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Mike Powers

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Bob Lefsetz has a blog, generally oriented toward music and sometimes politics and other subjects. His latest blog follows. Be careful not to judge it based on what we think our job as a magician is. The standard answer is “entertainer.” Lefsetz isn’t dealing with this. He’s fleshing out what an “artist” is. I think he generally nails it.

 If an artist is lucky she or he will find an audience that is very happy with the performance (or painting, dance etc). An artist who wants to be financially successful may have to compromise some of these notions. Hopefully not too many. Good luck being and artist and an entertainer.

 AN ARTIST – (Bob Lefsetz's latest blog)

 Grows.

 Does not give the audience what it wants, but what he/she wants.

 Refuses to repeat him/herself.

 Is interested in satisfying him/herself, not fans.

 Are cutting edge, they lead the audience, not vice versa.

 If someone doesn't hate what you're doing, you're doing it wrong.

 Challenges the audience.

 Acts on inspiration, not desperation.

 Runs on emotion, not intellect.

 Will hear “no” more than they hear “yes.”

 Are constantly told how to do it by people who can't do it.

 Doesn't self-judge based on the money they make.

 Knows when they do something great, that they don't need the audience to validate it for them. They already know.

 Stretches. To repeat oneself is emotional death. And since an artist runs on emotion...

 Refuses to look back unless they want to. Once you play to nostalgia, it's hard to push the creative envelope once again, the world has labeled you a has-been.

 Needs help to make it but must push back against that help.

 Is inherently tortured. Needing to get their message/soul out. They don't fit in. Their goal is to express raw humanity so that people can connect with it, they channel the zeitgeist.

 Are always ahead of the audience and the critics. People are confounded by artists who do something for the very first time.

 Don't stay in their niche.

 Are people first, not factories.

 Are tuning forks. Their goal is to have their work resonate with the public.

 

Don't change based on blowback or criticism. You must have a strong heart and ego to pursue artistry. As soon as you blink, you're done. And the audience is unpredictable. Give people what they say they want and they often reject it. The artist wags the tail of the audience, not vice versa.

 Is not a business, man. Unless their business is business.

 Focuses on their art to the exclusion of almost everything else. They must do this. They have to surround themselves with people who get it/them. Because when the inspiration strikes, you've got to be able to work. And you oftentimes work at strange hours, when everybody else is already asleep, because you need to get rid of interruptions and the noises in your head to lay it all down.

 Know the difference between selling and creating.

 Is looking for a manager who will pave the way, obliterate distractions, convince intermediaries to allow the artist to do their thing.

 Are abused. Because the artistic personality doesn't fit in with regular society. The key is to have enough success to do it your way and only your way. To exclude the audience completely is unacceptable avoidance. The artist's goal is to influence society, but this can only occur when there is intersection of the two. Sure, you can cut off the outside world, but this only works if you don't complain about the lack of attention and money.

 

 

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RayJ

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Very interesting! Thanks for sharing Mike. Lots of food for thought there. May take a while to digest but in general, I agree that the defining characteristics as outlined seem apt.
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Mike Powers

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Reply with quote  #3 
Hey guys - don't be afraid to disagree. There could be a productive discussion here.

Mike
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chris w

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Reply with quote  #4 
Most of these are more true than not, I guess, but I'm also wary of absolutes like...

"Acts on inspiration, not desperation."
"Runs on emotion, not intellect."
"Doesn't self-judge based on the money they make."
"Is inherently tortured."
"Don't change based on blowback or criticism."

... that seem to romanticize Artists and remove them from the ordinary flow of humanity. People (artists included) act from a variety of motivations, run on a variety of processes, sometimes judge themselves for things they shouldn't, respond to the judgments of others in different ways at different times (sometimes blowback and criticism are valid and persuasive!), are sometimes tortured (sometimes tortuous) and sometimes not, etc.

Generalization are easy to make, and worth distrusting for that very reason.

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Robin Dawes

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Reply with quote  #5 
With very few changes, I think most of these could be used to define "scientist"  and "philosopher".

Does that suggest that these three ways of life (and perhaps others) are all expressions of the same fundamental human drive to discover and create?
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Mike Powers

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Nice Robin! Worth contemplating.

M
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RayJ

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Quote:
Originally Posted by chris w
Most of these are more true than not, I guess, but I'm also wary of absolutes like...

"Acts on inspiration, not desperation."
"Runs on emotion, not intellect."
"Doesn't self-judge based on the money they make."
"Is inherently tortured."
"Don't change based on blowback or criticism."

... that seem to romanticize Artists and remove them from the ordinary flow of humanity. People (artists included) act from a variety of motivations, run on a variety of processes, sometimes judge themselves for things they shouldn't, respond to the judgments of others in different ways at different times (sometimes blowback and criticism are valid and persuasive!), are sometimes tortured (sometimes tortuous) and sometimes not, etc.

Generalization are easy to make, and worth distrusting for that very reason.



The third item is interesting. Does it mean they don't care about money at all? Many artists relied on patrons for their livlihood and most of us have heard the phrase "starving artist."

Many famous artists died peniless. Shame that they struggled while years after their death their works sell for a fortune.

http://www.mattpecson.com/blog/2016/5/25/10-artists-who-died-penniless
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Senor Fabuloso

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Artist:
1a : one who professes and practices an imaginative art
b : a person skilled in one of the fine arts
2 : a skilled performer especially : artiste
3 : one who is adept at something con artist strikeout artist (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/artist)

Beyond that, an artist is one capable of moving others through the senses, without violence or weaponry. Emotional movement coherst through metal stimulation, to be more exact. And yes that would include educators, clergy and motivational speakers,

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"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." ( A lesson from childhood often missed or ignored.) Your opinion, may be met with one of equal disdain?
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Bill Guinee

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Thanks Mike for posting this. Unfortunately, it seems to me to be far more prescriptive than descriptive of artists. The author wants you to be a certain way and claims that therefore that is what an "artist" is (knowing the valorization of the term "artist"). The definition is then a  stereotypical depiction of a self-centric, emotion-driven, outsider, who is relatively incompetent in materialist matters and considers them beneath him and has no respect for tradition. The whole thing seems to be a totally western depiction based primarily on conceptions of the artistic that were driven by the romantics.
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Mike Powers

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I think Lefsetz's goal was just to be provocative. I think Bill's characterization as "more prescriptive than descriptive of artists" is correct. He's saying "if you call yourself an artist, this is how you should be." You don't have to adhere to his "prescriptive" tenets to be an artist.

Many of the prescripts could be boiled down to the notions of "don't be a follower" and similarly "don't be a conformist" and "don't sell out."

Your art is your way of expressing yourself. When a painter paints is he or she painting what they hope people will like? If so, I think they become a craftsman rather than an artist. It's easier to make a living as a craftsman than as an artist. I think an artist hopes to have an audience. But ultimately isn't driven by that desire.

After this thread runs its course, we should open a thread on "what is art?" That should really provoke some interesting posts. There's a great audio recording of Joseph Campbell addressing this topic. He invokes Thomas Aquinas's and James Joyce's ideas in this regard. I have a transcript of it somewhere, but the recording is much better. 

Mike


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Mbreggar

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Thanks for this Mike.
Ironically, I too have been thinking a lot about this subject over the last year.

Last November, I lost my Mom. She was a professional sculptor (self-taught too!) During her active sculpting years, I never really understood how she did what she or what was at the core of her motivations to create the pieces she created. They started as rough blocks of marble and months later became these  beautiful, curvy, abstract, Brancusi-like works of art. In our world, think of rolls of paper being readied for the printing press in Erlanger, Kentucky that then magically become a sealed deck of Bicycle cards.

What IS that magic that happens in-between? How does that paper become a pristine, cellophane-sealed deck?

I usually thought of the saying attributed to DaVinci (highly paraphrased): I see the image in my head of want I want this marble to become. Then I chip away everything that isn't.

After Mom passed away, the answer finally hit me. Artists think differently than other people. They see the world differently. It's almost binary: things that are "beautiful" and things that are not. The untouched block of marble is not "beautiful". The artist's job is to chip away at it until what remains IS beautiful. The purpose of the artist in society, therefore, is to create or embellish "beauty" (however it is defined), by eliminating ugly.

Perhaps I am reading way too much into all of this. But it has given me a whole new perspective on what anyone calls "art".

I just wish Mom was still around to discuss this idea.


-- michael
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RayJ

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mbreggar
Thanks for this Mike.
Ironically, I too have been thinking a lot about this subject over the last year.

Last November, I lost my Mom. She was a professional sculptor (self-taught too!) During her active sculpting years, I never really understood how she did what she or what was at the core of her motivations to create the pieces she created. They started as rough blocks of marble and months later became these  beautiful, curvy, abstract, Brancusi-like works of art. In our world, think of rolls of paper being readied for the printing press in Erlanger, Kentucky that then magically become a sealed deck of Bicycle cards.

What IS that magic that happens in-between? How does that paper become a pristine, cellophane-sealed deck?

I usually thought of the saying attributed to DaVinci (highly paraphrased): I see the image in my head of want I want this marble to become. Then I chip away everything that isn't.

After Mom passed away, the answer finally hit me. Artists think differently than other people. They see the world differently. It's almost binary: things that are "beautiful" and things that are not. The untouched block of marble is not "beautiful". The artist's job is to chip away at it until what remains IS beautiful. The purpose of the artist in society, therefore, is to create or embellish "beauty" (however it is defined), by eliminating ugly.

Perhaps I am reading way too much into all of this. But it has given me a whole new perspective on what anyone calls "art".

I just wish Mom was still around to discuss this idea.


-- michael


Michael, I feel you.  Both of my parents are gone and I cannot tell you how many times I wish I could show them something, ask their advice on something or whatever.

I am content in knowing that BECAUSE I long for that it means that they were special to me and I to them and that our relationship was solid.  For many that is sadly not the case.

So as bad as it hurts sometimes, consider yourself blessed.  

Regarding art, it is funny how it presents sometimes.  While DaVinci was talented at many things, many have singular abilities.  I have a daughter who can mold things out of clay and create very intricate, realistic replicas.  She made a tray with a hamburger, french fries and drink that was about two inches wide and it looked amazing, like a miniature meal.  Give her a piece of paper and pencil and she is lost.  Give her some paints and be prepared for a mess.  I refuse to hand her a chisel!  So it is interesting to me that her skill is so narrowly focused.  She is also a talented singer/songwriter and I am tone deaf, so go figure.  Must be from her mom.


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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #13 
[QUOTE=Mike Powers]I think Lefsetz's goal was just to be provocative. I think Bill's characterization as "more prescriptive than descriptive of artists" is correct. He's saying "if you call yourself an artist, this is how you should be." You don't have to adhere to his "prescriptive" tenets to be an artist.

Many of the prescripts could be boiled down to the notions of "don't be a follower" and similarly "don't be a conformist" and "don't sell out."

Your art is your way of expressing yourself. When a painter paints is he or she painting what they hope people will like? If so, I think they become a craftsman rather than an artist. It's easier to make a living as a craftsman than as an artist. I think an artist hopes to have an audience. But ultimately isn't driven by that desire.

After this thread runs its course, we should open a thread on "what is art?" That should really provoke some interesting posts. There's a great audio recording of Joseph Campbell addressing this topic. He invokes Thomas Aquinas's and James Joyce's ideas in this regard. I have a transcript of it somewhere, but the recording is much better. 

Mike
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
After reading it multiple times and letting it digest I've come to the conclusion that this list is like a lot of lists.  They always have some truth but then they are laced with the author's predisposition about reality.  Whether some of the statements were intended to be provocative or not, some obviously have resulted in strong opinions.

If you want people to stop and think, placing pablum before them is not the way to accomplish it.

So statements are made and sometimes gilded a little in order to evoke responses.  No problem with that so long as it is understood.  I can deal with hyperbole when it rears its head.

Now the big question. 

Do we have any artists among the magic fraternity today?  If so, who?

I can think of one that fits many of the stated characteristics, Dai Vernon.

From the accounts I've read, he was at various time of his life, living by a thread financially.  He apparently had patrons or benefactors at some points.  But many times he had to take jobs cutting silhouettes to make ends meet.  The one time he did apparently take a "grown up job" in construction he was badly injured and never returned to it.

He just didn't seem "cut out" for ordinary work.  Pun intended.

His artistic nature was revealed not only in his magic, but in his silhouettes and apparently in his desire to play piano.

There were times in his life where he was singularly driven to track down any and all methods of manipulating the pasteboards, gambling-related or not.

The fact that he was not a good husband or father is more evidence of putting his passion for magical pursuits ahead of most everything else.

Vernon met a lot of the criteria, certainly not all I'm sure, but a lot.





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Anthony Vinson

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Reply with quote  #14 

When it comes to art, isn’t it, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder?

Many of the items listed make sense to me. Many do not. For me, an artist is one who creates art. Too simplistic? Too bad. Artists are driven to make art, and no list of rules is universal. Creating such lists, while potentially artistic, is primarily an act of intellectual onanism. Artists are as different as snowflakes, as are their inspirations and mediums. Artists not only create; they also synthesize and amalgamize. They make art, and they make it their own way and in their own time. Some artists’ contributions are not recognized or fully appreciated till they’re gone.          

There’s an old saw about the definition of insanity: doing things the same way and expecting different results. Personally, I see that as the definition of humanity. Artist, they break that mold. They make the world right and beautiful and expose us to truths that might otherwise go unnoticed and underappreciated. Artists give of themselves so that the rest of us might have the opportunity to grow, to see, and to live.

We’re all artists, it’s just that most of us fail to create, and that’s too bad.  

Av

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Mike Powers

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Reply with quote  #15 
From the descriptions from Michael and Ray of their family members who created art, I get the sense that they created what they wanted to create and then put it out there for everyone to see. That's authenticity in art. Campbell says that all advertising art is "pornographic" in the sense that it is intended to create desire - the desire to purchase. "Wow - look at that. I need that."

Proper art in Campbell's meaning grabs the onlooker and puts them into a state of "aesthetic arrest (Campbell's term)." In many ways that's what magic does. Blam - ego loss, aethetic arrest, wonder, astonishment. I recall entering a new room at the Cleveland Art Museum. There in front of me was a huge painting by Salvador Dali. It took my breath away. I was definitely in a state of "aesthetic arrest" for an unknown amount of time. There was nothing else in the universe except that painting. It was just one thing without parts. After the initial experience wore off, I began to look at various parts of the painting. But during the experience of aesthetic arrest, there were no parts. It was one thing. Aquinas calls this "integritas" which basically means "wholeness."

Campbell fleshes out the three qualities that he says are required (by Aquinas) for something to be "proper art."

I'll try to upload a link to a short recording of Campbell later. It's part of a longer lecture.

Mike


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Mike Powers

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Reply with quote  #16 
Here's a link to a five minute audio recording from a larger Campbell lecture:  LINK TO CAMPBELL

Mike
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Mike Powers

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Here's a link to a transcript of a full lecture on The Way of Art:  LINK TO TRANSCRIPT
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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #18 
I think it is interesting sometimes to compare and contrast.  To take things and use them to gauge other things.  So I am going to do that with pornography.  We're probably all familiar with what  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said in his 1964 Order that he could not use words to describe pornography but "I know it when I see it."

Is art the same?  You just know it when you see it?  How about dogs playing poker?  What about a velvet Elvis?  Are they art?  Is it like AV suggested that it is in the eye of the beholder?
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Mike Powers

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Reply with quote  #19 
Applying Campbell's principle that proper art should create aesthetic arrest, it's clear that any given piece of art will likely have different effects on different people. Some might be disgusted by the Dali that so captivated me. For me it would be proper art. For the disgusted person it would be improper art. 

Another way to view the proper/improper dichotomy is to ask what the artist is trying to do. With advertising art, the goal is to create desire on the part of the onlooker. However, I'm sure there are examples of such art that would simply grab me and put me into aesthetic arrest. I might be immune to the goal of the artist and just see it as proper art. BTW the term "improper art" should not be taken as a negative. It seems to imply that something is wrong or bad. But it's just a term used to distinguish one type of art from another. Just like the term "irrational number" or "complex number" shouldn't conjure up feelings that go with the terms "irrational" and "complex."

Mike


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Bill Guinee

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Reply with quote  #20 
Forgive me for allowing the anthropologist in me to come out, but I have a (perhaps pedantic) point to make that there is no such thing as art or an artist outside of cultural definitions. For example, some of the common threads that seem to exist in these posts are that artists are individual and original. But, these are culturally valorized traits. In some cultures, individualism is linked to selfishness and one ideally sees himself as primarily a part of a group or a society. Similarly, originality can be seen as a lack of appreciation and understanding of tradition. So, for example, in many Pueblo Indian societies, the greatest artist is the one who can most successfully replicate the traditional art object exactly as it is supposed to be. He or she needs to clear their individual ego out of the way and strive for perfection in replication. And they consider that to be true art. All conceptions of the artist as an individualist, innovator, outsider, sufferer, etc. are simply cultural constructions. One of the most amusing aspects of this is that American artists (for example) accepting these definitions frequently strive to display how individual they are - in this, they completely conform. It reminds me of when the incredible tattooing fad was catching on. I asked my students why they were all getting tattoos and they told me it was to express their individuality. It is like the wonderful film "The Life of Brian" when the mob shouts as one "Yes, We are all Individuals." And then one lonely voice says "I'm not."
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Mike Powers

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Reply with quote  #21 
There's always the trap of conforming to non-conformity. 

Points well taken about the cultural issues re: art and artists. Very interesting info.

Campbell, of all people, is hyper-aware of cultural differences and similarities. I think one of, if not his main interest, was in myths and archetypes that seemed to pop up in many (all?) cultures e.g. the trickster, the hero et al. I think that his conclusion, having found myths and archetypes to be sort of universal, was that these images are not cultural. They're embedded in our human DNA.

His foray into defining art is very western, though. His study of James Joyce gave him the background on Joyce's definitions and concepts. I think Joyce used Aquinas's ideas too. Very western thinking. I'm not sure if he integrates eastern and other modes of thinking into this.

Thanks for pointing out the cultural component.

Mike
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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #22 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Guinee
Forgive me for allowing the anthropologist in me to come out, but I have a (perhaps pedantic) point to make that there is no such thing as art or an artist outside of cultural definitions. For example, some of the common threads that seem to exist in these posts are that artists are individual and original. But, these are culturally valorized traits. In some cultures, individualism is linked to selfishness and one ideally sees himself as primarily a part of a group or a society. Similarly, originality can be seen as a lack of appreciation and understanding of tradition. So, for example, in many Pueblo Indian societies, the greatest artist is the one who can most successfully replicate the traditional art object exactly as it is supposed to be. He or she needs to clear their individual ego out of the way and strive for perfection in replication. And they consider that to be true art. All conceptions of the artist as an individualist, innovator, outsider, sufferer, etc. are simply cultural constructions. One of the most amusing aspects of this is that American artists (for example) accepting these definitions frequently strive to display how individual they are - in this, they completely conform. It reminds me of when the incredible tattooing fad was catching on. I asked my students why they were all getting tattoos and they told me it was to express their individuality. It is like the wonderful film "The Life of Brian" when the mob shouts as one "Yes, We are all Individuals." And then one lonely voice says "I'm not."


Interesting point.  I suppose there are many cultures in the world where there is nobody that meets the "definition" of artist as laid out in the original post.  Interesting also that what would pass for art in one culture would be considered a negative thing in another.

Reminds me of the awesome movie, History of the World Part One, where the critic urinates on the cave paintings. 

We've been focused on artists and art and haven't even begun to cover critics! 

BTW, we all have unique backgrounds, education and expertise.  I'm glad you decided to weigh in with your anthropological bent.
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Mbreggar

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Reply with quote  #23 
...hey, RayJ... don't piss all over "Dogs Playing Poker"!!!!

That IS art!


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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #24 
I'm holding out for cats playing roulette.
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