Tag Archives: artists

Writing: The Green-Eyed Monster

Creative Commons--http://www.flickr.com/photos/frankhg/1457861005/

In writing, as I’m sure in other professions as well as life, the green-eyed monster can raise its hoary head. This is not one created (usually) for a story but the one that manifests at the successes of an individual. Yes, the green-eyed monster Jealousy, with its diminutive cousin Envy.

There is professional jealousy when one writer thinks another writer is unworthy of having a piece published or winning an award. Sometimes this is justified and if truly judged by informed peers, it would not win. Some awards are indeed popularity awards. One type of award is that you’re popular because you have fans or readers. The second is that you just need to get enough votes and anyone, including friends, colleagues and family, can vote you in because they know you, not on the merit of your work. This happens all the time

But in the realm of jealousy, a writer feels that: how could that person win/succeed when I’m so much better? My work deserves recognition. Why isn’t it being recognized?  Etc. This came up in a writers group today, where a friend of one of the writers and likewise a writer continues to cut down the more successful person, praising one moment, being scathing the next. Often jealousy is a sign of a person’s own insecurities and I’m sure many of us in writing have felt that we’re doing all that we can, we think we’re good, what’s wrong, why aren’t people buying my stuff. I know I think it at times but I wouldn’t say I’m jealous of someone else for succeeding. To me the sum of the parts strengthen the whole. I wonder how writer couples ever manage to make it work, though, if they aren’t both successful. In fact, I know that such a state has been damaging enough to the ego to have broken up a few couples.

Jealousy of course happens in all walks of life and did happen to me, but not so much in writing. A very important aspect of SFC (SF Canada; the professional speculative writers’ organization) is that we are supportive. Members can get advice, information, be silly, commiserate and congratulate. I’m sure some may be jealous but thankfully they never post such to our e-list.

I actually believe very seriously in supporting whenever I can the arts  and friends who are artists in any medium. This might be as small as saying congratulations and as big as cheering in the front row or buying someone’s work. If I had buckets of cash I would support the arts more. Without art in all its myriad forms the world would be a very drab place indeed.

Why do I feel I must support artists? For many reasons but I KNOW as an artist how difficult it is to create and create well. And then on top off that, to take that creation and make it into something to be viewed, read, watched, heard or otherwise appreciated. It takes a lot to complete something, putting blood, sweat and tears into it and then no one knows about it at all. And then to get any monetary acknowledgment for that accomplishment is very difficult, especially enough to live on. Being an artist is not simple and certainly isn’t the easy road, no matter what Prime Minister Stephen Harper thinks about artists attending high-end galas (that they probably paid to get to or put in a lot of work beforehand).

On our list I try to congratulate everyone who has an accomplishment/sale. It’s good to give and show support and really doesn’t hurt at all. Sometimes people even reciprocate. We might not all be Picassos and Hemingways. We may never make a living at our art and we might not even be that good at it. But we are all, indeed, worthy of recognition. Whether the accomplishment is small or grand, it’s enough to be cheered on. Jealousy has never, anywhere or any walk, served anyone well. It’s as destructive as hate. Next time you feel the green-eyed monster riding your back, try to be generous with a complement. I bet you’ll get farther and feel better.

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Movie Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Banksy's art

On the weekend I went to see a movie with a friend, and it’s not the type of movie I normally would see. Usually, I like my escapist mind candy. I see a lot of speculative (SF and fantasy) movies because it’s what I mostly write. I like a good drama; once in a while a good comedy. I don’t tend to go to horror/thriller movies, slapstick humor, chick flicks or documentaries. With documentaries I guess I feel I want to just enjoy a world of make-believe, of fiction, and not have my emotions tossed all over the place. Or I believe they’ll be boring.

So I wasn’t expecting much when I heard we were going to see a movie about graffiti artists, Exit Through the Gift Shop. The movie started out with this guy Thierry Guetta and his obsession with filming everything in sight. There was a little interview/statement at first by some guy in a black hoody whose face was hidden and his voice disguised. The shots are like old home movies, bad angles, out of focus, insipid color. I didn’t think much of the first ten minutes, but then the brilliance of the movie started to unfold.

Now I come from an art background and I know there is graffiti art, those jagged large letters on walls all but unreadable, yet of a discernible style. There are wall murals but they look to be done by artists hired by the establishment. There are some pictures or posters. And there is the slogan graffiti, like the one on the little bathroom in Grandview Park, painted with a simplistic landscape and some crows, but some anti-everything anarchist defaced the art by painting “F**k the pigs!” and “Kill the pigs!” Not particularly intelligent, deep or new and nothing to do with the most recent protest (on upgrading the park facilities) which was when it was painted.

What I had no clue about was the depth of graffiti art, or street art, where people devote their spare time and money to making images and posting them, usually illegally. How this relates to Thierry the obsessive videographer is that when he is visiting family in France his cousin makes these plastic tiles and sticks them up on walls and underpasses, and they, like his name, are all about Space Invader. Street artists have aliases (probably to protect them from police and being fined) and become known for their particular style. They will print 10-20-foot tall images and then paste them to sides of buildings. What I did notice of all the artists shown was that they use blank walls and never deface public art. They might paint over a previous artist’s work if it’s old and known as a graffiti wall.

The better artists have a good style and may also have a message to get across. Thierry in his obsession began filming his cousin and was then filming numerous street artists, in a way documenting a transitory art form that had not yet been captured for history or memory’s sake. One of the most notorious  and political street artists was in Britain and goes by the name of Banksy. As Thierry finally meets Banksy, Banksy tells him it’s time to get this documentary out there for everyone to see this impermanent form of art. But what they don’t know is that Thierry has thousands of cassettes and he’s never looked at any of them or cataloged them in any order. What results is an unwatchable 1.5 hour film.

What is evident through this film is that it’s a bit of a biography of Thierry, a documentary of street art, a commentary on art and value, a look at culture and a very complex, multi-layered piece. Along the way it’s obvious that Banksy and others stepped in to take some of Thierry’s footage and make something truly historic. And street art starts to move into the big LA and British galleries, being auctioned off and worth big money. Banksy tells Thierry to go home and make some art. But what he didn’t realize was how powerful Thierry’s obsession was.

Thierry goes from filming to wanting to be a street artist too. Banksy gives Thierry a quote: “He’s a force of nature and I don’t mean that in a good way.” (paraphrased) Thierry isn’t just doing a bit of street art; he’s doing a lot. Plus he mortgages his house, sells his business and mounts a truly monumental show. In essence, he makes himself an artist almost overnight. And the thing is, this guy isn’t the trendy artist, nor an anti-culture rebel icon. He’s very provincial, sort of an innocent, and not very eloquent, and yet, he has something. This film also is about what is art and can someone create art without going through the long steps of training and gaining notoriety.

The brilliance of this documentary is subtle and so multi-layered that I’m still thinking about it. And yes, it highlights the elusive Banksy, who remains mysterious, but then it looks like, in the end, that he produced the movie. And Banksy, well, he’s subversive, he’s political, he’s talented and really quite brilliant (I hope his head doesn’t swell too much should he read this.) I’ve included one of his images here, which says a lot , and his website from where I found this piece. You can also find out when the film is being viewed in your city. http://www.banksy.co.uk/index.html

Exit Through the Gift Shop is so ingenuous that it’s worth seeing, whether you like documentaries or not, or are interested in culture, art, history, politics or people. And this is a subtly funny film too. I know that when I go for walks from now on, I’ll be looking at graffiti with a different eye. I don’t know how big the street art movement is in Vancouver but I can say that the best of it is truly a form of unique art worthy of appreciation. I would give this film five stars.

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Weird Tales’ 85 Weirdest

I’m never up to speed when I’m reading and sometimes read magazines a long time after publication. This was the case with last year’s Weird Tales. I’ve found these magazines are easier to deal with while working out so I’m reading many after the fact. Weird TalesMarch/April 2008 issue listed 85 of the weirdest storytellers in the last 85 years, celebrating the magazine’s (of course) 85th anniversary. That means they started in 1923. Imagine how the world and the concept of fantasy and the weird has changed in that time. It’s a lifetime.

This list of storytellers covers everything from writers, musicians, filmmakers, artists to entertainers. I found that I knew most of the names on the list (that has a short paragraph or two of description) and started thinking about who wasn’t on the list that I would have added. Of course the magazine went with who they thought should fit in there, plus recommendations from the readers. Their list has these names (the first list those I know and the second, those I hadn’t heard of):

  • Douglas Adams, Charles Addams, Laurie Anderson, J.G. Ballard, Nick Bantock, Clive Barker, Art Bell, Bjork, David Bowie, Ray Bradbury, William S. Burroughs, Tim Burton, Kate Bush, Octavia Butler, Angela Carter, Nick Cave, Lon Chaney Sr., Cirque du Soleil, Joel and Ethan Coen, Alice Cooper, David Cronenberg, R. Crumb, Roald Dahl, Salvador Dali, Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Steve Ditko, Harlan Ellison, M.C. Escher, Neil Gaiman, Terry Gilliam, Edward Gorey, Gunther von Hagens, Jim  Henson, Robert E. Howard (the one I don’t agree should be on this list), Shirley Jackson, Franz Kafka, Frida Kahlo, Andy Kaufman, Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, Madeleine L’Engle, Gary Larson, Tanith Lee, Thomas Ligotti, H.P. Lovecraft, David Lynch, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dave McKean, Michael Moorcock (not so sure he’s that weird either but loved his Elric books), Alan Moore, Catherine Moore & Henry Kuttner, Grant Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Mervyn Peake, Penn & Teller, Bill Plympton, Thomas Pynchon, Anne Rice, Rod Serling, Dr. Seuss, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon), Clark Ashton Smith, Stephen Sondheim, Rev. Ivan Stang, Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Waits, Alice Walker, Andy Warhol, John Waters, Roger Waters, Wim Wenders, Thornton Wilder, Robert Anton Wilson, Warren Zevon.
  • (now the ones I didn’t know) Art Bell, Margaret Brundage, Virgil Finlay, Charels Fort, Rand and Robyn Miller, Chuck Shepherd, Osamu Tezuka, Kool Keith Thornton, Kara Walker, Sylvia Townsend Warner.

That’s it. Only a few I didn’t know and most of those illustrators/painters but not all. But then Weird Tales set up a tab on their website www.weirdtalesmagazine.com called Share Your Weird, where people could list other names they thought should have been on the list. As I read through the initial list I agreed with most but found a few that I thought were weird enough to be on there as well. Reading through other people’s comments, there are many more weird artists out there than the 85 slots and people made good ponts. In fact they could probably have done 85 weird filmmakers, 85 weird comic artist/writers, 85 weird fiction writers, etc.

Here are a few that I would have added, not just because of their impact on me but on a genre (in no particular order):

  • China Mieville–his bugheaded women in Perdido Street Station is weird enough, not to mention the cactus people. But then maybe he’s not old enough. Interestingly, of the living artists in the list of 85, no one is under the age of 40.
  • Federico Fellini–moviemaker who was doing bizarre films of ancient Greece and Rome, of love and of fools way before the more recent films (Amarcord, Satyricon, 8 1/2)
  • Peter Greenaway–filmmaker who must have been influenced by Fellini as well as by impressionist painters of the 18th century. His films often have scenes with dead animals, still lives with bugs, and great symbolism which I love. Definitely on the weird side. (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; Prospero’s Books, The Pillow Book, The Draughtsmen Contract, 8 1/2 Women [the Fellini influence])
  • Gahan Wilson–weird and creepy cartoonist where his people often looked like they were in pain or melting.
  • Jean Cocteau–Long before Wenders, Kubrick, Cronenberg, Greenaway, or Fellini, there was Cocteau doing silent films in black and white. His Beauty and the Beast La Belle et la Bête  was erotic and sensual before people talked of such things. The line of sconces, arms holding torches, set some of the stage for weird but arty films to come.
  • Brian Eno–his full name alone is weird (Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno). This avant garde musician started with Roxy Music and has been producer on some of the bands you know today (Coldplay, U2, Talking Heads). His own work of eclectically weird songs and sonic landscapes, such as “Music for Airports” puts him as king of weird in the musical world.
  • They Might Be Giants–their lyrics alone are equal to the imagery in China Mieville’s books. How to make hit tunes from nonsequitirs and have them make sense–that’s these guys.

I’m sure I could come up with more weird. Oddly enough there are no poets in the mix in either the magazine or my list. I would need to actually do more research because there is plenty weird. Lewis Carroll is before the 85 years of weird but Jabberwocky would be on that list. It would be interesting now, to do a list of 50 weird poets though some people might think that all poetry is weird. And to Weird Tales, it was an interesting issue and well worth reading a year past the publishing date. That’s what I love about fiction magazines: they’re often timeless. And here’s to at least another 85 years of weird tales.

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Galiano Island

Galiano Island ferry dock

Galiano Island ferry dock

 Last weekend I had the chance to go over to Galiano Island. It’s one of  many Gulf Islands in the San Juan Islands and is a long finger of land. Galiano can be reached by a ferry that takes a little less than an hour. We walked on and paid about $20 for a round trip (prices vary going and coming and depending on the season). And for some reason on the ferry rides in both directions the people who left their car alarms on were always driving BMWs and Audis. Folks, if you’re on a ferry, no one is going to steal your car. There is nowhere to go and if they’re breaking in and you don’t hear the alarm, what’s the point? At least the workers made humorous announcements about the alarms.

Rain was the forecast but Saturday turned into a lovely day, warm and fairly clear. This allowed the deer to come into my friends’ yard and have their lunch of windfall apples. There was the mother and a fawn with a few spots still visible on the coat, as well as a yearling that sometimes got chased away. But they were too happy to chomp away and the mother couldn’t be bothered most of the time.

The fawn still has its spots.

The fawn still has its spots.

We also went off to this property where various pieces of rusting metal, old chairs, metal drums, tanks, motors, etc. were ensnared in abundant blackberry bushes. If we ever needed an impenetrable barrier during a war, this guy could do it. The blackberries were plump and juicy so that over the weekend we had blackberry martinis, ice, strudel and just plain ole berries with peaches.

There are quite a few galleries on the island and we made rounds to three openings over two days. One is a little wood style building, nicely laid out, bright and airy called Insight Art Gallery. I can’t remember its name but it had a display of hand painted glass, some jewellery and the opening show of Ingrid Fawcett’s paintings, which were of Chinese lanterns and flowers. The next gallery was I believe the Island’s Edge Gallery, which had a store and a little courtyard (and really awful wine for the opening) plus the gallery. This gallery had paintings, sculpture, ceramic, etchings and a few other items by different artists. There were some great carved pieces including a unicorn head that would have looked better without the horn and a mermaid. The etchings were my favorite but I can’t remember the artist’s name.

Oceanfront Hotel

Oceanfront Hotel

The Oceanfront Hotel (actually condo suites that open on the water) and Spa also has a gallery and we went to that on Sunday. It had some art outside like homemade bird condos (birdhouses but fanciers), a few sculptures and then an gazebo shaped builP1010079ding with more sculpture and art in it. The grounds were very lovely with a small manmade pond and waterfall, a herb garden with some awesome artichoke plants, and a small tranquil Japanese style pond with a big goldfish.

I’ve only been to Galiano once before and we drove up the length of the island. It’s is a wooded island with fir and cedar trees, and some sequoia, and various cabins right up to fancy houses. The population is around 3000 in the summer. The beaches are often sandstone and rocky, which makes for interesting rock formations but there seems to be limited sandy beach. There are many gulf islands and small rock outcroppings that can be seen from different vantage points. I found it peaceful and a nice pastoral getaway. At some point I’ll probably go over again to hang out and do some writing.

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Arts, Culture and Politics

Stephen Harper made a statement that Canadians didn’t want to pay for artists to stand around at galas, which didn’t relate to the ordinary person. Here’s his lovely open-minded comment:

I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see … a bunch of people … at a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough when they know those subsidies have actually gone up, I’m not sure that’s something that resonates with ordinary people.

So let’s see, ordinary people. Hmm, he’s saying artists aren’t ordinary. So who is: police, cashiers, neurosurgeons, unemployed street people? Just, who, Mr. Harper, is ordinary and who isn’t? We “artists,” writers, musicians, dancers, painters, sculptors, singers, actors, etc. aren’t ordinary. Hell, we float down from the clouds, perform our works and then go back to gilded halls of champions. We don’t need to buy food, pay rent, sleep or socialize. We’re aliens I guess, living in our special niches high on the rocks.

He even mentioned taxpayers. No body told me, that as an extraordinary artist person that I can actually not pay taxes. I’ll apply for that right away since I’m a taxpayer and an artist but I therefore can’t be ordinary. Oh and I go to galas every week, in my head maybe. Galas, puhleeze, Mr. Harper, get your facts straight and stop making sweeping generalizations. As a taxpayer, an ordinary person I very much want to see the culture of my country and not a carbon copy of the US’s culture. I want to have Canadian individuality.

The only “galas” I’ve ever gone to have been those I’ve paid for and usually at conventions. Granted I’m a small peas writer and not a big name singer or actor but all of those people have worked hard and long to get where they’re going. Should we never have a gala to recognize the best in their fields? Is this is what Harper is suggesting? Just how many galas are there? I bet there are fewer than the ones the politicians attend especially when they’re doing fundraising for their campaigns.

Art and culture consists of far more than watching TV, Mr. Harper. It involves plays, concerts, art for walls and halls and front lawns of government buildings. It involves things to read and things to look at, a break for the “ordinary person” from the dreariness or just plain hard work of a job. It provides entertainment and humor, and a release of tension. It provokes joy and sorrow with deeper thoughts and discourse into our everyday life. The pen is mightier than the sword for a reason.

Speaking of swords and other sports, if you subsidize athletes, artists of the body as much as dancers are, then why not subsidize the arts? It all falls under entertainment.  Many regimes through history have tried to muzzle their artists. The governments fear what the art may point fingers at. China is an example of some of the muzzling being done. But I’d say that Harper’s gang is trying to muzzle any arts they disapprove of and doesn’t represent the views they want put forward.

I have to go now and put on my subsidized ball gown so I can go to another subsidized artists’ gala that all those ordinary people are going to watch on TV but not care about. But one last point to Stephen Harper: perhaps if you didn’t slash funding to the arts and censor it, then you might have got a truly original speech all those years ago as opposed to having to use the Australian prime minister’s recycled speech. plagiarized

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Moral Rights

On Sunday, Jim Gunn talked about an essay for an old SF collection and how one author wouldn’t sell his piece because he would have to waive moral rights. Jim seemed to think this was silly, to not sell a story over moral rights. Maybe he was talking about that particular case only, where the essay was written specifically for that anthology. Earlier last year, on my blogspot blog I wrote about CBC radio having a contest and taking all rights. Also checking out Radio One’s program “This I Believe” they said: By clicking on the “submit your essay” button below, you are transferring to CBC all rights, including copyright, in your essay and are waiving your moral rights in the essay. As owner of copyright CBC, and third parties authorized by CBC, will have the exclusive right to make unlimited use of all or part of the essay in any and all media in perpetuity worldwide.

CBC wasn’t paying for these pieces. “Fill our programming for us for free. After all, it is our national radio station.” By writing for CBC, you’re volunteering it to these programs. Yet, many artists donate or volunteer their works for a particular show or event or book. So what’s the difference between donating a piece, giving copyright for a specific time and waiving moral or all rights?

The owning of copyright is a complicated thing and there are lawyers and agents who specialize in the fine print. Basically, by transferring all rights it means that you can no longer use that piece of your writing in any way. You cannot send it to be published or shown anywhere else. You really can’t even ask permission since CBC now owns it completely. Take a person who sells a sculpture. Someone else owns the sculpture but the artist might still have prints or photos of the sculpture sold or put in books. In the case of writing, many writers make a living from reselling their pieces to different publications.

Although in most cases of publishing one sells specific rights (and often specific media rights such as electronic or print publication) for a limited time, there are cases where you sell all rights, which still does not include moral rights unless they say so. But should you sell a book to a publisher, the rights give that publisher the exclusive right to publish your book for a period of time, compensating you as is laid out in your contract. If you sell to a magazine, you are paid for the piece, by article, word count or column inches and can after a time, resell that piece to other publications. Greeting card companies do it as a matter of course because they want to own the slogan in perpetuity.

There are first world rights, English only rights, print only, first North American, electronic and a motley assortment of many other combinations, often with a nonexclusive right to put in a print anthology (if you sell a short story to a magazine), which only gives that publisher the first right to ask you if they can put it in but you have the right of refusal.

In most cases rights revert to authors as per the contract, and the majority of authors will not write something in which they do not retain rights. I have never sold anything where the rights did not revert to me. Exceptions are for anything you write while in the employ of a company. In that case, they own it but you can still get writing credit for it and have your moral rights.

Moral rights are the most important to keep and it’s shocking that CBC resorted to such tactics. Waiving moral rights means that a company/magazine/publisher can take your piece and alter it, making it unrecognizable, printing pieces out of context and otherwise changing your words, and you will have no recourse. If I was a painter and sold a painting of a house to someone and waived my moral rights, they could then paint in a dead dog and a person dismembering someone else and I could say nothing. I’m not sure but it’s possible moral rights might also mean your name is no longer attached to your work. In the above example you would probably be happy if they left your name off but anyone who takes your moral rights can destroy what you’ve created and say you made it.

Of all rights, moral rights are the most important and the most worrisome when a big corporation like CBC is asking for them. When moral rights go missing it’s immoral. Any artist, whether writer, painter or jeweler, as well as any person who appreciates any form of art should consider very carefully what it means when you sell all rights and waive your moral rights.

I, for one, could not morally let this happen. There is no reason that anyone would need moral rights if they’re above board. An awful lot of money would have to exchange hands for me to waive these rights. Whether you sell a story or a photograph, you have the right to keep your moral rights. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_right

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