Sunday, May 31, 2015

Writing about Death

I face Death daily
One of the topics I'm covering in FibroShark Hungry is facing the prospect of death. This is a pretty uncomfortable subject for pretty much anyone, but it would, let's say unhelpful, to leave Death out of a book about self-advocacy for people with chronic illness.

One aspect of able-bodied privilege has been cleverly described as "the headache you don't know you don't have", but another, hushed-up aspect is that when you have a chronic illness chances are good that you're going to have to face that illness until you die.

Having a chronic illness means that, unless there's a cure that has zero side-effects and provides 100% remission of all symptoms for the rest of your life; you're never going to get better. If your illness or condition is degenerative, it will progressively get worse until you die. If your illness is terminal, it will most likely be the cause of your death.

I must include these facts in the book because facing Death is the only way to make it less scary. I think that's part of why the late Terry Pratchett included the anthropomorphic character of Death in virtually every book he wrote. Death is an inescapable part of life. And it's one of the scarier aspects of having a chronic illness.

Since I was a teen, I've moved thru my life with Death as an adviser. I read a quote from the Dalai Lama on how he meditates on Death 13 times a day. It was a morbid time in my life, so I thought it was really cool that the spiritual center of my rebellious years* was so thoughtful on the subject. It wasn't until over a decade later that I fully realized the meaning of His Holiness' contemplation of no-longer-living.

Death doesn't have an agenda. It just happens. Everyone dies. You will die. The people you love will die. The Earth will die. The Sun will die. Every cell that ever divided, ever atom that ever collided. Life is impermanent. The only thing any of us is guaranteed is our current exhalation.

That's some heavy shit for what is effectively a comic book.

But it's a giant part of being sick. And I'm grateful to have my illness slow me down to the point where I must face my own mortality because when I look Death in the skull, I can see what's really important in my life. Those things which are real, and permanent - & frightening.

And extremely difficult to articulate.

*Yes. My form of rebellion was to dig so deeply into Buddhism that my first tattoo was a meditating Sidhartha Gautama Buddha.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

News, middle of May

Self-portrait with hearts on a Monday
Alright, what's new...

  • Studio update
  • FibroShark Hungry update
  • PianoTime?
  • Exploration of watercolor for fun & prophet
  • A bit about my health, in case you're worried
If you're not following Setzer Studio Arts on Facebook & Instagram, why not? You can also check out FibroShark on Facebook.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

All things strive

"Primordial Desire" in progress...
I have a bit of a thing for pianos - I always have - & that's made more dramatic & exciting by having a sweetie* who matches my artistic enthusiasm with his own; & who has been playing piano since probably before he could even reach the pedals.

So, naturally I'm working on a proposal for this paint-a-piano public art thing. I've gotten the concept boiled down to something solid that is in-keeping with my overall body of work**, & my concept piece (at right) is nearly finished. I even have some ideas of how I'd be able to make this whole thing a reality if my project is chosen.

I'm just having a hard time writing the proposal. I know that I'll find the words & put them together in something-approaching the right order, but I'm frustrated by the entire thing. I can't give up tho, because now this project is in me, & eventually it's going to need to reach fruition or I will go quite insane.

The Kabbalah teaches that the universe was created by g-d having so much love that They exploded, & that the entire purpose of existence is to get back to that point of wholeness. All things strive to put g-d back together. This is the back-story for the concept of my piece. The story I want to tell by painting a piano, is that we're all drawn to things which will allow us to manifest love & creativity because we're all made of that same stuff which allows for those things in the first place. And eventually, we'll all melt back into that primordial desire.

Maybe that's too high a concept for a public art piece. I guess I'll find out when I hear back on my proposal.

And anyway, chances are good I'm just going to keep submitting the same packet to these paint-a-piano public art things (there are apparently a lot of them) until someone gives me a piano to paint.

*In this instance I'm using the term "sweetie" very loosely, because words like "friend" & "influence" & "peer" are too cold for the affection I have for this particular person.
**Rather than just being a giant love letter to the above-mentioned reason I don't date musicians.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A relatively simple exercise in context

There's a comic going around the book of faces of a fat woman looking at a Rubens painting & feeling like she's living in the wrong century. As we all know, Rubens is well-known for his voluptuous models painted in what we might now call a photo-realist style. While there's nothing wrong with a person of any size looking to art for validation of their size & acknowledgement of their beauty*, there's a gigantic problem with this approach to art appreciation.

You see, art without context is meaningless frippery. 

When we deny an artist their context, we destroy their work. Take a look at any famous work & try to unknown what was behind it. Just try. You can't. It's impossible. Appreciating art without context is why the average art-looker will stare at a Pollack & mutter "I don't get it" and walk away. But if you explain in an animated fashion (as I am prone to anyway), that Jackson Pollack was a bipolar alcoholic & painted his struggles with reality, suddenly a person is able to go from not getting it to just not liking it.

Let's get a little more political tho.
A viewer standing in silhouette in front of Picasso's most famous painting
Picasso's epic mural Guernica is the only painting of his I even like. For the most part, I despise Pablo (altho, I quote him often enough that you  would never know it), because he was a shallow, abusive, sexist, alcoholic with very few redeeming qualities** - however, he was a brilliant painter. The reason I even like Guernica is because it's about the Spanish Civil War, & according to Wikipedia is "one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history." Without that bit of context, you would stand in front of it looking at the technical precision, but would never be able to appreciate the soul of the work. Which, let's face it, is the important bit.

The way we look at art is pretty extreme in its shallowness. I think that's why a lot of people only think about middle-Renaissance work when they think about art appreciation: that's the point in art history where the shallowness of the work is equal to our understanding of it. We appreciate the technical precision. The colors. The composition. And that's all, because that's all there is to it. Yes, works like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are amazing in their magnitude, & with any luck you could find some academic appreciation of it that would provide adequate context to be able to reliably understand the work, but the reason Michelangelo was a genius has little to do with his technical abilities***.

My point here, is that when you look at art you must read the little sign next to it. Maybe you think art should be able to speak for itself, but it can't. Not even the most educated art historian can pull "Spanish Civil War" just from the composition, technical precision, & palate of the piece above. You have to understand something about the world that needed this work before you can actually appreciate it.

As to the comic I mentioned at the beginning of this screed: most Renaissance art is vapid & shallow. The people who painted these works weren't trying to say anything about beauty - if anything, pieces like The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus were exercises in avoiding abject poverty. That, my friends, breeds cynicism.

And cynicism is the most deadly of art's enemies.

*Remember kids, it's what you are like, not what you look like that's important. Pull that beauty from your character not your size, shape, skin color/clearness, or gender presentation. You are so much more valuable than the accidents of genetics that made your physical form. Trust me on this one.
**My opinion, you see. I'm not going to be swayed against it.
***You might be a bit scandalized by this, but he didn't really paint most of that piece. Large scale commissions are why God invented apprenticeships.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Self-care & the working artist

Like you, I grew up with working class parents who instilled in me the following:
No one else is going to do your work, so suck it up & get it done.
It's an admirable value. This value has powered me thru 8 years of (occasionally profitable) self-employment. It's what has enabled me to come back into making art full-time even tho I have a full-time illness as well. However, I sometimes wonder if this "work will make you free" idea doesn't backfire a little on us working-class schlubs. Or maybe that's just a little too political for an art blog*.

My caretakers
But, as a person with a chronic illness, I have to have a pretty regimented self-care routine. Well, I say regimented**, but it doesn't look terribly planned & Prussian from the outside. My body is a war zone half the time - inflammation is attacking different areas (usually my skin & nerves, sometimes muscles), & making my life hell. If I come into contact with a little bit of soy sauce in my curry (because someone had to cheat at Thai food), I'm down for an entire week wishing my insides would just hurry up & get outside.

Being an artist is often difficult to reconcile with a strong work ethic until & unless you're established to the point where you always have some idea of what's going on next. Like any normal person, we have this drive to keep producing; to shut out the world & fill up the page. But add a debilitating condition to that mix & you get restlessness so powerful it might try to invade Poland.

So, I have to stick to a sort of plan. This week that meant sleeping a lot & binge-watching the X-Files. With sufficient injections of caffeine, I was able to churn out a couple pages for the FSH book, but not much else. When the brain is fogged by pain meds, there's not much you can do - altho that shaming "you better get this done or else" tape seems to be completely unaffected by the psychotropic affects of my pain management routine.

What I'm trying to say here, is that there isn't an update this week because I've been sick. But I wanted to write something so you wouldn't miss my ramblings. You know, because I'm an artist & my ego assumes that you want to have some access to the inside of my head.

*After my father died, I decided to finally let him be right about something & became a communist. If you didn't know that already, we probably haven't actually met.
**Chaotic neutral