Charlie Hebdo and Freedom of Expression in Art

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It has been only two weeks since twelve people were killed at the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo by two gunmen. In the aftermath of the tragic events, there has been an outpouring of emotion throughout the world. Among these have been many peaceful protests in support of the magazine and the victims of the attacks. However other reactions have not been so sedate with anger being directed toward the magazine and its depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. With such strongly held views on both sides many questions about free speech have been raised. Most notably, when it comes to satire–whether in writing, art, or any other form–how far is too far? Does an artist’s right to freedom of expression trump the rights of those that might take offense?

In the United States the answer would seem to be a resounding and clear yes. After all Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press are featured in the First Amendment. In our history, revolution, protests and challenging the status quo have played a large role in shaping the country’s character. In turn the arts have been utilized to inspire and bring about change. In writing we have numerous authors including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Upton Sinclair, Jack Kerouac, Maya Angelou and many others whose voices and experiences changed the way we looked at the world and each other. In theatre we have Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock” (which was famously temporarily shut down by the WPA to avoid government and union restrictions), Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” which features one of the most poignant commentaries and critiques of racism “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” and of course boundary pushing works such as “Hair” and “Rent.” American protest music has a long history from early colonial protest songs like “Revolutionary Tea” (which celebrates the Boston Tea Party) to the anthems of Pro-Union workers, to the music of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements. Thus attempts at censorship can and have often been met with resistance from the courts and the general population.

However, as some have pointed out, things get a bit more complicated when we consider practices that we seem to hold in contrast with our ideals. In an article from The Huffington Post, writer Pia de Jong noted the muted response to the shooting in the United States. She believed the reason for this lies in the country’s multi-cultural roots stating, “Self-censorship and hypocrisy are the main instruments that keep the many groups away from each other’s throats.” She also noted that unlike the free for all of European Press, the media in the US is very much in line with political correctness (de Jong). This view was echoed by columnist David Brooks who wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times, “If [Charlie Hebdo] had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.” The media’s coverage of the tragedy seems to confirm these points as many newspapers and all American news networks have chosen to censor or simply refuse to show the offending artwork (Bankoff).

Obviously what happened at Charlie Hebdo is a tragedy. No one deserves to die over a picture, or any other piece of art for that matter. Moreover, I appreciate the ability of satire to expose hypocrisy and injustice within society. However, as an artist I couldn’t see myself going out of the way to offend a group (or groups) of people the way Charlie Hebdo does. In the end there is probably no clear answer to that question “how far is too far?” Instead it is dependent on all of us to (as David Brooks so eloquently wrote) “…maintain that delicate balance between the standards of civility and respect while at the same time allowing room for those creative and challenging folks who are uninhibited by good manners and taste.”

Works Cited and Bibliography

Bankoff, Caroline. “Some Newspapers and All Major American News Networks Decide Against Showing Charlie Hebdo’s Muhammad Cartoons.” Daily Intelligencer. NYMag, 07 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
Brooks, David. “I Am Not Charlie Hebdo.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 Jan. 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.
“The Cradle Will Rock.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 31 Dec. 2014. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
Jong, Pia De. “When Charlie Met Charlie.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
Levs, Josh. “10 Killed, Churches Torched in Protests over Charlie Hebdo – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
Schofield, Hugh. “Massacre at French Magazine Office.” BBC News. BBC, 07 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Is Rock Really Dead or Just Evolving (A Response to Gene Simmons)

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Gene Simmons has once again made headlines declaring the death of rock-n-roll. In an interview in Esquire Magazine (with his son Nick Simmons), the Kiss bassist blamed the dying music industry and illegal downloading/file sharing for creating the current landscape that musicians have to navigate. Indeed the current state of rock music and its place in the music industry is fairly grim. However to declare it dead is, in my view, erroneous.
Simmons is correct in his statements illegal downloading has led to the music industry lacking the power it once had. This in turn results in the industry that’s left relying on safer bets: pop and rap which are very popular and country which in addition to popularity also has an audience more likely to buy albums. It’s true that it might be difficult for people to think of bands in the past 20 years that are truly iconic. It’s also true that in our current society there is (sadly) a lack of respect for artists and their work.
However does all this mean that rock is dead? I don’t believe this is the case. The more likely scenario is that rock (and music as a whole) is evolving. This evolution is leading to bands that may not fill stadiums like Kiss but are just as well loved by their fans and are still able to make music their career.
Some factors that Simmons failed to take into account for the current state of rock music is a cultural fragmentation of sorts and a fragmentation of rock music itself. In the period he lauds as the time where many classic bands came into being (from about 1958-1983) there was a more homogenous culture. It was a time where there were only a few channels on television and where the idea of the internet would have sounded like something out of “The Jetsons.” It was easy for rock bands to be propelled to a mass audience because they had “The Ed Sullivan Show”, “American Bandstand,” and other similar programs that everybody watched (perhaps because it was one of a few choices). Now however, with hundreds of channels on television and millions of websites artists don’t necessarily have that same platform for immediate exposure to a mass audience. In some ways this might be beneficial (one can argue that artists today have many different platforms they can utilize) though I will concede that it can feel at times like shouting into a wind tunnel.
Another issue is that the genre of rock music has become very fragmented as well. This isn’t new; in the early and mid-sixties there were clashes between mods, who favored the sounds of bands like The Who, and rockers who stayed loyal to the rockabilly sounds of the fifties. In the late sixties and seventies we saw the growth of numerous subgenres including psychedelic rock, heavy metal, southern rock, glam rock, punk, new wave, etc. However nowadays there are so many different subgenres (just think of how many types of metal alone that there are) that it’s hard to pinpoint one band that defines rock as a whole. Is rock represented by the radio friendly pop sound of Fall Out Boy and Maroon 5? The retro vintage sound of Wolfmother, The Black Keys and the music of Jack White and his various groups? Is it the neo-psychedelic sounds of The Flaming Lips, the folk-rock sound of The Avett Brothers or the dark metal/grunge sound of Five Finger Death Punch? While this fragmentation of the genre certainly might make it hard to talk about a band defining rock in the way The Beatles or The Rolling Stones did, it goes to show that there is still a lot of rock music out there and a lot of rock music fans. They just might not listen to the same stations or have the same music in their iTunes libraries.
Thus, despite the continuing challenges that up and coming bands may face, rock music is far from dead. In fact, it’s just the opposite, very much alive and continuing to evolve and expand. The rock bands of the future may have more challenges to face and more of a niche audience then the bands of the past. However, in the words of AC/DC, “Rock-n-roll, it will survive.”

Bibliography and Works Cited

Simmons, Nick. “Gene Simmons: ‘Rock Is Finally Dead'” Esquire.com Article. Esquire, 04 Sept. 2014. Web. 06 Sept. 2014. .

The Ten Commandments of Audience Etiquette

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In my last post I talked about how to deal with uncooperative audiences as a performer. However since there are two sides to the equation (and turnabout is fair play) I wanted to discuss audience etiquette as well. I have seen some pretty bad behavior from certain audiences and audience members over the years. What makes it really frustrating is audience etiquette is not difficult. It is simply a matter of respecting the performance onstage as well as your fellow audience members. With that in mind (as well as help from emilypost.com) I have put together a list of Ten Commandments for Audience Members.

1) Thou Shalt Know Your Venue: Those of you that read the previous post will note that this is also the first piece of advice I gave to performers. However knowing the type of venue that you will be in and what type of performance you are attending is just as important for audience members since different venues permit or discourage different types of behavior. Obviously a theatre or classical concert will have very different expectations of behavior then a rock concert.

2) Thou Shalt Arrive Early: Everybody knows when you go to the movies you have to sit through several commercials and previews before you get see the film. Generally, this is not the case with concerts and other performance events. Arriving early will allow you to find your seats and do whatever else you need to do to get settled before the show begins. If you do arrive late, try to wait for a break in the performance to enter (a scene change or applause) and go to your seat as quickly and quietly as possible.

3) Thou Shalt Not Make Excessive Noise: As stated previously the type of venue you’re at might play a role in this. However the audience has come to hear a performance and not you. With that in mind it’s generally a good idea to keep talking to a minimum. You should also silence your cellphone and other noise making devices or at least put them on vibrate. Be mindful of other sounds too-slurping drinks, unwrapping candy/gum/cough drops, excessive coughing, rattling programs, humming/singing along, or rummaging through belongings can be annoying to other audience members and (if they are conscious of it) the performers (emilypost.com).

4) Thou Shalt Be Mindful of Seating and Posture: If you are in an auditorium seating is often arranged in such a way that a person in the seats behind can see between the two seats in front (emilypost.com). This can make it hard to see if someone is slumping, leaning forward, or resting their head on their partners shoulder (Ibid). If you are at an outdoor venue or a standing room only club try and make sure you are not blocking anyone’s view of the stage.

5) Thou Shalt Be Respectful of Photography and Videography Policies: In the age of selfies and social media we might be used to photographing and documenting every event we go to. However using flash photography or taking videos can be distracting (and even dangerous) for performers and can disturb other audience members. For this reason it is generally preferred one not photograph or videotape a performance. If photography/videotaping is allowed don’t use flash photography and make sure you are not blocking or disturbing other audience members. However, even if cameras are allowed I think it should be noted that you will probably have a far richer experience if you are a full participant in the moment rather then an observer behind a device.

6) Thou Shalt Be Mindful of Your Children or Pets (if allowed): First of all make sure any show you are taking your child to is age appropriate for them. If possible talk to them about audience etiquette ahead of time. When you are at the venue keep an eye on your children at all times. If your child is crying or creating a disturbance take them to the lobby or another area where they will not disturb other audience members (my blood still boils at the memory of one concert I went to where an audience member allowed her baby to wail through a majority of the show instead of taking the child to the lobby). If you are at a venue where pets are allowed keep them on a leash, take them somewhere else if they’re creating a disturbance and pick up any droppings.

7) Thou Shalt Talk to Venue Staff About Unsavory Characters: If there is another member of the audience that is making noise a quick shush might be fine. However, if the person continues throughout the performance your shushing will only add to the disturbance. In that case try to find an usher, security officer or other official who will be able to deal with the offender. On a more serious note, if you feel that you or any other audience member is being threatened, harassed or is any in danger let venue security know as soon as possible and try to get to a safe place.

8) Thou Shalt Not Leave Before the Fat Lady Sings (or if you must Thou Shalt Do So Unobtrusively): Leaving a performance early is incredibly rude to the performers. Of course emergencies happen so if you absolutely must leave (hint: trying to beat the crowd to the parking lot is not an acceptable excuse) try to wait for a break (set change, applause, etc.) and exit as quickly and quietly as you can.

9) Thou Shalt Clean Up After Thyself: Dispose of any trash in a trash can and try to wipe up any spills or pick up any dropped food (emilypost.com). If there was a spill try to let someone from the venue know-this is not only a courtesy to them but to the next person who has your seat (Ibid). Don’t be one of those people that leaves your trash behind because “the janitors will get that.” The cleaning staff has enough to do and they don’t need inconsiderate people making their jobs more difficult.

10) Thou Shalt Have Fun: There is nothing worse for a performer then having an unappreciative audience. Conversely, there is nothing better then a performance in front of an attentive and engaged audience- where they laugh at all the jokes, sway to the music, and give you a standing ovation at the end of the night. Ultimately whether it’s a concert, ballet, or a comedy show people go to enjoy a pleasurable experience. The relationship between a performer and their audience is a symbiotic one; if you respect and appreciate the artist(s) they will put on a show you won’t forget.

Crowd Control: How to Deal with an Uncooperative Audience

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As a musician and actress, one of the most frustrating things I’ve dealt with are uncooperative audiences. Sometimes it’s due to inattentiveness or an uninterested attitude. Other times it can be due to outright rude behavior or heckling.
The relationship between the performer and the audience is highly important to the success of a performer. However, any performer can tell you a story of at least one audience (or members of an audience) that didn’t act appropriately or were indifferent to the performance. This isn’t limited to performers in obscurity. In July of this year Ray LaMontagne stormed offstage and demanded two audience members be ejected from his show for talking during his set at Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids Michigan (Karan). On the other side of the coin, Jack White ended a set at Detroit’s Fox Theatre early and has sworn never to play there again following a show where he cited the crowd’s lack of enthusiasm (Parks). While LaMontagne and White’s reactions are certainly understandable to many performers, they are probably not actions we can afford to take. So what is a performer to do? Below I have included some tips for performers that can hopefully help in keeping these situations from happening or at the very least de-escalating them.

1) Understand Your Venue: The type of venue you’re performing in does have an impact in many cases on what you can and should expect from your audience. If you are a violinist performing at a classical recital or an actor performing in a theatre you can probably expect a fairly well behaved audience (Estrin). Any breaches of etiquette will more likely then not be taken care of by other audience members (who might chastise the offender) or even the venue’s staff. However what if you are performing at a party, bar, festival or a public space like a shopping mall? Well unfortunately even though the lack of attention may wound your ego there probably isn’t much you can do because at many of these events people can also come to hang out and not just listen to music (Ibid). However if a crowd (or someone in it) is truly out of control you might need to have the club manager, bouncer, or whoever else is running the show step in (Bliesener, Knopper). Try to get to know these people ahead of time so that if a situation does occur you’ll know who you can rely on (Ibid).

2) Know your audience: This often goes hand in hand with understanding your venue. However in many ways it deserves it’s own category since knowing the type of audience to expect and what they like can go a long way to putting on a successful show. This might mean playing more covers then originals. In other cases it might mean playing more of a particular genre (i.e. playing mostly country music at a country/western bar or more rock at a biker bar). If you can, try to take requests and if you can’t play a song let the person know as nicely as possible (Bliesener, Knopper). However, don’t forget (especially if you are an original artist) to try and build your own audience. If there is anyone at a gig who seems especially interested in your work reach out to them; get them on your mailing list, your Facebook page, etc. Even if you get just one new fan at a venue, over time you can build momentum. Eventually you can reach a point where you are rewarded with audiences that are there for you.

3) Try to resist confrontation: While you may be tempted to confront a heckler or other uncooperative audience members, generally it’s not the best course of action. In many cases this situation can backfire by escalating the situation and further alienating the individuals involved. You also run the risk of alienating other audience members who might be friends with the heckler or may otherwise be turned off by a hostile response (however arguably deserved it may have been). In many cases the best thing you can do is to simply launch into your next song/poem/etc (Bliesener, Knopper). Hecklers in particular thrive on the attention they receive from their antics and ignoring them can sometimes shut them up (though of course if they are too unruly you might need to allow the venue to handle the situation). One tactic, recommended by pianist Robert Estrin, can be to play or speak more quietly. Obviously this isn’t a perfect solution for all performers (a heavy metal band can only get so quiet). However sometimes this can draw people in more and those that can’t hear might take it upon themselves to silence any offenders.

Ultimately as artists and performers we will at some point have those moments where no matter what we do an audience may not respond in the way we want them to. Hopefully though the tips provided here can help. If all else fails, just try to focus on playing the best you can and when the show is over focus on your next performance. In the words of Mr. White from the film That Thing You Do “If the crowd doesn’t go wild for you, don’t worry. They will tomorrow.”

(If you have any stories or tips of your own on dealing with uncooperative audiences please leave them in the comments below.)

Bibliography and Works Cited

Bliesener, Mark, and Steve Knopper. “I’ve Got the Gig! Now What? Crowd Control.” The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Band. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha, 2004. 136-37. Print.

Dealing with a Loud Audience. Perf. Robert Estrin. Dealing with a Loud Audience. Virtual Sheet Music, 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 21 Aug. 2014. .

Karan, Tim. “Ray LaMontagne Storms Offstage, Boots Couple From Show.” Diffuserfm. N.p., 24 July 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2014. .

Parks, Andrew. “Jack White Ends Detroit Set Early, Pledges to Never Play Fox Theatre Again.” Wondering Sound. N.p., 29 July 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2014. .

Strike a Chord: Vocals, Guitar, and the Music of My Life

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This was inspired by a prompt from The Daily Post http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/strike-a-chord/

I sing and play guitar.

Or rather I’m a singer who plays guitar.

For those of you that aren’t aware there are two types of singer/guitar players out there. Singers who play guitar and guitar players who sing. I won’t go into too many details but it will suffice to say a singer who plays guitar is a stronger vocalist then guitarist and uses the guitar more as accompaniment. A guitar player who sings is a stronger guitar player and can perform all sorts of acrobatics along a fret board but while they might not be horrible at the microphone there is something to be desired.

Vocally, I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. It always came very easily to me and with the exception of a shy stage I had as a kid I’ve always enjoyed having any chance to perform. Make no mistake the body is your instrument if you are a vocalist. A fact which is made painfully aware when you are sick or for whatever other reason “voiceless.” Getting sick isn’t fun for most people but it is devastating for me because when I get sick I lose my voice and thus I lose my very self.

Guitar is a more complicated story. I like it now and I certainly never hated it. If anything I always had an affinity for the string section. When I was a little kid my favorite instrument was the harp. I wouldn’t sneer at a Violin or Viola though. However for some reason my longing to play the harp went unfulfilled at the time. Perhaps it was because harps were hard to find. Maybe I simply didn’t beg hard enough for a harp lesson. Or maybe it was because my parents weren’t so sure about investing lots of time, money, and space in the house for an instrument that might not get played. (To their credit they did support many of my other endeavors in the arts and it is true I did go through a lot of classes and hobbies as a kid).

It was my father who taught me the guitar though it was somewhat forced at the beginning. I was 11 or 12 at the time and I didn’t want to learn at first. This might have been a result of pre-teen rebellion (i.e. anything your parents do is, like, so lame). Vanity was involved too (I shuddered at the idea of getting calluses on my fingers that, horror of horrors, would make me even more of an untouchable hag to the male version of the species then I already was). Still, because my father was and is a man who was undeterred by arguments based primarily in emotion, I learned to play guitar. Over time I did grow to like it, even love it though it’s not the same love I have for voice.

The love I have for the guitar is more of a love borne out of accomplishment. It is something that I have in my bag of tricks so I can accompany myself (as I have often had to). I am grateful for that level of musical independence. If I hadn’t learned to play I would probably always have to be at someone or something else’s mercy (a band, another guitar player, a vocal track, etc.). With the guitar I don’t have to be a slave to anyone. If a band falls through or a person doesn’t show up whatever, I can play this gig on my own. The guitar has made me more of an artist too (as opposed to just performing). I don’t have to play the songs exactly the way they are on the record. I can improvise and arrange at will which is a freedom I value.

The love I have of singing though is natural. It’s something I was born with and something I know without even having to think about it. It’s something I really couldn’t imagine living without and if I ever did lose my voice…well I can’t lie suicide would come to mind. I suppose I could find a way to keep going. Julie Andrews is thriving in spite of the botched surgery on her vocal chords and Linda Ronstadt inspires me with how she seems to maintain her good nature in spite of Parkinson’s Disease which ended her singing career. Still, when I read their stories I can’t ignore that undercurrent of darkness. What if you lost your voice and thus all that you seemingly are?

My singing and guitar playing aren’t all that I am though some days I may feel like they are. I am a singer who plays guitar and I want music to be a part of my life. However I don’t want to come to that point where I would be undone if I lost my voice or if I got arthritis and couldn’t play the guitar. Perhaps all I can do, all anyone can do, is to appreciate the gifts we have and use them whenever we can. That way at least you never have to live with regret. Or perhaps I can learn to make music a part of my life without letting it be the only thing in my life.

That’s probably going to take more practice then the guitar.

Stealing Artistically

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One of the main rules many artists have been taught to take seriously is avoiding plagiarism or copying someone else’s work. However in the past few weeks some of my favorite artists have become embroiled in scandals and debates relating to this topic.

The first story is that of Led Zeppelin who are currently being sued by representatives of the band Spirit for allegedly ripping off the guitar line for the infamous “Stairway to Heaven”. While the story has gained plenty of publicity it’s actually one that many fans of rock music have been aware of for several years (Chappell). (Cracked.com, for instance, mentioned the similarities between the songs back in 2010.) This is not the first time Led Zeppelin have been accused of plagiarism. In 1972 the band was sued by ARC Records who claimed that “The Lemon Song” was plagiarized from the Howlin’ Wolf number “Killing Floor” (turnmeondeadman.com) In 1985 the band was again sued, this time by blues musician Willie Dixon who claimed the song “Whole Lotta Love” borrowed heavily from his song “You Need Love” (DeGroot).The most recent lawsuit against the band was in 2010; the plaintiff was musician Jake Holmes who claimed Led Zeppelin had plagiarized his song “Dazed and Confused” (Ibid). In all three cases the band settled out of court and the respective musicians have been given songwriting credits on reissues of the albums (though Jake Holmes has merely been given a credit of “Inspired by” on the Celebration Day album and DVD (www.turnmeondeadman.com).

The second story is that of Jack White and The Black Keys. The two bands have had a bit of feud for several years. However in a recent Rolling Stone article, White accused The Keys of ripping off his sound stating, “There are kids at school who dress like everybody else, because they don’t know what to do, and there are musicians like that, too. I’ll hear TV commercials where the music’s ripping off sounds of mine, to the point I think it’s me. Half the time, it’s the Black Keys…” White also went on to suggest that there are musicians that open up a market (his example Amy Winehouse) and those that merely follow in their footsteps (his examples Duffy, Lana Del Rey, and Adele). White has since apologized for his statements on his website.

Both of these stories are intriguing to me (obviously since they are both about artists that I enjoy and listen to on a regular basis). However both bring up some interesting questions about copying and plagiarism. When does “inspiration” turn into plagiarism? Where is the fine line between being in the company of your favorite artists or merely being a “copy-cat?” The answer might be more complicated then we think.

First we might need to review the definition of plagiarism. According to plagiarism.org (who utilize the definition of the Merriam Webster dictionary) “to plagiarize means; to steal or pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own, to use (another’s production) without crediting the source, to commit literary theft, to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source” (www.plagiarism.org). The site states plagiarism is an act of fraud that involves stealing someone’s work and lying about it afterwards (Ibid). It also notes that under US Law the expression of ideas are protected under copyright laws as intellectual property as long as they are recorded in some way (Ibid). Obliviously the definition is stringent though the site also notes plagiarism can be avoided by simply crediting any sources utilized (Ibid).

However there are those that challenge the conventional ideas about plagiarism and copyright law. Among these individuals are Kirby Ferguson and Austin Kleon. Both men argue that nothing is really “original” and that most creative works are a mash-up or remix of previous ideas. Ferguson in particular takes aim at copyright law stating, “American Copyright and Patent laws run counter to this notion that we build on the work of others. Instead these laws…use the rather awkward analogy of property. Now creative works may indeed be kind of like property, but it’s property we are all building on and creations can only take root and grow once that ground has been prepared.”

So what is an artist to do in a world where nothing is original but copyright laws rule the day? Well according to Austin Kleon (author of the book Steal Like an Artist) the answers lie in understanding your creative genealogy (i.e. the family tree of artist you admire and are similar to) and then collecting ideas from those artists and transforming those ideas into something greater. As Picasso said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Though as Led Zeppelin might attest, citing your sources can help too.

Bibliography and Works Cited

Beauchemin, Molly. “Jack White Slams The Black Keys, Suggests Once Again That They’ve Ripped Off His Sound.” Pitchfork. N.p., 30 May 2014. Web. 5 June 2014. .

Chappell, Bill. “Led Zeppelin Sued Over ‘Stairway To Heaven’ Guitar Line.” NPR. NPR, 20 May 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

DeGroot, Joey. “7 Songs That Led Zeppelin Ripped Off.” Music Times RSS. N.p., 20 May 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Ferguson, Kirby. “Kirby Ferguson: Embracing the Remix.” YouTube. YouTube, 10 Aug. 2012. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Kleon, Austin “Steal Like An Artist: Austin Kleon at TEDxKC.” By Austin Kleon. YouTube. YouTube, 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “The Lemon Song”” Turn Me On Dead Man. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism?” Turn Me On Dead Man. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Whole Lotta Love”” Turn Me On Dead Man. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Ramakrishnan, Rohan. “The 5 Most Famous Musicians Who Are Thieving Bastards.” Cracked.com. N.p., 06 May 2010. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Scalese, Roberto. “Stairway to Theftin’: Led Zeppelin Sued in Most Entertaining Lawsuit Ever.” Boston.com. The New York Times, 03 June 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“What Is Plagiarism?” Plagiarism.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2014. .

White, Jack, III. “An Apology and Explanation from Jack White.” Jack White. N.p., 31 May 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Navigating the Creative U-Turn

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I haven’t written on this blog in about two weeks and I’ve had trouble picking up the guitar. It’s made me feel some guilt as I do tend to have a bit of a work/success oriented nature i.e. sometimes I feel my value as a person comes from what I produce or what I am doing with my life. However I’ve felt a slight sense of panic too. For most of my life, if not my whole life, I’ve wanted to be an artist in some sense and for the past few weeks I’ve suddenly been questioning myself about whether I have what it takes and whether I even want to be an artist anymore. In short I’ve been experiencing a creative U-turn (or perhaps in my case it’s more of a crossroads).

The Creative U-Turn is a term that was coined by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. It can be defined as a point when an artist stops pursuing a creative goal or project; generally as a result of fear, negativity, or pain. Creative U-turns can take different forms depending on the type of art and the artists involved. Cameron notes many examples of this; the painter who picks a fight with the gallery owner at his first group show, the musicians who record a demo that gets an enthusiastic response and then stop working together, the screenwriter who doesn’t make any changes on his script for an agent are all examples of creative U-turns (Cameron,155). However, while U-Turns can take different forms Cameron theorizes they are usually a result of some sort of fear.

How should an artist deal with a U-turn? Well, according to Cameron, we should extend ourselves some sympathy and compassion (Cameron, 156). Creativity can be scary and in fact life itself is scary (Ibid). It helps to remember that artists are not the only ones to struggle with U-turns and various forms of self sabotage (Ibid). Lawyers, Doctors, Office Workers, and Retail Workers struggle with their own forms of self sabotage too. Cameron also notes that Creative U-Turns and failures are often a part of successful creative careers. She notes the story of Blake Edwards who spent seven years in a self-imposed exile in Switzerland following being fired from one of his own films (Ibid, 157). He returned to directing after deciding that using his creativity would be a better way to heal then sitting on the sidelines and he became aggressively productive with his main regret being the time it took for him to get to that point (Ibid). 

Sometimes a U-Turn might even be necessary. In this case I’m thinking about author Liz Gilbert. After the major success of her book Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert suddenly found herself with millions of readers eagerly awaiting her next project. Over the next year she wrote a first draft of what would eventually become Committed. However after completing the manuscript she realized that something wasn’t right. In her words, “The voice didn’t sound like me. The voice didn’t sound like anybody. The voice sounded like something coming through a megaphone, mistranslated.” Gilbert put that manuscript away turned her attention to her garden and other pursuits (Gilbert, xiv). She wrote, “…this was not exactly a crisis, that period when I could not…figure out how to write naturally…I even started wondering if maybe I was finished as a writer. Not being a writer didn’t seem like the worst fate in the world…but I honestly couldn’t tell yet. I had to spend a lot more hours in the tomato patch…before I could sort this thing out” (Ibid). Ultimately Gilbert’s U-Turn ended when she realized that while she couldn’t promise that her next book would satisfy millions of readers, she could write something that she needed to write (Ibid). She limited the audience in her mind from the millions of expectant fans to twenty seven important women in her life and wrote the book for them (Ibid, xv). Committed was published in 2010 and since then Gilbert has continued her successful career publishing her recent novel The Signature of All Things in 2013.

Recovering from a creative U-turn can require a great deal of compassion and patience. According to Cameron, the first step is admitting it. You have to say to say to yourself “Yes, I did react negatively towards fear and pain. Yes, I do need help” (Cameron, 157). The next step is to figure out what obstacles are the most intimidating. In Cameron’s words, “An agent jump may frighten you more then a workshop jump. A review jump may be okay while a rewrite jump scares your talent to death” (Ibid). Often at this stage Cameron advises looking for help from other successful artists i.e. asking them how they have done successful rewrites, gotten agents, recovered from bad reviews or conquered whatever challenge that you are currently facing (Ibid). Self reflection is a key piece too. Cameron notes that before any project it’s a good idea to ask yourself questions that remove any blocks between yourself and the work (Ibid, 159). These questions are as follows.

1) What am I angry about? The goal is to make a list about any anger you have related to the project at hand. Examples could be anything from resentment about being the second artist asked to do a show, to anger at an editor or director who constantly nitpicks your work (Cameron, 159).

2) What am I afraid of? The goal with this question is to identify any and all fears about the project or people connected to it (Ibid). You might say in this case, “I’m afraid of people not liking my work,” “I’m afraid of not being able to live up to my past projects,” or “I’m afraid that the only reason I got the part was my competitor had a falling out with the director and now everyone will compare me to him.”

3) Have I left anything out? With this question you are supposed to ask yourself if your current issues are all there is. Have you left out any anger or fear that seems inconsequential or trivial (Ibid)? This might be the part where you say “Ok…I am somewhat afraid of seeing that one musician/writer/director/etc. that’s always so condescending when he talks to me at any events.”

4)What do I stand to gain by not doing this project? With this question you need to find out exactly how you benefit from any self sabotage. The most common example might be “Well if I don’t perform/write this piece no one can criticize it or me.” This is by no means the only example though; others might be “I can criticize others from a less vulnerable position ” or “My editor/mother/significant other/ex will worry about me” (Ibid).

Once you have asked these questions and identified all your angers and fears you can then be more able to let them go. At this point Cameron advises making a deal with your creative force and saying “You take care of the quality and I’ll take care of the quantity” (Ibid, 160). Ultimately, whether we reflect and make our deals with the universe or simply follow Blake Edwards’ example of going back to work and picking up where we left off, navigating our creative U-turns is a challenging but often valuable part of our journey as artists. I hope that you will share some of your own creative U-turns and recoveries in the comments section. As for me, I might just go pick up the guitar.

Bibliography and Works Cited

“Biography.” Official Website for Best Selling Author Elizabeth Gilbert. Dave Cahill/River Net Computers, 2013. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/&gt;.

Cameron, Julia. “Recovering A Sense Of Compassion.” The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992, 2002. 154-60. Print.

Gilbert, Elizabeth. “A Note to the Reader.” Introduction. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage. New York: Viking, 2010. Xiv-vi. Print.