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July 3, 2007

Whale Heart

This interview with Bill Callahan struck so many chords with me that I'm just going to have to copy and paste these pieces of it.

You've come at an unfortunate time in that I am still trying to sort it all out. I cannot tell you exactly what is going on now. I look at my hands and I don't know what they wrought in the past. Are they the hands of a bad man? I used to be an artist. I don't think I am right now. I don't know if I ever will be again. I am something else. I was a student of personal strife. I ran with the wrong crowd early on. I tortured myself for a song. I thought it was the way.


I equate being an artist with impaling yourself on your art. Only feeding, feeding the thing always. And it being starving. That's what that old forgotten song "Strawberry Rash," was about. As I said earlier, I don't yet know what I am now. Any talk of "craft" makes me laugh. My music looks outward, it does not gaze upon itself in admiration. Artisanal is for Cheesemakers. I don't know anything about music theory. Every time I approach my guitar it's like the first time. There's no craft in that. Although I do often think of working out a guitar part as "carving." There is the huge block of silence and you carve little bits out of it by making sound.

That about says it all.

Posted by David Lowery at July 3, 2007 10:58 AM


No, it doesn't!

Thinking like this will suck all creative juices out of you. Don't go the way of the tortured artist, David--it's a romantic pose that won't do your work any good. You should be the one that's feeding on your art, not the other way round. Look around you, stay hungry and inspiration will start to seep into everything you do.

Sometimes you'll think that all you're able to pull off are a bunch of cheap tricks. But if you know enough of those, that's called craft, baby. If that kind of talk makes you laugh, it just means you're ambitious.

You're an artist, David. Trust your audience. Pep talk over. :-)

Posted by: Peet at July 8, 2007 3:38 PM

Hey Peet,

I suppose I should have better qualified my sympathies - but then again, that's what comments are for!

While the tortured artist (as much as I hate that term) element of Callahan's interview did ring true, what I found so striking about it was how much I related to both the more painful side of creativity with the gradual discovery that it's not at all limited to that - that craft if as much a part of art as the exhaustive pillaging of one's persona, and more so in most case. For clarity's sake, perhaps I should have put the two quotes above in reverse order.

I do find that some of what I do is personally draining. I put my all into my work, but sometimes, for certain projects, I go a bit further - seeking to expunge something - and it is indeed painful, exhausting, and probably takes years off my life (that are hopfeully gained back when the childish joy of having pulles something difficult off overcomes the inevitable post partum depression). The Outlaw Son was a project like that for me, and so was my very first film, Lullaby. Both were distinctly personal in a way that my other films were not - they were the product of a compulsion to wrench something from out of myself rather than (as you say) finding inspiration in everything around me. I remember writing a long time ago that it sometimes feels like I was pulling barbed wire from my stomach. It's not something I necessarily enjoy, but it's just something I have to do (and in that, actually, I do enjoy it, and in the moment have a lot of fun doing it).

So because my personality does engender - and indeed, perhps, require - that sort of process from time to time, whatever tropes might be inherent to that tortured artist cliche do frequently ring quite true to me. I get it. But luckily, I don't limit myself to that. I have too much fun doing what I do. Any film I make is going to be personal to some degree, but regardless of that, it's always going to be tempered by craft.

An while I don't always trust audiences, I do have the utmost respect for them (even the annoying ones who don't like movies with subtitles) and, in a way, even when I'm making something for myself, I'm still making it for them. I remember reading an interview with Paul Thomas Anderson where he was asked about whether he had much regard for audiences while writing the (supposedly non-audience-friendly) Punch Drunk Love. He said that he was always thinking about audiences - about whether they would get something, or find something funny enough. Of course, I think he ultimately had more confidence in the audience than they had in him, but that's just the way it goes.

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify. It's always good to get things out on paper. Or pixels, as it were.


Posted by: Ghostboy at July 8, 2007 6:21 PM