Sunday rumblings…..

Bear with me on this one…. what follows is clearly my brain’s attempt at trying to crank itself up to some sort of operating temperature….

Without wishing to come across as curmudgeonly (but inevitably only succeeding in doing so), there’s one question that bugs me, even though it’s asked in all honesty and with nothing other than genuine curiosity – “Where do you get your ideas from?”. The question, if looked at logically (indulge me here, please), implies that somewhere out there is a wild place where plots, images and schemes gone native float around, just waiting to be caught and nailed firmly to the page or canvas. I always feel when this is posed to me that I am somehow incapable of forming ideas of my own, although, to be fair, nine out of ten enquirers are unaware of the subtext threading through what they’re asking. Nevertheless, I still feel like they’re pushing me to prove that they ARE my ideas and that I haven’t nicked them from someone else…

If I’m honest, however, especially in the context of my artwork, there are times when I have absolutely bugger-all notion of where the thing sprang from. Most of the imagery I employ when painting has very little, if any, knowing intellectual framework upon which it’s all hung – I see the image in my head, pin it down firmly in the nearest available sketchbook as a kind of visual mnemonic, and then paint it. The image itself will have arisen as a consequence of looking at some random object, or reading a story or newspaper headline, or hearing a phrase –  fully-formed and plastered on the screen of the mind. I used to say (somewhat pretentiously, I may add in hindsight) that I considered all artists (and writers, by extension) had access to an alternate reality, their creativity being the key, and the paintings and tales were dispatches from the frontlines, so to speak, subconscious recordings and polaroids of interesting scenes from their ‘other-dimensional’ travels, which are then thrown complete into the conscious mind. A verbose way of saying “Search me, mate, I haven’t the foggiest!”. A very weak defence against ignorance, I’m afraid.

Yet, the nature of my writing is very different – I sit down and consciously work out what it is I want to say, and build something around the central theme, pushing to the limit my ideas. Writing is, for me, much more intellectually and creatively satisfying: it pushes me in ways that art doesn’t.  I HAVE to think of how I can say something in a new way: I don’t want to be derivative in any way and want to be considered at least somewhat original in how I see things. However, an image is an image – a story has to be carefully constructed, themes need careful revealing and the reader has to be pushed along at just the right pace. All that takes studied consideration – perhaps art comes more naturally to me, so it isn’t as much of a challenge. I am forced to work at the writing, which, I think, is a good thing – plus I enjoy it immensely. Painting, on the other hand, can be such a damn pain.

But it does bring me onto something which intrigues me deeply and, if nothing else, highlights the wonder of the human mind and its sheer flexibility. Allow me to indulge in a spot of cod-philosophising here. A group of, say, ten people are shown an image and are then asked to concoct a story to explain what they see: those ten people will, more often than not, come up with ten different ideas. Yet, they saw the same image as everyone else did. Some of them will just be regurgitations of others’ ideas that they’ve read or seen, yet others will display a modicum of originality. One or two of the plots will be truly original, showing thought-processes markedly different from the norm. But why is this – why does one man say, when confronted by a single dot on a page, for instance, “it’s just a dot on a page”, when another will see it as a metaphor for isolation, impotent rage and unutterable loneliness? It’s still just a dot on a page, though.

And what even defines an idea as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in the first place? In the musical arena, for instance, there are millions of ditties sharing the same themes and tropes, and yet some become classics while others will languish in deserved obscurity. What marks one out as ‘destined for immortality’ while another has ‘condemned to Death Row to die a painfully slow death’ written all over it? Additionally, even with a consensual definition of what constitutes ‘quality’ there will always be those who see and measure things differently – and who’s to say they’re wrong? Again using music as an example, chart music is often seen as a species of prostitution, a quick shag behind the bike shed for an even quicker return, and sod the quality – in the end, we all know it isn’t in any way ‘meaningful’ and it’s not even meant to be considered as ‘art’. Even so, it  still seriously dismays me that there are artists out there who possess genuine talent who don’t get a look in, being told that they don’t ‘look’  the part, or their work is ‘uncommercial, or they simply don’t have the necessary resources behind them. It irks me that talent can be so easily dismissed.

The literary world fares little better. In these days of easy self-publishing, a veritable tsunami of words has crashed onto reader’s mental shores, not all of it good. I have come across, in my role as reviewer, some truly hopeless rubbish – and at least one slight acquaintance of mine has published two books, through a legitimate self-publishing website, whose quality has pushed the furthest boundaries of what can be considered diabolically awful – even to the extent of plagiarising elements from an anime show (presumably in the hope that no-one else will have seen it to identify them). This is what you get when you democratise tehnology and access to it. Of course, the books will in all likelihood remain in the swamp of obscurity where they belong, at least leaving some room for those who deserve a chance of achieving something with their efforts.

The big publishing houses don’t necessarily guarantee quality, either. Some of the best writing emerging from within the horror genre, for instance, is coming from small-press publishers like Ash-Tree of Canada, Gray Friar of northern England, and Pendragon of Wales. This, presumably, is because their QC  is tighter and slightly less concerned with commercial considerations (while still, of course, hoping that all the books will find a good home and some decent returns). Some of their authors will eventually filter through to the majors. This doesn’t mean automatic success – it just means they have bigger budgets to work with.

On re-reading this, I see that once again I have rambled on meanderingly, and perhaps a little incoherently, ending up nowhere near where I started. It is a Sunday, though, so perhaps I can be forgiven for this slight transgression… maybe next time I will have something more pointed and worthwhile to say, strung together more sensibly… then again, maybe not…

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One Response to “Sunday rumblings…..”

  1. Really interesting…. with regards to the latter three paragraphs, I was talking with a label boss the other day about the possibility that the sheer overload of music with which you can quite easily be bombarded with the aid of an internet connection and some enthusiastic friends, might actually damage our selection-making faculties. How DO we actually ‘select’ nowadays, what are our grounds for quality, and are we even comparing like with like anymore. Obviously a big question for him and me both. Or, can this same effect make us very cynical about the whole process of selection (it all sounds like something else and EVERYBODY’S DOING IT) so we’re eventually robbing ourselves of some listening experiences we might actually have enjoyed, purely through being jaded. And jaded is so fashionable in our corner of the creative universe, haha.

    I don’t know how you counter that – most of the time I’m utterly thrilled by the democratising process of technology, but ‘selection’ is what I worry about – both the selections that I’m making, and the selections that various platforms make. It’s why I have a real love for the type of organisation you’ve identified in your point about small-press publishing; I feel the same way about Dark Essence Records, for example. When it comes to publishers (of any art, I guess), there’s some crucial formula that balances thorough knowledge and passion against a need to generate cash. And when it comes to ‘consumers’ (bleugh!) I wish people would be a little more aware of the evils and insidiousness of advertising… and just question WHY they like what they like. The democratising power of technology is all well and good if the receivers of the art are going to use it to its full extent, dig, delve and engage their brains, rather than skim the top of the A4 spread advertisements. Likewise ‘web hype’… ARGHHHH… where do you people think it COMES FROM?! I wish someone would pay me to be a Web Hype Minion. I know they exist. I’ve met the buggers.

    I’m really interested by your nature of ideas and inspirations chat also… someone asked me the other day how I know where to start when I write fiction. I thought that was an awesome question, with zero possible answer. I think I facetiously said “with a fight or a fuck, or just the word ‘the'”, but yeah – it’s a phrase or a look or a character or a visual or an anything. I love the idea that that’s because I see dots in a funny way, and therefore have access to an alternate universe. I’m worried that that makes sense to me, but love it anyway!

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