Knock Stuff Down

August 5, 2009

I just got finished reading a panel discussion in the just-published book Words Without Pictures, a book about photography put out by LACMA, and the text was sort of distressing because, in so much artspeak, the whole idea was “nobody makes art from ideas ha ha ha everybody just relies on intuition.”

Now, wait a minute.  There are two things wrong with that assumption.  The first is the tacit agreement that impulse and idea are separable things: as if, for example, a painter just starts painting on a surface with no idea whatsoever what she or he is going to do.  Many painters (Ab-Ex folks) would probably claim this, but it’s literally incapable of being true.  You might not be clear on what you’re going to do, but if you didn’t have the idea/impulse of “hey, I’m going to paint…something” you wouldn’t be standing in front of a canvas in the first place–or, more relevant to what I’m talking about, you wouldn’t be picking up a camera or sitting down in front of Photoshop to, as the panel discussants put it, “push pixels around.”  It’s disingenuous to claim that something comes from nothing, or else from random acts of labor.

The second problem is that lots of people start with ideas: like, me for example.  The post directly under this was an idea/impulse: I knew I wanted to isolate just the titles of horror paperbacks before I even pulled the first one off the shelf, much less scanned it and stared at it, waiting to be creative.  The final result was fully realized in my head before I did any labor whatsoever.

And this is how it goes for me.  Conditions necessary for me to have these sorts of ideas will slowly germinate without me being fully aware of various connections and then all of a sudden bang bang bang a week later I have three sets of images and two sculptural pieces done, all of them fuly realized in my head before I lifted a finger but all of them in debt to circumstances that were informing me.

The circumstances that are informing me now: the rediscovery of a lot of obscure British post-metal (bands like God, Ice, and Scorn, as well as not-metal Coil and not-British Swans) that I listened to when I was younger, pre-internet, by reading magazine articles or buying whatever was made by people who remixed NIN tracks or picking up things in stores that just looked good.  Some of these CDs came through in a buy where I work, and hit a nerve of nostalgia that sent me 1) searching Amazon for super-rare early-90s CDs, 2) thinking about the masculinity and homosociality of heavy metal culture, 3) making work that explored thoughts raised in #2, and 4) putting the threads of various things together in what is, for me, a new way.   It’s certainly the first time my own autobiography featured heavily in the creation of an idea-world, namely the winter of ’95-’96 during which I never left the house except to buy CDs and was crippled by anxiety and depression.   So it’s the history of that blackout period in my life that I’m really jabbing at, so it’s not as if all the new work I’m making (and it’s a lot of work) came from nowhere.

Here are some examples.  First is a response in my own writing to the heavy metal horror novel titles in the previous post.  After not really writing anything since leaving school and having 5 books rejected by publishers, I just sat down and wrote this in 20 minutes: conditions were right.  Then I printed out the text and scanned it back in and clicked “invert” in Photoshop.

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And this prompted me to redo and finish an old work which consists of pages dumped from the CalArts archive because of their heavy state of decay.  I scanned the pages in and digitally erased the text.  Enjoy:

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And PS I have the WWP book in the first place because I contributed two contrarian little articles to it.

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2 Responses to “Knock Stuff Down”


  1. I like the text works in that they remind me of movie scripts. Be inverting them they read as some kind of internal monologue. The other stuff comes after reading a post on CalArts’ new blog 24700:
    http://blog.calarts.edu/2009/08/05/past-as-prologue/
    What a contrast to the issue of Arts in Society. the graphic elements remind me of Marshall Mcluhan’s The Media is the Message, so full of early 70’s optimism. What a contrast to the dog-eared and stained reality.

  2. Will Says:

    Kandinsky worked his pieces out in his head completely before ever picking up a brush, and even huge 9-foot long canvases were done in 3 days because
    he’d worked out exactly how it would be put together. So, continue.

    As to good takes on metal, I recommend Pelican. (Can I resist also plugging
    Apocalyptica’s Farewell, and their other originals? I guess not).

    Also, as to publishers, if you don’t mind the comparison, don’t stop till you reach rejection #13 or higher (the number, I’ve been told, of publishers who rejected the Harry Potter books). Trying to steel myself up for that process as I’ve finally, finally, really got to working seriously every day on a novel project started in 2001 and slumbering ever since due to lack of confidence, research, and a plan. Full steam ahead.


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