Monday, May 9, 2016


[cross-posted at Departure]
It appears I departed from this blog many years ago. But today I have been listening to Radiohead's new album, "Moon Shaped Pool," and I felt like I needed to write something down, even if just to mark the occasion for myself.

It's weird: any work of art is a kind of broken conversation in which the artist flings something -- a bit of meaning? -- into the void, trusting that it will be retrieved and that it will signify. When you look at a painting, no pure meaning transfers directly from the painter into your conscious understanding. Instead, you employ your own imagination, intellect, discernment to create your meaning.

Ditto a book, in spite of the illusion that language has intrinsic meaning. The author can pack in all the description, exposition, explanation she wants, but without a reader there are only dead words. This necessarily collaborative feature of art can feel upside down if you think about it enough: In spite of everything an artist brings to his work, it's still the viewer, reader, listener who has the last word. You could say creating and experiencing art involves a kind of power exchange: It is widely understood that "the submissive holds all the power." The artist is Dominant in relationship with the audience, initiating and establishing the terms of engagement. But ultimately inception must submit to perception; the artist is utterly vulnerable, at the mercy of the audience.

Why is listening to Radiohead causing me to think through an obscure theory about audience and perception? I'm not sure, but maybe if I keep writing we can figure it out.

If the artist's vulnerability is key to a power exchange with the audience, this implies a further irony: The better the work is -- the more emotionally exposed, the more honest, the closer to the bone -- the greater the risk, the greater the vulnerability, and thus the greater the audience's power. Shitty, shallow work does not, after all, reveal or expose or risk much of anything, so the audience is just a consumer rather than a collaborator. Listening to "Moon Shaped Pool" I feel a sense of exquisite vulnerability. These songs offer themselves up anxiously in a "low-flying panic attack": Overwhelmingly powerful yet infinitely fragile, they drip quivering into the air around me, their perfection held only by the surface tension.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Emily Dickinson and Visual Art

One of my favorite MSs!
If you're especially attuned to such things, you will have noticed that the title of this site (Tell it Slant) comes from Emily Dickinson ("tell all the truth but tell it slant"). There are a lot of reasons for that, and I don't reckon I'll write a full-on term paper regarding the relevance to me of that line for a discussion of art. But anyway, here's a fun fact: One of my unfinished PhD dissertations was about Dickinson (did I mention I have ADD? Look! A rabbit!). And in the course of not finishing that project, I learned that I agree with the experts who were saying that Dickinson was very intentional in how she presented her poems on the page -- that the visual aspects of the work were crucial, and standard print publication did not do justice to her choices.

There are some very good articles and books showing examples of Dickinson's manuscripts and discussing their visual impact. But I was delighted this morning to discover that the visual artist and poet Jen Bervin has done very interesting large-scale work based on the manuscripts, and even awesomer, she and my (non)dissertation director Marta Werner have co-edited a book of Dickinson's amazing fragments, mostly written on envelopes, titled Beautiful Nothings. Coolest of all, you can read about all this in, of all places, THE NEW YORKER! Only the most prestigious Journal in the whole wide world! I mean, dude, they published a letter of mine back in 1995, and sure as shooting, my mother, Peggy, framed that sucker and gave it to me for Christmas. And it was the apex of my writing career.

Go read about it Here.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Catch Up

Holy crap! It has now been, what, nearly three years since I posted on this blog? Well, I guess nothing of substance has happened in that time.

Actually, of course, a lot has. I guess the main thing, with regard to the blog, was that I forgot to renew my registration on, so the stinking registrar put it in domain jail and wanted me to pay some ridiculously high fine to get it out. So I said F that, and I abandoned it. Then the other day the impulse hit me to look it up, and zing! it was available. So I'm back in business.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting in my lovely office at Emory University (where I have worked for the past two years now), and I'm surrounded by quite a number of "cocoon" drawings of the type I was starting to fiddle with when I left off posting here. Some of the ones I posted here are actually in people's homes, as I had a show back in the Summer of 2012 and sold quite a number of them. One -- a painting on the same theme -- is hanging in my boss's office down the hall, and a whopping seven more of various sizes and types are here in my office. Bit of overkill really, but there's enough variety to pull it off.

Last year I also did an exciting commission for some friends (for whom I'd already done a charcoal of their siamese cats looking out the window with a bit of their beautiful condo interior as well as their skyline view in reflection). It was a water color of family cottage in California. Sadly, I did not get to fly out to the Golden State and draw en plein air; rather, I had to work from a collage of many high resolution photographs. But it was a fun project and both I and the clients were happy with the results.

Gosh, I guess that's a full three year's worth of catching up. I can't think of another thing that happened since July of 2011. Here's hoping I have something new to write before 2017!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

European Starling

Graphite and India Ink on Paper
Another sketch diary page -- uploaded this ages ago but forgot to post it. This is mislabeled on the page as an Eastern Starling, when in fact it's really called a European Starling.

India ink does approximate the general look of the thing, but the feathers are iridescent in the light.Very cool in real life.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Graphite on paper
Doing some bird drawings in the old sketch diary these days. This is a song sparrow, similar to the common house sparrow, of which there are many around these parts. We also have a nest of Red-bellied Woodpeckers in our backyard that we've quite enjoyed watching, and a seldom-seen Gray Catbird who comes to our Grape Hollies every now and then. Will soon post a sketch of an Eastern Starling, several of whom stop by  the front yard sometimes. They're pretty common here in Georgia as well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Watercolor and India Ink

16x13, Ink and watercolor on cold press paper
This is a fairly large piece, relative to what I've been doing. It was a bit challenging working on cold press watercolor paper with this particular technique using standard-nib India ink pens because the rough, absorbent surface of the paper is a bit hostile to the fast, precise strokes I need to make. The trick turns out to be to use the back of the paper, which is smoother than the front, and slow the strokes down a bit. Of course the trade-off in favor of the ink means less control with the paint, but it's a swap I can live with.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One year blog anniversary today!

Ink on paper
I realized this afternoon that today marks one year since my first post on this blog. That post included a charcoal drawing of a five year old dancer (below), rendered in a meticulously realistic style. This one here is a funny little drawing I did today in my Moleskin journal while on a conference call. You might say the character of my work has changed a bit over the year.

Might even say the change has been fairly drastic, but I think that stems more from gaps and selectivity in my posting than from any major shifts in my actual art practice. When I look back through my journals and finished work over the past year I can see a gradual and intentional progression from realistic figurative and portrait drawing to the more abstract forms I've been doing these days.

Well, onward and, one hopes, upward. Happy blog day to me!
12x9; charcoal and Conte crayon on paper.
Check out that copyright watermark!
So professional . . .

Monday, February 21, 2011


12x9; Ink and graphite on bristol

I've really been enjoying drawing these simple forms both in my sketch journal and, as above, larger on bristol board.

Here's a smaller one, this time with a bird:
Ink and tinted graphite on paper

Thursday, February 17, 2011

V-Day card

9 x 6 (photo slightly cropped)
Ink and colored pencil on Bristol