that good things are good things and that’s all I seek in life. Right livelihood. Then I happily get out of my own way and everyone else’s. Call it individuation. Call it vocational destiny. Call it the work of your life. If we have a right to anything, which hardly guarantees it, it is exactly this: being who you are in your work. I wish for it on behalf of everyone who seeks it.


[1] https://www.dgmlive.com/diaries/Robert%20Fripp/rf-diary-april6-2020

DOP1 (2010-11) VINTAGE POST:

Slip Sliding Away

September 25th, 2011. I applied to some part time EQ waste management job today. I don’t really know why other than it’s a comforting habit to be conventional and invite misery. It’s the first job I’ve applied to since all that unemployment crap. I must have applied to forty fucking EQ jobs in my day, getting the occasional interview, never getting the job.

I’m being a dick. I don’t know why I’m so effing sideways lately except that this USDA thing has me just orny as all fucking hell – that they won’t bend to my will and allow me to master the universe just seems perverse after all this effort and time. I’m “looking for my beautiful reward” (Springsteen). “There is no pay off” (Bill Murray’s character in The Razor’s Edge). Here I am, backsliding into my own philosophy, psychology, mythology, phyco-fucking-mythology. We saw Pete and Diane, our old neighbors from Riverwood and the 1709 house, which goddamn-it better not be my peak, my imperial period, which it sometimes fucking looks like. Was that the fucking chapter that demonstrated my life at its mediocre best? It fucking can’t be. Yes, it was fun to live there. I liked that house. We had great times. It fit us. It fit our lives. Somehow. But it WASN’T ENOUGH. NOT NEARLY FUCKING ENOUGH. And so here I fucking am, writing about it like it fucking matters to somebody. What the fuck? I got to fumble through explaining, half-heartedly, my tiny, itty-bitty, little clunky BIZness to Pete and Diane who sort seemed baffled by our presence, just like Sean and Rita did, and I felt baffled by being here, there, wherever, what the fuck, why was I back, where did I go, what did I do, what the fuck am I doing now serving sandwiches and mac & cheese to folks from a little food cart? Believe me, the irony, weirdness and oddness of it all is not lost on me.

And yet I must carry on, as silly as it all seems in the context of how I used to live. Everything feels wrong, but this feels less wrong. Sometimes that’s all you have to work with, even knowing that it’s not enough; knowing that you’re probably risking another fiasco. I must try to market my headcheese. Despite that being here in Michigan is just one fucking trigger after another, I must try to remain true to myself. I feel right now like I’m cracking the fuck up.

Tunes. Walking. Writing. Cooking. Yoga-ing. Biophycomythology. Pigs. I like the pigs. It seems like that’s all that’s left lately. If I didn’t know that I’m panicking from being lost and that I feel like running and that I shouldn’t run, because I’ll get more lost, then I’d maybe be truly nuts or that I haven’t learned anything at all about myself which has been my life’s work, my ridiculous never-ending, never-changing fucking challenge to figure myself out and GET THE FUCK ON WITH IT. Clark said, last time he saw me at what must have looked like my pathetic tiny little sad cart: “So, what’s next?” That’s all it took. That was the fucking trigger that I still can’t get over, recover from, get past, ignore, swallow, digest, stomach, brush off, answer. What IS next? That’s always been the fucking question with me. My dad gets older and he sees his middle-aged “kids” fucking around like the world is new. Like he was able to communicate nothing to them. Like they had to invent the wheel. Like they have to take the “left hand path” because just making a buck and staying out of trouble isn’t fucking good enough. We have to make it into some Sissyphian absurdity – pushing the rock up and watching it roll back down, only to push it up again…. My dad must just shake his head and wonder why the fuck he wasted his time with kids. That’s what the fuck I would say. And I’d ask myself why they made it so hard, so difficult, so confusing and challenging. Or maybe he doesn’t ask these things? Why the fuck would he really care at his age what the fuck his middle-aged fucked up “kids” were doing or not doing so long as they weren’t sponging off him for a buck?

Wow, does this book fucking suck. What a pathetic worthless irritatingly boring rant. I don’t get my USDA Grant and I go on a Rant. I have no talent of any magnitude in anything and that’s why I’m floundering in the middle of the road and the life and the world: because I’m just a middle-brow hack. Where has my heart gone? It seems silent. I meditate and I can’t hear it. I try to quiet my mind and listen, or just be, and I get a little panicky because I don’t hear or feel anything. And I’m pretty sure it’s not because I’ve successfully become one with the universe. Ann Arbor, which used to comfort me, save me and make sense of it all, no longer seems to be anything more than a pretty little city that is a nice place to live if you like that sort of thing. Why I should be here, I can’t say. Right at the time in my life where I can finally add value as a businessman here in the city I used to love, and do my part to keep the mojo that I (used) to feel in this town, my fucking biophycomythological tank runs fucking dry and my engine, honed and nutured, driven through the desert, into the woods, whatever and out again, KONKS THE FUCK OUT. Am I self-sabotaging? Am I subconsciously wrecking my new life, the living of my unconventional life, my personal myth? Do I really want to work at some mindless chore at EQ just to get paid? I can’t connect with myself and it’s a little scary. FUCK IT. I’m going to be scared. But I’m not going to panic. I’m going to act “as if” I at least sort of know what the fuck I’m doing. Why? Because I hope this is just a test, or a short circuit, or fatigue or some other temporary blip or air gap that will explain itself later because frankly I don’t know what else to fucking do. I’m feeling at least a little bit outside of myself and that might explain why my heart can’t talk to me. Why the gap? Let’s just have some courage and wait. I’ll scrub floors a little and see if I can’t hold it together long enough to return to myself and the game. This will make sense later. This is part of it. An unexpected part and a part I don’t recall reading anything about anybody else going through but fuck, there’s nothing to do but slow down, pause, look around, listen, see if I can’t find my again. Look for my guides. They seem to have high-tailed it out of here, but that doesn’t make sense – why would they leave? I don’t like writing about this, in this way, but it somehow helps, it’s therapy, as ugly and unpleasant as it is.

I hate the fucking name of this chapter, it’s a song, by Paul Simon, that I don’t give a shit about, but for some reason it fits, and maybe I can go back and delete this whole fucking chapter of bile later. I’m keeping it in now to either poison the whole fucking thing or keep what may be the only authentic aspect of it.

I don’t like the food court enough to keep selling there. It lacks too many things. It’s not charming enough and I’d do it differently. But Mark won’t change much, at least not until next year and I’m not interested in running a food cart next year. So maybe I’ll sell my cart over the winter. Get half the money back and use it for the HH headcheese biz. Maybe that’s what I don’t like as much as I thought I would: the selling of food; food that you can get anywhere; the fine-tuning of stuff that isn’t original. I don’t know, what the fuck is original, especially in the food business? People like to think they’re being original – making up recipes – when they’re not. Nobody just makes up recipes – there’s always a reference, an influence and something you start with that came from somebody else. Just finding a good recipe and executing it well, which is indeed a skill that many folks don’t have, is what many successful restaurateurs do. I do it. The most original thing I sell is the h-cheese hoagie – a twist on Hugh F.’s grilled h-cheese idea. I can do that, but only with headcheese. There’s no financial future in having a restaurant that doesn’t begin ten years out, after you’ve been lucky enough perhaps to pay offyou’re your investors and creditors. Unless you don’t desire an income that always any type of decent lifestyle. Otherwise it’s just a hobby business. I want the kind of money that allows me to do things and not be beholden to others. I want the freedom that $500K + will bring. I can be more of my own boss with that money – I can live where I want, which is not opulently, just in a manner more in line with my tastes and likes. A newer home, with a better view and no fucked up creepy basement. But not too big. I’ve already written this down in a vog, so I’ll shut up about it. But yes, I want my biz to be global, like my original Kick Ass Corp. vision – that jazzed me and still does. I don’t want to settle – I want it all. I started thinking it was too ridiculous, too outrageous; that this mark’s carts thing was a more reasonable answer; a strategy versus a fantasy. It was smaller, less risky, more manageable given my experience level; more doable. In the end, it turned out to be exactly that, but now I need to return to the kick ass version, the one that incorporates all of me, which is so very much more than Ann Arbor and especially Michigan. I want the whole world, or at least north America. At least for now. I want my headcheese to travel! I want it to go out in the world and work for me, to promote itself and connect with as many folks who might be interested. I don’t want to slog away hoping more folks will choose to stop by the food court versus go somewhere else for lunch. I was most jazzed when I sold by headcheese by the pound and sold molly’s book while talking about good food. I can do all that stuff. Ari does it. He’s still a guide – he has a life that I can see for myself. Ari is still selling food, books, learning, and in business in a cool, locally global way – like I want to do. I’ll keep following him.

September 26, 2011. Got some support documentation today from Cargill (I really wish Diamond Crystal Salt wasn’t a Cargill company), ACH, which makes spice island spices and also the Trade East brand (available at GFS) and Frog Holler. I’m confident that the docs are good from Cargill and ACH, but Frog Holler could only provide their State License as a Food Warehouse and their Food Safety Audit results. I’m running with it and requesting another walk-through – I think I’m ready and D’Juan isn’t responding to email anymore, so I’m forging ahead. Gads, what a hassle. I keep chugging, scrubbing biophycomythological floors, meditating, yoga-ing, reading my guides and just trying like hell to stay positive and engaged and away from despair, frustration and self-defeating behaviors. I don’t think I’m doing that well lately, but I’m not down and out yet. I’ll get a “second wind” for this process yet, damn it, and I’ll make up some ground. In the meantime, like Canfield says “Take a step, listen. Take another step, listen.”[1] My faith in myself; in my heart, is disappointingly fragile – I’ve surprised myself at how much of a weak-ass fucked up fuck I am. I gotta take it easy on the self-criticism though because that breaks me down too and for fuck’s sake that’s something I can at least control, so I should damn well control it.


[1] Jack Canfield, The Success Principles…, 161.