The Politics of Art: Should Artists Keep Their Opinions To Themselves?

“I have always loved the Grammys but to have artists read the Fire and Fury book killed it. Don’t ruin great music with trash. Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it.” ~ Nikki Haley, 29th and current United States Ambassador to the United Nations

The tension between art and politics has long been debated, certainly since the 1960s, when the cultural revolution introduced neon posters, protest music, and lyrics that offered more than “ooh baby baby” to the national conversation. Lenny Bruce and George Carlin made politics and changing mores the bedrock of their humor. Films, TV, art, and music found the incitement of violent unrest, sexual freedom, social controversy, and evolving standards ripe for exploration. All the rules changed and, for artists, that was a glorious thing.

Yet here we are in 2018, once again debating the explosive merge between politics and art, with some sniffing that those who create the movies, TV shows, music, books, images, and comedy enjoyed by a rapacious public should keep their politicizing pie-holes shut. Nikki was peeved, Trump took on Jay-Z, and God forbid a certain red-headed comedienne made tasteless jokes about the man in the White House…satire is dead, color within the lines, banish them from the kingdom!

Some of us aren’t having that.

When Nikki Haley tweeted the above admonition on Grammy night, she threw herself into a social media frenzy that literally exploded with response, opening up a contemporary conversation about what artists are allowed to say, what they are advised to do when it comes to that provocative alliance between creative and political personas.

The zeitgeist on that question has clearly evolved over time. Swinging from earlier eras when artists and celebrities fought hard to keep their proclivities and idiosyncrasies—both personal and political—from impacting any part of their public brand (with McCarthy’s blacklist making it a matter of career life and death), current trends find politics and identity more readily meshed, making public not only what an artist has to offer, but who they are and what they believe.

Of course, that’s not true in all genres of the creative world. It’s well known that country music defines conservatism as the go-to party line and sticking your neck out too far to the left can shatter a career’s upward trajectory (see the Dixie Chicks). Some say that hard line has been softened in more recent years; when big stars like Tim McGraw and Faith Hill can throw their support behind Obama and sane gun control, and still maintain status as one of country’s power couples, perhaps the sharper edges of political witch-huntery have been dulled. Even the TV series “Nashville” has tackled police profiling and the outing of one of its most popular characters.

On the other side of the aisle, actors like Bruce Willis, Kelsey Grammer, and Tim Allen claim their conservative politics have contributed to backlash from liberal Hollywood. Clint Eastwood, he of the famous “empty Obama chair” at the 2012 Republican Convention, has been openly mocked not only for his support of right-wing politics, but the contradiction those views present when viewed against some of his more liberal narratives (Gran Torino or Million Dollar Baby, for example). I doubt that Eastwood gives a hoot about it either way, but it might be true that being an out-and-proud red-hat Republican in the entertainment business requires a certain thickness of skin!

Writers, largely more private and introspective than their performing cousins, seem particularly sensitive to the conundrum, as their commerce and community building rely heavily on the goodwill of virtual readers and reviewers who may or may not share their civic opinions. Some, in service to that readership, refuse to reveal their political views in open forums, often advising others to follow suit for the sake of survival in a saturated marketplace. One author recently asked if I didn’t find it “dangerous” to be as vocal and public as I am about politics, if I might be scaring off, offending, or potentially losing readers who sit on the other side of the fence.

Maybe so.

But for me it comes down to this: the products of my creativity are built on the foundation of my political and social beliefs. The topics I cover, the characters I create, the messages of my stories are all imbued with one aspect or another of my perspective, either by echoing it or arguing it. In fact, it is my worldview—my philosophies, spiritual beliefs, and politics—that contributes to the whole of my assembled persona, and that persona is inexorably linked to my artistic expression. These things are inseparable.

If my views offend, put off, or otherwise dissuade readers, listeners, or viewers from appreciating or buying my work, then so be it. That is the price I willingly pay for authenticity. For me, there would be no point to creating art if it didn’t represent my voice, didn’t inspire conversation, elicit emotion, provoke thought, or offer illumination. Whether comedy, satire, suspense, science fiction, romance, or mystery, one can weave their foundational beliefs into any plot, character, or dialogue. Nothing need be wasted. My Muse, in fact, will not allow me otherwise.

Given that, I’m particularly drawn to artists propelled by the same impulse. I love that J.K. Rowling makes no secret of her liberal views on Twitter, stirring trolls into Voldemort-like frenzy! Chelsea Handler’s fierce politics make her humor all the more pointed. I appreciate that Ken Olin, Rob Reiner, Alyssa Milano, Ava DuVernay, Don Cheadle, John Leguizamo, and Jeffrey Wright relentlessly use their pulpits to push against nationalist hate and right-wing demagoguery.

But I especially applaud lesser known artists, those who have more to lose by boldly going where their politics lead. They are countless and courageous in putting their artistry where their mouths are:

Grace Amandes, a top-notch Chicago graphic artist, is not only fearless about stating her truths, she went so far as to design a slate of astonishingly beautiful protest posters for the 2018 Women’s March and donated them to any marcher or organization who requested them. Whether her more conservative corporate clients might be put off by her public stance held no sway, and she was honored to find her work widely shared both nationally and online.

Women’s March 2018, artist Grace Amandes

Or Aron Teo Lee. An east coast educator/entrepreneur who inspires the innovative thinking of kids and corporations via his company, Deilab, Lee is also a musician and a man of social conscience. Outraged by current political events, motivated to speak out for racial justice and other progressive causes, he and his band, The Funkin’ Rock Rebellion, recorded his song, “Into the Storm We March,” in time for the 2018 Women’s March and February’s Black History Month. Calling it “real funk with a meaning,” Lee describes his music as “sonic fuel to power artistic protest and social activism in response to this president and his cruel administration.” Art. Politics. Activism. No apologies.  

Aron Teo Lee

Or writer/director/filmmaker, Susie Singer Carter, and partner, Don Priess, who took their compassion and concern for Alzheimer’s sufferers, triggered by Susie’s journey with her beloved and afflicted mother, and made a beautiful film short, My Mom and the Girl, which touched a nerve for many, garnering a slate of awards at festivals around the globe. Pivotal to the story was a tender narrative arc involving a trans-woman, not necessarily a topic that plays well in some corners of middle and southern America. But being the dauntless artist she is, not only was Susie unbowed by the potential of offending viewers with more conservative views, she infused the film with a visual embrace of tolerance.

My Mom and the Girl

Artists like these are all the more admirable for making their unflinching contributions at a time when so much around us careens in chaos… when too many of the privileged and socially insulated blithely declare, “I don’t do politics,” despite the growing need for universal and collaborative involvement.

Fortunately, and increasingly, most of us do “do politics,” using the skill sets we have at our disposal to raise the bar, raise consciousness, and raise awareness. For artists, it’s their art. Their music, their books, their films. Their photographs, theater, and poetry. Their comedy. Their images. Their songs.

To answer the titular question: artists can’t be afraid to mix politics and art. The power created by that synergy is what drives revolutions, what makes change, what inspires activism… all of it pushed by the noise of our collective voices. If someone cannot tolerate the volume, they are free to take a seat in the other room.

Banner photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash  
Artists photos by permission of the artists.

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

 

NEW Photography Reel Features Collector Favorites

When you lead an eclectic creative life, as I do, you sometimes find you’re giving short shrift to one arena while focused on another; for example:

Taking off for four months to be in a new musical (however exhilarating and joyful) does leave less time to promote your indie novels. Pounding pavements in search of publishing opportunities for a new book (less joyful 🙂 ) does demand enough energy that street shooting can get lost in the shuffle. Staying current with current culture will often distract from the craft of art. That sort of thing. And there really are only so many hours in a damn day, despite my arguments to the contrary!

I’ve been told throughout my career that I’d be wise to streamline my focus, choose a medium and stick with it; at least come up with a theme, a brand; a niche. But for whatever reason, and for better or worse, my artistic DNA will not seem to allow it. Never has. I remain convinced that ALL of art tells a story and that’s my gig: telling stories. However I choose to tell them. Hence, the eclectic nature of it all… including my photography.

And given the need to breathe some fresh life into that part of my creative arsenal, and because this medium has been tickling my brain more in recent weeks, I put together a reel of various images that have garnered the most attention from viewers and collectors over the years. Many are personal favorites, some are new, but all reflect my endless fascination with the world around me. Click the video below to enjoy the selection.

As for my gallery at-large: while I’ve been fortunate to have my work shown in the Los Angeles Center of Photography in Hollywood, CA; Chung King Road Studio in LA’s Chinatown; in You Daily Photograph features via the Duncan Miller Gallery; at the Griffin Museum of Photography outside Boston, as well as displayed in a variety of office buildings, private businesses, and on hearths and walls of many a private home, virtual viewers can click to my site at Fine Art America to enjoy the full panoply of where my eye has taken me…

Please enjoy!

Video soundtrack: “Angel Share” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com); Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Competitive Creativity: What Is It Doing To Art? And To Artists?

 "Please...please pick me..."
“Please…please pick me…”

It was the second round, the one where two singers, chosen from the group of finalists, face-off against just each other; winner takes all, loser goes home. I watched my friend take his place on the stage. A handsome, supremely talented singer/songwriter, he’s written and recorded songs that could make your heart soar or break into a thousand pieces and yet there he was, singing his touching ballad with heart and soul…only to be pitted against a Broadway-style belter going full-tilt Mariah Carey on some barn-burner, and, well, you guessed it… my pal went home.

Apples and oranges. Coffee and tea. What’s the point? Both valid types of performers, both excellent at their particular craft and style, but we’re going to throw them in the pit together to decide which is better than the other.

Why do we do that to our artists?

Why do we set them against each other in situations where arbitrary standards are applied, subjective opinions rule, random preferences (“he’s so much cuter!”) play a role, and the whimsy of fickle and often superficial criteria set the bar for what’s “hot,” who’s a “star,” what’s a “bestseller,” and who wins the prize?

Why do we make them compete against other qualified artists to win “best” when “best” is, more honestly, impossible to determine and strictly subjective? Why do we make them give their work away so greedy consumers can enjoy it without exchange, in hopes those consumers start viral and positive word-of-mouth? Why do we make them “audition” every day of their lives for acting, singing, writing, photography jobs, often ones beneath their talent, all while treating them as if their years of work and artistic contribution are irrelevant to their perceived value?

The moment before one of our best becomes that arbitrary "best."
– That vulnerable moment before one of our best becomes an arbitrary “best.”

Why do we make artists battle each other like gladiators in a pit, while giving audience members, opinion makers, and gatekeepers the power to thumb up or down depending on cultural mood and sway? Why do we make them beg for readers, go into debt for song plays, humiliate themselves in hopes of an acting gig, or accept “exposure” and “internet real estate” in lieu of money because, hey, “my kid takes pictures as good as any professional, why should I pay you?”

Why do we make them jump through such hoops, tap-dance with such desperation, become “monkeys” to our grinding, mercurial cultural tastes?

Well – you could also ask –  “Why do artists put themselves in those situations?” And you would be asking another valid question.

Why do they? Why do they allow themselves to be judged on anything other than their work, their evolution as an artist, the depth of their talent and skill, or the merit of their individual and unique creative contribution?

Because they want to “make it” – a living, a fair wage, a career – and “making it” in the creative businesses is a BITCH.

Unless an artist wants zero exposure or connection to the outside world, they want some kind of commercial success. They wouldn’t cut CDs, post photographs, publish books, or produce plays if they didn’t.

artist

They want to make a living — some kind of living. They want a bigger audience, a more influential pulpit; an upward trajectory. They want to advance beyond the basement rehearsal room, the badly lit garage, the crappy office where they wrote their last three books. They want their work to get out there, to touch more people, have more impact; be heard, read, and looked at by more than their enthusiastic, but limited, circle of family and friends. They want fame and fortune because fame and fortune allows for steadier progress, more and better opportunities, the attraction of more effective business connections, and a higher level of collaborators. Because art is communication and communication requires a Point B. They want more Point Bs.

But we live in a world of too many people, and with so many of those people pursuing artistic careers, and so, so many outlets available for those many people to put their work, the supply has colossally exceeded the demand. Which makes creative competition a sort of necessary Hunger Games designed to thin the herd.

Frankly, supply has always exceeded demand in the arts; success has always been a rarefied, selective thing, but now – with the internet, all things DIY, and enough televised talent shows (you’d think!) to run out of talent – the gates of perceived opportunity have burst open, and everyone with a modicum of talent is rushing forth to be counted. And the bean counters are counting and artists are competing and it’s all getting so crazy that shenanigans and misguided notions of every kind have been injected into the madness.

Examples?

Singers, producers, and record execs now regularly rely on digital technology to manipulate marginal performances into artificially perfect ones. Independent (and other) authors pack Amazon pages with paid-for, swapped, and often undeserved “5-star” reviews to hopefully pull them out of the pack. Photographers Photoshop their work to death in an effort to stand out in a field where billboards, newspapers, and media sites are putting out calls to amateurs with iPhones. Copywriters, journalists, and essayists are forced to balance free gigs offering bona fide Ior not!) exposure against “getting paid or walking away” in arenas where “everyone’s a writer!” and no one wants to, or, apparently, needs to pay for quality writing.

All of this has reduced art, and artists, to… yes, I’ll use the analogy again: The Hunger Games: artists out there with defenses high, attempting to survive in a world where those in charge frame them as generic and dispensable… and too many fellow artists believe “cheating the system” is necessary in a competitive environment where talent, quality, and sustaining creativity are far less valued than viral appeal.

But is that giving us the best art, advancing the best artists? You tell me. I’m not convinced, particularly when I read, listen to, or see extraordinary art that is ignored or dismissed for lesser, but more viral work.

Which means this to me:

Personal best

I’ve stepped off the playing field. I won’t compete anymore… at least not in the ways described above. I won’t pit myself against other talented artists to win some arbitrary prize; I won’t chase after an audience; I won’t involve myself in situations that kill my soul, even a little. The only person I’ll compete against is me, to beat my personal best, and continue to grow and evolve as an artist. I’ll put my work where it can be found, I’ll happily share good news, I’ll continue to promote and talk about other artists I admire, and I’ll do everything within my power and resources to advance my goals. But I’ve put down my bow and arrow. If this means I’m truly out of the running, so be it. I’ve discovered that sometimes running just kicks up a lot of dust…

Fingers crossed image by Mjt16 @ WikimediaCommons.
“Best Lead Actor Emmy” shot: video screen grab
Trumpet Player by Padurariu Alexandru @ Unsplash
LDW shot by James Johnson

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Musicians Have Taylor Swift To Champion Fairness; Who Do Writers Have?

Taylor Swift, Fairness Warrior @ FB Timeline
Taylor Swift, Fairness Warrior; image @ FB Timeline

Even if you don’t pay attention to whatever elements of Taylor Swift’s life make the media on a given day, one would be hard-pressed to have missed the weekend’s brouhaha with Swift vs. Apple Music. Say what you will about the girl—her fluffy songs, her digitally-enhanced vocals, or her madcap rise to fame—she knows how to use a bully pulpit.

In a nutshell: after Apple Music announced their new streaming service on June 8th to much excitement and fanfare, it quickly became clear that the three-month trial period offered as enticement to joining artists came with some decidedly unappreciated fine print. It seems any music sold during those three months would NOT earn royalties for the artists, writers, and producers who signed up and whose music was being sold. Which meant those free three months, marketed as a “join-up gift,” were really a gift to Apple, allowing them to rake in whatever revenues were earned from those “trial” artists bereft of any payout to the artists themselves. Cold. Calculating. Greedy. And Ms. Swift would have none of it.

She not only withdrew her own latest (and wildly successful) album, 1989, from the steaming service, she took to her Tumblr page on June 21st with an open-letter to Apple. I’m going to put the whole thing here because I think her points (the most salient of which I’ve highlighted) are so important:

I write this to explain why I’ll be holding back my album, 1989, from the new streaming service, Apple Music. I feel this deserves an explanation because Apple has been and will continue to be one of my best partners in selling music and creating ways for me to connect with my fans. I respect the company and the truly ingenious minds that have created a legacy based on innovation and pushing the right boundaries.

I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.

This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field…but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs.

These are not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child. These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much. We simply do not respect this particular call.

I realize that Apple is working towards a goal of paid streaming. I think that is beautiful progress. We know how astronomically successful Apple has been and we know that this incredible company has the money to pay artists, writers and producers for the 3 month trial period… even if it is free for the fans trying it out.

Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing. I say this with love, reverence, and admiration for everything else Apple has done. I hope that soon I can join them in the progression towards a streaming model that seems fair to those who create this music. I think this could be the platform that gets it right.

But I say to Apple with all due respect, it’s not too late to change this policy and change the minds of those in the music industry who will be deeply and gravely affected by this. We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.

Taylor

THANK YOU

All I could say was, “Brava, Ms. Swift!” Especially after it was announced, just hours after Swift’s note, that Apple Music not only heard her, they were, indeed, changing their policy. From The Huffington Post:

On Sunday evening, Apple responded to Taylor Swift’s rallying cry to fairly compensate artists. “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists,” Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue tweeted. Cue announced the tech giant will in fact pay artists for streaming services during the free trial period of Apple Music.

The power of protest. The power of standing up to behemoths of the industry to make clear that policies rooted in unfairness and lack of respect for the talent, hard work, and expended resources of artists, will not, and should not, stand. Kudos to Apple for getting the point and making the needed changes. Win/win all around. 

But what about writers? What about the novelists, non-fiction writers; essayists and article writers; in fact, any writer who’s creating work being posted, sold, or used by anyone else (i.e., book sale sites, news sites, resource sites, company websites, etc.)? This group of artists does not, at least not that I’m aware of, have a champion akin to Taylor Swift putting their own work on the line to protest for fairer industry practices. Instead, I see piece after piece cajoling writers to give their work away for free as “enmaeavatar_biggerticement” to new readers. I see content wranglers justifying non-payment in lieu of “online real estate,” calling it the “Huff Post formula” (forgetting that Huff Post actually has a level of exposure few other places do, and really, who need more “online real estate”??). I see sites like Amazon parsing subscription formulas to pay royalties based on how many pages of a book are actually read, as opposed to the purchase of the book itself (tell me, when were we ever allowed to pay for just the amount of a meal we ate at a restaurant??). All of these tactics, and others, are designed to benefit the purveyors of that content and the readers of that content, with little consideration for the creators of that content. Which is wrong. And pretty much the exact argument Swift was making to Apple. 

In fact, she made a similar point last year regarding Spotify, another music streaming service, reiterating her view of the “value of art” in an interview at Yahoo Music:

“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.

I felt like I was saying to my fans, ‘If you create music someday, if you create a painting someday, someone can just walk into a museum, take it off the wall, rip off a corner off it, and it’s theirs now and they don’t have to pay for it.’  I didn’t like the perception that it was putting forth. And so I decided to change the way I was doing things.

Yes! Exactly! What’s with the perception that art has little or no value? That artists are somehow obligated to give their work away simply because it’s on the Internet and there’s that strange, persistent, unsupported “cultural think” that if it’s on the Internet it should be free? NO, IT SHOULDN’T! The Internet is like a store. A store where people put up the stuff they’re selling. It’s not a free box on the side of the road; it’s a place for commerce. As Taylor says, we don’t ask for free iPhones, so why free art? 

read your novel

But, sadly, we in the book/writing business don’t have a champion like Swift. The 2014 kerfuffle between Amazon and Hatchette was just a snit-fest between the Big 5 and big Amazon; it had nothing to do with fair compensation for indie writers. And, let’s face it, the proliferation of sites screaming “FREE & BARGAIN BOOKS!!” has exploded, creating a demographic of readers that simply expect books to either be free or so effing cheap the profit margin wouldn’t afford the author a latte while writing the next book they’ll be browbeaten to “donate” to the undiscerning public.

I can hear Taylor screaming in her jasmine-scented soundproofed vocal booth.

That's not how it works

Clearly, I’m no Taylor Swift. There are no legions of fans hanging on my every word; no one cares with whom I’m holding hands. I’m not tall, skinny, and loaded with a Brinks vault of awards. I have no power over any industry (though there was a time my catering captain skills were in demand!), and the only thing of mine Apple respects is a decent purchase history of phones and computers. But still… I’ve been around a long time, I’ve got artistic bona fides, and some have said (though I can’t remember who), I’ve got a good head on my shoulders. So if I had a bully pulpit, this is what I’d say:

Perpetuating the perception that independent books have little value and should be free or sold for ridiculously low prices is deleterious to the true merit, status, and negotiating power of independent authors. This is not about greed or the overvaluation of unknown writers; this is about the artistry and hard work that goes into creating good books. Excellent books. Books that, if agents and publishers were wrangling them in the traditional publishing world, would be bestsellers. Instead, those authors are struggling to find footing in a slippery marketplace that can’t seem to discern between mediocre and masterful, and values/devalues it as “all the same.” 

Which is folly. If an amateur wants to crank out an unpolished tome to put on Amazon for family/friend consumption, giving that book away for free or one or two bucks, so be it. But if a skilled, professional, highly qualified author puts years in, hires experts to produce, and publishes a masterful book (and I know many of those excellent authors and their excellent books), those books deserve to be sold at prices comparable to any other excellent book being traditionally published. Anything else creates a two-tiered system that designates one group as worthy, the other as not. Which is inherently unfair and vastly misguided, as what publishing category a book belongs to does not necessarily indicate its excellence.

This is about us indie writers and our industry taking a stand to determine that the perceived value of our art is commensurate with any other valued art, and, subsequently, demanding commensurate and fair payment for that art. Let “free” be a choice, not a mandate.

Okay, I’m done. I’m gonna go now and “Shake It Off”! 

Related articles you might find interesting:
I’m Not Interested In FREE Books 
Free Books: Marketing Genius or Devaluation of Writers?
Free Book Promotions: How Good ARE They For Writers?

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Art of Art Discussion: Just Quiet Down and Go Create

We all need a break now and again from the day-to-day work that holds our focus. Like the vaunted “15-minutes” regular office workers get to stroll into the cafeteria for java and a Danish, we freelancers take our moments, too; often to hop online for a little social media refreshment. I’m as guilty as anyone; there are days when serious-conversation_smmeeting a deadline, finishing a project, getting errands done, or managing my ever-growing list of marketing tasks all require the interruption of some light trolling on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Huff Po, Fine Art America or any of the groups and discussions one might find here or there. And when I do, I’m typically compelled, by virtue of senses stirred, to jump in. Sometimes it’s just clicks on photos and links I enjoy but, equally as often, the urge for rejoinder is strong. It’s hard for me to read inane chatter, mean-spirited comments, or truly debatable topics without wanting to throw in my two cents!

Certainly political postings corral the lion’s share of this type of response, but more recently I’ve read or partaken in “art discussions” — analysis and deconstruction of style and technique, contest decorum, commerce demands, etc. —  and, much like politics, the tendency for some to veer into cynicism, negativity, and arrogance is apparent. And disappointing.

Like anything else on the Internet, Art is a big topic. Go to any art-oriented site – photography, painting, jewelry design, graphic art, whatever –  and you’ll find opinions on every aspect and angle. And in those discussions, you’ll meet as many wonderful artists as you will curmudgeons, which, frankly, I find surprising. I don’t know why, but I always expect artists to be more uplifting and good-spirited than they often are.

See, I was lucky to have been given a constructive and very positive foundation in my training. My experiences in a wide variety of “the arts” included an overriding message of support, assistance, camaraderie, and the sheer joy of the craft. Certainly there were those who took opportunity for snarky critique, behind-the-back denigrations, sniffing arrogance, or bashing disguised as instruction, but I was fortunate that most of the teachers, professors, mentors, and fellow artists involved in my impressionable youth exuded their own joy in the craft and that imprinted upon me a higher-toned mission statement; one of constructive input, positive output, and personal and communal artistic integrity. Or, as is suggested in this age of The Secret and The Power of Positive Thinking, a “half-full perspective bereft of the toxic effect of negativity.”

talking

“Either love it or do something else,” I was advised. I was also reminded of the old adage, “If you haven’t got something nice to say, don’t say anything.” Which, unless you’re a bona fide reviewer, opinion writer, or comedian, applies to pretty much everyone else.

So it’s jarring for me to read threads in which artists snipe at each other, knock down the work of others; become “authorities” about what is or isn’t Art (as if they, in particular, know!), criticize and demean the marketing choices of fellow artists, or denigrate any aspect of the industry – art or commerce –  that they, personally, don’t appreciate or wish to partake of. These are the kind of people who find fault and spew criticism, whose toxic brew of negativity was what a mentor of mine used to call “sour-pussing.” Glass half-empty. Discordant. Contrary.

For example; at Fine Art America, the very well managed site that provides hosting, printing and delivery of fine art photography and paintings – and a place where I’ve met a slew of very talented, supportive artists who are smart, enjoyable people – there is a contingent (likely too large a one) that “sour-pusses” on a regular basis. A discussion thread commenced recently regarding the winner of a now-concluded “Times Square Art Contest.” The woman who started the thread posited her prompt with a tsunami of criticism; of the winning piece, the artist, the contest, the overall marketing demands of the art world, concluding with a cranky assessment of “the whole thing.” (Frankly, I wanted to get her a juice box and tell her to take a nap!) But, more disappointingly, what followed this diatribe was a slew of commiserating comments, supporting her thesis to some degree or another. Lots of judgment of other artists’ work, denunciations of the overall state of the industry, snarky rejoinders about contests that “demean” artists into “begging” for votes, right down to a nihilistic grump-fest that included the statements, “There will be artists as long as there is society, but that too is coming to an abrupt halt. America is going under as we speak, and the rest will follow in quick order,” and the exceedingly grim “THERE IS NO FUTURE to ART. Humanity is much more interested in Ipods and marching blindfolded into the future. We are the last artists on this planet.”

All I could think was…WTF?!?

I shook my head as I read this manifesto of negativity, wondering how these people got out of bed, much less found the energy and inspiration necessary to create art. Luckily there were a few bright individuals who spoke up to shoot down the negative trend and did so with enough intelligence, optimism, and artistic good-will to offset, to the degree they could, the snarling hordes but, I have to say, I was disappointed that so many seemed hell-bent on ripping Art, and its artists, a new one! I was tempted to leap in and make my points, but realized, with some weariness, that the thread leader was jumping on every response with her continuing brand of snark and snarl and it was just too nice a day to get involved in that level of crankiness…though I did send an email to the most cogent and wise of her debaters, thanking him for his insight!

While I agree that we all have “the right to our opinions,” as Debbie Downer repeatedly pointed out, too many seem to have missed the lessons of integrity, constructive thinking, artistic magnanimity, and a positive, supportive outlook. Clearly Art has long had a history of creative personalities who were churlish and mean-spirited; many who were (are?) burdened with insecurities, jealousies, schadenfreude, and plain old nastiness, but in the communal world of online art exchange and discussion, there really is no room or reason for all that.

But people are who they are; I can’t change them. The woman running that thread is clearly a person with many other issues in her life that contribute to the attitudes she exudes online. But while I feel sorry for her (and certainly anyone in her near circle!), I ain’t gonna debate her. Because I reserve my perspective, my thoughtfulness; my contribution, for conversations that are constructive and focused on offering views and opinions that transmit something positive and helpful, rather than the banal, deflating, blather-fest of negativity I found on that thread.

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My suggestion to that crowd? Stop talking and go create. If you have that much time to spend tearing down others in a community setting, go make another piece of art instead. Rather than getting some kind of buzz out of stirring up mutual frustration to feed your own, shut off your computer and pick up a brush or a camera. Don’t worry about what others are creating, just create. Quit expounding on what you think is stupid and create. Don’t announce what you won’t do, just do what you will do. If you don’t have the desire to be in a contest, don’t; but don’t cut down others who do. Don’t want to ask people to vote for your work? Again, don’t. But quit yacking about others who have no problem garnering support for theirs. And if someone wins a damn prize, offer congratulations and accept that even if “it’s not really creative” to you, it clearly is to someone else…enough that they won! And if you don’t have it in you to congratulate them…

Just quiet down.

Stop talking.

And go create.

All photographs by Lorraine Devon Wilke

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

May I Introduce My Other Muse?

We each come into this world with a penchant, an inclination; a psychic nuance that gets under our skin, drives our goals and, simply put, makes us really happy. The list is long of those many things that inspire and clearly it’s a very personal thing. What incites creativity, passion and ambition in one can be a complete flatline for another. It’s as individual as a fingerprint. A snowflake. That dish my friend Lotta makes that no one’s ever been able to figure out.

For me it was the creative arts. Always. I don’t know why. I could point to the lack of TV in my youth and childhood – and the books, music and art that filled the gap – but, frankly, my younger sibs who did not do without are just as artistically inclined and they were definitely Children of the TV (similar to Children of the Corn only in that their eyes are a bit large). Perhaps our penchants are pre-programmed. A carry-over from a previous life (if you believe such things). Certainly they’re influenced by parents who, in my case, were passionate about the arts, injecting them at every turn, convinced that even rearranging the living room was an expression of the creative mind. It is, Mom; I agree. And thank you, both, for your fine contribution to my artistic journey.

So armed with my many Muses who kept me company throughout an eclectic life, I happily bandied in a bevy of mediums, even past the point when others tried to convince me to “pick one and stick with it.” Creative monogamy, so to speak. But I had arrived in LA pumped by youthful years of writing, acting and singing, poised to take it all on in this fine creative mecca, so I chafed at the notion of exclusivity. Seemed so…exclusive. Still, I was a naive and eager young lass, addicted to my ambition and ultimately easily swayed, so I threw aside my concerns and did just that; I chose acting, forsaking all others like a good, faithful spouse, convinced that by committing to only one Muse I would certainly conjure its success into being.

Yeah. That worked.

Don’t get me wrong, I had loads of fun as an actress but ultimately fell out of love, particularly after it was clear that a viable career was not to be had and, it turns out, I really didn’t care all that much. Mostly I missed the other Muses. I remember telling my manager at the time, after five years of acting fidelity, that I missed music and wanted to get back to it and he literally laughed in my face. Seriously, he laughed. His perspective of me was so narrow that rather than explore a new path and its many possibilities, he presumed I was a deluded little dilettante. Big fat tipping point, that laugh. I dumped him, quit my acting class, threw out all my vapid 8×10’s and spent the next decade or so deliriously happy as a singer in a rock n’ roll band. And a writer. And a taker of pictures. All of it. Even some damn acting. My creative harem. Welcome home.

As I see it, this business of artistic monogamy is foolishness. Fidelity is for marriage, not art. Do what you love, do everything you love, and if you do it well, all the better…share it. Yes, I know the world is now saturated with loads of purported artists in every genre who do not do it well, whatever it is in this age of immediate and ubiquitous shallow-stardom, but if they enjoy it, enjoy away. We don’t have to pay attention and perhaps over time they’ll weary of the exercise. One can hope.

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Anyway, this is a long, roundabout way of introducing you to a particular Muse I’ve been deeply involved with for many years but have kept close to the vest for various reasons. While I’ve done session for family, friends and artists; have prints hanging on a few office walls and on various websites, this has been a somewhat stealth pursuit. No particular reason other than, as I viewed the many talented professionals attempting to build their photography businesses in a unfathomably competitive market, sorting out how to monetize the craft as I performed it eluded me. So I just took pictures and learned some worthy skills in the meantime. But after years of shooting, more requests for prints, a growing number of calls for sessions, I decided it was time to come out of the creative closet and throw this, too, into the mix that is my creative life.

Friends, meet my other Muse; Photography, meet the gang.

mezquita-arches_smThough you’re just meeting, I’ve actually been shooting pictures for most of my life.  For whatever reason, the idea of visually chronicling the journey was as natural as blinking an eye….and this was before Smart Phones and Facebook! I had a crappy little camera I took everywhere and I have many of those pictures still. They’re amateur and silly and some are as crappy as the camera taking them, but the eye was there, the composition was good and, bottom line, they are responsible for inciting my interest. It’s only been in the last couple of decades, however, that the passion to do it well became a pull. In fact, there was some regret that I hadn’t actually taken it more seriously earlier on…damn if I didn’t find the whole darkroom ritual of lights and chemicals and magically appearing images a romantic one! In fact, if I hadn’t rushed headlong into the performing arts I’ve always said I would have either been a professional photographer or a zoologist. Seriously. Either one. Primates or pictures.

2-baby-in-a-flower-field_smBut given my lack of aptitude for the sciences, photography, albeit peripherally, was at least able to come along on the ride – as much as possible given the limits of time and money. And though that first crappy camera held me in good stead for many years, it was when my mother-in-law bought me my first good Canon 35mm about 20 years ago that my world changed. Suddenly the pictures in my mind’s eye translated to paper. I began viewing things from the perspective of frame and light. Even when I didn’t have the camera, I was like Pam in The Office wedding episode snapping invisible pictures of perfect moments. I learned that the excitement of capturing an image of true beauty or amazing candor was as exhilarating as belting a killer song or writing that brilliant paragraph. I was hooked. And when the digital revolution exploded with all its heady possibilities, I took a leap of faith, invested in a top line Canon DLSR, a couple of stellar professional lenses and have been in a solid relationship with the Muse ever since.

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I have great respect for technicians but I am not one. Perfection of skill and deep, expansive knowledge of the science of photography belong to those who made it their business to prioritize learning the technology from the ground up. For me, Multi-Muse Gal, learning the craft and technique of photography has been a slow, steady process of personal experimentation, research, book and hands-on learning. My education has been mostly instinctual, with excellent tutelage and guidance from renowned, respected photographers and teachers along the way. I studied printmaking with a master printmaker, learned camera basics from a Canon specialist and, particularly in the last three years, worked with a noted photographer and designer for whom I shot countless photos, did digital processing and printing, as well as extensive restoration and repair of older, damaged files. I learned a tremendous amount by the sheer action of doing it and what has evolved through all of this is the skill I have and my particular style of visual storytelling, examples of which have found their way onto my site (and some in this article!).

I chose the pictures I did for the site galleries because, simply…I love them. I have my favorites, certainly, but I love them all. Not to sound childish but they make me happy and represent amazing experiences in which I participated. Some depict historical places that took my breath away, some are those decisive moments in real life captured in a flash of serendipity; others are simple beauty or sweetness with no other explanation, and some are stories I wanted to tell or people who grabbed my eye. A few are even technically dubious but exude something unique or special in a way that won them a spot on the site despite their flaws. It’s a collection that speaks loudly to how I see the world and I happen to like what it has to say.

I truly hope you also enjoy the statement.  There are over 600 photos posted on the site so don’t attempt to view them all in one sitting. Take the time to enjoy them in incremental visits when you can freshly view each gallery. I promise it’s a more enjoyable experience that way and I’ll be adding new things from time to time anyway!

And beyond the sharing of creativity, I chose Fine Art America, the company hosting the site, because they have streamlined the process of printmaking and that, after all, is part of the goal here: to inspire you to order prints for yourself, your friends, your office; your gift giving. Because ultimately I realized the way I could best monetize my craft was simply to shoot what I love and then put it somewhere where others could access it and, hopefully, find a piece or two they’d like for their living room. Or the kitchen at Grandma’s. Or that space in the den that always looks so bare. Should you wish a print, a photographic Christmas or holiday gift, a box of cards or a canvas of any one of these photographs, I would be honored.  Fine Art America makes it easy to get the commerce done so click the link below and go commerce a little…my Muse and I will thank you.

But whatever you do, first and foremost, enjoy!

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LorraineDevonWilke: Fine Art Photography

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All photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.