Category Archives: Make Art

How Many Fans are Enough? Fewer than You Think.

Prior to entering the music business, Amanda Palmer made a living as what she called the “eight-foot bride.” Wearing white face paint, a veil and a wedding dress, she stood on a box on a busy street corner perfectly still, waiting for someone to stop and drop money into a hat at her feet. Yes, she was one of those living statues you see in touristy places. And when someone did give her money, she would hand that person a white flower and look him or her directly in the eyes, silently saying: I see you. Doing this, she learned a valuable lesson in connecting with others. And a valuable lesson in being ignored. The vast majority of people walked by her, not looking up, not interested or even aware of her presence. Rejection always seems to register deeper within us than reward does, but with presence and a constant sense of gratitude, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here is what Amanda has to say about it:

There is a certain sense of indiscriminate gratitude that is essential to hone if you are going to survive in the arts. You can’t really afford to be choosy about your audience, nor about how they wish to repay you for your art. In cash? In help? In kindness?

 This is exactly what I learned standing on the box, then while playing in bars for my first band, and, later, when I turned to crowd-funding. It was essential to feel thankful for the few who stopped to watch or listen, instead of wasting energy resenting the majority who passed me by.

 Feeling gratitude was a skill I honed on the street and dragged along with me into the music industry. I never aimed to please everyone who walked by, or everyone listening to the radio. All I needed was . . . some people. Enough people. Enough to make it worth coming back the next day, enough to make rent and put food on the table. And enough I could keep making art.

 Whatever you are creating, don’t expect everyone to embrace it. Most won’t care. Just focus on those that do. And be grateful for every single one of them.

Striking Differences: An interview with documentary filmmaker Ally Wray-Kirk

You’ve been an educator in public school systems for over twenty years.  Why now make a documentary?  What inspired you?

The culture of our educational systems prioritizes the similarities of our children instead of promoting their differences.  We tend to emphasise  the idea that there is one right way to do things, and everyone is measured constantly up against the same standard.  In the socio-economically disadvantaged communities where I’ve worked there is no art, music and theater in public schools anymore.  Students are rewarded for replicating the status quo and that is causing us to lose our innovators and creators. We kill off their creative spirit before it has time to flourish.  It became important to me to let my students know that there can be more than one way to be right, more than one way to be “correct” about something.  What is different about a child is what makes him or her interesting; this is what we need to encourage and support.  “Striking Differences” is about just that—highlighting the need to accept and celebrate the very different takes on life that extraordinary people have and are making.

How does Striking Differences address this issue?

“What’s different about you?”  Most people struggle with this question.  What’s unique about an individual is often difficult for him or her to pin down when asked but the answer comes out in their stories, their history, their worldviews.  I wanted to capture these stories so I spent two months traveling through fifteen states meeting people from all walks of life and asking them this very question.  The responses I received were overwhelmingly positive and receptive.  Many of these folks are featured in the film but I focus on five individuals leading very different lives, but all following their passions, making it all work without ever compromising their principles.

Do you find these people to have an unusually high tolerance for fear, rejection, or insecurity?

Just the opposite.  They are incredibly vulnerable.  People who really put themselves out there in a big way—whether through their art, their music or their lifestyles—are subject to a high risk of pain and rejection.  But their desire for self-expression, for love and to heal themselves is so strong it pushes them through their fears.

A documentary seems like a huge undertaking.  What would you say to people interested in taking on a creative project like that, but feel it is being their abilities?

Nothing is beyond their abilities.  I didn’t know a thing about making documentaries before I started.  But I studied the process. I sought out mentors.  I learned what I could and then I just dove in, often not knowing what the next step would be but figuring it out as I went.  If someone wants to make a documentary, they can.  They just need the passion and the belief.

Why You?  Why now?

The theme of the documentary—honoring and celebrating our differences—needs to be told and my background and my experiences gave me the tools to tell it.  As a cancer survivor, I no longer can tolerate not doing what I am driven to do.  We have very little time on this planet and we need to pursue what is passionate and authentic to our individual selves.

 

You can learn more about, and support, “Striking Differences: A documentary about differences because similarities are so redundant” at www.strikingdifferences.com.

You can learn about the main subjects of the film via the links below:

-Beth Schindler (Austin, TX) founder of “Queer Bomb” http://www.queerbomb.org

-Sara Gardner aka Smoove G (Bloomington, IN) founder “The Back Door” http://backdoorbloomington.com/

-Kofy Brown (Washington, D.C.) founder of “Simba Music” http://kofybrown.com/

-Danyol aka Tamale Ringwald (Orange County, CA) founder of “Squrrl” http://danyol.com/

-Tony Malson (Spokane, WA) lead singer in “The Devil in California” http://thedevilincalifornia.com/

 

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Processis out now.  You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian

[A1]Tony is the lead singer, but not the founder.

Passion + Detachment = Contentment.

I’m excited to announce that my book The Abundant Bohemian: How To live An Unconventional Life Without Starving in the Process will be released in October.  Writing the book has been a four-year process and I’m really proud of the final product.  I’m hoping that untold numbers of readers buy the book, read it, and love it.

But that might not happen.

I have to be prepared for the book to be popular and I have to prepare for it not to be.  I have to prepare for the book to be well-received and prepare for criticism.

I was passionate about writing the book and that leads to expectations.  But I know I must detach myself from what comes next.  How other’s respond is out of my control, but how I experienced the writing of it was all mine.  The book was a labor of love; the lessons I learned and the people I met inspired me and changed my life.  I’m a different person than I was when I started the process four years ago.   That is the true compensation and value I received.  If others benefit and enjoy it, all the better.  But the experience justified the time and labor involved.

The act of creating is spiritually enriching, whether it be writing a book, painting, or starting a business.  If I told you to work days, weeks, even months on your masterpiece and said when you finished you had to destroy it, would you still do it?  You should.  That’s what Tibetan Monks do when they create their beautiful sand mandalas. The mandalas, which are elaborate sand “paintings,” are created and ritualistically destroyed once completed to symbolize the Buddhist belief in the transitory nature of material life.  And, sooner or later, everything we create will be destroyed.  We shouldn’t create for posterity, fame, or money.  We must do it for the experience of doing it.  Deepak Chopra describes this as being process-oriented instead of outcome-oriented.

We all want to be validated.  We want our work to be respected, appreciated, and consumed.  But the act of doing it?  That’s where the treasure lies.  I still want you to buy my book.  Please do!  But my joy in its creation isn’t contigent upon it.  But buy it anyway. :)

The Psalms of Israel Jones: a novel by Ed Davis

I’m proud to announce the publication of my friend Ed Davis’ new novel, the Psalms of Israel Jones.  I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of it and would highly recommend it to lovers of literature everywhere, particularly if you like an intensely driven character studies grounded in the dark and troubled underbelly of the land of rock-in-roll.

Here’s what Lee Abbott, author of Dreams of Distant Lives, has to say about it:

“I love this book, not least for the zillion other writers (and religious thinkers) I find in it, among them Dickens, Melville, Jonathan Edwards, Increase Mather, Walker Percy, Billy Sunday, Thomas Merton . . . The plot is straight out of On the Road with the same moral risk and ambiguities. [And] I love the music we get to “hear” between these margins, from the great blues artists of yore (Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, etc.) to the superstars of more recent times (Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, etc.).  Is Israel Jones a nearly mythic figure come to redeem us?  Sure.  But he’s also a fellow who respects an art form born of anger and woe and desperate times.  His story obliges us to look back even as we drift farther and farther from the promises we once upon a time made.”

If you’re looking for a good read, give it a shot.  You won’t be disappointed!  The book is available from the publisher, West Virginia University Press, at Amazon, and locally at Epic Bookshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Good luck, Ed–You’re going to make a lot of readers happy.

IsraelJones

Charles Dickens and Turning Suffering into Gold


Charles Dickens and Turning Suffering into Gold

 

In The Abundant Bohemian, I argue that our suffering is not pointless if we use it to feed our art and to provide comfort or solace to others.  Suffering opens our heart; it teaches us compassion, empathy and humility.  Suffering feeds creativity.  And I’m not talking about the navel-gazing, whining, look-at-me-I’m-in-pain art.  I’m talking about the rawness of experience that touches the souls of those who have shared our experiences.  Charles Dickens grasped this concept beautifully.

 

To say that Dickens had a difficult childhood is an understatement.  His father spent much of his life locked in debtor’s prison leaving his family to fend for themselves.  Dickens’ youth was spent as a child laborer in the factories of London in the early stages of the industrial revolution, arguably in the worst working conditions of the modern age.  He had a right to be bitter, to give up, and to blame fate for a troubled life.

 

Instead, he took these experiences and turned them into art.  Art that supported his family, made him famous, and perhaps most importantly, enhanced the lives of millions.  Here is Nick Hornby writing on Dickens in The Believer:

 

With no educational provision, he was free to wander the streets, mapping out London in his head, registering how short was the walk between the splendors of Regent Street and the poverty of Camden and Covent Garden.  He went to see his father, whose chronic mismanagement of the family finances meant that he ended up in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison, where Little Dorrit’s family lived.  And Charles’s time at the blacking factory opened up a whole new world to him a world in which children worked, and suffered. 

Without these experiences, it is doubtful Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, or David Copperfield would be the masterpieces they are.  His suffering made him the man he was.  His suffering made his art accessible and meaningful for us all.  We suffer, therefore we relate.  We can feel the truth and humanity in Pip’s heartbreak and Oliver’s hunger.

Your heart has been broken.  A dream you have had has been torn apart.  And it hurts.  What can you do with that hurt?  How can you turn it into something beautiful that you can use to comfort yourself and provide solace to who-knows-how-many others, for how many generations?  Write it, paint it, sing it, build it—express it however you can.  But use it.  It is a gift that cost you much, but a gift, nonetheless.