Saturday, June 11, 2011

How To Create Original Art—A Modest Proposal

Although, at first glance, the question, “How does the artist create original art,” might look impossible to answer, imponderably vague on a cosmic scale, I believe that if we look into it more deeply, look around our lives at the materials we will be working with—pencil and paper, pigeons, persimmons, planetary bodies and people—most importantly people—the human dimensions of the question become clear. What we have here is not an epistemological, teleological or ideological problem, but a technical one—a problem of focal adjustment.

Bad mental habits are the hardest to break. As artists—poets, painters, sculptors and composers—we have become accustomed to thinking of our craft as a kind of ecclesiastical calling, something somehow holy. If the business of creation were more spiritually nourishing, perhaps it might be. It is not. Art is a profession just like any other. We get up and we do whatever work our imaginations assign us. We collect our peanuts every two weeks—poems or pictures—on Wednesday, or Friday, or Saturday—whatever day our sense of completion has declared to be payday.

Maybe, one summer day, when the boss has fallen asleep in the office with his nose on the letter Z on his keyboard, we rise from our routine, slip off our shoes and tip-toe out, aware from the shadows on the floor that it is a sunny afternoon. We forget ourselves utterly. We scamper off gleefully to the beach: we collect a few shells, we swim, we drink in the fish flavored breeze, we splash around with our children or friends, we absorb those receding light rays into our skin.

Maybe, if you run, like I do, you are lucky enough to catch the ferry. Suddenly, you find yourself on Fire Island, dancing until dawn and screwing yourself silly. The next morning—afternoon, probably—we study our souvenirs back at our desks: a purple clam ashtray, sunburnt shoulders, the last four digits of a telephone number on a torn ATM receipt, a hickey, sand up the ass, a ticket for public indecency, and a horrible hangover.

“So, this is life. Maybe I should have brought my camera,” we grumble, looking out the window at a bright blue invitingly cool square of sky the exact shade of yesterday as we remember it.

Alas, it is not. This blank space
—today—is the best we can do under the circumstances.


I think that the process part of the question—how does the artist create original art—is really quite easy to answer: stop thinking of yourself as an artist. Get a job. There is nothing special about what you do. Think of yourself as an everyday drudge—a Mexican busboy, a mother in labor—an individual with dozens of conflicting loyalties, loves and desires, hopes and dreams, all competing for your time, if not your soul.

Always remember that no claims on your heart or your hand will ever be fully satisfied. Your work will never be finished. You will be disappointed wherever you go when you die. I imagine the earth is the only real vacation destination I have to look forward to. At least, nobody I love has come back from Heaven with a box of saltwater taffy to report otherwise.

My advice to you, if you want to be an artist, if you want to create something truly and spectacularly original, is to pick up your pen and tell us how you can live in such a world. On peanuts.

Everybody’s answer is different.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Defense of Edward Albee

Whether Edward Albee considers himself a gay author does not interest me in the slightest. It might, if I wanted to sleep with him. I don’t. I already have a boyfriend. And so, I think, does he.

Albee’s plays are what interest me: are they any good, what do they have to teach me as a writer? These are the only things which concern me. He could sleep with goats for all I care, as long as he didn’t eat them afterwards for breakfast: that would be mean. But if we wish to bring everything that goes on in an artist’s bedroom into his books—including his dampest, darkest, most degrading dreams—if we persist in making every play, poem or musical score quasi-political—I am prepared to go the imaginative distance.

Permit me to preface my next performance with a rhetorical question:

“Do artists have any responsibilities outside of their own artistic practice—say, to the community?”

I believe the short answer here is, “No.” The artist’s only loyalty is to the integrity of the work he or she has in hand. But if the artist is creating self-consciously political art, what we used to call “propaganda,” he should at least be aware of what he is doing.

I shall demonstrate.

I have nothing against propaganda as art, per se. Some of it is quite nice. I am always prepared to accept propaganda on its own terms and evaluate it accordingly. For instance, J.L. David’s portrait of Marat stabbed in his bath by Charolotte Corday is one of the most beautiful and successful works of agitprop of all time. It was painted in Paris during The Reign of Terror. Marat was an imported revolutionary, the Che Guevara of his day. David was an artist sympathetic to THE CAUSE. As an act of artistic piety, David turns the deceased Marat, a pock-marked mental enforcer, a hack journalist, into a secular saint.

It is pure magic what the painter does with a few carefully chosen brushstrokes—he gives us a sort of reverse Dorian Gray: the more Marat rots, the prettier his picture must become. The modern viewer almost forgets to look for Mme. Guillotine behind the frame—David’s invisible Muse—the gory little girl enforcing the intellectual and artistic orthodoxies of 1793, the same sadistic monster screaming for Edward Albee now.

Now, I don’t for a moment wish to imply that Edward Albee’s critics are revolutionaries or that they are calling for his head. Unfortunately, yesterday’s randy revolutionaries always seem ready to dissolve into today’s dissolute aristocrats, as Albert Camus observes in his insightful 1951 book, The Rebel. Thus The Wheel of Fortune turns. To me, Albee’s critics represent the doddering dowagers of an ancien regime—eternally powdered and, politically speaking, impeccably prim.

I am not sure if these porcelain court ladies realize what they are doing on the scaffold with us. They move around on their knees, from force of habit, from soldier to soldier, from crotch to crotch, sniffing for sin in a perpetually purple fog. Maybe our midget Madonnas are blinded by vanity, memories of what they once were, how the pornographic poses they struck before the camera once held the Earth in awe. I guess the dramatic irony for these sad creatures is that they serve no useful purpose to the revolution anymore, whatever temporary amusement they supply to the soldiers. Or to the curious crowd of onlookers gathering below.

I am afraid that what we see assembled on stage at this juncture in time—if we turn this whole goofy scene around and peer behind the picture I have just painted—are dozens of wind-up dentures turned loose on the world, clacking and clucking, calling for Edward Albee’s dick. They might as well call for Kafka’s dick for all of the satisfaction they can expect to receive from me. I won’t give it to them. It would be a waste of a perfectly good penis. You almost feel sorry for the demented things. They are so used to diddling themselves with their own ideological dildos that they wouldn’t know what to do with a genuine dick if it slapped them in the face. If they had faces. Beneath all of that rouge and crumbling foundation, it is hard to tell if their syphilitic minds haven’t nibbled away a lot more than their missing noses.

Anyway, whatever these fragile figures are, whatever fantastic wigs they wore in their day, whether their shrunken heads soared toward the sky at an angle cuntily queer or deliriously gay, they are no longer necessary to what I have to say. They have served their purpose as people. They will exist in the future only as symbols—to be dissected by better scholars of the human condition. So, let us dispose of our critics now—quickly, mercifully, anonymously—using their own rhetorical devices. Call it “Poetic Justice.”


Now, look at who’s Queen.

I am.

I am the guillotine.

I am not loyal to love, but Art.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Eric's First Book of Poems: Takaaki

Those of you who have been following this blog have watched me writing this poem over the last two years. On May 3rd, 2009, I proposed to write a poem a day for a month and started tinkering with the Pushkin sonnet. Things cascaded from there, until I had a full blown 1000 line epic on my hands. Takaaki first appeared in its entirety in 35 pages of the Spring 2011 issue of The Raintown Review. For The Raintown Review's generous bequest of so much valuable real estate, I am eternally indebted.

However, since I first submitted it to The Raintown Review, Takaaki has undergone many subsequent revisions, metrical fine-tunings and other metaphorical refinements. But the essential tragicomical story, the essential moral conundrum the poem presents--Can you actually put a price on love?--has stayed the same.

The story itself revolves around a ridiculous argument over how to spend a quiet holiday evening--playing Scrabble or having sex--that I once had with my Japanese boyfriend, Takaaki. But in Art, as in Life, things are rarely as simple as they seem. The reverberations of that argument and subsequent events continue to shake the world today.

I hope you will give Takaaki a try. Or at least read an excerpt at

Love and War will never look quite the same.