Monthly Archives: October 2012

An Artist Statement for Writers

Part 1

Recently, I’ve started looking into grant applications for writers. Nearly all of these require an already-produced body of work, which is unsurprising. What I hadn’t thought about, but what is also quite logical, is the inclusion of an artist statement.

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Most of the information that I’ve been able to find on artist statements focuses on or pertains to visual artists, such as the scaffolding/thought process that Molly Gordon puts together on her website here. I thought hers was an excellent exercise. My only quibble, if you can call it that, is my wish to find something like this tailored for writers. Molly’s outline contains questions about the medium the artist uses, or what tools, or the part color plays in the work.

Despite the fact that I am no visual artist, I went through the exercise myself, and highly recommend it. It helped me open up my mind and explore my thoughts and feelings on my art. (Personally, I have to fight a tendency to begin editing my work almost as soon as I have a sentence or two down on paper or on the screen, which immediately puts up creative blocks and walls in my work before it gets anywhere.) As I did so, I toyed with the idea of re-purposing Molly’s outline for a writer. For example, “selecting materials” pertains obviously to the visual arts: acrylic, oils, stone, textiles, etc. For a writer, it would make more sense to think about what form or genre or type of writing they are focusing on: short stories? creative nonfiction? poetry? novels? memoir? How does the kind of writing affect its structure? “Tools” may be the computer or longhand for a first draft, books as reference or inspiration, note-organizing software, and so on.

Then I thought, if something like that could help me, surely others could benefit from it also. And: surely something like this already exists.

I began searching for an online resource like Molly’s for writers, and I’m still looking. Maybe it’s a search-engine ranking thing, and the search results are keyed into visual arts; perhaps there is something way down in the search rankings that refers to writers, and if so, it’s a crying shame that it’s so well hidden.

Maybe there’s a bias towards explaining the artistic statement to non-writers, because their area of focus has nothing to do with words.

Maybe I’m just not looking in the right place. (Always possible.)

But maybe it doesn’t even matter. Why should that stop me from putting together my own  outline or suggestions for a writer’s artist statement? The fact that one novel exists doesn’t stop the lot of us from writing more. The fact that one short story got written doesn’t mean none of us can ever write another. Talk about throwing up obstacles to creativity.

In Edward Burger’s recent article about the importance of unstructured thinking, he talks about organizing our reactions to ideas into three categories: positive, negative, and interesting. The premise is that we judge an idea, and whether it is a failure, based on a previously conceived notion of what success is, despite the fact that some of the most revolutionary ideas were unintended and unforeseen consequences of something else that “failed.” For me, the artist statement definitely falls into the interesting category. I’m not sure exactly where it’s going to go, and it might end up someplace else (apologies to Yogi Berra).

So in my next post, I’ll share what I’ve come up with — a starting point, a series of ideas around the construction of an artist statement for writers. Your thoughts, and your friends’ thoughts (and the thoughts of your cats and dogs) are welcome. (Just no hairballs, please.)

In parallel with this, I am still on the hunt for resources, exercises, templates, or examples of writer’s artistic statements already available. If you have any links or suggestions, please shoot me an email through this website or leave the information in the comments. The more sources, the better. I’d like to put them together in a follow-up post or otherwise organize them under a resources page (TBD) so that they can benefit other writers.

So let’s get to it! What do you think? Got any ideas about artist statements for writers? I’d love to hear feedback from visual and other artists, too.

I like the rain

(and you do, too. You just don't know it yet)

Why do I do this to myself?

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When I was in New Zealand training for the second women’s team going to the World Ultimate Club Championships in Perth, Australia, we arranged several “training camps” for the members of all our teams (we had five: a men’s, two women’s, a master’s, and a co-rec squad) to actually play together. We had folks from all over the country, both North and South Island, who had no regular opportunity to do so before the tournament. The folks in Christchurch, or Wellington, or Auckland, knew each other pretty well; but the teams were a geographical hodgepodge. Some things we could do remotely, such as logistics and brainstorming plays. But team chemistry really means training and playing together.

And the weather was not cooperating.

The second camp, in Wellington in the winter, was a three-day event. Our time was limited. We didn’t have the option of re-scheduling. Scheduling the original dates had been hard enough. Those of us from out of town flew in on cheap Air NZ flights, and those from Welly hosted all of us — sometimes up to four or five guests — on floors and couches. Together, we contemplated our miserable luck with the weather.

It wasn’t just a little drizzle. This was a decisive, stay-put type of rain. It rained all night before the start of camp, and it was still raining the following morning. The fields were soaked. Nobody wanted to get out of the car, which was where we changed into our cleats, wincing internally about the instant we had to set foot on the saturated ground.

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One of my teammates was a kindergarten teacher in Christchurch. She was cheery at all times, something that appears to be a constitutional requirement of pre-K and grammar school teachers everywhere. As we huddled together in the cold and wet before warmup, she told us about a song she made her moody students sing when faced with nasty weather. “I like the rain,” she said, in a happy sing-song. “I like the rain. One, two, three, four…. I like the rain!”

I felt like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but I kept my mouth shut — until we started our warmups. Up and down and around the fields as we moved more quickly, high stepping and doing cariocas, we chanted as a unit, getting louder as we went. Squish, squish, went our feet, our shoes entirely soaked and our socks as well, sending up sprays of mud onto ourselves and anyone running close by. The rain wet our hair and seeped through our clothes. “I like the rain,” we sang, then shouted. “I like the rain! One, two, three, four! I like the rain!” Our ridiculous behavior did not go unnoticed by the other squads, warming up on adjacent fields. In response, we reacted like any good kindergartners would, prancing and throwing our arms in the air, hamming it up for the crowd.

And a remarkable thing happened. By the time we reconfigured to start drilling our plays, we actually did like the rain.

Strength in numbers.

Some things, we really can’t change. We don’t have any control over traffic lights, if we don’t work in the city department that programs them; we can’t control whether our kids don’t feel well today or whether the grocery store has run out of the most inexpensive brand of butter, or whether our boss is in a lousy mood. Some of us have no control over the heat in our building; and we can’t control the weather. The only thing we have any say over, really, is how we relate to these things. But here’s the dirty secret: relating is contagious.

It’s a good thing, too. Because I’ve chosen to run in the mud again.

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In the next week, I start my first ever writing workshop. It means I’m going — on purpose — to share my work, and not just some finished product, but the bones of my work. It’s a prospect both thrilling and horrifying.

The beauty as well as the yuck of writing is that it requires sinking into my own head. Sometimes it’s glorious, and sometimes the field is soggy and I don’t even want to step out onto it because I know I’ll have wet feet for the next several hours. It’s cold, and my socks will get ruined.

I just need to remember, I’m not alone out there.

Strength in numbers.

One, two, three, four….

I like the rain.

Oh They Could Sell It

An Evening of Song at Denver Public Library

I looked around me.  I kept thinking I was going to make a comment to someone next to me — a friend, or my theater-mad relatives — but of course that wasn’t possible.  I had gone to the show alone.

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Part of the reason for that was I only found out about it approximately twenty-four hours before it was set to take place.  My discovery was a total accident — a concert? at the library?  It would never have occurred to me.

The description sounded like a gas: “songs with the flirt built in.”  The program featured songs from the 30s through the 50s, with lyrics crafted to duck censors and standard bearers of the appropriate.  The setlist (provided below) reveled in examples of bawdy humor and sly digs at the foibles of human relationships.  And best of all — it was free!

It was too outrageous to pass up.

I turned up at the top level of the Denver Central Library early.  Balloons were scattered festively across the floor, and paintings along the gallery walls added to the color (and artistic je ne sais quoi).  A group in period-ready dresses and heels chatted off to the side — these, I presumed correctly, were the performers.  Well — most of them.  A few fashionable ladies broke off from the group later to join us in the audience.  A phalanx of black plastic chairs filled the space that opened from the center of the main gallery, and I easily found a seat.  Had I come much later, it would have been a different story: nearly every seat was taken; of all ages and dressed in all kinds of ways — including the aforementioned ladies in costume solidarity.

The 8 female performers were decked out in a set of amazing ruffles, bodices, and gowns of every description, and the 2 male “backup” singers were resplendent in tuxedos.  All of the ladies (but none of the men) went through costume changes throughout the evening.  I don’t know where — but we were all so distracted by what was happening on “stage” that I suppose they could have swapped kit in the gallery itself and we never would have noticed.  Everybody could sing — or play.  The performance was backed by a band consisting of piano, upright bass/ukelele, and drums.  In keeping with the tenor of the show, which was arranged as one extended series of sketches holding together the musical numbers, the musicians were drawn into and became a part of the performances.

Numbers included sultry songs such as “A Man What Takes His Time,” show tunes, such as “Adelaide’s Lament” from Guys and Dolls, naughty flirts like “Always True to You,” and jazzy numbers like “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” and “When You’re Good to Mama.”  Most of the numbers were solo spots, a few were duets or trios; some had chorus, and a big group number concluded the show: “I’m Tired.”  The audience, though, was definitely NOT tired.  My personal favorite was “If I Can’t Sell It,” a naughty way to play with the paradigm of marriage as a financial transaction between a man and a woman.  That’s right, Mae West!

It’s becoming less and less of a surprise to me, the more performances I see, of any kind, that everyone seems to have so many talents.  Once you get started, it’s contagious, I think.  Singing means dancing means acting means creating stories…

I wasn’t the only one laughing and applauding uproariously throughout the evening, and I wasn’t the only one standing for the ovation at the end, either.  A good time was had by all.

So kudos to the events programming at the library.  The library as performance space — who knew?  But it was brilliant.  And kudos to all the performers, who really threw themselves into it, purely out of joy — their work for the event was all “volunteer.”  A show absolutely worth paying for.

Have you been to any good shows lately?

Setlist for Wink! Songs with the flirt built in:
The Girl in 14G
Come Ona My House
Frim Fram Sauce
A Man What Takes His Time
I Enjoy Being a Girl
Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby
Always True to You
Adelaide’s Lament
One Hour Mama
Whatever Lola Wants
Mambo Italiano
If I Can’t Sell It
Mop Song
My Handyman
Nobody Makes a Pass at Me
When You’re Good to Mama
My Heart Belongs to Daddy
Too Old To Cut the Mustard Anymore
Love For Sale
Glitter and Be Gay
I’m Tired

Vocalists: Jennifer Adams, Marta Burton, Elizabeth Caswell-Dyer, Abbi Chapman, Dee Galloway, Ken Parks, Chuck Stevenson, Nancy Stohlman, Cora Vette, Marnie Ward
Piano: Nick Busheff
Bass and Ukelele: Mike Fitzmaurice
Drums: Ed Contreras
Written and Directed by Marta Burton