Born Under Saturn

SketchbookWhen I was in college, one of my art history professors assigned a book by Margot and Rudolf Wittkower called, “Born Under Saturn: The Character and Conduct of Artists.” I don’t really remember what the book was for, but at the time that I read it, it struck me as an interesting attempt to survey the artistic temperament by looking at the lives of famous artists and attempt to find out if creative artists had to be depressed or distressed in order to create. This book was also the first place I read about the fascinating sculptor, F.X. Messerschmitt. I’ve always been fascinated by ‘outsider’ types, and Messerschmitt (based on what little is known about him) is one of the most interesting of all.

I think the title, ‘Born Under Saturn,’ was supposed to be an astrological reference. The Wittkowers (if I remember right) concentrated mostly on artists of the Renaissance when belief in the Zodiac was probably pretty common and Saturn was supposedly a planet that would influence people to be serious minded, depressed and brooding. And that was one of the assumptions that I have always lived with; I aspire to creativity and I frequently find myself suffering from my own ‘Saturnine’ temperament. I thought it was inevitable that I, a person who identified himself as a drawer of pictures, should suffer from depression and anxiety.

Unfortunately, being depressed isn’t, in my experience, a great spur to creativity. I can’t imagine being an artist in the way that the few successful artists I have met seem go about their daily lives. They seem to love themselves and they seem to love being themselves and they seem to think that everyone else should love them too — and this seems like a good strategy because a good salesman believes in his or her product and maybe a big part of the product, as an artist, is you. And perhaps my stumbling, self-effacing, “ugh I would rather sink into the floor than talk to members of the public” makes me less approachable than someone with a smile on their face who is ready to enjoy the admiration of others and eager to fully embrace the idea that what they have (themselves) is worth having.

Frequently I will sit down to draw something and I will find that I love the process of drawing. I’m shit at drawing from life but sometimes can spend hours with a pen in hand, drawing anything that springs to mind, and for much of that time I manage to forget myself and my anxieties and insecurities. I’m less of a ‘fine artist’ and more of a doodler… which always caused me trouble in art school where many of the people you need to please have specific ideas of what successful art is or is not. And, considered objectively, the people who wanted me to give up doodling and start drawing were probably right — the kinds of drawings that my more successful classmates produced look like what most people would recognize as art. What I produced really looks more like what a bored office worker might produce with ballpoint and memo pad in an overlong meeting… or medieval marginalia… or the ‘Sergio Aragones’ drawings I remember seeing jammed into the margins of Mad Magazine. Sometimes I think my going to art school was both inevitable and a mistake.

As a high school student I had no idea what I would do with my life. I liked to draw — sit me down with pencil and paper and I was never bored — but what I drew (monsters, beheadings, rocket ships crashing into the sides of monsters that were as large as a moon, etc), was puerile and self-indulgent. Among my peers I had certain notoriety as ‘the artist’ and when someone needed something drawn they often came to me. In the sheltered environment of high school and junior high I was considered talented. Then I landed in college. With my horrible grades, I barely got in… and once I got in I discovered that I was just another middle/rear of the pack slogger with neither the raw talent nor the drive to pull ahead. I didn’t even have what a few of my classmates had – the charisma to do very little but be charming while doing it. Everyone else seemed to have some combination of greater reserves of talent, drive or moxie. In class I became painfully aware that most of my interactions with my teachers consisted of the instructor looking at my work and giving me advice on how I could perhaps ‘salvage’ it so it was not a complete failure. In one year I went from ‘the talented artist of high school’ to just another average to below-average student. And discovering this was a big blow to my already fragile ego. I felt like a fraud and a failure. I still feel like a fraud and a failure.

But while I make my drawings, I am distracted… at least for as long as I am drawing. Convincing myself to pick up the pencil and get to it is usually a struggle, but once I manage to start on a drawing I am usually OK, at least for as long as I am drawing. Unfortunately, afterwards I usually hate what I produce. There are occasional good bits. I’ll draw something and enjoy how it looks, sometimes for a day, sometimes longer… but after that the nagging doubts creep in and I find myself cursing my laziness, my lack of talent, the poor choices I made early in the composition or with the choice of subject matter, etc. I’m the anti-Midas because I feel like everything I touch turns to shit.

I know I’m not entirely right in the head. I feel that I don’t have any perspective when it comes to judging my own successes or failures – I can’t be objective. And at this point I realize that maybe that is just how it is. I think we all like to believe that change is possible, but the longer it goes on the more unlikely it becomes. I suppose it is possible that I could conquer my self-esteem issues and become a happy, motivated, well-adjusted artist. But I’ve been struggling with them for so long that think it is unlikely that I will.


Google Glass

These idiots are going to cause a lot of traffic accidents.

You have heard about ‘Google glass,’ right?  If you haven’t, it’s a tiny computer with a heads up display, camera and earpiece that you wear like a pair of glasses. It reads texts to you through the earpiece, can follow voice commands and can show you images via the heads up display. People are already at work on facial recognition aps and other functions that make this the smartphone that you wear rather than carry. It will photograph whatever you are looking at if you say, “OK, Google, take a picture.” Google is trying to make the computer as natural an extension of your body without putting it IN your body as current technology allows.

I’m surprised they didn’t call it ‘Google goggles’ or ‘Googgles’ or something like that.

Maybe I’m just a cranky old man, but I hate it already and think it’s fucking creepy to have a computer/smartphone/texting device that is always on my head and shows the world absolutely everything I see and is constantly whispering in my ear or showing me pictures so I never need to be alone ever again. I predict that the world will soon be divided between the ‘googlers’ who are constantly sharing absolutely everything they do and see and hear and the rest of us who don’t give a shit. Plus the googlers will wear their stupid devices while they drive or walk and probably swerve all over the place and run into the rest of us who aren’t simultaneously travelling AND surfing the fucking web or texting on our eyeballs at the same time.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin dialed the creep factor up to 11 when he said, “It’s really a device that wants to be outdoors, wants to be outside, wants to be with family and friends…”  Really? This device “wants” things? I want things like chicken… and when I get chicken, my dogs make it clear that they want chicken, too, and that seems perfectly natural to me… but I’m just not ready for a computer or smart phone or tablet or wearable computer goggles that wants things, too. There is entirely too much ‘wanting of things’ going on… and now that the purveyors of technology are claiming that things are starting to want things too, I’m about ready to say, “Enough, already” and go live in a cabin like Ted Kaczynski.

EDIT: Google Glass is also a device that does not want to be sold or shared. Not only has Google restricted early sales of the device to people who have made a compelling public pitch as to why they should be deemed worthy of owning the device, but, if you should be so lucky as to be ‘allowed’ to buy a pair of the cyber goggles, you are forbidden to sell, loan or give them to anyone else. Welcome to the brave new world where corporations are people and objects can tell their ‘owners’ the terms of ownership.

Living the Dream

OK, so recently we were in Miami and we went to a coffee shop/restaurant for lunch.*  This was a tiny place with tables and a counter with baristas, a stove, espresso machine and a cook all packed in tight behind it, everyone working ass-to-elbows.  It was clean and the food was good, but Miami is full of good restaurants so competition has got to be fierce and margins are probably pretty thin.  It was lunchtime but the place was half empty. Hopefully they do better on a week day when the people who work in the area want a bite for lunch.

An  older guy came in with two teenage girls; I assume they were his daughters.  The girls had long hair and were stylishly dressed; they headed right out to the patio to sit in the shade as the man placed their orders. He had a big watch, a tennis player’s tan, polo shirt with collar flipped up, Aviator sunglasses and a gold chain peeking out from a nest of graying chest hair — looked like he had money. He had what I call ‘puffy’ hair; like the dad from The Brady Bunch.  He was one of these guys who spoke too loudly and was too familiar with people he had just met.  In a voice obviously meant to be heard by all, he declared that he had just arrived in Florida from ‘up North.’

“Welcome to Miami,” the man at the counter replied.

“Oh, I live here every winter,” the man replied. “I have two houses. We live up North in the summer and then come down to our house in Florida in the winter.”

The man was boasting, so I guess the barista felt he should admire his customer’s good fortune. “I would love to be wealthy enough to have two houses,” the worker at the restaurant said.  It was clear that he was an immigrant; probably Cuban.

“Yes,” the rich man with the banker’s haircut said. “I’m living the American dream! When I was a younger man, I decided I wanted a Ferrari… but just wanting a Ferrari isn’t good enough; you have to decide you NEED a Ferrari. So I decided I NEEDED a Ferrari. Then I was motivated to work very hard and make a success of myself.” All of this was delivered in a self-satisfied, much too loud voice, with the clipped, staccato delivery of someone who was very used to being listened to.  Then he said the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.  He looked at the Cuban kid who might have been an employee or an owner of the restaurant/coffee shop, but in any case was a person who probably had to work pretty hard to get by and said, “I’m living the American dream so that YOU can dream it.” As if his being rich was good for everyone else who wasn’t rich just because, well, it gave the rest of us poor slobs something to aspire to. How generous of him. To live our dreams for us.

*This ain’t journalism. Everything happened like I describe it, but I didn’t hear it all and I’m not sure that I have all of his quotes absolutely word-for-word (although “I’m living the American dream so you can dream it” is a direct quote — Annie heard that part). But rather than filling you in on what parts I heard and what parts she heard, I just went with ‘we.’ Less accurate but better writing.