You’ve Got to Check This Out: An Explanation

We went to Mexico for Christmas. 2015 took more than I was prepared to offer, so we spent the holiday drinking mojitos and kayaking on Banderas Bay. It was beautiful, but different from the previous fifty years of festive times with family. 2015 took my mother and my oldest friend, as well as dear cousins and the last vestiges of my mother’s siblings- not my first bad year, but it stands out. My family found themselves on Christmas morning watching Santa para-sail over a beach, because I wanted to be somewhere else. In the end, of course, travel may offer an opportunity to review the life ledger, but it always entails a return home.

My mother was an artist her whole life, as was Ron. Even at the end, Mom was concerned about getting into one more show. And now I look at my computer and my drawers and see all those words that I have. It is probably time to stop being so Emily Dickinson about it. Less than ten years ago, the local weekly published me regularly. A lot more avenues have sprung up since.

I have begun writing again seriously. While much of my time must be spent building up those writing muscles as well as learning the business as it has evolved so dramatically in recent years, I have the luxury of wanting to spend some thought on this craft that I have only practiced in the shadows for a couple decades. Time and experience have finally intersected in my life with the blessing of living when self-publishing has moved into the mainstream. Readership may not be guaranteed, but it never was.

As a tentative step into the virtual void, I plan to spend some time thinking aloud (thus blogging) about work that has spoken to me, especially as it applies to writing. Specifically, I plan to couch my thoughts in an exploration of books, movies, visual art, and such-like. Hopefully, you will find this of passing interest and discover items of inspiration or curiosity- if nothing else, perhaps reminders of past pleasures.

I want to:

  • Spend some time thinking about the works of art that have touched me with the hope of becoming a better artist- failing that, at least a better person;
  • Share the music, words, people, and places that have given shape to my life so far, perhaps illuminating the path ahead by looking at the road behind (and touched by a tendency for the occasional road less travelled); and
  • Pay homage with a little thought to the art and artists that have filled a lifetime blessed with the opportunity to see, hear, and listen to their work.

While I am drawn to regular posting like anyone tapping away at the coffee shop, in the attic, or at the laundromat, I seek a format that can dovetail exploration of art with the short form required of posting. Criticism can be the public effort to understand a work of art. Often, it is wrestling with the creator’s message in the center of the bar, sometimes breaking a few tables and often leaving some bruises. The parties to the altercation had never met before, but they choose to step outside their comfortable nests back home and venture out where the real people go.

In his Criterion Collection introduction to 8 1/2, Terry Gilliam talks about the difference between his favorite films and the films that he refers back to for wisdom and inspiration. On the other hand, this could just be my extended response to that moment in Garden State when they stand over the abyss and scream. With You’ve Got to Check This Out, I am aiming for that darker corner in the tavern where the thoughtful people sit, the ones looking for something interesting to read, to hear, to digest. I want to sit down and try to understand the work before me and see if anyone else struggles with it the same way. Ultimately, I perceive this as a two-year meditation on the meaning of art and invite you to find new experiences.

How to decide what art to consider? The intent is not to be the person to hold the spoon to your mouth and say, “Taste this, does it seem bad to you?” The first requirement then is that I actually like the work of art. The only other requirement is that the it be worth the attention. If I can’t write about it, if I can’t see the value, if I can’t come to terms with the emotion behind the work, then it is not going to appear here. In some ways, this is a reaction to all those pedantic bucket lists that never speak to me. The disingenuous nature of creating my own such list does not escape me.

I am starting with a goal of three hundred columns, publishing two to three per week. One hundred will focus on music, one hundred on the written word and one hundred on all that other stuff that fills the art world. They will be in no particular order. Life stopped being linear some time ago in all but the starkest sense. Let’s blame the Internet for that and not our obsession with new modes of visual storytelling.

I reserve the right to update any column, including this one. Open minds change.

Nothing can offset my recent losses, but little else is so life affirming as finding that art you never knew you loved. Over the past year for me, James Carr, Charles Bradley, Of Monsters and Men, and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats kept music vital and my heart beating. Almost a year ago, I dashed into the National Gallery in D.C. and spent a few minutes in the presence of two Odilon Redon paintings that I needed to rediscover. In addition, I have taken advantage of social media to follow artists of ferocious talent, industry, and craft: Jonathan Carroll, John Sokol, Richard ChizmarBill Sienkiewicz, Thomas Monteleone, Andy Lee,… Perhaps these next 300 blogs will create just such a positive experience for one reader.

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