Guide by the Perplexed — No Money Shot

gris guitar

Juan Gris, “Guitare sur une table,” from 1916, at Helly Nahmad. Credit via Helly Nahmad Gallery.

An old advertising tag-line for an investment firm was voiced by the British-American actor John Houseman: “We make music the old fashioned way; we earn it.” Houseman, of course, said “money,” not “music.”

In my effort to show with strong, plain words how I want to earn music, an inconvenient analogy has surfaced. There is something called PornHub. I’m going to imagine its analog as “MusicHub.”

On MusicHub, the dude pulls some sweet riffs and licks from his Fender. Then he tells how you can make those sounds, too, especially if you subscribe. The orientation is positional and result-minded; a tad exhibitionistic. Do this, do that, until “Sweet Home Alabama” happens.

Let’s be glib: PornHub is sexual but not sensual; MusicHub is digital but not musical. I want note awareness and the architecture of song before release. I want to explore a nuanced relationship with the instrument — slow, not fast; soft, not loud; tender, not dominating; intuitive and expressive, not wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.

But, you say, “I merely want to learn several chords and strum some accompaniment. Maybe hammer out a few bars of ‘Smoke on the Water.’ I’m not looking for a committed relationship with a guitar.” Well, yes, there is that too, I concede. MusicHub does have its uses if your needs are basic and your standards are modest.

The way of perplexity is the long way around. It hinges on a dawning awareness that there’s no quick fix for musical longing. This isn’t self-help pablum; if anything it’s self-hindrance apologia, though the shame of nakedly hitching my wagon to difficulty and not gratification shines through.

There you have it. It’s time to get back down to brass tacks — coming next.

(c) 2019 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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6 Responses to Guide by the Perplexed — No Money Shot

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    It’s a wee bit ironic that you chose the Juan Gris for your featured image, because, well, it doesn’t show the equivalent paintings skills: it’s more of a just going at it via whatever seems to work to get a passable result. I am fine with that kind of approach, or a more disciplined and technical approach.

    Is there a fast-track to music? Well, these days yeah. The musician is more like an actor that fits in a template designed by the music producers. Twerking is an important asset.

    But, infamous Ozzy guitarist, Randy Rhoads was classically trained before becoming a heavy metal axe-man. And I’ve said for a long time that I think Jackson Pollock, or abstract painter of choice, would have been better if he did plein air landscape paintings on Sunday afternoons.

    I struggle with similar issues of technical skill in relation to my “craft”. Rarely, very rarely, is the artist who is completely proficient at realist painting — drawing, shading, perspective, anatomy, modeling, and so on — ever able to do much else than that in the end. And I guess that Randy Rhoads might have been a bit of an exception, or wasn’t super proficient at classical guitar, because it’s just as rare for a highly developed technical musician to play other than classical pieces and the like.

    On the other end of the spectrum, those who only experiment without the technical skill are limited to a certain kind of output: Warhol, Koons, Hirst, Richard Prince and a host of others, even when they (or their hirelings) produce a “painting”, they can’t alter it using their imagination in the slightest. They have no recourse to do anything deliberately with imagery that requires technical ability.

    I rather think some of the best stuff is in the middle. Van Gogh’s drawings were sometimes (OK, often) grotesque in terms of formal anatomy and perspective. But he had enough skill to meld with his personal, unscripted experimentation to create a hybrid. The same could be said of Francis Bacon, though he had even less formal skill, but always strove for a hybrid style.

    Anyway, I’m with you that skill is essential and there’s no shortcut that isn’t arguably bullshit. If I played the guitar, sooner or later, I’d sit down and force myself to learn all my scales and arpeggios, and to play some complex classical pieces. Then I’d also be prone to F with the instrument, feed the results into the computer, play them backwards and forwards at the same time, clip out sections and rearrange them, then play a live track over that, and so on.

    • JMN says:

      Ouch! I’m not crazy about the Gris painting either, but it was there at the time. This “Guide” thing is more important to me than I’d like to admit, and I wish I could represent it with an image that made both you and me proud. I respect your appraisal of painting skills. I’m open to advice, but you’ve convinced me not to use the Gris image again. Full disclosure: I’m not crazy about his use of green, and you’ve mentioned recently in a post that green is your favorite color! How totally irrelevant is that! I don’t know where “Guide” is going — it’s seriousness hiding behind silliness to an extent — but I think it’s less about skill than about certain underpinnings of skill. If there’s a square zero on guitar, I’m reverting to a zero minus “n” position attitudinally and practically in hopes of finding strength in averageness.

      • Eric Wayne says:

        I half like the Gris painting, it’s just not a technical approach.

        “I think it’s less about skill than about certain underpinnings of skill.”

        Nailed it!

        If it wasn’t clear, I’m with you on doing the training and how important fundamentals are. I still do a lot of practice exercises, and recently spent at least 50 hours drawing from old drawing books from the 50’s.

      • JMN says:

        I’d like to know more about your assessment of the Gris painting. The “technical approach” part is interesting. I feel like a lot can be learned from a close look at a single work — be it whatever medium — painting, poem, song. I know there’s something about the Gris that doesn’t quite compute for me, but I can’t put it in informed language. I think part of it is the darkness of color (?). Composition? I don’t know. I’m bowled over by your drawing discipline. I’ve only just now started to try to break into drawing at my own level. I feel like even small gains are worthwhile. You say you draw from old drawing books from the 50’s? Are they manuals? I’m being inquisitive about your method if you don’t mind. Music-wise I’m focusing on two standards — “Stardust” and “Summertime” — to try to see what makes them tick. They both pre-date me chronologically — my mother taught me a lot of old songs from her era — but I’ve chosen to abstract myself from contemporary music. I may also incorporate “Funny How Time Slips Away” by Willie Nelson, which isn’t “contemporary” by many definitions, but still closer to now. These are arbitrary choices and unjustifiable by any other than personal taste and whim. My study of music involves taking small dives into theory and working through the consequences doggedly. I’m hoping to apply that approach to drawing, too.

      • Eric Wayne says:

        The drawing books I use are almost cheesy, just practical stuff, and I got all of them as pdfs online. I just wanted to brush up on portraits, mostly, but did a lot of other stuff as well. You can look up names like Walter Foster to get the idea. They are simple “How to Draw” and paint type books. It’s only been part of my practice technique in the last year. I found it sorta’ useful, but perhaps not as good as just working from photos or something else.

        The Gris painting for me is OK. It’s like it’s trying to be revolutionary, but just looks kinda’ craftsy because of the wood-panel collaged element. I don’t like the grey hole in the guitar, which also looks like an eye. It is the focus of the painting compositionally, and yet the color is neutral. I’m also not a big fan of the big V shape overall in the center. It could grow on me though.

        I’m not a fan of Cubism in general, but whereas Picasso seems to have been innovating and experimenting in order to get somewhere else, Braque and Gris settled on Cubism. When Gris does it, it seems more like a style than the artifact of visual experimentation. It’s more aestheticized, which is a mixed blessing. The dots are almost annoying.

        My point about it wasn’t to criticize it, but to say that it isn’t based on any ability to render imagery. One could attempt something like this with no training whatsoever. Gris, however, has a really good eye.

        Ah, that’s what it is. His Cubism isn’t so much the “analytic” variety, but rather a highly stylized and aestheticized version. He made it palatable and sometimes pretty.

        I just Googled him. Well, he really is quite sophisticated and elaborate about his abstraction. He’s a real pro, alright. And he’s got his color down, too. He’s good. Real good. Not my cup of tea, but he was obviously prolific and accomplished.

        So, I just meant his painting didn’t show realistic rendering skill, but he certainly has skill, and understands composition and color. I might enjoy his work in a retrospective, or maybe just a room of it.

      • JMN says:

        An excellent discussion! Thank you for this. I think the dots may be the hardest thing I would live with day in and day out if my Gris guitar were hanging on the wall. They remind me a little of wallpaper. You’ve helped me sharpen my eye. I have admired Braque’s work at times. Cubism seems to me to have a lot of humor and irony built into it, and I resonate to those two things. I’m scouting for a new image with which to emblemize my guitarism, as it were. Change is good, and the same one gets stale anyway. The Walter Foster books take me down memory lane. As a kid I had two or three of them, and I pored over them endlessly salivating over how to make drawings and paintings like that. I’m glad they’re still useful to real artists!

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