Michael Idlis gets at the real meaning behind happy birthday

Michael Idlis is a good friend. We’ve both been through world-bending trauma in our lives. More importantly, we’re both coming through to the other side.

A couple of weeks ago on my birthday Michael called and left the below message

“I’m so glad you were born, man! I’m so glad you were born!”

Isn’t that what we’re really celebrating on someone’s birthday? Their existence. And the fact they’re in our world.

(Of course, birthdays aren’t needed for this kind of celebration. You can do this any day.)

(Like today . . . 😉


What people don’t know about ‘happy art’

By sculptor Allen Wynn
Seen in Santa Fe, NM today

An artist I met on this epic summer art trek denigrated happy art. This way:

I no longer do happy paintings.

Like it was an evolution above kitsch. As though happy art is something lesser. 
Yet when I think back on the sweep of art history it’s the happy-icity of this past century’s exploration that feels like a casting off of chains.
I can’t think of Matisse or Picasso without feeling surging freedom. The kind of freedom from constraints that comes from those who are ecstatic doing what they’re doing. The way an explosively happy child experiments with abandon.
The Impressionists led the way by doing what felt best, not what looked best.
Haring, Lichtenstein, pop artists of all stripes — they brought happy back. 
What people don’t know about happy art is it’s often a release from suffering. For the creator as well as for the appreciator.
I know an Israeli artist who was dying from a cancer from which she was not supposed to recover. At one point she gave herself over to whimsicality in her work . . . and felt a propulsion of creative elation. She swears it is what cured her.
When I think of the work coming out of Haiti in decades past — bright, festive, vibrant with life — I see a people who refused to fixate on the oppression permeating their days. 
It’s the same with happy art buyers. Often you hear stories of overcoming intense struggle at one point in their lives — are we to condemn them for wishing to populate their environments with work that uplifts?

For you 

Evan Griffith
Click here for (occasional) notes at the intersection of creativity and spirit. 


Things you can do in a van

Somewhere in Middle America
only a dimension away from Middle Earth

I’ve made small talk, I’ve made love, I’ve made money, I’ve made adventure — 

I’ve endured loss, I’ve saved a business, I’ve carried artwork (scads of artwork), I’ve hauled cargo, I’ve moved homes, I’ve helped people with their moves —

I’ve slept in it, eaten in it, road tripped in it, cried in it, yelped for joy in it —

I’ve traversed mountain passes, wound through tight scenic downtowns from yesteryear reinvented for today’s tourists (Bisbee, Taos, Santa Fe, Asheville, Rockport), muscled through many a big city congestion, parked where no RV could fit, napped in Western towns under an unblinking sun, nibbled snacks in Eastern resort spots with the whiff of big water breezing in through the open windows —

There’s no other vehicle on the planet that affords such easy access to such an array of experience.

It’s capabilities are legion. A van is a possibility activator.

For you 

Evan Griffith
Click here for (occasional) notes at the intersection of creativity and spirit. Once a month, maybe.


An artist in Cleveland muses on the years of no selling

A dad in North Carolina let his kids
go wild on the picnic table.
Then sealed it for posterity.


The other day I met an artist in Cleveland I hadn’t seen in person since the crash years. She looked phenomenal for the wear and tear of the previous 7 years.

It’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed. Those who grow from trauma speak with a certain fondness about what they’ve learned. Those who shrivel from trauma curse the fates.

There we were, she and I, discussing how we got through the Great Art Depression. It was the Great Recession to the culture. To the art world it was cataclysmic. Four-fifths of the galleries in our immediate vicinity went belly up. That’s an 80% die-off rate.

Our area was unusual in that it was hit by the recession and the Madoff fraud. The death spiral accelerated faster than in other areas. Still . . .

My artist friend noted she took a part time job.

“Basically, my art wasn’t selling. But I kept painting. It was weirdly freeing. Since no one was buying the art anyway I began to experiment more.”

Commercial pressures didn’t apply anymore . . . which freed her to do work that felt deeper and more rewarding. She drifted away from her previous galleries and toward more urban galleries that felt in line with the new work.

For her, the years of few sales inspired her most satisfying creative evolution since her early days — when she was grappling her way toward a unique artistic vision.

Contrast this with the artists who shut down, who stopped creating. There can be no growth without movement, even if the direction is at first too murky to discern.

If you stop in the dark you stay in the dark.

The dark path always comes out into the light, a sometimes dazzling light. But only if you travel it.

For you 

Evan Griffith
Click here for occasional notes to your inbox on creativity, connection and whee! Once a month, maybe, if you’re lucky.


Fun at any speed

See those ladies above? Minutes ago they were laughing and hooting it up . . . not the teenager kind of whooping it up . . . it was more subdued than that . . . though not by much . . . the point is they were having themselves some serious fun!

This scene is courtesy of a retirement home in Indiana, where Ann’s parents live.

Have you noticed that almost all laughter happens in relation to someone else? 

What makes for laughter? 

Enjoyment, certainly. When you’re with others it’s indicative of a bond. You don’t laugh with those who cause you pain. Nor with those who set themselves apart from you, whether from a sense of false superiority or indifference to your human plight.

Laughter is about connection. And connection is all about acceptance. Of who you are and who others are . . . 

Laughter, like empathy and kindness, bridges the gap between disparate souls.

These ladies, well into their 80s and 90s, make the point that home is where the laughter is. Which can be anywhere you are.

For you 

Evan Griffith
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Elimination: A process that forces you to decide who you want to be

I sparked a conversation thread on Google Plus recently about simplifying by showing a photo of the many bags of clothes my wife is giving away.

It was all about eliminating what you don’t love from your life.

Specifically, recycling clothes and objects from your home to others who would far more appreciate them.

Katherine Bond uttered a poignant comment:

Decluttering is a process of deciding who you want to be.

That’s true insight.

It’s not something we intuit naturally . . . that the process of elimination is like Michelangelo carving (eliminating) stone to get at the purest form possible.

Want to get at a purer version of you? Pick something up that no longer serves you . . . and donate it. Donate a bagful. Bagfuls. Offload as much as you can.

When you’ve done this for even two hours, tell me you don’t feel lighter — light enough to light up others with your incandescent smile —


The difference between fundamentalism and spirituality


That’s the difference between fundamentalism and spirituality.

If others feel your lightness of being, then you are living your spiritual epiphany. If not, you are in the grip of something darker.


Road trip thoughts: First days out

That’s a whole load of art behind them thar woman

— What is it about traveling tightly together in a hurtling metal container that’s so freakishly enjoyable? 

Why do we love it so much we shout, Road trip! . . . ?

— It may be that intimate proximity — you turn — your son, your wife — they’re right there. You hear each other’s laughter, sighs, bodily excesses . . . after the hours spin by you hear each other’s thoughts . . . 

— We’re traveling in style — bohemian style — comfortably in the front half of the van. Loaded with art in the back half. 

When people ask I feel the need to explain we crashed and burned financially during the crash years. As if to justify our summer art trekking . . . Why? I’m ecstatic for anyone else who luxuriously enjoys the rewards life offers — regardless whether or not pain was suffered to attain it. Why don’t I allow myself the same freedom?

— Roadside exercise with your family is much mo’ better. As opposed to me, solo, doing it by myself. America casts a funny eye at those exercising at highway rest areas. Maybe it’s the yoga poses. 

<loopy smile>

— At the Apple Store they say, “I gotcha” a lot as they pass you from one person to another to another. And I don’t mind. Gives me the chance to handwrite these thoughts on paper.

Always have pen and paper handy if you want to snatch thoughts from the brainosphere . . . 

— You’d think it’s the changing scenery, the morphing skyscapes, the fresh architecture, the food . . . that makes a road trip exciting. But really it’s the changing people

The everchanging flow of people energy . . . 

. . . and the people you’re with, sharing time and space and moments. All those moments piling up one on top of another till it feels like a dream.


Thoughts on the eve of departure

I’ll be living out of this bag for a couple of months.
(This and a small piece of luggage.)
(And a seriously huge van.)

In a day we leave.

We’re art trekking across America. 

More like an infinity loop around America, zipping up the East Coast, dropping like a rock from Chicago down toward Memphis, down and across to the Southwest . . . and if all works out, meandering up the California and Oregon coasts before easing our way back and south to South Florida, from whence we depart.

That’s the skeletal outline of the trip.

The emotional heartbeat is in the relationships.

This time my family comes with me. I’ve traveled many a road on these art treks solo over the years. This time my lover woman wife and our 12-year-old joy boy come along for the summer. Picking up my Mom in Chicago (MomJo!), that near-80-year-old with the energy of a teenager in heat.

Along the way there will plenty of art spread around the country. Art carried from one point to another and disbursed. 

An art adventure takes you to three types of locations:

1) Artist studios: Which always spark the elation of discovery. There’s nothing quite like standing in the lair of an artist. They’re process lays scattered before you . . . their works in progress are strewn about . . . their orderliness or disorderliness is striking. The way they grapple with their vision is on full display.

2) Client homes: The art scene filters out many of the jerkholes of the world. Art collectors are successful. They are more open minded than the general public. They tend to be lifelong learners. Curiosity is often a primary character trait. They live in homes of architectural elan, in areas of profound beauty.

3) Gallery vortices: On art treks you go to where galleries congregate. Places like Santa Fe, Aspen, Sedona, Palm Desert, Park City, Naples, Asheville . . . smaller towns plunked in spectacular terrain. In the cities, whether San Francisco or Miami, the art zones are where you want to be. There’s art there of course. But also hipsters and cafes dripping with originality. If you are prone to shopping you’ll lose a week’s wages in half an hour at vaguely hippy-chic boutiques.

For the next 6 to 8 weeks this blog will reflect these travels. 

Traveling today is an intriguing affair. 

You take the bubble of your selfhood with you wherever you go. You’re still plugged in digitally to the same things you’re normally plugged into. You’re still attached via instant communications to the people who matter in your life, people who are far from where you’re at. 

Aspects of your travel pierce the bubble. Sights, conversations, experiences. In travel you want to be opened up . . . but you don’t want to be violated . . . or torn apart psychologically. So there’s always an opening and a closing going on whether you’re conscious of it or not.

As travelers we seek aspirational growth, not growth through hardship or struggle or loss. And if we’re fortunate we find it. We grow a little. We stretch. Our bubble of selfhood is enlarged but not burst.


“Failure’s such a creative gift”

Austin Kleon has great advice. Live in such a way that you insulate yourself from both success and failure. For creatives, this is about stabilization.

The idea is to find a way to make a living — somewhere, somehow — that’s enough to fuel your creative work. 

This way you can experiment. You have the latitude to fail. Because in time those experiments will lead to successes.

Here’s a valuable thought on failure, excerpted from an article in The Week on the death of contemporary Christian music, quoting producer Matt Bronleewe (who’s worked with a number of successful musical artists, from Michael W. Smith to Nashville‘s Hayden Panettiere):

As the music industry began to weather the disruptions of the digital market, labels grew much warier of those kinds of risks, says Bronleewe. 

“There’s not much room to fail anymore,” he explains. “And failure’s such a creative gift. When the ability to fail is taken away, it fuels a lot of fear. It narrows the pool of producers and writers to such a degree that there’s a sameness that starts to occur.”

When failure doesn’t sink you financially, you’re unstoppable. Only you can stop you. And we know you won’t quit you, right?

For you 

Evan Griffith
Click here for occasional notes to your inbox on creativity, connection and whee! Once a month, maybe, if you’re lucky.