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You Don’t Need Talent To Enjoy It

I bought some really nice flowers yesterday and made sure they were not blooming yet.  It didn’t matter because the damn things start blooming about 2 seconds after I put them in water and that means they will be dead by tomorrow.  I had to crank out a quick painting of them today, but I also had to work on my books.  I setup an easel in the living room and I would use the painting as a reward for getting exercises done.


That’s the only photo I saved from the painting. It came out terrible. The only thing that worked about this setup was that it made me want to get exercises done.  I’m definitely going to use that hack in the near future.  Other than that, this painting was a total absolute turd of paint.  I could not get the values right, the color, nothing.  Flowers and portraits are my most difficult subjects for sure, which is why I practice them the most.  It’s the subtlety that gets me and requires my concentration, and I have too much of a heavy hand and a love of sloppy thick paint to pull that off without effort.

I wouldn’t say I have any particular talent at painting.  I’m definitely not a genius and I put in a lot of work to be even moderately alright at it.  I know a ton of tricks and I’m fascinated by the technology used by European painters from the 1500-1800s, but that’s not talent.  That’s just being able to read some books and do what they say.  If you sat me down in front of a person, and said I’d get $200 if I can do a decent likeness of the person in 4 hours I’d just laugh at you.  Maybe I’d pull it off 1 time out of 10.

I’m also not necessarily a “visual person”.   I do these weird experiments where I practice painting an object from memory, which you would think makes me a genius with some kind of photographic memory.  Nope.  I read a book on how to learn to paint from memory and did what it said, then adapted it based on research from other books and articles on memorization.  Everyone could learn how to do it if they put in the time and believed they could.

I love to paint.  I just love everything about it.  The feel of the thick paint going on.  The way I can use color to trick the eye into seeing something that’s not there. The random times when it clicks and I groove right into a damn good painting without any effort. Painting outside and talking to people.  Everything about it is enjoyable and I could give a fuck if I have any talent or not.  I’m enjoying myself and I get to give them to friends.   Sometimes I sell them. Lots of times I just toss them.

It’s all about the moment and the challenge.  The feeling of that meditation that paint gives me.  My oh my do I love self-portraits for this.  Self-portraits and landscape painting quite literally saved my life at a time when everything was sad and dark.  Doing paintings of my face helped me reconnect with who I am. Painting outside got me out of bed.

So many people think you need talent to enjoy something, but I’ll tell you having zero talent is liberating.  You can stop worrying about the end result and just enjoy the process and experience.  Just go for it.  It really doesn’t matter if what you create is any good.  All that matters is if you learn something for the next time.

 

 

Painting From Memory Experiment

When most people learn to draw it follows one of a few different styles:

  1. Sight-sized where you place the paper (picture plane) next to the subject, then stand far away such that you can view the subject and paper as if they’re next to each other.  You then basically plot out copying points from the subject to the paper, and since they’re at the same orientation and layout, you can see your mistakes easily.  This method does a good job of making an accurate drawing, but is tedious and requires a lot of space.  It does work very well for landscape painting though, since the scene is always so far away in a landscape you don’t really have to walk back to do sight-sized.
  2. Relative measurement or “measuring” where you pick a part of your subject to be the “unit of measure”, then use that unit to measure the location and size of other objects in the scene.  If you were doing a room, you might pick the width of a door as your “one” (aka unit of measure).  Then you’d use that “one” to find out how wide or tall other objects in the room were, and where they were located.  This method works well and also lets you hold your paper or painting next to you or in your hands.  You can also just use a pencil and some paper and that’s it.  With sight-sized you need an easel and some other things since you have to walk away from it over and over again.  The down side is this method isn’t as accurate as the others.
  3. Relative angle or “block-in”  This is where you use the relationship of angles to other angles in big chunky blocks to locate and size objects in the scene.  Rather than picking the width of a door to find the width of a wall, you’d make a big loose line, then use that line to locate another angle, then that angle to find the edge of a wall, and eventually you’ve got the general location of the big shapes because you’ve lined up their angles to each other.  This creates an integrated drawing, but it has problems when you want to paint because you have to do a lot of erasing and refining.  You can’t just draw the 4 things in the scene.  You draw 4 big shapes, then “carve” into those shapes, and then erase, and then carve more, then find inside shapes, and carve those, etc.
  4. Shapes or “painterly” This is where, rather than find the outlines of objects in a scene, you just paint their shapes.  It works more with paint than with pencil, but you start with painting about 3-6 big shapes, then you refine those shapes down with more shapes inside.  It’s called “painterly” because it produces an image that doesn’t look obviously drawn, and more direct.  Down side is it’s pretty difficult to get right in the beginning, and definitely hard to get super realistic with this style.

I actually use all three of these depending on what I’m trying to paint or draw.  I find sight-sized is awesome for landscape painting when you need to be accurate.  I find I mix measuring and block-in styles when I paint.  I’ll use angles and measurement to locate edges and objects, then shapes.  Many times I also just like to use a painterly approach, but I’ll still lay down some guide lines to figure out where things are in a scene.  One trick to make a painting look “painterly” but still do drawing is to draw the scene, but then use giant shapes that wipe out the lines, then paint into those shapes.  When I use a palette knife I’m almost exclusively using the painterly style, and actually I enjoy that style the most.

Memory Drawing

While investigating these different methods I stumbled on a French guy named Père Lecoq from the 1848 who taught people to paint and draw from memory.  He did this as an experiment with children going to the French Academic painting system to see if having them memorize the elements of drawing and painting would make them as accurate as other methods of teaching.  At the end of the experiment, several students were evaluated and determined that they did in fact draw as well as other students.

Lecoq eventually got fired or quit from the Academy and went on to simply teach on his own, but he did write a small book on how he taught.  I read it, and it was a little confusing, so I found this other book by Darren R. Rousar called Memory Drawing: Perceptual Training and Recall. In Darren’s book, he goes through the history of memory drawing, and then has a bunch of exercises that attempt to teach it.  I read  his book, and did about 20% of the exercises and loved how it felt.  It was so weird and different from other ways of drawing.

It seems impossible, but you can actually stare at a scene or a photo, and after about 2-3 minutes of staring at it, do a fairly close approximation of it.  There’s really no way to describe what is happening, but, when I do it I’m not really ticking off a list of points and measurements.  I’m staring at what I want to memorize, and periodically closing my eyes, or drawing in the air over it with my pinky, and then staring with “loose” eyes over the whole scene, and then…I can remember what is where and draw it.  I really can’t explain it.

And, you’d think I’d be way off on my first try, but not really.  I’m fairly close on most of the basic shapes I’ll show you here.  More complex things obviously will be less accurate, but in general I’d say I’m not any more or less accurate in my first to fourth basic blockins than with any of the other methods I listed above.  Eventually I’ll obviously be more accurate with those methods over the long run, but I’m actually not so sure about that.

You see, the process of drawing is actually one of refinement from a gross mistake.  You start off with a guess that’s unrefined and messy or bulky.  Then you correct that and refine it, and repeat this refinement until you have the level of accuracy you want. After years of studying what I found is that accuracy is more a product of time spent refining than any sort of immediate magical accuracy.  99.9% of all artists who paint or draw very accurately either copy photos, start of with fairly messy guesses that become accurate, or don’t actually draw as accurately as you think they do.

Gross Refinement

This got me thinking:  What if I could adjust the Lecoq/Rouser memory drawing style to instead use this gradual refinement process.  In Rouser’s and Lecoq’s book the flaw I saw is that they expected me to be able to memory an entire human head with fine gradations of tone and draw it in a few attempts.  However, that’s completely unrealistic and not how most artists work.

This week I decided to try an experiment where I used my memory to draw some simple geometric foam shapes in different orientations.  I was going to try each of the above processes to see what worked, and also try a few different mediums (charcoal, pastel, oil paint).  My goal was to see, could I use my memory only to get a basic drawing, but use the block-in and refinement process that seems to work best.

When you see these though, keep in mind that I’ve been practicing and training in drawing and painting for a while.  Don’t think that I’m saying someone with zero art experience could plunk down these shapes and bang out these paintings from memory.  There is something strange going on that I can’t quite explain, but rather than explain it I’m just going to try to figure out how to do it by doing it a whole lot.

The process I used is basically this:

  1. Stare at the scene or the photo for 2 minutes.
  2. Cover the scene or photo and then, looking only at the painting, put down the big shapes I remember.
  3. Remove the cover and then check how accurate I am.  Anything that I get wrong, either I’ll erase/wipe it for the next round, or if it’s tiny and a small fix will help, just do that small correction.
  4. Now cover the drawing or painting and repeat #1, but memorizing a smaller part for refinement, or some area I got very wrong.

The idea is I’m attempting to utilize “memory chunking” where, rather than magically memorize an entire photo, I’m memorizing big chunks of the scene.  Then, once I have those drawn I dive into the shapes to memorize smaller aspects of it.

The Results

My first experiment was with an actual object in a dark box I use for cast studies (it’s actually just a black bookshelf).  I did this one in charcoal and white chalk, and used more of a relative measure style of drawing it.  I memorized some of the basic measurements of the big shapes using the width of the right side of the block, and also memorized the general shape of the whole scene.  This took me about 6 rounds to get to here.  One problem though is using a actual object rather than a photo makes it difficult to check my accuracy.  I mean, sure, that looks like a rectangle block, but it’s difficult to really see if I was dead accurate with it.

My next attempt I switched to using a monochrome photo printed out, and using pastels. The photo makes it much easier to tell if I’m being accurate or not, and the pastels makes it much quicker to lay down the shapes I’m attempting to hold in my head.  Pastels also have the advantage that I have to grab actual values of black vs. white.  With charcoal I’m using the paper is a white, and then different amounts of charcoal to get different values.  Pastel I grab a white, or a gray, or an almost black, and when I put it down, that’s the actual thing I see.  This makes it much easier to paint what’s in my memory since it’s more direct.

I did this in about another 7 rounds, and I used the block-in style of drawing then painting it.  First I remembered relatively what the angles of the scene were, drew them from memory, then I memorized what values (white vs. black) when where.  This worked pretty well and the pastels definitely are better than charcoal.

Next I used oil paint, and still from photos, plus stayed with he block-in style of drawing. The oil paint was definitely quicker, and I think I did this in maybe 4 rounds?  Next time I’ll track how many rounds and how many corrections I made.  With the oil paint it was very important to pre-mix the colors so I could work with them like I did the pastels.  I think having to mix would take up too much time and wash out any memory of the scene I had.  The oil paint definitely went faster, but I could see that for the purpose of checking accuracy it might not be as good as pastels.  I will say that I did this very fast before going out to eat, so I’m surprised it was as close as it is.

My final test was again with oil paint, but using the painterly method.  This shape is challenging because of the ellipses involved, but the painterly approach worked in general.  I first memorized the big shape of the dark background and the ellipse.  That basically leaves the front of the cylinder so no need to memorize that.  I then painted that in really sloppy to get a general idea of where it all goes and the shape.  Surprisingly I was pretty close, and on the next round had the cylinder close enough to refine it and render it better on each round.  I’d say it’s not quite as accurate as the oil painting above, so I’m leaning toward using the block-in method to get a general idea of the drawing, then painterly to block it in and refine it.

Surprises

I’d say the most surprising thing is that it works at all and that I was fairly accurate on the first and second round.  In the case of the pastel painting my drawing was pretty close on the first round.  These are simple geometric shapes, but keep in mind I’m copying them from a strange angle with perspective and comparing it to a photo.  If most things are based on these basic geometric shapes then I’m thinking I could keep practicing this and eventually get to combining them in more complex ways.

The other thing that is surprising is how easy it was compared to constantly looking and measuring.  There was some measuring and comparing when I made little adjustments, but overall I just stared at the photo, covered it, and got pretty close.  With regular drawing it’s a constant battle of bouncing back and forth to get the drawing right and I might get a more accurate results eventually, but I’m also doing hundreds of “rounds” in that case.

The ellipse in the last painting is a good example of this difference.  Normally doing an ellipse is difficult, but in this I kind of just whipped that out with a couple brush strokes, then on the next round altered its value some or refined it a bit.  It’s obviously not perfect, but pretty good for just a couple of attempts at it.  I think with normal drawing I’d work on that for quite a while.

The final surprise so far is how it felt.  Doing it this way felt…meditative.  I had to stop and slow down and stare at this photo or object until it melted away and turned into a group of shapes.  I had to focus my attention, but also not really focus at all and just let it come into my mind’s eye.  It was nearly the same sensation as meditation, and then when I went to paint it was like releasing a breath.  As if what I memorized had to come out now.  When I paint or draw other ways it’s more like I’m pulling and working a large rope to pull the drawing onto the canvas.

I’ll continue this experiment with more complex topics and see how this goes.  I’m going to narrow down on the block-in/painterly method, but I’ll still bounce between pastels and oil until I’m more confident which one is easier to work with doing this.

Vignettes Of Terrible Art Teachers 2

She’s standing in front a TV playing a creepy video of a gender neutral hair model with a dinosaur bone in front of it wrapped in birthday present wrapping paper.  “What do you think of this piece?”  Art is always a piece.  Artists are never “popular”, they’re always “important”.  Every piece by anyone moderately popular is important and must be taken seriously.  This piece is by a student, so I’m not sure what the rules are here.  Will I still be required to prostrate myself at the altar of artistic expression, or can I say what everyone is thinking?

I go for the latter, “It seems like the artist is just doing things at random and is making fun of video installation art.”  Immediately the teacher gets visibly upset.  I’m being cynical. I have no idea what I’m talking about.  All the other true believers attack my statement.  I have no right to be so cynical.  I don’t know why this artist made this so I could be criticizing someone who was raped and this is their expression of their past experiences.  I just stand there and take it, since I’m outnumbered 1 cynic to 12 true believers.

The teacher is looking at our paintings in a critique class and praising everyone.  She’ll ask them why they painted this road, or that building, or their face, and the experienced students know the game.  They effuse wildly about their personal connection to the subject.  How deeply the construction cranes in the Dogpatch move them to tears and impact their life in deep meaningful ways.  Before that this student was into a ceramic bird that changed her life forever.  Another had pasted some flowers onto a photo of herself, but the real meaning was her ever changing views on feminism.  Another talked for 20 minutes about how this trip to Muir woods changed her life in profound spiritual ways so her paintings of roads are an expression of her deeply moving experience.

The teacher comes to my paintings and asks me why I painted them.  I say, “I wanted to practice noses.”  She scowls at me and says, “It seems like you aren’t personally attached to your subject.”  I confusedly pause then ask, “I’m not personally attached to my face?” She completely misses the absurdity in this question and fires back, “Yes, it seems you’re just painting it because it is there, not because you truly love it.”  I look around all the other true believers are staring at me with a mixture of sadness and incredulity, except one.  She’s rolling her eyes with a look of, “Sorry dude, she’s an idiot.”

I’m in a class billed as a figure class that will make me more expressive and find my “true” artist inside.  I actually don’t care finding my true artistic expression.  I just want to get more figure classes in, and this sounded like a lot of fun.  The class would teach us to apply different techniques in a situation where a nude model would pose while different color lights are cast on them with music playing to set a mood.  The teacher was also really nice and a very good painter so I figured I’d learn something.

During the class I’m just sucking ass and can’t figure out why.  I’m trying to paint the figures but the music is distracting, the lights make no sense, and the teacher is constantly waffling between “be loose, don’t think” and “why isn’t that drawn correctly?” I try as hard as I can to satisfy both goals of not being accurate and also being accurate but it’s impossible.  On the final day I realize that, given the models are all white skinned, then the crazy color lights mean there is zero flesh tones.  Aha! Why the hell didn’t the teacher just tell me this?  “Because you have to discover that for yourself.”  Well then why am I paying you money?

About half way through the course I ask why we’re doing the lights and the sound.  She says so we can’t think about what we’re doing.  So I ask then why are we expected to be accurate in these conditions?  She says if you’re really an artist it’ll be accurate.  I ask if she does this with her paintings and she says, “Oh no, not at all.”

 

Vignettes of Terrible Art Teachers

I sit down in the class and start setting up my gear.  Brushes, paint, palette, all pulled out from my bag.  I forgot to bring brushes on the trip from San Francisco to New York so I ran to a Blick the day before and bought the cheapest ones I could use for the class.  Some simple synthetic brushes that would work.  The teacher walks over, picks a brush up, and goes, “Oooooooh look at your fancy brushes.”  I have literally met the man for an hour and he’s already insulting my gear.  I laugh and say they’re just cheap ones from Blick and he scrutinizes them, eyes scrunched up, like I’m lying, before putting them down.

He instructs us to make a grisaille of our still life setup, copying from a photo we found online.  I copy it, matching the values and he observes me do this the entire time.  I used alkyd paints so they would be dry the next day.  The next day he comes in and he gives everyone a long lecture on how we have to make our underpainting a lot lighter or else his method won’t work.  I look around the room.  I’m the only one with a dark grisaille.  Why didn’t he tell me that before the paint dried?

The second day I talk to a student from the school that’s hosting us and show her my funky Bob Ross paintings as a joke.  She immediately points to the middle of the painting and say, “What?! You can’t do that!”  I say something like they’re just a joke but I can kind of do whatever I want.  “I’m going to tell your teacher.  He needs to talk to you about this.”  She storms away angry.  I’m dumbfounded anyone would have this reaction at an art school, but shrug it off thinking, “Nah she’s not going to do anything.”

The next day she takes the teacher to lunch.  The day after that, he takes me to lunch.  He spends the entire lunch trying to convince me to not attend this school or study their methods because of my Bob Ross paintings.  He said I wouldn’t fit in at that school, and that my views on art are different from everyone else’s.  I just flat out told him, “You’re right.  This place is a damn cult.  There’s no way I’d study here if people react this way to a joke Bob Ross painting.”

It took him an hour to gradually crush my aspirations to be an artist, and it almost worked.  Thankfully, I have a high dose of “Fuck You” in my blood to counteract people like that.  I shrugged it off a week later and went back to studying anyway.  But, I can’t imagine how someone else would have taken it.  That kind of interaction would have derailed many students permanently.

Killing Magic

I’m sitting with a friend who is an accomplished musician.  Record deals, multiple albums, and you’ve probably heard her songs on a TV show or commercial or two. She tells me that she doesn’t want to teach music because she’s afraid it would lose its magic.  There’s a mystical mystery about how she makes music and she’s afraid she’ll ruin that special quality if she has to figure out how she does it.  It won’t flow the same.

My response was something that I’ve believed my whole life:  “Magic just hides something’s true beauty.  It’s a con.  A trick that makes you love the magic rather than the real thing.  Once you actually learn how it really works, sure, the magic goes away, but then you get to fall in love with the beauty of the real thing. Real things are always simpler and more beautiful than the magic hiding them.”

Or something like that.  I probably actually sounded a lot less cool than that, but that was the idea.  I’ve found that magic just obfuscates and blurs what I’m really seeing.  Whether that magic is an accident of my perception of reality–or an actual sleight of hand by someone else–doesn’t matter.  What does matter is once I strip the magic away, and find the real simple principles hidden by the wizard, I see the real thing is better.

Of course sometimes I strip the magic away and find that the real thing is an ugly turd hiding in a golden box.  A lot of programming languages and technology are like this.  There’s all this bluster and flourish pushing a magical view of their benefits.  Then I dig a little and this magic simply hides a terrible design, poor implementation, and random warts.  It seems everyone in technology aspires to nothing more than creating enough of a code mannequin to hold up an invisible emperor’s gown.

One of the reasons people resent my opinions on technology is I have an ability to crush their fantastical magical views of technology.  It’s hard to be an Apple fan when there’s a guy pointing out that they frequently allow developers to invade their customer’s privacy, stole wages from employees, and make shitty  hardware that crashes and reboots if you don’t log in fast enough.  You can’t be enamored with Python if someone points out that its APIs are constantly asymmetrical and that Python 3 has a shitty UTF-8 strings implementation.

My mission in life has been to illuminate magic to expose the ugliness or beauty it hides because I believe magic enslaves people to others.  With magic you can convince them of almost anything, and even change the magic and they’ll keep following the wizard’s edicts.  Stripping the magic away gives people the freedom to choose what their reality will be, rather than rely on someone else to define it for them.

A key element of this mission is education.  I proved with my books that there really is no magic to learning to code.  The people who could do it weren’t special geniuses. Almost anyone could learn to do it given enough time and the right learning material.  Once it was clear that programmers aren’t special, it freed others from the magical aura surrounding programming and opened the practice up to a much wider range of people.

Education then becomes the practice of breaking magic to expose reality.  I study a topic and figure out how people are really doing it.  I find all the tricks they use, strip away the things that are just bluster and showmanship, find the lies they use to puff up their personas, and then teach the simplest real version of the topic.  This then opens the topic to a much wider range of people who can now enjoy it and improve their own lives.

Many times the practitioners aren’t purposefully trying to hide what they do because they don’t even know how they do it.  Most practitioners simply cargo cult a set of random practices they’re sure are the secret sauce.  Usually these secret practices are nothing more than extraneous rituals getting in the way of the real task at hand.  This educational acetone sometimes embarrasses these practitioners since nobody wants to be seen as believing in pointless rituals and magic.  That’s fine, but really they should be happy to find another path to what they love.  One that’s not full of obfuscation and rituals that only serve to enslave them to a limited palette of skills.

 

Second Cast Drawing Nearly Complete

I have been working on a cast drawing of this old man, who I think is a Saint so I call him Saint Anger because I listened to mostly Metalica while I worked on it. This drawing is done in pencil on Ampersand clay board.  Here’s the progress of it that I’ve saved to my phone so far, from earliest to now.

If It’s Flow, It’s Art

I can hear it now. “Ohhh lord Jeebus, not another programmer who thinks code is art.” Problem is, everyone who is an artist loves to play this hypocritical game where everything they do is art, even if it’s chicken strapped to their underwear. Yet, anyone else who’s not in the artist club can’t call anything they do art. They want to dance on the edge where they can sell any random pile of garbage to rich wealthy douchebags, but if you try to say that the C++ code you slaved over for a year is art then you’re wrong. Sorry nerd, you don’t have neck tattoos and heroin track marks so you can’t possibly be doing art.

I’m sorry but if an artist can strap poultry to her panties, pile garbage on the floor, or do literally nothing, then everything anybody does is art including my very finely crafted C code, the turd I squeezed out this morning, and my pastel paintings. Basically, if you want to call what you do art, then it’s art. If anyone tries to tell you it’s not, then they’re not artists. QED. Moving on now.

What I actually want to talk about though is not why code is art from an external perspective that requires the judgements of the tattoo class, but rather a view on what is art from the perspective of what it does to you when you do it. I hadn’t thought of this view of “what is art” until I started learning to paint. Painting and drawing had a very familiar sensation I’ve experienced while deep in the throes of programming, writing, dancing, or playing music. This intense feeling of concentration where time stops and everything in my body and mind works seamlessly as if my self doesn’t exist. Leaps of intuition, euphoria, and relaxation are all things that programmers, musicians, artists, and writers experience when they’re very deep in their craft. A sensation of flow is a common thread through all of them and most likely many more activities that require intense concentration in an altered state of brain activity.

In Gary Marcus’ book Guitar Zero he discusses how there is no special “music part” of your brain. Instead the research suggests that playing music involves your entire brain using many parts in cooperation, but that each part is doing a different thing than its normal function while you play. During its day job a part handles language, then when you play music it detects note intervals. Another part’s day job is tracking moving objects, then when you play music it handles timing. When you’re done playing music they switch back to their day jobs and you snap back to normal.

I believe that this same phenomenon happens with (but not limited to) programming, visual art, music, dancing, and writing. These are all activities that are fairly recent in human history, not innate natural things we do but require education, and all seem to require this same altered brain function. In addition to this, it’s possible that receivers of the output from these activities also experience the same sensations when they’re listening to music, viewing visual art, or reading.

This phenomenon could explain both the sensation of flow, and it could explain why people like doing these activities. It could be that flow is simply the ability to make the parts of your brain do something different for a little while. A kind of vacation for your hippocampus. That would also explain why it takes training, is tiring, and in many ways why it is difficult to recover from. Many programmers, artists, and musicians talk about the difficulty of interacting with others after an extended period of this altered brain function.

In addition to this, people may enjoy the sensation because it provides a similar altered consciousness that they’d get from drugs, alcohol, meditation, religious experiences, but with much less effort or negative results. Instead of having to sit quietly for hours praying or meditating you can do some art, read, write, or code. In Europe there was a tradition of art being used as a sort of meditation device for worshippers to visualize parts of the bible while they prayed, and it was thought that artists channeled God when they painted or sculpted. It could be the origins of this are in the phenomenon of flow. It would explain why art, music, and religion are so commonly combined.

I now believe that an activity is an art if it causes this feeling of flow and requires an altered brain function to do. Not what the output of this activity is, but what creating that output does to your brain. What makes coding an art is that it requires making your brain do something it’s not normally designed to do which then causes a sensation similar to meditation and requires effort but feels effortless.

I also have this vague idea that this could be a key to improving art education. Currently art education is about the outward result of the artist. Can they produce a painting that looks like a thing? Can they pile garbage on the floor? Can they play Jazz standards? Can they analyze an Algorithm? However, what if art, music, and programming education had the additional higher purpose of using that art to help students learn this skill of flow? That if the student is able to do this little mental trick then they’ll get much more enjoyment out of the activity than just what they produce. It would be a goal of mental health through teaching a practical skill. Although that sounds kind of crazy now that I write it.

Now I think that if what you do gives you flow, then it’s art. I could even go so far as to say that the best art causes this flow in others, and if you’ve ever seen someone play a video game or browse the internet for days on end, then you know programming beats everything in that department.

Troll > Artist > Author > Musician > Coder > Nerd In Social Status

Today I stumbled on this excellent article in The Guardian “I Am Being Catfished” where an author reads a bad review on Good Reads and proceeds to track the reviewer down in real life to confront her. The article is significant because apparently on Goodreads there’s a social norm that authors are never to reply to any review or face the wrath of the community. An author that responds receives a stream of vitriol, is slandered in the “blogs”, and labeled something called a Bad Behaving Author (BBA). Should you attempt to do something as ambitious as hunt one of your trolls down you are even more evil and destroyed even harder.

Problem is, in the article Kathleen Hale hunts down her troll “Blythe” and finds out that actually her name is Judy (or possibly an alias for the article’s legal reasons). Judy also harassed Kathleen, spent weeks trying to bait her into replying, and ended up being a weird sociopath who seems to just post bad reviews to destroy authors. All of this behavior is incredibly abusive troll behavior, and I am a firm supporter of outing trolls and exposing their real identities. Yet there’s this odd ethos where trolls have a right to privacy, but victims of trolls do not. The defenders of trolls will pronounce the “Free Speech Spell Level 1” and “Right To Privacy Spell Level 3”, but completely ignore the trolls own violations of all those same rights on their victims. In fact, I think there will be a new surge of abuse directed at me simply because I’m talking about abusive trolls right now.

What this troll ethos amounts to is the classic abuser dynamic found in many abusive relationships. An abuser’s entire goal in life is to find a reason to exert their abusive sociopathic desires onto victims while appearing to be in the right. The abuser says, “I just had to smack you because you made me so angry. Why do you do that to me?!” The internet abuser will send out a small pin prick, hoping for a response so they can justify their abuse because the social norms of the internet (Don’t Feed The Trolls) gives them license to then attack if you respond. If you don’t respond then you can almost hear the troll say, “That’s right bitch, take it.” If you do respond then you deserve their abuse because you made them react. The internet said so, so they can do it. Why did you make them abuse you by responding? It’s not the trolls fault.

Throw into this the weird internet norm that hunting down a troll is wrong and now we have a situation where trolls can walk around abusing people with zero retaliation. It’s as if there’s a whole street of dudes saying, “Faggot” while I walk by but they all get to wear masks and if I respond then everyone will yell at me while he tries to beat me into the street. If I fight back, I’m the bad guy. If I rip off his mask, I’m the bad guy. If he comes to my house, well that’s just what I get. If I go to his, then I’m violating his rights to privacy. The insanity of the internet is not that there are trolls, it’s that trolls are given full rights to abuse others and people defend the troll’s right to be abusive fucking assholes.

These bizarre social norms on Goodreads mostly amount to nothing more than enabling abusive trolls like Blythe/Judy and do not improve the reviews. In fact, the entire point of the internet is that people can respond to their criticism placing critic and subject on equal footing. In Blythe’s review she claims there’s rape in Kathleen’s book, but Kathleen and many other people claim there’s none at all. Since the author can’t respond then the reviewer’s words become the truth. When Kathleen responds to the outright slander she is vilified and ridiculed, but the point of free speech is that everyone gets to talk, not just the first asshole who opens her mouth.

A General View Of Creative Social Status

This article had me thinking about why a group of professional authors are not allowed to do the one thing they’re best at (writing) while seemingly illiterate morons are given full control of a book’s status. In the case of Blythe/Judy the woman is obviously illiterate because she claims the book is full of rape when it’s not according to the female author of the fucking book. Think about that. In the social hierarchy this puts trolls above authors and makes them more trusted than anyone else online.

What I’ve noticed is there’s sort of a Creative’s Hierarchy that I’ve experienced in various ways because I actually do all of these things. I’m a kind of a troll of trolls, an amateur artist, a professional author, an amateur musician, a professional coder, and a huge nerd. If I could put them into order of social standing it would be this:

#1 Troll

As I said, not only can trolls be completely abusive social manipulators transmitting the most heinous propaganda, threats, and slander, but perfectly rational people will defend them when they do it. Weev is the best example of this, being as he is a literal fucking Nazi and yet the likes of Molly Crabapple (an artist) defends him.

#2 Artist

I’ve been reading a bunch of artist’s biographies, and I have to say, many of them are gigantic huge pieces of shit. There’s even a common social norm of “separate the artist from the art”, so an artist can be the lowest of human scum and still worshipped for his paintings. Even then, people do comment on artists’ behavior and don’t defend it, unlike with trolls. This puts them just under trolls. Another good test of the social power of being an artist is the amount of shit you can get away with when you’re standing there painting or drawing. I’ve had people who grimace at me when I bust out my laptop at a cafe have no problem with me busting out an entire table of painting gear to bust out a shitty watercolor of some flowers.

#3 Author

What brings author into the #3 slot in the hierarchy is the odd dynamic of being able to influence millions of people with words while having almost nobody give a shit about your skills as a writer. I’ve had people who have read my books rattle off all the things I can do and leave out writing. I tell people I write “technical books” and they say, “Oh so not real books.” Other authors of real books tell me that until you’re filthy rich you really don’t get much respect, and even then other writers will shit on you even when you win the Nobel Prize. In addition to that, when I read a biography about an author usually they’re not pulling the “separate the artist from the art” move to justify bad behavior.

#4 Musician

What’s the difference between a large cheese pizza and a bass player? A pizza can feed a family of four. That sums up society’s opinion of most musicians, however there’s also the odd thing of even the worst laziest giant loser of a man can get laid like crazy if they just play bass in a 3rd rate punk band. No idea if the same thing is true for women, but the odd social status of not having any future prospects but still having everyone want to mate with you is a very common musician trope. What’s even weirder though is all creative types have the same typically poor future prospects, but musicians have a kind of reality distortion field that protects others from seeing the track marks on their arms and empty bank accounts.

#5 Coder

I see the coder as being almost at the bottom of the social hierarchy but rising, and that upward mobility ends up pissing off everyone else above them. You’ll see nearly every other sector of the creative social class use Twitter, WordPress, and their iPhones to rant about how coders are destroying the world with their technology. When I go to art classes I tell people I’m a writer because if I tell them I’m a programmer they’ll go into a tirade about how “techies” (aka nerds) are raising their rent. I stare at someone on the bus to draw them and they smile and hold still while I do it. I glance at someone at the bus stop while wearing a startup t-shirt and they grimace and hide on the other side of the bus stop because I’m “creepy”. Coders are just at this really weird position in social status that’s upending most of the others, which is why there’s so much love hate. When a programmer does something fucked up that artists, musicians, authors, or trolls do it’s blasted out as the worst in abuse and written about in the press as the end of the world. An artist puts a fucking green butt plug in the middle of Paris and it’s fucking art (which you get to see on Twitter because of some coders).

#6 Nerd

In the end though, everyone gets to hate nerds, and being as I’m a super nerd deep down and a huge dork, none of the social status I should get from the above matters. I’ll demonstrate this by way of a story. I was at Union Square (SF) with my friend Corey, and before we met up I had spent a few hours playing guitar. I had headphones on, so nobody could hear how good or bad I sounded, but I was dressed like a nerd hobo with startup t-shirts, jeans, and the usual uniform. Me and Corey hang out, then I go home and the next day I browse craigslist Missed Connections for that day’s writing ideas when I stumble on a posting by a woman who says, “You were so beautiful. You were hanging out with that weird guy who’s always playing guitar.” There you go, even when I’m playing guitar, I’m the “weird guy who plays guitar” and my friend is “beautiful”. If I paint I’m not a real artist because I’m “too logical”. If I write a book it’s not a “real book” because it’s about programming. Being a nerd is at the bottom of the hierarchy because no matter what I do, my nerdiness coats my creative output with the hot sticky air of the uncool.

The Day Was March 10, 2013

My right hand lay on the bed while my left hand traced the contours of the palm, fingers, nails, skin, and bed sheets. My eyes were fixated entirely on my hand, not the paper, as this was a blind contour drawing. My face was contorted into a wide, weird looking, and intense smile. My brain kept saying, “This is so hilarious! Hahahahahaha!” There wasn’t anything actually funny about a blind contour of my hand. For a reason I cannot explain, when I did this exercise and any drawing I felt an intense feeling of euphoria similar to being tickled, hearing the greatest pun I’ve heard, or being unable to stop laughing.

I’m not left handed, but I was teaching myself to draw from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition, and Betty mentions that I can try drawing with my left hand to convince my brain to actually see what I’m trying to draw. On a whim I decide to try it for the blind contour drawing exercises and end up in a black hole for two weeks experiencing this bizarre giggling euphoria drawing left handed without looking.

This day though, while I was drawing left handed and giggling I also felt an intense feeling of frustration. My right hand kept twitching, my giggling slowed then stopped. I felt this overwhelming urge to use my right hand to draw what I’d been staring at. Now! Fucking let me do it! I grab the pencil out of my left hand with my right, and in 10 seconds right-handed draw a complete fairly accurate drawing of my left hand. I didn’t even think about it. My right hand was on auto pilot and now knew what to do. It sounds like total psuedo-science bullshit, but my right hand had learned the difference between “writing” and “drawing”, and it wanted to be in charge again.

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Even before this I had uncontrollable giggling fits when doing the exercises in the book. At one point I’m instructed to draw a vase that looks like two people kissing, but to do it by naming the parts of the face as I do it. At first I can’t start it, I shake uncontrollably and giggle with a grin that hurts my face it’s so intense. I get this under control and complete the exercise and then immediately do the next one. The sensation is intense, strange, and nobody else I know has this reaction. I asked around, and everyone thinks I’m insane. Nobody reacted that way to learning to draw, which makes me wonder if I have something wrong like frontal lobe epilepsy or a tumor.

In the middle of this left-handed-contour obsession I find out about classes taught by Betty Edward’s son, Brian at drawright.com Brian teaches a five day intensive course that follows Betty’s book and teaches you to draw. The class is eight hours a day and involves some lecture in the morning followed by 4-5 hours of drawing based on the lecture. I immediately sign up as I realize this would accelerate my drawing skills and is a rare opportunity. Brian’s even teaching the class at Fort Mason in San Francisco, so I had no excuses left. I had to go.

The third day of the class I’m sitting on a bench staring at the piers of Fort Mason drawing them in perspective. The first two days of class were full of effort and straining to perceive what was there. This third day, drawing this pier, I felt a doorstop get kicked away from a door I’d been trying to push through. Half-way through the drawing, I calmly, without giggling, but with the euphoria, draw the pier in perspective with measuring and trying to be accurate.

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Right after that, I felt the need to do another drawing of both piers, so I sat there and did a whole drawing without measuring and without any effort.

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I like to say March 10, 2013 was the day I learned to draw, which seems weird that someone would have such an exact date for when they learned to do something. The next day we did portraits, and even today I’m not so great at drawing faces, but the day I drew the pier I felt I had finally learned to do it.

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Ever since then I’ve been obsessed with drawing and painting. Over the last 19 months I have taught myself to paint and draw in oils, watercolor, acrylic, charcoal, pastel, and even Photoshop of all things. I’ve taken classes to get even better at these mediums. I’ve done a weekly figure drawing class to get better at drawing the figure. I spent months going through book after book of every subject I could. I watch more art training videos than I do porn now.

When I was younger, I was told that I didn’t have a single artistic bone in my body. I was a nerd, and nerds to math and aren’t creative. Now I know, that’s total bullshit.

Pastel Figure Drawing