“What makes you tick?”

A few days ago, someone on Twitter asked the question in the subject line above. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but the simplicity of the question caused it to stick in my head. Maybe the question stuck in my head because I didn’t have an answer at the time. “Does this mean that I’m going about my life like a company with no mission statement? An essay with no thesis?”

The question continued to roll around in my head, off and on, off an on, like a slow-cycling strobe. What makes me tick, damn it? Work? Art? Orneriness? Then it came to me: what makes me tick is neurosis.

I’m neurotic about work because I’m deathly afraid of being unemployed, especially right now. A life as a graphic designer is a life of waiting for the world to decide that some guy who writes computer code can do your job better than you can. It is a life of waiting for web 3.0. The end of print media. The day when design is considered a stupid luxury, right along with bling watches and pimp cups. It makes a girl nervous, and it turns a girl into Lil Wayne. That is to say that I’m afraid to stop moving. As I recently told a friend after telling him my annual income, “but that’s not cause I’m a good designer…it’s cause I have a good hustle.”

While art certainly does make me tick a little, and good art inspires me to keep going, the art that I create separate from my life as a designer is done for three reasons. One: to keep myself sane, to give the universe a bit of math to live by and to feel a little powerful in said universe. Two: my hands don’t like to sit still, so they tend to make things. Three: the new house has a lot of wall space, so I have to make stuff.

The orneriness is an offshoot of the neurosis. The Brain is always ticking away on something, bringing questions up over and over again until they get answers. Often, the answer is to do something ornery or weird. It’s not that I’m rebellious or punk rock, oh no. I don’t do rebellious things for the sake of rebellion because I’m not fifteen (no matter what my Kool-Aid and vodka habit may imply). I do rebellious things either because they’re funny or they need to be done.

After I sent a poison pen email to the president of Former College regarding the conduct of a former teacher, Katy said “did you actually send that? that’s so punk rock.” I sent it because I had something to say. Because somebody needed to tell that guy all of the crazy behavior Former Teacher was trying to pull. I sent that email because it needed to be done.

All of these reasons are why I’ve grown sort of comfortable with my neurosis. It’s very functional if it’s controlled and focused, kind of like the red laser that shoots out of Cyclops’s eyes. Keep the visor on, and you’re a super hero. Take the visor off, and you’re trashing Grand Central Station. It’s a living.

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Art School Is Not A Wank

The other day, there was a discussion about unusual turn-offs on a message board that I frequent. Almost everyone listed “education” as a turn-on, but then someone countered with “but if you met a guy who was really smart and read a lot but hadn’t gone to college, would you date him?” This got me thinking about my two different college experiences and what I’d learned from each of them.

I don’t think I really learned much in Music Business school. I learned a lot about sound recording techniques, analog vs. digital, and compression levels, but (aside from being able to hook up your stereo and emasculate your boyfriend) I don’t find that I use that in my everyday life. The “business” part of that degree taught me little outside of the realm of how to write a paper, and maybe a little something about the importance of showing up on time and meeting a deadline. Seeing as how my high school English teachers were all Nazis and my parents have never been late for anything in their lives, I pretty much already knew that stuff. After college, I wasn’t prepared to do anything but wave my degree around and type, so I took my 64 thousand dollar degree and went into data entry. Maybe I’d have made that money back if I hadn’t abandoned sound engineering, but still.

After a couple years in data entry, I went back to school. My time at Watkins cost me half at much as my time at Belmont, but it was so much more worth it. A lot of people think that design school is just about learning a bunch of software. That IS part of it, but there’s a lot more. Shall we?

1. Sit down, verbalize, and visualize abstract ideas.
You’d be amazed at how many people don’t know how to do this. You start thinking about feelings or abstract concepts and your brain just locks up and you end up with a tidal wave of crazy. In art school, you have to be able to sit down and summarize why you did the piece that you did. In English. You have to be able to defend and explain your work to people.

2. Be OK with you.
So much of one’s art comes from one’s own experiences. If you spend all of your time indicting yourself for things you can’t change, you’re never going to get anywhere. You learn that everything that you do, everything that happens to you, makes you who you are. You learn from your mistakes, and that makes you better and unique. You could be saner, prettier, richer, whatever-er, but then you’d be someone else, producing completely different work. Sometimes the only original thing that you can be is you because everybody else is already doing “not you.”

3. Failure is sometimes the most important thing you can do.
Failure, and learning how and why you failed, is how you learn. Success is great, but success is just the payoff. It’s the reward that makes the trip worth the trouble. Nobody ever evolved as a human from always being told that they’re wonderful.

4. Taking criticism is important (long as it’s valid criticism)
Though one former employer would disagree with me, I’m actually pretty good at taking constructive criticism (note the use of the word “constructive”). My editor at ReGen told me this when he disagreed with one of my reviews. I countered with “well, here’s why I think that…” when he was apparently expecting “fuck you!” We can disagree all day long and that’s fine, but when you don’t listen or try to take away my voice, you truly meet the (evil) side.

5. Pay attention.
A lot of people cruise through life not thinking very hard about anything. While that apparently works for those people (who are usually really happy), you can’t get away with that in art school. In order to have inspiration, you have to pay attention, which may be why artists are always so pissy. As a fortune cookie fortune on my fridge says, “discontent is the first step of a man or a nation.” When I stop being mad, that’s when I’ve truly given up. As long as I’m still pissed, that means I still think the situation can be fixed. Rage is good! (Don’t tell my shrink I said that.)

6. Very few situations have a “right” answer.
In business school it’s all about knowing the question and spewing forth the right answer. People need to believe that right and wrong are black and white because shades of gray are a lot hard to encapsulate into a sound bite. The trouble is that reality IS grayscale. Even Hitler had at least ONE good point. Art school is like boot camp for this kind of thought, and oversimplification usually gets called out pretty quickly.

7. Sometimes an F is the best grade.
If you’ve heard your teacher’s criticism, but you still feel like you’ve made your point the best way, sometimes you have to say “I believe in this…if the ship goes down, I’ll go with it.” It’s not about selling out what you think just to get a better grade. At the end of the day, your portfolio is YOURS and you have to be willing to defend it, and “I did that cause the teacher told me to” isn’t going to cut it.

See? It’s not just about wanking around and drawing pretty pictures. It’s hard. Business school was just about memorizing things and taking notes, but art school was about really thinking. That is not “wanking around.”

Badasses Abound (January 2009 Art Crawl)

For those of you who aren’t part of the Watkins Art Mafia, there’s an art crawl that takes place in the 200 block of 5th Ave N on the first weekend of every month. There’s a few galleries on 5th Ave and a few in the Arcade. I like to go from time to time for inspiration/motivation. As I so eloquently put it to Emily:

“You gotta go and see some cool shit so you can feel shitty enough about yourself to get off your ass and make your own cool shit.”

My English teachers would be so proud. Anyway, there was an abundance of awesomeness this time around, and I thought I’d share with you guys so you can sit around and with that you had $10,000 to spend on a heavily-varnished tasty.

Jordan Eagles uses blood, varnish, and sometimes copper to make multi-layered, glossy, graphic pieces. The pictures on his site don’t even begin to do the pieces justice. You really, really should drag your butts down to The Rymer Gallery to take a look at them. They. Are. Awesome.

Jeff Hand uses faux fur and heavy doses of whimsy to make fluffy anatomy drawings, portraits, and…throw pillows shaped like anti-depressant pills! I want the furry black heart, and a Valium pillow. (Also at The Rymer Gallery)

I want to be Steven Knudson‘s art groupie. His work is like a combination of Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, and those old covers from Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. In other words, as I told Jeff’s friend Thomas “this is goth as fuck.” (Side bar: artist himself looks rather whimsical and I would like to date him so we can be pocket people together. Just sayin.)