Laurie Anderson 2012: ‘An Artist-in-Residence in Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court…’

Experimental artist Laurie Anderson has broken and blurred all sorts of boundaries, ‘rules’ and perceptions of what music, art, technology, narrative, performer and audience are. Almost forty years after her groundbreaking entry into, for lack of a better term, multimedia performance art and storytelling, she continues to explore and evoke and create. And communicate.

In late May 2012, she gave the commencement address to the (lucky) graduating students of The School of Visual Arts at Radio City Music Hall. Here are a few of her thoughts from that commencement ceremony address.

“I think there should be an artist-in-residence in Congress, an artist-in-residence in the White House, an artist-in-residence in the Supreme Court. Artists have a unique point of view, and why isn’t that a part of the bigger picture in our country?”

She added, “Meanwhile, here’s something to keep in mind. No one will ever ask you to do the thing you really want to do. You’ve got to take my word on this; do not, do not wait for this to happen. It will never happen. Things will happen to you, but this will never happen. So just think of what you’d like to do, what you dream of doing, and then just start doing it.”

 The video starts at the 14:40 mark, but there are little jewels sprinkled throughout for artists of any age, any nationality, any level of achievement, any discipline. If you have the inclination to check out the whole thing, it’s a wonderful talk, replete with her characteristic succinct and witty observations, as well as a little mini-performance at the end. If you’re pressed for time, just watch the first few minutes from where the video is cued up to and then jump ahead to 29:35 where she talks of redefining what it means to be an artist, makes note of how in a world of rapid change that nowadays one career or one path is no longer the norm or even possible, and offers some tips for artists and non-artists alike to keep in mind as they journey through life.

Laurie Anderson 2012; still inspiring, still exploring.

cross-posted at lifeismelody.com

Creativity and the Lightbulb Moment; Where Do Ideas Come From?

I’ve always liked the image that cartoonists and writers have used to signify a new idea or inspired solution; the thought bubble with the lightbulb aglow. I wonder how the cartoonists handled it before Edison. Maybe they used imagery like a match lighting or the ‘ding-ding’ of a bell or a prospector striking gold.

Something occurs to us all of the sudden, whether it’s regarding a musical impasse we’ve been puzzling over recently or an unfinished Great Idea that’s been lying dormant for a few years. We have our “Eureka!” moment and finally get to write the ending to our unfinished lyric or story, find the perfect bridge for the middle of a song, come up with a great idea for a new business or invention, or stumble upon an untried approach to a pressing societal need.

Even finding creative “A-ha!”s for more everyday matters such as how to remodel the living room, think outside the box on a work assignment, or combine the pantry contents into an imaginative improvised meal, creativity and those moments of inspiration can strike at any time in tasks both large and small. Where do the ideas come from? How does the brain navigate through the possibilities and then select the one that seems most appropriate? What makes a good idea and what happens in the brain during those lightbulb moments? Here’s author Steven Johnson’s entertaining animated take on it:

cross-posted at Life Is Melody.

You might not get back…to the Muse

Some writers and lyricists have a muse; others just go solo or have a co-writer to bounce things off of and consider the process a much more practical and grounded affair than do the muse-poets. Some only write when inspiration strikes or they feel compelled to do so; others adhere to a schedule. For myself, I’ve found that the writing music bit has worked well using just about any method, but the writing of many lyrics and spoken word pieces has actually been a muse-assisted process, and I’ve never really been certain how much of it to attribute to the relationships first described by Robert Graves. But by sticking to the habit of writing lyrics and poems only when inspired, I didn’t burn out; forcing words or turning it into a rote process.

Sure, I would always jot down good ideas or lines when they appeared, and could obviously finish up a piece that was mostly done when not feeling the ‘connection’ to an external source. But for what felt like more serious endeavors, especially multi-hour writing sessions once or twice a year, there did seem to be someone or something that would kind of ‘hold the door open’ across the Arch for my imagination. Then it was all up to my felt-tip pen to madly scribble it all down before the curtain closed.

Many times the inspiration, or fuel, was my earthly muse; and that (devotional?) mindset combined with the poet’s sharp eye in some kind of intense primitive or pre-Bakti ritual. It was pretty amazing; some of those days I cranked out four or five completed song lyrics and three or four spoken pieces in their entirety in one sitting. It really felt like a not-just-me experience, and many of those songs ended up being among my best ever, without having to add or edit a single word. Other days, you’d struggle just to get a decent verse or song title. So I don’t think people can just dismiss the muse-poet theory out of hand, but it’s obviously not how everybody works.

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Experiments in Writing and Recording Music; intro

If no one ever experimented or tried new stuff out, we’d be a sorry lot living in caves with bare walls throwing rocks at animals to get ourselves dinner. No bows and arrows, no wheels, no electricity, no computers, no space travel, no web conference calls discussing neutrinos, no s’mores. There’s also a lot of utter crap we wouldn’t have to deal with as well: pollution, cluster bombs, advanced marketing techniques for someone’s useless trinket, GMO’s in your organic brown rice, PR firms and microwavable s’mores.

This applies to music, arts and philosophy just as much as it applies to technology, science and commerce. There will be inspiring innovations, and there will be crap in its wake as well. The larger point is about moving forward through exploration, curiosity and creativity. You’re not going to learn how to ride a bike until you try; and that includes some scraped knees and elbows along the way. But you’re not even going to be able to do that until someone’s curiosity and ingenuity invents the tires, spokes, handlebars and metallic frame first.

Experimentation in the arts isn’t generally viewed as being as crucial to humanity’s fate as advances in medicine, food development and technology are. C’est la vie. But some of the earliest attempts at communication (and all arts are at their core simply a form of communication), from wall paintings, carvings and music to storytelling, constellations and early attempts at written symbols have generated more than their fair share to our general welfare and advancement. And if you’re an aspiring artist, writer or musician, or even an established pro in the creative arts, at some point in your development you’re going to have to try new things or new ways of doing things as part of the learning process.

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