Is it “Art”?

Steve MerrymanArt

There are people out there in the world who look down on digital art as though it's somehow "cheating" and not real art. When I tell them I create my paintings on a computer, they do their best to hide their disdain. But I can tell.

I have friends who are artists, and I know they think my art is not legitimate. How do I know? Because they never ask me about it. If they thought it was "real" art, they'd be interested. But they don't ask. Ever. I'm not exactly sure why, but I suspect to their minds, if they were to show interest it would somehow legitimize a form of art they feel lacks authenticity.

To be clear, I don't think digital art should command the same dollar value as traditional art. Obviously, something that can so easily be reproduced is not as valuable as a one of a kind, done-by-hand painting. But that's not what I'm talking about.

Art is not about a dollar value, it's about the act of creation. My digital paintings are as legitimately "art" as a Rembrandt self portrait. I am NOT saying they are as valuable. I am NOT saying they are historically significant. What I AM saying is that both are legitimate artistic human expressions.

Human expression. That's what art consists of - whether created with a finger, a brush, or an electronic stylus.

Is it art? Cartoon

Me

Steve Merryman is a cranky old fart. He writes about things that make him tick, and things that tick him off. You may object to his views; you may think he's a moron; and you might wish to tell him so. In return he would remind you that his lack of concern for your feelings is only exceeded by his indifference to your opinions. Good day, Sir!

Religion is ketchup

Steve MerrymanReligion

In an online article at Quillette, Clay Routledge makes the case “From Astrology to Cult Politics – the Many Ways We Try (and Fail) to Replace Religion.” The main thesis of the article hardly needs explanation (it’s right there in the title).

A large part of the article is a rehashing of demographics with accompanying generalities.

“Nearly one-third of Americans report having felt in contact with someone who has died.”

“The number of claimed ‘haunted houses’ in the United States is growing.”

“Some who reject both traditional and non-traditional supernatural beliefs…”

Etcetera, etcetera.

There’s nothing wrong with citing statistics. They do a fine job of showing where people are at the moment, it’s just they don’t really explain much beyond that.

It’s a snapshot. Not a story.

I got a little frustrated reading these demographic info because I couldn’t find anything to reflect my position, then:

“Some people may be disinclined toward religious-like thinking in all respects, but they are likely an extremely small percentage of the population.”

At last! There I am!

But, like many religiously inclined folk, Professor Routledge can’t leave it there, he must explain away people like me as lacking the self-awareness to realize how religious we really are:

“Instead, most people who imagine themselves as irreligious simply haven’t come to terms with their religious nature.”

Apparently, Professor Routledge is a mind reader who can sense my inner conflicts with his penetrating and oh so sexy gaze.

Prof. Clay Routledge

My inner religiosity laid bare.

He continues:

“They believe that because they have rejected the faiths of older generations that they have no faith at all.”

Hmmm. But maybe they have no faith because they have not only rejected the faiths of older generations, but also the silly superstitions of this modern era like haunted houses, ghosts and magic stones. I mean, if we’re gonna graph this out on a line going from “Belief” to “No Belief”, it should at least be possible that some exist at the far right, in the “No Belief” category, right? Prof. Routledge, being a man of science(?) must agree it’s possible, even if he thinks the probability is low.

“They may simply be unaware of many leaps of faith they regularly take, and misjudging which ones will allow them to generate meaning in ways that allow humans to maintain a healthy harmony between the secular and the sacred.”

Boy, I could have really used an example of a “leap of faith” here. He seems to be making a lot of assumptions in that confusing sentence. He also seems to be asserting that to be fully human, one must have a belief in “something more enduring and meaningful than our brief mortal lives”.

Look, I’m just a dumb artist with delusions of blogging grandeur, so what do I know. But as a definition of religion, “belief in something more enduring and meaningful than our brief mortal lives” seems to set the bar pretty darn low.

I “believe” in the Universe. I “believe” the Universe exists. I “believe” the Universe is more enduring than I. To the extant that anything has meaning at all, the Universe surely has a larger claim to meaning than I. Does all this mean I have a religious belief in the Universe? I don’t think so. But would Prof. Routledge, say that I do, but I’m just too dumb to realize it?

I often wonder why it’s so hard for believers to accept that some of us simply have no belief in any of that stuff. I’m often confronted with arguments like the good professor’s which attempt to assign to me, without any evidence, some level of religious belief in what I can only assume is an effort to define everyone as religious. To me such attempts smell like arrogance and insecurity at the same time, sort of a cross between mothballs and cat poop.

Is it really that hard to imagine someone living outside of religious belief and still experiencing the fullness of humanity? I don’t think religion is the “special sauce” in humanity’s Big Mac. I think it’s more like ketchup. I don’t need ketchup to enjoy my burger, but some people want a little ketchup with theirs, and others want a little beef with their ketchup.

ketchup burger

Religion requires many napkins.

I’m saying religion is a condiment in humanity’s burger (remember, you heard it here first). Professor Routledge seems to want it to be the bun or the burger itself.

This metaphor is making me hungry.

I can’t presume to speak for anyone but myself (Professor Routledge might consider doing so as well), but all this talk of the need for religion strikes me as nothing more than window-dressing for the desire to forget Galileo and return to a heliocentric creation where our actions, our thoughts, and our wishes are the most important and meaningful thing in the Universe.

I just can’t buy into that scenario because based on observation, the Universe appears random and kind of absurd, and we look like happy accidents of nature that are of little or no consequence in the grand scale of time-space. In the end our story will be like Seinfeld: all about nothing.

I don’t see that as negative. I see that as liberating: I get to define my own meaning.

The meaning of my existence is what I say it is, or what I try to make it, and it can be as simple as waking up each day and being a loving and protective husband and father, a good master to my dogs, and endeavoring to be a creative and happy artist. And cheeseburgers. Don’t forget the cheeseburgers. The “grand meaning” of my existence is nothing more than my desire to be present to those I care about and do as much as possible with what I have in the short time I have left.

And to eat cheeseburgers.

Others may be dissatisfied with that, and seek more from life. I wish them well, and hope they find what they’re looking for.

Like every human, I’m a superstitious monkey at times. Despite what Prof. Routledge implies, I don’t embrace superstition. I try to rise above it.

Me

Steve Merryman is a cranky old fart. He writes about things that make him tick, and things that tick him off. You may object to his views; you may think he's a moron; and you might wish to tell him so. In return he would remind you that his lack of concern for your feelings is only exceeded by his indifference to your opinions. Good day, Sir!

It’s not Photoshop, dammit!

Steve MerrymanArt

Today the Bloomsday folks unveiled the 2019 Bloomsday Poster. Yeah, they did a few other things, too. But the poster is what I focus on. Why, because it’s my poster, my concept, and my artwork.

This is the third in a series of four.

This is how I create this series:

  1. In late 2016, I assembled photo references for all four posters, and arranged them into a large group.
  2. I split the large image into fourths.
  3. For each poster, I take the segment for that year and use it as a basis for my sketch. Here’s the preliminary sketch for this year’s poster:
  4. Once the sketch is complete, I work in Corel Painter to establish a color palette and use that palette (mostly) to paint the image.
  5. I then incorporate the artwork into a layout file and send it to a local offset printer.

If my headline sounds a bit testy and defensive, it’s because I constantly have to explain that these aren’t photo manipulations, but honest to gosh digital paintings. It’s not Photoshopped images. It’s not filtered photos. It’s original art created by my hand, painted using digital tools.
I’m tired of hearing how digital art is somehow “not real art”, or that I’m just using photographs and “making them look like paintings”.

Uh… bullshit.

Yes, I use reference photos (photos that I’ve shot myself), as most realist artists do. I even do a little tracing at the outset because it helps speed the process. But after the initial sketch, it’s all painting, and even though my tools are digital, my methods and techniques are based on traditional oil painting processes.

I'm quite pleased with this year's poster. I was even able to sneak a family friend into the group, which will be a fun surprise.

Me

Steve Merryman is a cranky old fart. He writes about things that make him tick, and things that tick him off. You may object to his views; you may think he's a moron; and you might wish to tell him so. In return he would remind you that his lack of concern for your feelings is only exceeded by his indifference to your opinions. Good day, Sir!

Compliment Negation Fixation

Steve MerrymanAttitude

I believe in recycling, but only if it suits me. When I find myself buried in panicked clients and have no time to write a new blog post, recycling an old blog post suits me just fine. So here is an old post that I've enhanced with images and (mostly) proper grammar. Enjoy!

The inability to accept compliments is part of my character. It was bestowed on me by my father, who always assumed a compliment was the prelude to a request for money, or an inconvenient favor.

This inability was often demonstrated to me. When I graduated high school, the principal, noting how involved I had been in school activities, offered his compliments to my parents for raising such a fine son.

Dad's reaction was typical

"He's a dink," he said.

This family trait of negating positive comments came out when I attended a couple days of activities at Central Washington University, including being honored as the Art Department's Distinguished Alumni for the year.

I was honestly confused by the honor, though I did my best to maintain a gracious attitude towards all the genuinely nice people who, for reasons that escape me, seemed to think I was pretty awesome.

Obviously, they didn't really know me.

My biggest fear in such situations is that things will get out of hand and I will let the compliments go to my head and start offering opinions on things with which I have no knowledge or expertise:

  • "Nilla® wafers are the key to long life."
  • "The moon landings were real, but just on the wrong moon."
  • "Never store important data in The Cloud because clouds are made of water and water is bad for electronics."
  • "There's really no way to tell if someone ate asparagus."
  • "If one whiskey is good, just think how good the whole bottle would be."

So it was with some trepidation that I participated in an alumni panel in which we would potentially be asked open-ended questions. Sure enough, one of the questions asked of all the panelists was (roughly), "What can you say to a student that is graduating into a tough market? What can they do to help start their career?"

I kept my mouth shut. Why? Because all day I had been treated like some kind of expert when really all I was doing was reacting as I would normally react and trying not to let on how arbitrary were my opinions. Sure, I can give advice on font choices, colors, and maybe a few headline ideas because that's what I do all day, and those opinions will be colored by my biases and predilections. But just because I'm good at those little things doesn't really qualify me to pronounce, like some swami on a hilltop, life advice to twenty-somethings venturing out into a market that bears little relationship to the one I entered over thirty years ago.

That's the danger of compliments. They make you feel smarter than you probably are, and if you take them seriously, they can get you and others in a lot of trouble.

Earlier in the day, I was told by a nice, elderly lady what an honor it was for me to be selected as a Distinguished Alumni. Immediately alarms went off in my head and I switched into Compliment-Negation Mode. "I think they were at the bottom of the barrel when they got to my name," I told her. "A lot of folks must have said no before they got to me."

Of course, I was kidding. But Compliment-Negation is just the way my mind works. If occasionally I sometimes find myself agreeing that I'm super awesome, I knock that opinion over the head, tie it up and keep it prisoner deep down in a cellar well. Every once in a while I toss it some food, but most of the time it gets the hose.

And I never let it out in public.

Is this Compliment-Negation fixation a bad thing? I don't really know, but it's a large part of the engine that drives my creativity.

Reminding myself how far short I am in talent and ability is how I fuel that engine. Creative insecurity is the name of my driving force. It's weird and sad and, strangely enough, it seems to work. It's got me this far, which isn't all that bad.

In the end, I'm grateful to those at CWU who thought to honor me. Hopefully I can rise to the level such an honor implies.

Now I'm back home in the woods. Hiding from human contact and keeping my raging ego in check.

PS. I do have an answer of sorts to the question posed during the panel. "What can you say to a student that is graduating into a tough market? What can they do to help start their career?"

There is no Recipe For Success. Everyone must eventually find their way on their own. It's scary and exciting, and that's what makes it so rewarding in the end.

While there is no obvious answer, there are, however, some general principles I believe led me to find success in my career. Those principles are:

  • Dedication - I was dedicated to my craft.
  • Obsession - I was obsessed with every detail of the business and art of design.
  • Curiosity - I was interested in learning new things and gaining information.
  • Kindness - I was friendly and helpful to the people I met.

Those four qualities helped me find success in my career. Note I did not list "Talent" because I don't think I'm particularly talented, but I've compensated for it with other qualities.

Me

Steve Merryman is a cranky old fart. He writes about things that make him tick, and things that tick him off. You may object to his views; you may think he's a moron; and you might wish to tell him so. In return he would remind you that his lack of concern for your feelings is only exceeded by his indifference to your opinions. Good day, Sir!