What I Learned from my First Piece of Promise

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This is the first art piece I’ve done that showed a bit of promise (at least in my mind.) Believe it not, this began as black acrylic circles that were originally intended to be a piece about motion. I started by making these overlapping circles in three rows spaced evenly a third of the way down and a third of the way across the paper. After doing so I realized with a few “confining” strokes I could anchor the edges and create more an abstract facial piece. The colors just felt right. I added the blue after the black then finished with the yellow which gave me the contrast I was looking for.

I realized after making this piece that I could probably spend my entire life working with JUST black acrylic and paper and never come close to extinguishing the possibilities. I don’t need much at all. Just SIMPLE tools, time and practice. I would also love to study drawing, art, illustration, from charcoal to watercolor, but with my schedule it is almost impossible for me to commit to anything routine.

Over the past few months I’ve made about 25 pieces. The most difficult part is actually the concentration required to do this kind of work. My mind is a mess, it really is. I am SO easily distracted these days. I’m actually trying to figure out how to remedy this because it really is something I’m not dealing with all that well. The moment I try to begin a piece I find reasons not to, and this just has to stop.

Over the past year I’ve been watching people as I travel, a full range of people. Young, old, technical, non-technical doesn’t matter. To say we are addicted, physically addicted, to technology is not a stretch. I see it in myself, and I have certainly been seeing it in many of the people around me. I FIRST noticed this back in about 2005 while photographing children. When I stopped to load a roll of film they would instinctively reach for their phone, punch in their code, check something, then turn the phone off and wait for me. Within TEN SECONDS they would pick up their phone and do it all over again. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is a physical addiction.”

A few months ago I landed at John Wayne Airport here in lovely Orange County and the pilot said “Well, the good news is we are eight-minutes early, but the bad news is we have no gate and have to wait eight-minutes.” The woman next to me, who I am guessing is a mid-level exec based on her clothing and briefcase, turned on her phone, punched in the code and checked Facebook twenty-four-times in eight minutes.” THAT my friends is addiction. Think this is rare? Think this is a wild chance encounter? Think again. Like I said, I’ve been watching this for a year. Even a younger friend pulled me aside and said “You know, I thought you were exaggerating about this but you aren’t, I’ve been watching too and it’s out of control.”

Do you wake up in the morning and reach for your phone?

Do you rush home at night so that you can get on the computer to surf?

Do you filter the world through your social media, at all times, all moments?

Has your regular camera been abandoned for your mobile phone because it’s easier to post?

Does your brain think of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter during those moments in the day when you have even a moments break?

Do you check your email on your phone more than ten times per day? Twenty times? Fifty times? A hundred times? (No joke.)

Are you actually putting weight into something so trivial/fickle/ridiculous as views and likes?

If so, I have a little test for you. Try sketching or drawing but try something very small and very detailed, which is what I accidentally did when I started this “art” thing. I haven’t shared these pieces with you yet, but I will at some point. They are small, 6×9, ink on paper and each one took DAYS to compile because the design I was attempting was infinitely small. I can’t tell you how difficult this was for me. I had to put my phone in another room and turn it off because the minute I ran into either physical or mental difficulty my relief came by telling myself, “Oh, I better check my email, where is my phone.” “I better be “productive” so maybe I should get my laptop and check things online.” “Maybe I should check Facebook, Twitter, etc.” and then the train was off the rails. Gone, fractured, destroyed. I simply didn’t have the attention span to pull these things off.

Suddenly, I was the guy checking his phone twenty-times while sitting on the runway. Yep, that WAS me.

Now, I never started this “art” thing to make realizations about myself. I did it simply to see what would happen, but the beneficial byproduct, so far, has been this acknowledgement I have an issue with attention. And based on my observations…..you might have one too. The truly odd part is not seeing these issues in my friends, etc, it’s finding someone who DOESN’T have the issue. I’m not kidding. The “clean” people, those untarnished by technology, seem STRANGE. They listen, they ask questions and they don’t engage in rapid-fire conversations where each person is simply verbalizing a mental, drop down list, not waiting for each other to finish a fractured sentence, instead jumping in with their bullet points.(I’ve done this too.)

My wife and I had dinner with one such “clean” person and when we left my wife asked “Oh my GOD, that was weird, what was going on with them?” I said, “Well, I think what was happening was they were actually listening, then thinking, then responding with a well thought out reply.” It was unnerving. It really was. It felt like we were engaged in a conversation while slowing sinking in quicksand.

I recently spent some time with a relative, a 14-year-old kid who is not a “screen kid.” He had screens at his disposal, phones, iPads, computers, games, etc, but for whatever reason chose not to engage with them. It was ENTIRELY strange. The kid exuded an energy I would equate with that of a shaman, not that I’ve spent a lot of time around shamans, but the kid was rock-solid-steady, calm, focused and felt like the most mature person in the room. The rest of us bounced from phone to laptop to phone and back to laptop, using senseless apps for no reason, repeatedly checking email and sending texts like crack monkeys. The kid just sat and watched, listened and had a look on his face like “Guys, the joke is entirely on you.”

Now, during the time I was with this kid I made a book from images I made with my phone. I actually made the book through my phone, and I like the book. I also shot a few rolls with the Hasselblad and a few with the Nikon. I did get a few things done, but when I think back on this time it feels like a dream state where everything is playing at top speed. Friends who hadn’t seen me in over a year described me (I found out later) as jittery, distracted and unable to sit still.

Normally when I bring up anything that questions the modern way I get plenty of hate mail about being a luddite, or not being smart enough to understand the technology or that I am “anti-technology.” This is the easy route. “That cant’ be true, he MUST be an idiot.” “How dare he question these things, technology has made our lives clearly better.”

All I’m saying is I am, at times, a complete mental mess. This is ME. If you spend a lot of time with a phone in your hand or on your computer than you MIGHT take a moment to reflect. Or not. All I know is I have to change a few things. I used to think “brain fog” was a joke. Now I have difficulty reading novel length material. I used to think technology was aiming us in the right direction. Now I hide my phone to get real work done, and place it in the trunk when I’m driving.(another long story)

It’s not like any of this technology is going away, nor should it, but I no longer view it in the same way I once did. I find it appalling to watch people interface with the Grand Canyon via their mobile phone. I don’t like selfies. And I’m entirely over the amount of self-promotion that has invaded our little world.(Like this blog?) What else can I bash? I’ll think of something later I’m sure.

Luckily, I now have “art” to keep me company now. Yep, I stand in front of blank pieces of paper, petrified of that first mark. Will it be right? Will it be perfect? Ah, perfection…..the idea of damn perfection…..that leads me to my next point.(Post) To make this ONE piece I found interesting I made MANY that were simple embarrassingly bad. I mean REALLY bad. I have zero background, education or knowledge in regard to art, so I have a lot of ground to make up, probably more than I hope to do in my lifetime, but I feel like trying. I need to study, and to do that I first need to find…peace.

Stay tuned.