Sunday, June 16, 2013
Decades ago, in a conversation about music, my brother Greg made the case that a singer isn't as creatively important as the songwriter; that the songwriter generates something from nothing, whereas the singer is merely repeating or interpreting. He would rather have songwriting talent than singing talent, he said.
As a kid who transfixed by the idea of making something where before there was nothing, his logic made perfect sense. I downloaded his opinion onto my own personal hard drive, and there it stayed for years to come. I think of it as the "God" definition of creativity: You can only claim to be creative if you're the one making something from nothing. And since being creative was good, and merely parroting someone else's creative product seemed less honorable, the singer was less important than the songwriter.
It would be years before deeper thought intruded, but eventually it did. And when you think deeply about what it means to be creative, you inevitably end up (say I) admitting that no one creates something from nothing -- well, except perhaps God himself. The songwriter used language he or she was taught; most likely used melodic tropes evolved through the ages. The song might be new, but it's hardly without foundation material.
Meanwhile, the singer might or might not be creative. She might mimic others' styles. She might fake emotion. Or she might bring whatever that thing is that truly creative people bring to what they do. You can think of it as the "special sauce," or as a way of stamping the starter material with a piece of one's soul. Whatever.
Most of creativity -- all of it? -- is taking what we're given and adding what's uniquely ourselves. Some of us do it on a grand scale. Some of us add just a little bit.
Collaboration rules. We collaborate with composers, singers, painters, or writers who went before us. We work in real time with other musicians, artists, editors and technicians. Being creative doesn't make us God. But talented friends and curious hearts can make us creative.
Thursday, June 06, 2013
I wonder how long ago it was that the birch tree's shedding of its papery bark first caught our eyes. We must've been kids, right? Kids born before the takeover of the electronic glow. Kids still able to study the tiny, fierce industry of an ant colony for long minutes, or to get our shoes mucked up in a creek bed. The flaking birch was like the weeping willow with its chandelier branches: special-tricks trees. Memorable trees, recognizable at a distance, like the sassafras with its friendly hand-shaped leaves. There was a small delight that came with being able to know and name them, even though most everyone else could do it, too.
A few years back, my friend Sarah took me to her summer house in the woods. We traipsed amid trees she'd known since childhood, and she showed me a new great thing: big, solid chunks of tree fungus that you can snap off and draw pictures on with twigs. She'd been doing it since childhood, I think.
It had been so long since I'd learned anything like that. So long.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
A page from the sketchbook. Click to read it bigger.
In the season of graduations, a mother cannot help but be struck by the breathtaking swiftness of it all. I should point out that the blond kid on the right is not graduating from anything this year (well, except her junior year of college), while the non-pictured daughter IS. The principle remains.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
I once knew a woman whose fear of cats teetered on the edge of phobia. She quaked in fear during her one visit to my house where, at the time, the cats numbered three. I know lots of people who don't like cats. She was the only one I've known who feared them, and I'll admit it: I judged her for it.
Occasionally you'll come across a person who was bitten by a dog as a kid and has put all dogs on the "out" list. Almost everyone else seems to fall somewhere in the range of "I like a nice dog" to "If it came down to my kids or my dog, I'd have to think long and hard ... ."
And then there are birds, in all their winged strangeness. Birds, in their inscrutable bird-brainedness. Their unpredictability. Their Hitchcockian fluttering. They are beautiful and unknowable, and oh, by the way -- they fly. They do this thing we cannot do without heavy machinery.
I spend more time around birds than the average person -- more time up-close with birds of all kinds, but especially birds of prey. Up close they become more beautiful and more strange. Up close, the communication between bird and human seems both more vivid and more elusive. That they try to communicate with us seems undeniable. What they mean is often another question, though they can be deliberate and clear when they dislike something.
Mostly, I think, they'd like us to leave them alone, and yet those of us who can't really can't. I might've mentioned here that I've been known to visit the caged birds at the pet store just to get summa whatever that is. We can't have a bird at our house. Wouldn't last long with the cats and dog, and to be honest the cage aspect of captive birds makes me anxious. What good is having a bird if you keep picturing the better life it might've had outdoors, where it could put those wings to good use?
And still, their beautiful strangeness is intoxicating. I cannot say why. Can you?
By the way, we had a whippoorwill in our backyard for a couple of nights recently. Whippoorwills are extra strange because they're super-camouflaged, thus much more often heard than seen. I was happy to have heard him or her. It's reassuring to be visited by something other than a robin or a finch.
Monday, May 13, 2013
This great little building in University Circle has been on my sketching wish-list for a long time. What finally moved me to move on that was a bit of sadness: Sergio's, the restaurant that occupied the space, closed suddenly, if not unexpectedly, a while back.
Sergio Abramof was one of Cleveland's wonderfully talented restaurateurs. I didn't really know him, though I'd been at a table or two when he had stopped by to say hello to someone I was dining with. He seemed like a sweet, gregarious guy. Sergio died a while ago, and though his family was keeping his restaurants going for a while (there was a second one at Shaker Square), it wasn't a shock that this couldn't go on forever.
With Sergio gone, and Sergio's closed, it seemed smart to sketch the cool building while it's still there. It has a slate roof, which I love. Wish I knew more about its background.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Two years ago, we adopted Roscoe after meeting him at a fund-raising event by an organization called PAWS. It was a beautiful spring day outside at the polo fields in eastern Cuyahoga County, and there were dogs all around. Adoptable dogs, dogs with their humans. Lylah and I took our sweetie, Pearl, and walked around for hours, saying hello and taking pictures.
That day, I started a collection of dog pictures with an eye toward such occasions as last week, when I couldn't get dogs off my mind and needed to draw one. I might've exaggerated her mouth just a tad (on purpose). I see, too, that the eyes look a bit close together (unintentional). But anyway, it was nice to have a new dog face to draw.
Incidentally, the dog on the blog header here is an Italian greyhound named Maurice, who is my favorite internet dog. I know his parents, but have never had the pleasure of meeting him in person -- a situation that must be remedied.
Perhaps on another day, we will discuss why some people feel closer kinship with animals than with other humans. But not today.