So What Exactly IS ‘Art’? – by James Bovington

(From Google)
(From Google)

I’ve been thinking about ‘art’ recently. It happens sometimes.

More specifically I’ve been trying to work out what ‘art’ is. Not necessarily ‘what is art?’ because that opens up the forum for people to claim a single house brick on a cushion is art. They’re very different questions, since one deals with individual pieces and asks ‘is this art?’ and the other questions the nature of the ephemeral wisps of nothing we happen to actually call ‘art’.

That is to say I’m questioning the aspect, not the components. Anyway;

A while ago I found a video on Youtube that made my heart sing. I posted a link to it on my Facebook with the addendum “If you ever, EVER feel the need to ask me what ‘art’ is;”

The video in question is here:

There’s something about that situation that is so beautiful that I don’t know where to put myself. I think part of that is the knowledge that for most of these people there really isn’t a real reason to be doing that, it’s just fun.

On a similar note; a few years ago there was a particularly cold winter and Times Square in New York City got quite a lot of snow in one evening. What erupted from that were not complaints and injury claims but a huge snowball fight. There were a number of photos posted online (you can find them with a quick Google of “Times Square snowball fight 2009”) and they showed a bunch of strangers lobbing frozen rain at each other. There was one particular photo (which I can’t seem to find now, despite my almost invincible Google-Fu. I wonder if that makes it more special.) of a young man, arm extended in mid- throw with a look of such joy on his face that it made me happy for days.

Is that art? I think it is. Not the photos themselves, but the act. A gigantic, spontaneous snowball fight in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world is a beautiful thing, and to me ‘art’ is definitively “Anything Beautiful”. I’ve mentioned the only other definition of art I respect elsewhere on Creatabot. (Here, to be specific). To me, ‘art’ that exists only to annoy people isn’t art. If someone puts up a gallery of paintings of people being tortured just to provoke a reaction, that’s not art, it is provocation and anyone can do it; you just have to shout insults in a library to get the same effect. The effect being people realising that you’re a dickhead. The only difference is that the first dickhead has learned to paint and the second hasn’t.

Which leads me to the reason I was thinking about this; I’ve been quite ill for a couple of weeks, but that didn’t stop me travelling to London with some friends one day. I thought I was feeling better, but I wasn’t.

After a harrowing (but cheap) journey down we spent a long time wandering around. I don’t really remember it very well, due to being an idiot when I’m ill. So it was that I found myself at the Barbican, standing in a room with water pouring from the ceiling, in a patch of dryness that followed me around as I shuffled back and forth. I was in Random International’s Rain Room, and it was very interesting.

But is it art? I think so, mainly because it’s interesting. As far as I’m concerned ‘interesting’ and ‘beautiful’ are very often one and the same. I also think the fact that I was in a strange headspace helped it seem more surreal than perhaps it actually was.

So no, I haven’t really answered the question I posed in the title, but can you blame me? Art is a shifting, formless thing and beauty is so subjective that having a single term for it seems overly simplistic.

Essentially all we’ve learned here is that people being happy makes me happy.

Is that art?

James Bovington is a writer of many different things, although he’s confused as to whether any of it is ‘art’.

You can find him on Twitter at: @JBov or you can look at his blogs:

http://jbovington.wordpress.com AND/OR http://burndownthesun.tumblr.com

The Harshest Deadline Ever Levied – By James Bovington

(From Google)

I’m writing a novel.

I know, I know; who isn’t? Go into any overpriced coffee-delivery chain-pit in the world and you’ll be able to spot at least three people with Moleskine notebooks, or typing on Macs, who when prompted will spew words at you about their novel. About how it explores the deeper significance of caramel biscotti, or it’s about non-conventional love dodecahedrons in tribes of scholars living in log cabins in Alaska, and every character is called Jim, even the women, because conventional naming is just holding us back, man.

These people will usually be wearing tweed ironically or skinny jeans un-ironically and all of them will be plastered with that smug look that makes your rage-glands twitch. Some of them might even close their eyes as they describe a scene from their novel in great detail, like it’s transporting them to their own personal Nirvana and they can’t bear to look upon the real world while they frolic in it. This is your cue to punch them as hard as you can right in their awful neck, pour their mocha-frappe-London-fog-flat white-fuckwit-latte onto their Macbook (because it will be a Macbook) and run, howling, into the misty night.

Except in November, when you might just spot a nomadic tribe of Wrimos, bedecked in nothing but pieces of fruit; weary, harrowed eyes; frantic caffeine jitters and normal clothes.

‘Wrimos’ are what people refer to themselves as when they are participating in National Novel Writing Month, which I’ve mentioned before. (You can see it by clicking the second instance of the word ‘here’ in this sentence, here.)

So, as I say, I’m writing a novel, but far from taking me years to craft a pretentious masterwork with infinite layers of detail, none of them funny, I have precisely thirty days to write 50,000 words. Any less and I have not ‘won’, any longer and I have not ‘won’. I have one of the harshest deadlines ever levied on a person, and it’s self-inflicted. Not just by me, either; there are currently thousands of Wrimos busily scribbling or tapping away at their own 50,000 word minimum and at this exact point in time (which I suppose is in the past, from your perspective) there have been precisely 942,626,284 words logged by everyone combined. To put that into perspective, the entire Harry Potter series comprises some 1,084,958 words.

We are eight days into November.

It’s mind-boggling the amount of people who throw themselves at this challenge, and the enthusiasm with which they metaphorically flagellate themselves with this ridiculous deadline.

So far I’m 7,845 words in, which at this stage is ok but not great. The average by now is about 11,000 but I spent a weekend doing things with my friends and a day training someone at work (I essentially have to write at work, since it’s all I do during the week), which is three of my days spent not writing at all. A couple of days I wrote about 1000 words, some days nearer to 2000. I’m writing a near-future-sci-fi-murder-mystery. Not by conscious choice; it’s just that when I started writing my main character (a journalist. Write what you know.) found himself at a crime-scene and some facts didn’t click together properly. I thought I was going to be writing a pulp sci-fi drabble, all smooth chrome spaceships and laserguns and whathaveyou. I’ve ended up with a subcity slum under London, twenty minutes into the future in a subtly totalitarian police-state.

That’s the trouble with this kind of writing. There’s no time to force your story back onto the track you picked for it. It’s a brilliant exercise in compromise. For example, there’s a character who I intended to be throw-away, maybe two or three lines of dialogue, but she’s ended up building a nest in my head because I like her so much. I have resolved to kill her at some point, purely so she doesn’t derail the story. Her fate is sealed, as far as I can tell, but characters can be fickle.

There’s also the need to kill your inner editor. If a sentence is clunky or overwrought you have to leave it. There’s no time. You can’t listen to the voice in your head telling you something is stupid. I had to slip in a justification for something that happened pages later because I couldn’t go back. That’s another interesting exercise; you have to make things fit together coherently without being able to go back and rewrite sections. Murder-mystery lends itself to this, luckily: Agatha Christie used to just write the whole story and pick the least likely character to be the murderer, making all the evidence fit together right at the end.

The last thing I wanted to discuss before I stop writing this and go back to writing that is that I’ve gone bloody mental.

Only really in terms of writing (maybe you’d noticed?), but still it’s almost a problem. For example, I was just skimming my work and noticed I’d written the word ‘corners’ as ‘carners’, but instead of actually realising there was a problem I proceeded to read the rest of the paragraph giving the voice in my head an Irish accent.

I spent an entire paragraph explain how ‘regarding’ and ‘looking at’ are different.

I was physically unable to stop myself from writing an awful pun, then giggling at it like a schoolgirl.

One of my recent Tweets reads: ‘The Information Superhighway has no cycle-lane.’ I don’t remember why.

And

While typing the above sentence literally milliseconds ago I put my electronic cigarette down and now I have absolutely no idea where it is.

I’m not sure if I’m coming out of this unscathed, but at least I’m having fun.

That’s 978 words I could have typed for my novel. Oh god, the deadline is coming! It’s almost here!

By James Bovington, a writer of things.

Are You a Bad Enough Dude to Write a Novel in One Month? – by James Bovington.

Don't open with this. Except sometimes. But just don't. Maybe.
Don't open with this. Except sometimes. But just don't. Maybe.
(Creative Commons)

We’re fast approaching November, which is important for a number of reasons; It’s almost December, which means Christmas and New Year’s Eve are coming up, bonfire night is always good fun and it’s National Novel Writing Month.

Admittedly, if you’re not a writer the last one probably isn’t that important to you, but for those of us enamoured with words it’s a pretty huge deal.

A quick jaunt to NaNoWriMo.org lets you know what’s going on: you are encouraged, by what is essentially a charity, to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Any genre, any plot, almost anything you want (although I think erotic fiction is out, I’m not sure) in thirty days and nights.

This is a tall order, as anyone will tell you; some people, usually the less writerly-types, will baulk completely when they spot ’50,000 words’, but it’s a fantastic creative exercise in that you essentially have the freedom to do whatever you want and a very tight deadline in which to do it. You must cast off all frivolous thought in order to produce better frivolous thought. Interesting.

I haven’t done one yet. I signed up (for free) just after last year’s ended, so I’m looking forward to this year’s immensely.

Here are my worries, though:

Do I start planning the story in my head now, a month before writing begins, or do I wait until November 1st and fully commit to dreaming up, planning and writing a novel in exactly one month?

How can I split my time effectively to make sure I maximise the amount of words I write per day? Should I splurge 10,000 in one coffee-fuelled all-night binge? Or should I do a more manageable couple of thousand every other day or so?

It’s a lot to think about.

I urge you to take a look at it anyway, even if you don’t consider yourself to be writer. You never know what may come flying out of your head when you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), and everyone has a story to tell, whether they think they do or not. Don’t be put off by the projected word-count; it’s not set in stone after all and as most writers will tell you, if you hit on something you really like, a scene, a character or a whole story, you’ll eventually glance at the clock and notice it’s four in the morning and that you’ve written sixteen pages. You’ll also be dimly aware that you’re starving and that you have to be up for work in four hours.

It’s a labour of love.

I look forward to reading yours.

By James Bovington

 

P.S.

Now I must ask something of you:

I have awful trouble naming characters. I try to avoid using the names of people I know, on the off-chance they think I based the whole character on them (which is only sometimes true), so I’d very much appreciate it if the lovely readers of Creatabot (or the lovely contributors, anyone really) could leave me some suggestions down in the comments below. I’ll probably even credit you as ‘The Namer’ or ‘The Name Giver’ or some such needlessly grandiose title.

Thanks very much.

A Self-Hating Bunch (or ‘A Thought Strikes Me’) – By James Bovington

Look! A Cliché!
The Scream (Edvard Munch, 1893)

Artists are a self-hating bunch.

That’s the prevailing notion among the ‘normals’, anyway. By ‘normals’ I mean people who don’t consider themselves artists or ‘creatives’, although I think Mr. Teller, of Penn and Teller fame, put it best when he said art is “…whatever we do after the chores are done.”

The most common conception of an artist is a brooding figure in a dark room, slashing yesterday’s paintings with a steak knife. It hasn’t been helped by the sheer number of artists ‘back in the day’ that committed suicide or spent their lives in self-inflicted exile and hermitage, or the vast number of people these days who seem to think that by pretending to be psychologically damaged or dark they can join some exclusive ‘Artist’ club and their work, no matter how lazy or bad, will be somehow ‘valid’.

Enough inverted commas. All of that is wrong anyway.

What some people see as loathing directed inwards is in fact something entirely positive. Here’s an example from my own life:

I used to be rubbish. I was a terrible writer; an ok poet, but my prose was bad, plain and simple. Reading back through some stuff I found fairly recently proves this to me. I’m not going to post any here, it’s too painful, but trust me. When I see the kind of dreck I used to put out it makes me ashamed and angry. This is where the disconnect happens between ‘creative’ minds and others; the creative doesn’t see that as a negative emotion reflected on oneself, they see it as a negative emotion cast solely on the article in question. It’s a realisation that you used to lack the skills you now have, and that you have improved and, crucially, will continue to do so.

I’m pretty sure a few years down the line I’m going to come across a notebook filled with scribblings from around now-ish and hate them with a passion.

I know exceptional artists who basically refuse to draw because they aren’t ‘good enough’. This might be a confidence issue, but I know these people, so I know it isn’t. It’s a desire to constantly improve. An attitude that is entirely healthy for a creative person. If you have a set point in your mind where you think ‘I want to be THIS good’, you’ll eventually reach it (slowly, I might add) and then stagnate. If your desire is to improve on your work all the time, you can only get better. When struggling uphill the only place you can end up is on top, so to speak.

The most important thing to remember is that people change, and that includes you. You might really like a certain style of painting one year and then find yourself thinking it’s awful the next. Your psychological state is never the same as it used to be because you learn to deal with, or let go of, issues that used to inform your art. Here’s an experiment you can try if you’re lucky enough to have left puberty behind;

Look through some of the stuff you did during that period of personal turmoil. How much of it would you say is empirically ‘good’? 10%? None of it?

Exactly. That’s one of those periods of life where everything that is ‘you’ is jostling with what you thought was ‘you’, or what you think ‘you’ should be. Your personality is testing the waters, as it were, and art is a reflection of self.

As a result it’s going to be all over the place, some good, most bad, just because your whole self is throwing itself around trying to get a feel for the place. I know the majority of my own pubescent scribbling were confused, self-absorbed and downright bad, and it’s a good thing I know that because that has let me fix those habits over the intervening years.

So, in case you skipped to the end for a swift summary, I’d point out that what allegedly non-creative people are imagining when they hear you describe your own work with flippant ‘Oh, that was shite’-style remarks is entirely wrong, but by no means illogical, it’s just that they haven’t grasped the mindset that lets somebody critique their previous efforts.

It’s always worth adding ‘I’ve learned what to avoid’ or something to that effect, to let them know what you actually mean.

And to you ‘non-creatives’ (even though you don’t really exist), just remember; we don’t hate ourselves. We hate our work.

There’s a big difference.

By James Bovington

P.S. I find that it’s probably for the best to think the word ‘Maybe’ after every sentence of this article to achieve the best understanding of what I mean.

Maybe.

Marketing; An Arid, Lonely Desert – by James Bovington

Atacama Desert (Creative Commons)
Atacama Desert (Creative Commons)

Yesterday garnered an interesting new experience for me, a new aspect of the world of writing that threw me for a loop and no mistake;

Just on a whim I tried to write a little five-hundred word article to use as a marketing tool for my work, basically a little slice of my life involving the product in question, loaded with key words and phrases I could link back to our website. Standard ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ stuff.

That’s not the interesting part; the interesting part is what I felt while I was writing it.

I felt like I was forcing it out, for one, mainly because I was, but I also felt…

Dry, I suppose.

Every sentence I typed felt dry and cracked and empty, almost gritty in my mind. Every time I started a new paragraph I was struck by the mental image of an arid, lonely desert. It was very strange. Almost frightening in fact, in that ‘Have I finally snapped?’ sort of way.

I also got very annoyed with myself, at first for not being able to do the task I set myself with any real passion, but eventually it was simply for even trying in the first place. I felt like I was betraying something ethereal, like I was using my powers for evil. I felt like Superman burning down an orphanage.

I know, I know, marketing is necessary in this modern world, but I’ve conditioned myself through the years to be distrustful of it, bordering on paranoia, and to be annoyed by it bordering on outright hostility. To find myself engaging in it was a little like telling my past self to shut up (although to be fair, he really should have, just not about this), or kicking my inner-child.

I stopped, about halfway into it, and had to go do something silly on the internet for a while just to stop feeling so despondent. I went back eventually and typed a few more sentences, but the feeling came back stronger. It hit me like a blow to the soul.

So now it’s unfinished and squats in my hard-drive like an awful goblin, it’s even called ‘Stupid Marketing Bullshit.doc’, which I don’t remember typing at all.

I’ll get on it eventually. I’ll either continue to force it out or I’ll find a way to make it enjoyable again. I might even have to start over and just write something on a whim, then try to find a way to force links into it in random places. But I’ll get it done.

I don’t know how interesting this was for any of you, but to me it was fascinating that I could have such a powerful adverse reaction to what should be a simple task.

I suppose writing with ulterior motives just doesn’t suit a man who wants to write stories about dragons, crisps, people and THE FUTURE. (‘THE FUTURE’ must always be in all-caps when discussed in the context of fiction. This is a rule I’m establishing right now.) Or maybe I’m being hugely egotistical about my writing and verging on the ‘too deep for you’ mentality that ruins a lot of prose.

Such is life.

by James Bovington