Let’s Talk about the Arts

Last week I listened to a Round Table conversation about art, and I found myself nodding vigorously at so much of what the guests were saying that I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to relate it to my areas of interest–books, libraries, & community.  Here are some of my thoughts on the discussion:

The librarian in me was interested in ways that people connect with art, including the idea of community spaces.  One of the guests said “The social spaces that art creates, they can be just as important as the art itself.”   Of course, many people think of libraries as quiet places with lots of rules, but I believe, and there are many, many librarians out there who also believe, that libraries can be vibrant social spaces to access or create art in various forms.

The mom in me wanted to applaud the notion that anyone can be an artist.  Scratch that.  That everyone is an artist.  Artists do not exist in a separate group that the rest of us watch.   We are all part of the show.  I love the way that technology has made so many forms of art so accessible to amateurs, and I am glad that my daughter is growing up in a world where creative aspirations are within her reach with a lot of hard work.  Frankly, I appreciate this on a personal level too.

While I’m not usually the girl in line for autographs or wharever, there is a fangirl in me that values digging for the stories behind the art that speaks to me.  This is why I seek out author blogs or look for sketches from my favorite picture book illustrators.  It’s why I follow authors on Twitter.  I want to know about the writing life in all its gory detail.  It doesn’t take away from the magic of the art.  It highlights the humanness of the endeavor in a way that makes it much more alive.

There are so many great examples of artists (of all sorts) and arts organizations doing the innovative work that the Roundtable guests discussed.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Open rehearsals.  I remember attending a couple of Elgin Symphony Orchestra Open Rehearsal events as a teen in my home town, and I thought it was fascinating.  A quick internet search brought up several large orchestras that do similar programs, especially for kids.  What better way to see what being a professional musician is like than to see the preparation that goes in to performance?  
  • Blogging Your Blocks.  Publicizing one’s creative frustrations might seem like the last thing anyone wants to do in the world, but I’ll use Veronica Roth as an example here.  Her wildly popular book Divergent resulted in the opportunity to write a sequel (then turn it into a trilogy), and she’s been blogging her experiences as she continues the story.  Not only am I anticipating the next book more after reading her creative journey (as if it were possible for me to anticipate it more), but also there’s a deeper connection to the story and to the author now.
  • Reinventing spaces.  The Chattanooga Public Library launched a public laboratory space focused on connecting people to the production and sharing of knowledge.  Here in Minneapolis, the Walker Art Center’s Open Field is a summer time creative space for anyone interested in the arts.  There are all sorts of programs and plenty of supplies (and a Little Free Library) free for use when the weather is nice.    Then there’s Northern Spark.  This night-time festival reinvented the entire city as an interactive art gallery.  Absolutely amazing.

How have you connected with the arts in the past year or so?  Have you seen any really interesting opportunities to connect with art or artists?  What would you like to see?

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Friday Finds: Loose Ends, Mustaches, & Creativity

Local Love:

Thoughts on Creativity:
“The creative process, and the creative life, is mostly full of moments between the idea and the being done, the spark and the blazing fire, the shimmering magic and the finished piece. We’re always living in the gap between our vision of what could be and what might be, and what is.”
  • This video looks at what deadlines can do to creativity.  You can’t rush art.
And it’s all about me:
For more interesting stuff, find me on Facebook,  Twitter, and Google+.

Thank you, Dessa

As Kerri Miller’s interview with Dessa started playing, I quickly reached for paper and pen.  I found myself scribbling quotes, notes, and ideas throughout the interview.  I was doubly grateful for the songs.  I wanted to hear them, but I also needed a moment to catch up.

I was particularly struck by what she had to say about authenticity.  She came from slam poetry to rap, and she felt like she was faking it for a while.  Her journey–her attempt to find a place for herself in music–is fascinating and inspiring.

photo by Stacey Schwartz

She asked, “How many times can you tell a secret and mean it?”   It’s an interesting question for performing artists searching for originality and a way to communicate with their audiences.  Musicians perform the same songs again and again for different crowds (or local artists often end up playing over and over to basically the same crowd), and they have to bring as much energy to each performance as they can.  I am impressed by this.  I’m not sure I could.

She also spoke to her own creative process.  I was fascinated by her coffee table inspiration: Aesop’s Fables, a guide to Greek and Roman myth, and a King James Bible.  She’s not religious, but she is searching for stories in these texts that connect people to one another, our pasts, and our cultures.  I have been thinking about where I get my stories, what texts might be behind what I write.  What is on my creative coffee table?

Read more about Dessa:

“Dessa’s CD-release party at the Fitzgerald Theater on Friday night was about as far from a rap show as you could get. Backed by an excellent chamber group and back-up singers, and with her Doomtree pals tucked neatly into one of the balconies overlooking the stage, Dessa took the opportunity to cast aside all of her other titles — writer, poet, teacher, rapper — to to focus squarely on her expanding talents as soulful singer and engaging, downright hilarious storyteller.”
“I write slowly, with great effort, and lots of cursing. The feeling I get from crafting a perfect metaphor, or planting a clever seed of subtext is a very powerful feeling. There’s the thrill of personal accomplishment and there’s also a brand of awe—the recognition of a connection that had been previously hidden. But it’s not easy and it’s not really fun, at least for me.”
Thank you, Dessa, for reminding me to take creative risks.

For the artists and writers out there…

Lynda Barry is my new creative crush.  I just finished her hugely inspiring book What It Is, and I am filled with possibilities.  The book is part memoir as she tells us the story of how she came to be an artist and part creative workshop as much of the content is based on her creativity workshop, Writing the Unthinkable.  Peek inside What It Is with this preview from the publisher.

A few links for your reading pleasure:

Finding Inspiration

Are you living life to the full?

The Ghost's ChildI guess I’ve been exploring this question lately without really thinking about it. It started with a simple fable: The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett.  This slim novel was published for teens, but the subject of looking back on a life as an old woman hardly seems to have teen appeal.  It did, however, have Mindy appeal with its magical exploration of happiness. Beautiful.

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're DeadIt wasn’t long after I finished that book that I picked up Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.  It was just what I needed.  Gore, the writer/zinester behind the Hip Mama zine, gives plenty of practical advice about getting published, but she also boils it down to the most basic of basics.

Do you have a story to tell? Tell it.

Do you want to publish it? Do it yourself if you have to.

Do you want people to read it? Get out there and promote the hell out of it.

Her tone is encouraging and persistent.  I could not read this book without being inspired.   Here I am, hitting the “publish” button and planning for more.

Speaking Music

Learn to Speak MusicJohn Crossingham started playing music when he was around twelve or thirteen.  He went on to play in successful indie bands such as Broken Social Scene and Raising the Fawn, and he wrote a book about it.

Learn to Speak Music: A Guide to Creating, Performing, & Promoting Your Songs is part love song to indie music, part inspirational how-to book for kids (though I’d recommend it to interested indie music lovers of all ages).  Here’s a video that tells more about the book:

The main theme of the book is “you can do this.”  You can create, you can perform, you can live your dreams.  I love this.  Let’s pass on our DIY ethic to the next generation.

Minneapolis is a great place for DIY, especially music.  There is a diverse scene with people who are ready to support up and coming musicians.  We have local radio stations and many venues that feature local music, including a newly-launched stream from MPR’s The Current that features Minnesota music all the time.

I asked several local musicians how they would inspire the next generation of indie musicians to get started creating.  Gus from Hot Ashes is a strong supporter of DIY.  His advice to kids wanting to get started playing music is to “Learn the difference between talking about doing something, and doing it. Be cautious of people who have great ideas, but never even try them out. Be the kind of person who tries, even if you’re certain it’s going to fail.  Failure is necessary to even know what success looks like. Be comfortable with your own mistakes, and tolerant of others’ mistakes. Sometimes mistakes can be downright perfect.”

Her also offered this on the subject of criticism: “Learn to be excited about criticism. If someone is taking the time to try to help you get better, take the time to listen and understand the best you can. Consider the source, and carry on with your work.”

Here he is with Hot Ashes at the Uptown Apple Store last summer:

It may take some time to figure out what works for you creatively.  Sometimes you need a little collaboration to get the creative juices flowing like Thomas from Broken Bicycles, who writes about his songwriting with bandmate, Turkeyes:  “[She] writes the words and brings them to me. I read then and think of how they make me feel. I then sit down with a guitar, banjo, or uke and start playing what I felt. After I have come up with chords that I feel are right, Turkeyes starts to write the melody to the chords. Then I can start hearing the other parts for the instruments I will record over her melody.”  See the result of the collaboration in this video:

Cindy, the singer from HighTV, has a similarly open attitude about her creative process: “I strum a few chords to get a melody in place, and let the words flow through me and out of me. I keep a notebook close by, and most times I keep playing until the song is finished. It’s a wonderful, fulfilling process!”  It is particularly good to see women getting a chance to rock.  Music isn’t a boy’s club anymore.  At least not in Minneapolis.  We have Gospel Gossip, HighTV, and Zoo Animal–all fronted by very talented women.  And that’s just the few I can think of off the top of my head.  See Cindy rock with her band:

New York City musician and writer, Joyce Raskin, has a series of YouTube videos for girls who want to learn to play guitar.  Her upcoming teen novel, My Misadventures as a Teenage Rockstar, was written, in part, to inspire girls to find what makes them feel good.  Read more about Joyce and her book in this interview on Chicktellectual.

Part of being a teen is figuring out what you love.  For me, it was writing.  For many of my friends, it was music.  It may take some exploration.  Gus (Hot Ashes) gives an idea of his path to music with this advice: “Learn to haggle. Learn how to cook. Ask questions, and listen to the answers. Cultivate patience, learn to wait, and how to hold your tongue.  Read books. Turn off the tv. Look at art. Fill your head with great ideas, and your own ideas will be all the better.”

Learn to Speak Music‘s advice is right in line with that. Crossingham tells kids to seek inspiration, always be learning, and play for the love of it.  If you know a young musician, start them off with Learn to Speak Music.  If they’re middle school age, pair it with Rules to Rock By.  High School, Fat Kid Rules the World.  Then make them a mix cd. That’s what I would do anyway.

How will you inspire the next generation to create?

I love blogs, and I love loving blogs

I love blogs.  Perhaps that seems obvious since this is a blog.  I also love Facebook.  And Twitter.

I didn’t always love blogs.  When a group of my friends and acquaintances started keeping Livejournal blogs circa 1999-2000, I scoffed.  Why would they want to share their “journal” with anyone?  I didn’t get it.  It wasn’t long before I was swept up in it myself.  I’d always loved writing, and here was a chance for me to write, receive feedback, and engage with people I might not otherwise know.  Soon I was seeking out blogs and communities on Livejournal and beyond.  Most of my old friends have long since forgotten the blogging craze, but I’m still here.  Why?

Cognitive SurplusPart of the answer lies in Clay Shirky’s new book, Cognitive Surplus.  He writes of creativity, sharing, and connectivity in an age of technology.  The Internet/social media has brought amazing opportunity that, coupled with the surplus of time and energy that many of us have, has resulted in projects like Wikipedia, PickupPal, and many others.  We are no longer consumers.  We are producers, collaborators, citizens.

I love this.  I loved Cognitive Surplus.  Perhaps that seems obvious since I’m a blogger, zinester, and lover of indie music.  I love the “publish” button.  I love the “like” button.  I love the opportunity to be a part of something greater than myself.  Shirky writes,

The range of opportunities we can create for one another is so large, and so different from what life, until recently, was like, that no one person or group and no one set of rules or guides can describe all the possible cases.  The single greatest predictor of how much value we get out of our congitive surplus is how much we allow and encourage one another to experiment, because the only group that can try everything is everybody.

Life is good, people.  Let’s do something.

Too Many Toys

The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule

One other point I wanted to mention from The Creative Family is about toys.  Ladybug’s room is full of toys, so when we bring new toys into our home, we try to be choosy. The Creative Family gives the following questions to think about that may help us:

  • Is it beautiful?
  • Is it simple?
  • What is it made of?
  • What senses does it use?
  • How is it organized?
  • Is there too much?

The last question is probably the most important to me.  Less is more, after all.  Who can be creative with too much clutter?

Our Creative Family

I’ve been meaning to read Amanda Blake Soule‘s The Creative Family

The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule

for some time, and I am so glad I finally put it on the top of my to-read list. Her story is almost the opposite of mine. She writes of how becoming pregnant with her first child sparked her to start knitting, and that was just the beginning of her embracing the creative life. For me, being pregnant largely stopped my flow of creatively. I went from writing every day to struggling to put anything into words outside of what I wrote for work. My blog fizzled, and my journal stayed blank. In the three years since, I have been slowly emerging from my writer’s block, and it has taken intentional effort to do so. I’m quite pleased to be able to say that I am currently working on a zine about my writing into motherhood.

It is so important to me that my daughter grow up with art and creativity in her life, and The Creative Family has so many great ideas for creating a space for ‘connection, mindfulness, and intent’ in even the youngest memebrs of the family (though, honestly, most of the suggestions are probably best for 4-6 year olds). Here are some of the things that we have done in our family to be open to art and creativity:

  • We regularly go to the family days at the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Insitute of Arts. In addition to being free (which is my favorite price), there are different activities and, usually very open-ended, projects for kids to explore a theme. We keep expectations reasonable, and if Ladybug just wants to play in the Family Center at MIA, we’re okay with that.
  • Ladybug’s room includes space for pretend play, with dress-up clothes, a play kitchen, toy food, etc. The dress-up clothes came from a garage sale a couple of summers ago, and they have been a constant favorite game. I only wish we had more variety. I’d love to see her dress up as a doctor or a pirate or anything other than a princess or a ballerina. She also has an easel where she can draw and paint whenever she wants (Thanks, Gram!).
  • We love collage. We keep lots of different items around to use in our art, and Ladybug is very good with scissors and glue sticks. (That’s what you get when you have a zinester mama.) In particular, we like to have people over to join us in making collages. After all, creating community is an important part of living a creative life.
  • We take every opportunity to take Ladybug with us to concerts that we can. Kid’s concerts are a given, but we don’t limit her to just those. We took her to see Hot Ashes when they played at the Uptown Apple Store, and she saw Red Pens at Music and Movies in the Park. If the venue is at all kid-friendly, our kid joins us.
  • I’m grateful that we live in an area where we have all of these creative resources so close to home. I love you, Minneapolis.