Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"Fame" Well-Deserved

Image result for david bowie
With over 140 million of his albums sold, it’s not a stretch to say that David Bowie achieved massive success as a musician. His various reinventions and stylistic changes over a career spanning some 5 decades kept his music at the top of charts across the globe. Whether you like his music or not, you’d have a hard time arguing that David Bowie wasn’t a creative and impactful musician.
Born David Robert Jones in January of 1947, Bowie displayed a penchant for imaginative interpretations and artistic aptitude early on. When he was 9 years old, his dancing during his music classes was praised by his teachers as “vividly artistic.” He picked up a love of jazz music in the early 1960’s and began to take saxophone lessons from a local teacher.

Bowie formed his first band at the age of 15, but his aspirations to pop stardom made him want more than his bandmates could give, and he jumped from group to group. He finally got his big break in 1969 with the release of “Space Oddity,” a top 5 hit in the UK. Other chart toppers would follow over the years, including “Fame,” “Let’s Dance,” his collaboration with Queen “Under Pressure,” and various others.

It’s impossible to try and summarize David Bowie’s musical style by looking at any single song or decade: the very essence of his style was its continuous change. From his alter ego Ziggy Stardust to his Tin Machine era, Bowie constantly reinvented himself and pushed the boundaries of pop music. He allowed himself, and by extension his music, to be deeply impacted by world events. After 9/11, he allowed the feelings of despondency and fear to echo through his new works. Bowie continued making music up until his death from liver cancer in 2016, releasing his album 2 days before his untimely passing.

In terms of his creative process, Bowie was a master of free association. He’d list out any assortment of words and form a narrative from the distinct imagery that they brought to mind. He also associated with some of his most eminent contemporaries, including Mick Jagger and the band Queen. Bowie was a firm believer in the idea that teamwork and collaboration could create some of the most creative artwork. David Bowie kept the music world and his fans on their respective toes with his unbridled creative talents. He forever changed the face of pop music, and his music will continue to set the standard for what it means to be musically innovative for decades to come. 

From Bidding Goodbye to Art, to Creating “Goodbye Art”

Phil Hansen gave up on his dream of becoming an artist when he became fixated on pointillism in art school. In trying to perfect the tedious technique, he inadvertently made it impossible to do so when he developed permanent nerve damage in his hand. Hansen, devastated by this news, dropped out and stopped making art. He revisited his doctor several years later, hoping his hand had healed a bit in the interim, but Hansen was told the shake in his hand preventing him from drawing straight lines was here to stay.

The doctor did, however, impart on him a valuable suggestion; why not embrace the shake? The solution to Hansen's problem--that he couldn't make art--came to him in an instant and motivated him to experiment with all sorts of new media and techniques. Hansen admits he had given up on his lifelong dream until hearing the doctor's advice; he was certainly not likely to use analysis to solve the problem, instead using unconscious insight to transform his perspective of his creative process. Without reaching out to the people in his life who understood his dilemma, Hansen would not have heard the outside perspective that ultimately led to his "eureka moment."

This new perspective applied not only to his art but also to nearly every other aspect of his life. Instead of seizing the day, Hansen now tells his fans to “seize the limitation.” Mimicking Gehry, the Gardner creatives, and the skateboarders in Dogtown and Z-Boys, Phil Hansen uses the constraints on his physical abilities as a source of inspiration to create novel art from a wide variety of non-traditional materials. He contrasts the creative flow from self-imposed limitations against the creative roadblocks that occur when artists try to “think outside the box” with too many traditional tools and methods at their disposal. His new approach to art synthesizes his formal knowledge of art with an openness to new methods that rivals that of the Gardner creatives. For example, he returned to his pointillist roots when he created a portrait of Nikola Tesla with electricity.

One of the most valuable skills Hansen's learned from his artistic second wind is the willingness to let go. He once spent an entire year on a series he calls "Goodbye Art," which he creates with the express purpose of destroying once it is finished. Hansen depicted Jimi Hendrix, for example, by stacking hundreds of matchsticks so that he could set the entire structure on fire.

As an artist who lacks creativity, I am fascinated by Phil Hansen's unique perspective and seemingly limitless source of creative projects. His patience, ingenuity, and collaboration with fans across the nation all inspire me to challenge myself in ways I never have before (and to take my art a little less seriously, from now on).

For more information on Hansen's works and creative process, or to participate in one of his projects, visit www.philinthecircle.com!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hayao Miyazaki is a world renowned director and producer of Japanese animated films as well as one of the co-founders of Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki is known for his attention to detail and his ability to create inventive and original stories.  His career has been prolific and critically acclaimed throughout. His most popular film Spirited Away became the highest grossing film in Japan ever in 2001 and subsequently won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature that year.
Hayao Miyazaki was born in 1941, in central Japan, to a well-off family. He was the son of a manufacturer of fighter plane rudders during the war. The family had to move around often due to the bombing going on at the time. This experience likely left a lasting impact on Miyazaki as many of his films feature themes of war. The rest of Miyazaki’s childhood was relatively uneventful. He graduated from high school and during university he studied political science and economics.
Miyazaki is meticulous about his work and is known for personally hand checking every single frame of animation. He is also fiercely protective of his his work. When Studio Ghibli was trying to get Princess Mononoke distributed in the United State, Harvey Weinstein, the head of Miramax at the time, demanded that serious edits be made to the film. In return Miyazaki sent Weinstein a genuine katana with a note Saying “no cuts”.
Miyazaki’s films often feature environmental and anti-war themes. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, one of Miyazaki's earlier film, features a world destroyed by pollution, and Princess Mononoke has strong environmental themes as well. One of the director’s best qualities is his ability to create complex films for both children and adults. His film Spirited Away, according to the man himself, was created for his 10-year old daughter, but was lauded by critics at the time for its mature explorations of greed and compassion.


The Sweet Spot of Music and Film

To most, breaking into just one creative field would be more than satisfactory. Not in the case of John Carney, a renowned movie director who continues to bring his love of music into his films. He won an Academy Award for his debut film, Once, which has since gone on to become a Tony Award winning musical. It’s safe to say he’s pretty good at what he does. His three most well known musicals, Once, Begin Again, and most recently Sing Street, all incorporate music in some unique way. Each film uses its own genre to portray music differently for each story being told.

            Born in Ireland in the 1970’s, John Carney attributes most of his inspiration and love of music to his childhood years growing up in Dublin’s transformative 1980’s. His band as young adult became a major influence on his later work in film. It was his inability to set aside one love for the other that inspired him to combine them, however not in the usual way we have all seen and heard a thousand times over. Instead of creating yet another movie musical, with choreographed numbers and set pieces, he interwove the two, making music in way another lead character.

 The breakthrough I had in Once, I remember writing that down and thinking, what does a modern musical look like? And it doesn’t look like a musical, in fact you shouldn’t even know it’s a musical. That was a big breakthrough for me because it was almost like making a musical was to make an anti-musical, but it’s still musical with eight or nine songs which are sung – but kids are no longer going to accept people breaking into song unless it’s a comedy or tongue-in-cheek.”

With this “anti-musical,” John Carney has created a style entirely his own, one where music and filmmaking has become one and the same.
            After getting his start in music, John Carney was then faced with decision of choosing one or the other. When he choose to continue both, it was made clear that the two would never be long separated in his mind. The concept of making something wholly new is clearly very special and inspiring to him. As such, his movies all depict the process of writing music and creating a new sound. All of his characters share his desire to create their own sound. Bob actually used this clip first day of class as an example of creative process. Carney includes scenes with this theme in all his works. One in particular hits extremely close to his own creative process when writing music, depicting a young character playing the skeleton of a song, rough lyrics and all, with his friend helping him work through and then adding in the actual chords (unfortunately the scene isn't on YouTube yet).
With this we are offered nearly a direct glimpse into Carney’s own mind and creative process. He directs with a very laid back style, allowing the actors to use their own experience and whims, even to the point where they are not even really acting. His song writing process works much in the same way. He and occasionally someone else, as mentioned above, bounce around ideas included lyrics and chords until something sounds right. His natural and carefree approach to writing reminded me of an article in the extra readings, “Improvisation in Time: The Art of Jazz”. The artist interviewed calls his process “organic” and talks about it being inspired by what interests him at the time. John Carney’s writing process is the same, it is inspired by his favorite artists, and his creations are free to grow and become something completely different.
            While I definitely did not go looking for this comparison, as I read and watched interviews with John Carney, it became harder and harder for me to ignore the parallels that kept popping up between him and my Gardner creative, Pablo Picasso. For starters, their creative processes are very similar. Picasso reworked a single idea over and over in his notebooks, while Carney can come to set or a writing session, and leaving with it completely transformed simply because inspiration struck. Picasso could not have created Cubism without the aid of his close friend Braque, where they each drew inspiration from the other to create something new, similar to Carney and Clark’s writing process.

            In combining the industries of filmmaking and music, John Carney found a way to continue to create within his passions. His films are some of my favorites, and even to someone with as close to negative musical talent as you can get, his love for music and the process of creating it make me fall nearly as in love each time.

Bjork, ethereal and preternaturally creative

Perhaps the most iconic and "Bjorky" interview with the Icelandic pop-star Bjork took place in a small room, in which Bjork deconstructs a television, describing with awe what she discovers to the camera. "Look at this, this looks like a city, like a little model of a city." She later explains her relationship to the television. "This is what an Icelandic poet told me. And I became so scared to the television that I always got headaches when I watched it. Then, later on, when I got my Danish book on television, I stopped being afraid. "

In this interview, Bjork comes off quirky and ethereal. She has oft been compared with aliens and otherworldly creatures, like when John Oliver opened his June 4, 2017 episode of Last Week tonight with the line: "Earth, the adopted home world of Bjork."  Bjork's creative process and the experiences that combined to shape her into the ethereal fairy-being we now know are particularly interesting.

Bjork began her creative journey in the Icelandic town of Reykjavik. In a 1988 interview, while she was still touring with her first commercially successful band the Sugarcubes, she describes her native Iceland: "very few people, and very few trees. And very few insects!" she chimes, her raspy voice fully formed at age 23.

Bjork took piano and flute lessons from a young age, living with her mother in a Reykavik commune and eventually attending a music high-school. In an 2010 interview, Bjork explains her creative process at a young age. "I used to go to school, which was about half and hour walk, and I would sing. I had no idea that anyone would ever hear it, it was just my method of interacting with the environment, you know, especially spatially... Iceland is amazing for spacial-ness if there is such a word because its so stark, you know, there are very few people, very few plants. There is a lot of room for you." Her motivation at this stage was clearly intrinsic. She used her voice to interact with her surroundings. Asked in a 2002 interview: "why are you creative?" she responds, "I'm not sure, I think I've always been like this."

She followed her natural creative drives, forming various groups until in 1986, she formed the Sugarcubes with then-husband Pór Eldon. With the Sugarcubes, Bjork's vocals seemed boxed-in by the rhythmic pulsing of the bass and drums. Quintessential 1980s New Order-esque back-track clashes with he boundless passion.

Bjork embarked on a solo career in 1993, and has since become known for her free-floating, transcendent vocals. And indeed, from a technical perspective her voice is astounding. She belts each and every note at top volume, imbuing each phrase with pure, guttural emotion.

It seems retrospectively that Bjork was meant to expand beyond the typical rock-band format, to pursue her own musical interests. When she teamed up with producer Nellee Hooper in 1993, she explains,  "I was like a kid in a toyshop." She describes her transition from classic rock music to more synth based, orchestrally inspired music: "I know some people think that electronic music lacks passion. But I don't agree. If you put passion into your music, then it will be passionate, and if you don't put passion into you music, then it won't be passionate." Still, at this point, Bjork maintained a detachment from popular expectations and paved her own form of pop-music.

Bjork has experimented with various musical styles and formats throughout her career, some drawing from her native Iceland's orchestral forms, some more grounded in musical theater, such as her cheeky hit: "It's Oh So Quiet."

After having trail-blazed a one-of-a-kind genre fusing electronic, orchestral, and massive, spacious string parts with her guttural, expansive voice in her first seven studio albums, Bjork also became one of the first major artist to embrace 3D "scientific musical" album format in her eight album, Biophilia. Released in 2011, Biophilia is an interactive app-based experience in which viewers can immerse themselves. Like much of her work, Bjork seems in Biophilia to attempt to recreate the dramatic, sparse landscapes of her native Iceland; or, furthermore, to immerse her listener in the vast gravity of her emotion.

Milk and Honey: Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur is a 25-year-old poet best known for her book Milk and Honey. She is part of a growing group of poets known as “Instapoets,” who achieve fame due to their large following on social media. Kaur began her career by sharing her poems on Tumblr, garnering such a wide following that she began to post them on Instagram as well. There, she achieved so much positive feedback and support that she claims without it she would never have created her first self-published poetry book.

Kaur writes in a minimalistic style, focusing on topics that touch on love, death, and female empowerment. She accompanies her poems with simple line images. According to her, the images “create a juxtaposition with the words...[they] express [a] feeling of innocence” while the subject matter is mature and even serious. However, due to her simple approach, the poems are easy to digest and connect to. Many young women see their thoughts and fears reflected in her writing, especially minority women, as Kaur draws from her Punjabi background to comment on societal pressures and the hardships of immigrants.
Rupi Kaur writes for the sake of being honest, a message that is carried out throughout her book. She draws inspiration from the experiences of the people around her to create poems that reveal the root of their emotions. It is the interweaving of different people's stories that makes her book feel like the bearing of a universal soul. Her passion for writing is felt deeply in her poetry. Kaur says when she begins a poem she can feel the words bubbling up inside of her, a feeling that does not go away until she sits and writes, getting them all out. This intrinsic motivation, as Amabile would call it, is the key to her success. It is what led her to self-publish despite the advice of her professor, who told her to avoid that route, and despite the initial rejection she faced from publishers.


Stephen King: The Irony and Results of a Major Accident

Stephen King was interviewed for Fresh Air by Terry Gross in a piece called “The ‘Craft’ of Writing Horror Stories.” The interview specifically focused on the book he wrote, On Writing, during his recovery process after being seriously injured.

The first thing that horror writer Stephen King heard from the perpetrator of an awful car accident was “I’ve never had so much as a parking ticket in my life and here it is my bad luck to hit the best-selling writer in the world… I loved all your movies.” King was hit by a car and broke almost every bone on the right side of his body when hit by Brian Smith who King described as a back-country character with a Rottweiler and an old van, ironically fitting the main character qualities of a Stephen King book.  He pointed out how funny it is that he was nearly killed by a character from one of his own writings, further explaining that he never feared that his writing would jinx him but often wrote about fatal crashes and traffic accidents in order to connect to many audience members who knew someone who was affected by that.  

The irony continued because Brian Smith, the man who almost killed Stephen King, died later from a drug and alcohol overdose, alcoholism being a very serious hindrance in King’s life, leading to drunkenly written novels and later A.A. meetings.

"If I thought anything was unfair about what had happened to me, it was that after struggling and winning a battle to get off all sorts and drugs and alcohol [before the accident] — [not only did I] have a problem with beer and cocaine; I was an addictive personality, period. I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. I loved Listerine. I loved NyQuil. You name it. Boy, if it would change your consciousness, I was all for that. And I was able to jettison almost all of those substances out of my life.”
King suppressed any subconscious thoughts that could possibly resurface to a clear conscious mind through alcohol and cocaine. Freud, a big creative, also advocated for cocaine, and it makes sense when both creatives mention the subconscious. Lehrer provides an explanation for Freud’s idea of suppression and repression. Freud mentions repressing the unconscious mind, Lehrer explains "there is another region of the brain that can be activated as we go about editing reality. It’s called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex or DLPFC. It’s located just behind the forehead and is one of the last brain areas to develop in young adults. it plays a crucial role in suppressing so called unwanted representations getting rid of those thoughts that don't square with our preconceptions. for scientists that is the end of the problem." King went through many methods to repress his subconscious and maybe the unwanted horror thoughts he had, but would dig deep when writing just as Freud did to develop new theories for psychoanalysis.

King kept the same lenses that were in the broken frames of the glasses he wore during the accident while he wrote On Writing. This subtle reminder brought out some ideas and feelings that he could reference for his writing. He used the experience of having a broken leg from the accident in a book called “Dreamcatcher” where he writes about surrealistic hallucinations in a man’s hospital experience. The hallucinations mimicked his own through the lenses of medications and pain in his own hospital room.

King drew on what he lived through in his hospital room when he was only partly conscious, and he explained his subconscious muses as “the boys in the basement.” He came down to the “blue collar guys” once in a while, where they just hung around, he grabbed a few ideas, and then left them to “polish their bowling trophies” in the basement (subconscious) once again.
Though this accident shaped his writing in a new way and gave him a lot of free recovery time to think, King says he would rather have the boring life than being hit by a van, gaining new experiences, and getting more writing inspiration. King planned to purchase and destroy the car that hit him, which articulated how scarred he was by the accident. King’s mom told him to say out loud and then write down anything that terrified him, so she significantly impacted his process of writing even up until he got into a serious accident.