The Creative Endeavors Thread Engages the World

This is the space for our members to discuss and share their creative projects, ranging from written works to drawings, photography, and even craft projects such as knitting and woodworking. Self promotion is welcome (websites where we can view and/or purchase your work). Please do continue to preface if content is NSFW and be sure to properly spoiler/link such content.

The Sign-Up Sheet ran out last week and I don’t know how to make another one. I’m fine with continuing to post these for the foreseeable future, but I’d like to see others post, either every now and again or on a rotating basis, so long as we keep up the weekly tempo. We’ve got a great community here and it’s really inspiring to see, not only so many different kinds of work from people, but also their own takes thereon in the posts themselves. That said, my work, thoughts and reading over the past week, to say nothing of events both small- and large-scale, add up to a pretty long post today (consider yourself warned). A few political references to follow; I know that’s been something of an issue in the Open Threads, so if you don’t want to read about it, just skip the rest (or go to comments after the next two paragraphs).

Halloween proved a spectacular cap to an awesome creative month; I broke my production records and, though there was a certain amount of… well, crap, I think the good stuff’s hitting a new qualitative level, and this is getting pretty consistently true of my drawing and illustrative work (painting’s necessarily another story). The day itself, I painted and drew throughout, and then visited an art show put on by a quasi-acquaintance at which I got to see a lot of cool stuff from different media (among some of the more outre material were a couple of good old oil-on-canvas figuratives; still plenty of room for everybody). Ducked out soon afterward to hurry over to my friends’ house to help hand out candy and generally carouse; I’d given the one friend a creepy painting for her birthday and they’d found a sweet place for it on the mantel.

Charon Methuselah, acrylic on cardboard (October 2018)

Stopped off at my local on the way back and got in some very tentative life sketching from the yearly costume contest and quasi-Bacchanalia (I think I’m getting better at doing this under adverse circumstances, which is just as well). The next day, as I nursed the hangover, I saw that I had an Instagram message request. These usually turn out to be little better than spam, so imagine my surprise when I found that it was from a manager at a local tea shop who liked my work and wanted to talk to me about doing an art pop-up in the next month or two. I was a little (happily) flabbergasted; I was planning on starting to look into something like that after the holidays were up (or at least get more systematic about showcasing my work on Instagram) and did not expect something like this to appear on the horizon already. It’s still been less than a year since I started painting (and I made that clear to her in my reply) and I don’t want to do too much too soon in that regard. She still wants to meet (and I do want to do this, but maybe not until January or something) so that’s been a pleasant weight on my mind the past week.

That said, this welcome news, like so much else, comes in the middle of a far larger, far more ominous context. The midterms, of course, are today, and memories of the last election have already shadowed so much of the recent good in my life, both creative and otherwise, to say nothing of the present administration’s ongoing horrors. I only started drawing again in the wake of a traumatic breakup in the autumn of 2015, and a year later, I was on a massive uptick, both creatively and to some extent emotionally (and the one had a lot to do with the other). Like so many others, I thought Hillary Clinton was headed for a (mild if not comfortable) victory, and the horrifying alternative that resulted not only threw me into a colossal tailspin but also made me question whether I should continue to create at all. I’m a little more cynically seasoned now, but I’m obviously hoping for a far better result than last time.

John Sloan, Election Night, oil on canvas (1907)

Maybe relatedly, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my own work relates to larger events and issues, if it hasn’t already. Though a lot of the drawing and painting I do has little obvious relation to present reality, the abstract landscapes, at least, often take place in a theoretical post-apocalyptic future, and while imagining a world without us (as that book I really need to read at some point puts it) can be bitterly satisfying in my darkest moments, it’s not the kind of world I really want to see, and this is a question that’s starting to press more and more as I work out what my work means, both to myself and other people. Bearing that in mind, how does your own work relate, as you see it, to the larger world? Do you deal specifically, vaguely, or not at all with larger political/social/cultural issues?*

Today’s header is the iconic “Ludlow Massacre” cover from the early twentieth-century left-wing journal The Masses. In April 1914, striking coal miners and their families in Ludlow, Colorado, were murdered by a mix of vigilantes and National Guardsmen (with an appalling percentage of children and even infants among the dead, many of whom had been burned to death or asphyxiated from fires set by their attackers). The national furore over this atrocity led to Congressional legislation on child labor and hourly work limits, as well as a further invigoration of the American labor movement and its allies, even if much of their energy was about to be neutralized or co-opted by the Wilson Administration and the First World War. The cover artist was John Sloan (1871-1951), a painter and illustrator who’s become famous in the century since as one of the leading lights of the Ashcan School, who eschewed the genteel, quasi-pastoral preoccupations of Hudson School landscape painters and Post-Impressionist aspirants for chronicling the boisterous and colorful life of America’s growing cities.

I first became aware of Sloan through his painting McSorley’s Bar (1912; pictured above), one of my favorite works at the Detroit Institute of Arts (where I’ll be going at month’s end for a belated birthday outing). One of the great pleasures of getting into painting has been an ongoing self-tutorial in art history, and the Ashcan School and their importance has been one of my favorite studies thereof. The more I learn about them and Sloan in particular, the more I turn up echoes in my own life and concerns. Sloan himself started out as an illustrator for smaller newspapers like the Philadelphia Press, before moving to New York and finding a vocation as a painter (while continuing to support himself largely through on spec illustration). His work helped to chronicle both the physical and cultural transformation of the United States from a rural to an urban nation, and Sloan’s views seemed to parallel the development he so compellingly captured, going from largely apolitical to strongly identifying with socialism during the early twentieth century (both he and his first wife Dolly did a fair amount of organizing and supportive work for various left-wing movements).

I can’t help but see a lot of my own circumstances as kindred; I drew regularly for two years before starting to paint (and I still fundamentally conceive of myself as an illustrator rather than a more abstract artist), I’ve probably only gotten more left-wing as I’ve gotten older, and I live in a small Midwestern city presently wrestling with the issues of growth and increasing diversification (demographically, economically, etc.) in annoying but artistically compelling ways. It’s been both exciting and sobering to realize how much and how little has changed since Sloan’s heyday; I’m probably too good at finding silver linings, but interesting times can be intriguing as well as horrifying. I just hope they start to tend a lot more towards the former; wishing everyone good luck today.

John Sloan, Sunset, West 23rd Street (23rd Street, Roofs, Sunset), oil on canvas (1906)

*I mean, it’s all political in a way, but you know what I mean.