What is an Artist?

This isn’t meant to be one of those stupid metaphysical/abstract/fluffy questions. Affie mentioned something that I’ve been told before, and I listened to an interview the other day that was thought provoking, and the question is, again:

What is an artist?

  • What qualifications are there to be called an artist? (i.e. perfectionism, quality of work, popularity, special insight, uniqueness, etc.)
  • What relationship with others (or lack thereof) is required to be considered an artist?
  • How must this person be perceived by the outside world?
  • Can an artist still be such in a vacuum? (i.e. is it dependent on the perceptions of others?)
  • What responsibility does an artist have to himself or to others?
  • What authority does he have in society?

These are obviously cross-media, which seems to be an appropriate term, meaning they can apply to the sculptor, the writer, photographer, painter, musician, underwater basket-weaver, composer, cubist, etc., and are not medium-specific. I have some specific thoughts on all of this, but will not be accused of leading the witness(es) (maybe that should be capitalized…)

People have certain perceptions about artists: names like Rockwell, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Ansel Adams, James Joyce, Beethoven, Picasso, Shakespeare, and such come to mind. Many of them had innumerable difficulties and struggles in their personal (or public) lives and were troubled. They had their own special perceptions of things, and did things a certain way, and this caused them to have a certain notoriety (or lack) in the public eye.

Certain muses, topics, or things like synesthesia are responsible for the way many people went about their craft. What causes one person to choose one medium over another?

Do writers, more than other people perceive inanimate objects to have personalities, and personify them, attributing them characteristics in an attempt to develop them? That kind of thing.

This isn’t an essay assignment, but I’m hoping some responses with a plethora of comments will get some conversation going. What do you think?


New Television

We didn’t buy one.

A lot of new stuff was on, but not for the first week. It was for me.


30 Rock: Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Judah Friedlander, Tracy Morgan, Rachael Dratch, are you kidding me? It’s getting off the ground, and it wasn’t ridiculously clever like The Office, but Alec Baldwin’s character is excellent. If you never did read the “Things My Boss Said to Me Without Elaborating” list on McSweeneys.net, Alec Baldwin’s character, Mr. Donaghy, is the perfect person to say all of these things remorsefully dry and unconcerned. It’s rather hysterical. Part of the first episode dealt with Mr. Donaghy (Baldwin), the new boss, educating his new employees in a game of high stakes poker. The usual game of quarters and dimes becomes minimum $25, and the last round one character bets his wedding ring, and another bets his coworker’s Emmy. Donaghy still plays with cash. Almost all of the characters leave after realizing that Donaghy reads them like a book. He proceeds into a monologue of telling each player how he knows when they have a good or bad hand. There is, however, one character who is impervious to his innate ability to read people, the page Kenneth, whose middle name is Ellen. He is country, airy, dazed, and kind. He approaches Kenneth the next day and says “You are a puzzle, Kenneth Ellen, and I am going to solve you.”

The entire staff is invited to a casino setup on-set where they all play another very expensive game with real chips and on a real table. Cut to only Kenneth Ellen and the bossman left. K.E. is curiously licking a tortilla chip and Frank whispers to Liz “He’s awesome. You can’t read his thoughts because he doesn’t have any. Donaghy gives a great monologue in K.E. character, revealing that he’s done a complete background check on his rearing in Stone Mtn, GA, and how he was raised, etc and goes all in. K.E. has no more chips, and Donaghy settles to let him bet his page jacket, meaning if he wins, he keeps his job, and if not, he’s fired.

He loses, and Liz (Fey) stops Kenneth Ellen before he walks out and asks why he would bet his job on a King-high hand. He says “because I believe life is for the living, and in taking risks, and biting of more than you can chew. (cocking head to the side) Also people were yelling and I was confused about the rules,” and turns around to leave on his blue Schwinn bicycle. Donaghy stops him and gives him his job back because he says the shrimp tails need to be swept up by morning. All of that leads to the greatest quote in the episode, and one I will be using throughout my interaction with people:

Liz: Well, it was nice of you to let him keep his job.

Donaghy: The Italians have a saying, Lemon, (Liz’s last name): ‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,’ and although they’ve never won a war, or mass-produced a decent car, in this area they are correct. In five years, we will all either be working for him (long pause), or dead by his hand.”


You can find the entire episode online here.

(Also I forgot to say “20 Good Years,” was enjoyable, but not worth elaborating on).


You thought I'd given up

I kinda did… I can’t believe it’s been over two weeks since I’ve posted. I couldn’t decide whether to catch it before the two weeks was up or intentionally wait to post… Not that I have anything to say anyway.

I spent most of the evening last night working on playing through one of my favorite covers by Mrs. Amos. (this is a live version that’s pretty good, but not as intricate as the studio version, which you can find on the “Higher Learning” soundtrack, and it’s excellent.) I haven’t been able to find any sheet music or chord progressions or anything (I have for the original) and I was left to my piano last night for a solid two hours to figure it out. I began to develop an ear for timbre and tone, because I could adjust for my piano not being at perfect pitch, (my guitar WAS), but even so, the resonance and clarity of the Imperial is obviously different from my Wurly, and you can tell. I need to go over to the piano store and play on the Seiler or Bechstein to get it right.

I had a cool dream last night that involves someone we know in the blogging community, as well as pianos and an old house. It was cool. Basically (to be very brief) it was an old frumpy grandmotherly place, a split-level with plaid couches and gross old lampshades, old china cabinet, dust ruffles, all that stuff that a typical grandmother’s house has. However, this one was actually a restaurant/bar of sorts. There weren’t any restaurant things, and any seating areas were only those found in a normal frumpy house. I don’t recall what any of the staff looked like, but you just sat around at an old house and were served food and drink. This person we know (of) (who doesn’t have a blog) is the person I was sitting next to on a frumpy couch and said we should go downstairs into the basement…? Okay… So we went down and what else is down there but a recital hall! But again, not set up like a recital hall. There are frumpy couches and easychairs and stuff that still make an aisle down to the performance area, which wasn’t a stage, just a clearing at the front of the room very near where the stairs let off. This lady, whoever she was, was playing a MONSTROUS piano. It was like a regular cabinet grand piano, where the cabinet is upright, so the dimensions are something like five feet tall by two and half feet deep. Cabinet (or upright grands, also, I think) are usually very intricately designed and carved, etc. This one was like six feet tall and twelve feet deep, so it was like a piano keyboard attached to a closet. It was strange looking, but the engraving had gold embossing and carving all over it. The room it was stationed against, as I was told, had a real (normal) piano, the same Bechstein I played, but I was told I couldn’t go back there, and I was given the impression that the room was a furnace… I dunno. Had another weird one, but not important.

Nothing else of interest going on, and I just saw a preview for a really good movie that I’m going to have to see. It’s Will Ferrel’s newest one, and I think it’s called Stranger Than Fiction…           


By the way, I’m “38% Dixie. You are definitely a Yankee.”


Language Diet

I’ve regimented my Turkish studies and in the past few days have honed this thing down to what I think is near perfection. I’ve also come to another conclusion that would have to be marketed to the right audience.

This book I’m reading, (or rather, taking note of) is not too dissimilar to Barry Farber’s book, with the exception of a few things. First, it’s far more regimented. Farber says “Here are the techniques: use them all day, every day, as much as you can as intensely as you can,” and Golly Gee, I bet that works, but for those of us that can’t pore over the intricacies of Korean pronunciation from nine to five, we need something a little more user friendly.

Hawke does just that. He says you need to use (  ) this much time per day learning x many verbs, x many nouns, and x many adjectives, along with useful expressions, synonym and antonym pairs, and conjunctions, etc per day. It’s about fifty something words (or phrases) (and one major grammar rule) per day, and he even gives you lists of the most useful so you don’t have to analyze the general worth of each word of your new language. (Granted, this book is a Universal guide, so it’s not specifically applied to any language, and you’ll need to do some tweaking [none for analytic languages][more for fusional][even more for agglutinative][tons more for polysynthetic]) to make it work for whatever you’re learning. Also, he does not AT ALL describe how to learn to read a foreign script, so if you’re diving head first into Arabic or Pashto, you’ll need to learn to read before going on his seven-day crash course in a language (did I mention Hawke also claims that with this method, you can communicate in seven days and be proficient in another 21? He does).

So what I did was this. I bought two really nice (sit-flat, meaning the rings will do just that) ½ inch three ring binders, 400 UNLINED 3x5 index cards, regular (square) size post-it notes, the medium bookmark size, the tiny size, and then the clear-ish “sign here” type ones, but they don’t say anything. I got two sets of dividers and some of the clear plastic protectors. I think that’s it. Anyway, I’ve set up a method where I’ve allotted his list (amended for my application of the language) to vocabulary lists divided up in the binders, and then made those into flashcards, written vertically with five sections (flip end over end and English matches the target language; far more efficient). I’ve taken the most useful or needed words and made them first.
Long story short is I have seven envelopes, (almost) all of them with their allotment of nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions and grammar rule for the day all packed up and ready to be pulled out for that day of the week. Each of those seven packets needs to be conquered that day, and the previous ones reviewed/refreshed.

I’d be willing to get a packet like this together (for a [maybe not so] nominal fee) if someone wanted to learn something else. You’d have to give me a couple of weeks to gather each of the day’s notecards, allot the grammar rules, set it all on the computer so it can be printed on notecards/vocab lists (because my handwriting sucks) and get everything together, and it could even be halved into a two-week deal (because I’m having some trouble keeping my head above water with this thing. It’s a big deal, if that tells you anything) and made into a nice “Here’s your language in written form; stick it under your pillow for two weeks and learn Yoruba,” type situation. It reminds me of those “we’ll make your meals” catering companies. I’d definitely be willing to do that. Sound interesting to anyone, even if not for themselves. Just the idea???

I’m going to get a haircut… and practice my flashcards while doing.

More Pianos

I played another one. It’s a nine-foot Seiler concert grand that sounds somewhat different from the big mean Bechstein. (If you click on the picture, it takes you back to the stats, etc.) The width on the body past the keys is different, so that creates a different sound. It doesn’t sound as dark as the Bechstein (mellow is the wrong word, because the Bechstein wasn’t that either), but had almost as much power for about $50,000 less. It hadn’t been voiced when I played it, and it sounded a little edgy and thin in the treble, but that’s easy to fix. I liked it okay, and it would certainly be quite the purchase, nothing I’d complain about having. It didn’t seem to have the depth that the Bechstein had, though. That’s okay. We played some others that were nice. I played a Bechstein upright that I don’t really think is quite an upright grand or cabinet grand or whatever you call it, but it was made of alder wood, and Mehsha said it looked like a casket. It was a very blonde wood and looked unfinished. The light wood and finish has an effect on the sound, and it even had a practice pedal. The power and resonance from something like that was amazing. It sounded like some of the six and seven foot pianos they had lying around. It was incredible. There was another one that was the exact same model right next to it, except for the finish (it was the usual black) but had nowhere near the strength or voice that this one did. That’s the beauty of hand-made instruments… if you get the upper hand(made), that is…

So that was exciting, but even more greatly excitinger was this… (and it’s not so exciting now):

Ichabod Crane told me where the Bösendorfer dealer is for my area. He said I should go by and play a few and that they’d let me play the flagship model, the 290 (I think). It’s 9’6” and has 97 keys. They have one in the store in their recital hall that I want to go play, and it’s definitely the 800[0] pound gorilla in the room as far as wonderful, powerful, expensive, handmade German pianos go. It’s the best. Anyway, I really want to go touch it and stare at it and play it, but I was Ebaying on Sunday and found this glory. It’s the real thing. Handmade in 1984 and never commercially used [abused]. There’s a crack in the soundboard, but nothing that affects anything. I was overwhelmed because something like this today sells for around $150,000 and wouldn’t have been much (if any) less than that twenty-two years ago. The auction started at $10,000 but I didn’t realize it still had a week left. It’s already more than twice that now, and if you follow some of the links on the auction, the dealer’s private website gives a little insight into what the reserve might be. It’s a beautiful piano, and one I’d snatch up for quite a lot of money, whatever it took, but I have nowhere to put it (except for one place I could probably manage).

Forget that American-made piano company that everyone and his brother knows about that begins with S- and ends in –teinway. At least for now.

More relevant posting later. It’s time to go play tennis.