Saturday, July 5, 2014

50 Works of Art, Pt. I

A friend recently told me that if you’re looking to find your own artistic style, you should make a list of 50 works of art that have influenced you, and work to see which aspect of each stuck with you. This list is REALLY fun to make and think about. So here’s my first 10:

1. Every Single Night – Fiona Apple

To kick things off, this is a song that has shaped how I explain inspiration and the creative process. Yeah, I get it, the video is weird. Fiona is off-beat and too-intense. But that’s what a brilliant mind looks like sometimes, so deal with it.

I just want to feel everything. This song is made up of ravings, but that’s what it feels like when you stay up all night, teasing out an idea. When you want to give yourself over to a movement. When you realize that your artwork may be keeping you from having a normal, slow-paced life—and you devote yourself to it anyway.

2. Eva Luna – Isabel Allende
Allende’s prose casts a spell over me, every time.

Eva Luna blew my mind with its unusual narrative structure and its charm for telling a continent’s political and social history in the most sensual ways possible (and out of the mouths of strong, determined women).

3. Dave McKean
When I was in high school I tried to pick up Maus. I never finished. I didn’t read comics as a kid but I’d been told that Maus was different. But my eyes never figured out how to follow the story, and I couldn’t get lost in the narrative.

Years later I went on a Neil Gaiman kick and ended up at The Sandman. This time, graphic novels made sense. I’ve been reading them constantly ever since. Gaiman is a natural storyteller and I read his TWEETS every day. But pairing his words with Dave McKean’s illustrations cemented this for me. The painted panels, the beauty of every line on every face. It really was like someone had painted my dreams.

Trust me, 10 years ago I’d never thought I’d say that some of the most stunning surrealist artwork I’ve ever seen was in a comic. But this. THIS.

And then there is my favorite comic of all time, Arkham Asylum: Serious House on a Serious Earth. It’s a psychological thriller that really pushes the limit of what I’m willing to read. But I always come back for more.

4. Fever to Tell – The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I spend a lot of my time smithing words (or so I’d like to think). But sometimes, there are no words. Sometimes you need to howl or growl or spit beer on the audience. For my more guttural moments, I always return to my favorite band, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

In more recent years this band has sounded less art punk or more electronic, and I love it all. But Fever to Tell is my favorite, always.

5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I think this will be the only film on my list, because this one is perfect. A Charlie Kaufman script directed by Michel Gondry? Those are two of the most innovate filmmakers around today, so teaming them up was bound to get interesting.

Every time I watch this movie, I pick up something new. It develops characters that are alive, and flawed, and complicated. It's heartfelt without being twee. And weird. So. Weird.

6. Sonnet VIII – William Shakespeare
The summer I turned 16, I fell in love… with this poem. I memorized it on my own, even though school was out. (Are you getting a sense of how cool and popular I was then?)

I was drawn to this initially because it’s about music, but it stuck with me because it’s about those little niggling things that we love, despite ourselves.

Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lov'st thou that which thou receiv'st not gladly,
Or else receiv'st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: 'Thou single wilt prove none.'

7. Unos Cuantos Piquetitos – Frida Kahlo

The many small nips that kill us all the same. Frida suffered, drank in life deeply, and left us with some terrifying visions. This is my favorite painting of hers, all the same.

8. Cien Anos de Soledad – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The first time I read this, it haunted my dreams. It did keep me up at night, the beauty of it. This is a blend of folk tales and fairy tales and gossip and a map of Macondo, which only ever existed in the author’s mind. This book is love magic, black magic and it scares me.

9. “Mad Girl’s Love Song” – Sylvia Plath
My relationship with rhyme and meter has changed drastically over the years. When I was in high school I just wanted to write Garbage lyrics. Then college made me hate the formatted stuff. Now, I mostly read free form poets, but I do feel the power when something written in form succeeds.

The villanelle is tricky. I think this is the best one in the English language. And there is no poet I respect half as much as Plath.

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

10. “Fulfillment” – Gustav Klimt

OK, now that I’ve given myself a whole new set of Kahlo-and-Plath-related nightmares, it’s time to remember that sometimes life is full of light. Some moments are so beautiful and tender it’s hard to breathe. To commemorate that, we have Gustav Klimt.

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