The Art of Drawing a Weapon

image c/o imdb.com

image c/o imdb.com

Ralph Steadman learned to draw not to make pretty pictures but to apply drawing like a weapon; to invite people to observe his world and actively think and act upon it.

In the documentary film, For No Good Reason, Ralph Steadman is shown starting a picture with a splash of ink on a canvas.  He explains that when he doesn’t know what to do, he does that.  Some artists may think that sounds like – a poorly-planned composition. Objectively, there is little that could dispute that.  Nevertheless, throughout the documentary we get to see what Steadman makes out of such a random act:  and his career, his talent and his body of work is also, indisputably, impressive.

This is a refreshing documentary that advocates on the abstract side of art; the value of bringing a haunted image out of our imagination for us to have in material or digital form.  And this is not just abstract art.  This is abstract art often driven with a personal message from an artist who is not shy about his opinions be it politics, war, society or anything else.

A great abstract or conceptual artist, to me, is somebody who creates beyond the aim for beauty, skill, craft and ego, and has enough beauty, skill, craft and ego to pull that off.  The great thing about art like this is that there is nothing to measure it by.  It either says something to you or it doesn’t.  It either excites you or it doesn’t.  To discuss how good the art is, or to compare styles or skill, is irrelevant and almost stupid.  Just look at it; take what you will and move on.

That Steadman has art skills is beside the point because his stand-out gift is that he can draw a story that no photograph or other human eye could capture.   How?  Well, I guess, first, he let himself.

An artist who would never start a composition without a plan will also never know what he/she could do in a similar situation.

Stream-of-consciousness writing is the most similar concept for writers: just spewing, or spewing off a subject, until something usable comes out.  I lost interest in this type of exercise a long time ago because I wound up weeding through a whole lot of crap.  However, I’m glad to know it’s a tool in my holster if I ever want to explore that side of me again.   Though my skills may not be good enough to make ‘art’ out of random acts, stream-of-consciousness is still a great exercise in mental and emotional cleansing.  Writing coaches often recommend this exercise to get motors rolling and to cure writer’s block.

Honestly, I think an artist needs a little more than just skill to pull off art like this. The artist also needs a high level of faith and trust that the artist is going to find something from that starting place of nothing.

I recommend this documentary for any kind of artist, even if you find abstract art offensive.  His reasons, for starting with no reason, are fascinating and his career and dedication to his craft is inspirational. I can see how his style is very good at keeping an artist’s mind hungry and courageous about and during the creative process.  It seems to have kept Steadman very agile and youthful.

I will end this short blog with some favourite quotes from the film:

  • I go out of my way to make something that is as unexpected to me as anyone else. 
  • Anything can exist on that piece of paper.
  • You can start something and not know how it’s going to come out in the end. If you did, what is the point of doing it?

© lyw 

The Ghost who Haunted Subtly

Tom Gauld

© Tom Gauld c/o:  www.tomgauld.com

Until a few days ago, I did not know that literary fiction was popularly known as boring fiction; challenging, yes; questionable, often; but, not boring.

I was actually preparing a short blog series to celebrate literary fiction when coincidentally during my research I was trying to finish a debut novel of a now, award-winning, literary writer.

Marcel is an eloquent and charming short novel, leaning heavily on the passive side.  The back of the book said the main character is haunted by the mystery of a family member’s life and death.  But there is no haunting.  The boy is not haunted.  More like mildly curious, in a very mute way.  I wasn’t expecting a horror novel but, at least, a character more on edge.

The back of the book also promised me a dramatic discovery of the dead man’s letters yet I was halfway through the novel and no letters.  Novels are not scripts, so it’s okay that this writer did not prescribe to needing the main action to start any time soon.  It’s good to have variety in our media art.  Like having Tolkien’s Ents in our midst.  Instead of letters, I was steeped in poignant and poetic descriptive writing, heavy like the air on a hot summer evening.  This had been enough to get me to buy the book but the lack of motivation could not get me to finish it.  Life is too short.

Subtle is another word used on the back of this book cover.  Yes, I got the subtle.  Subtle and passive.  A challenging combination for any writer to maintain for even half of this short novel especially for my generational sickness of a short attention span.

I said in my last blog that I feel like I meet writers in their fiction and that this is one of the most interesting ways of meeting another person.  How interesting a story is depends on how skilled the writer is and how much a writer is willing to give of him or herself.  I can’t believe that some writers just aren’t interesting.  If I’m not interested in a book either it’s not my type, or more likely, it’s because the writer is holding back or some thing is holding the writer back.

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Book Cover image c/o: http://www.goodreads.com/

Marcel is the first novel of a writer who was probably fresh out of school.  While reading it, I felt like I was meeting a writer who didn’t know how to present himself and so instead, presented what he learned in school over a footprint of human history.  At least, I think so.  I never finished the book. The writing is very safe and proper.

I do think this literary novel is boring but it’s still better than anything I could have conceived.  If I had written a novel fresh out of school, I would have come out with some weird, violent metaphor for my soul that would have frightened the daylights out of anybody.  Fortunately, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to go all the way to a full manuscript.  This writer did, and went on to continue to evolve his craft.

Who said all literary fiction had to be good anyway?  Just like, who said all literary writers write on a higher plateau?

Nevertheless, literary fiction is still the art of creative writing in one of its higher forms; when writers reach for this, we are bound to get the crazy bad with the crazy good.   It is still the genre that makes genres and our known archetypes and plot scenarios.

Literary fiction can suck.  However, I believe it is only boring when writers let themselves be held back or discouraged.  Who was that first person to coin the phrase, ‘Embrace the sucking’? Though its origins may be military, I think brave artists take the phrase to a whole new level.

© lyw 

Surveying Literary Journals

I was recently asked to survey a Canadian-wide distributed literary journal.  The survey was designed to determine how and how often I read their journal, who I was in terms of their demographic and what I liked and disliked about their journal.

My response reminded me of the various stages and avenues that I take and have taken as a writer who seems destined to always be ‘new.’  The ‘new’ part, though I am not as young as the word makes me sound, is something I have learned to appreciate.  I will always be a student to my art-form.

image c/o Awin Literature

Below is the comments section response that I left with this survey:

Thank you for allowing me to take part in your survey. 

To be honest, I have not been drawn to a literary journal for a long time.   

When I did buy or borrow journals it was to, as advised by the Submission Guidelines, read the journal prior to submission.  Though lucky enough to be published in a few small lit journals as a wee lass, I must admit, I saved these books just to look at my own work, in print, once in a while.  

If I look to enjoy new short fiction and poetry these days, I do searches on the internet and find a wealth of writers who are current, active, connected and free.  Blog-sites have become interesting hubs for writers.  I would rather subscribe to one artist’s journey than to a literary journal.  I find the experience more personal and vital. 

Another great way to connect with new short fiction and poetry, as well as the people who write them, is to join writing groups either locally or virtually, or create your own.  Surprisingly, the last magazine to tickle me with their creative, non-fiction, writing skills was the CFA Magazine for Chartered Financial Analysts.  

If I look for guidelines or instruction on how to improve me as an artist, I look to all art-forms and all kinds of artists to inspire and motivate me.   This is always best when done live and in-person if you can get it that way. 

When I think of writing my own fiction and poetry, I no longer put my hope in literary journals to publish or validate me as a writer.  For me, it is more important to write to write rather than to write to publish.  For that reason, wordpress.com and online self-publishing has helped me continue to write outside the shadow of my solitude and be open to other artists and the public.

Sincerely,

lillian y wong (lyw)