Saturday, April 21, 2007


I have an annoying habit, annoying to me anyway, of, every time I encounter a creative work that I like, or that I think is good -- a story, a painting, a song -- thinking, "I could do that. Why am I not doing that? I should be doing that."

I've never been a comic book fan, but I found some great erotic comics this week. I guess it's the sex that drew me in enough to really look at them, but the fact that they're so well drawn is what impressed me and held my interest. Well, the sex held my interest, too. Here's a link -- don't click if, for some reason, you don't want to see depictions of sex.

I've been looking at a lot of painting, research for the artist character in my screenplay. Especially Caravaggio and the many painters he influenced in that period and after. The Blanton Museum here in Austin has a great collection of European painting, and it's not crowded, even on "Free Thursdays," so I can really spend time looking at the paintings, something that is pretty much impossible to do at the bigger museums any more.

It's not so much that I think I could ever paint like Caravaggio, but I do think that I could have been a good painter. I think I am that talented, if only I had stuck with it. Maybe so.

Back then, painters learned to paint. They studied for years with experts, studied the materials, craft, techniques. They copied paintings to learn how they were made. When I studied painting at Parsons, we did no such thing. We had one class, two hours a week, on materials and techniques. We learned how to make our own stretchers, prime a canvas with lead white paint, we made paper. We made oil paint and egg tempera. Lots of little crafty projects that we laughed at and considered very passe and unnecessary.

Meanwhile, in our studio classes which were the core of the curriculum, consisting of drawing or painting and critiques, we had philosophical discussions about the meaning of art. We learned how to bullshit. Any instruction in the actual making of art was practically accidental. (An exception was my painting teacher, Regina Granne, who spent some time in the first few weeks teaching us about materials, how to work with oils, how to clean our brushes, etc. She was a figurative painter in a sea of abstractionists whose teachers were the New York School generation.)

It's not that we were discouraged from actually learning to paint. We could do it, but on our own time.

This is one of the most respected art schools in the world, and, if we wanted to take a dump in the corner and call it art, it was fine as long as we could talk about it in the correct vernacular. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. Maybe not.

We in the Fine Arts department looked down on the Illustration majors. They had copped out. We were artists. Looking back, I wonder if, had I chosen to study illustration, I would have learned more.

I've been investigating life drawing groups and classes in Austin, because I have a strong urge to start drawing again. But I worry. After two years of college, studying theater, I decided I needed to study painting because I wanted to be a director and to be a great director I needed to know how to paint. But when I was in art school, I "realized" I actually wanted to be a painter. Painting led me to start playing in a band (we all know how that is), and from there I started composing for experimental theater, which led me to folk music, and then to film. Which is where I am now and trying to stay put.

I know one thing leads to another, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I worry about one thing leading to another so quickly that I never finish anything.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


We finally broke our streak of disappointing films. We rented Permanent Midnight. I don't know why I didn't know about this film when it came out (a few years ago?), but it's so good. So good. It's based on the story of Jerry Stahl, a television writer who was also a heroin addict. It's intense, funny, heartbreaking, visually beautiful. Maria Bello, one of my favorite actors, is in it.

Another breakthrough in my culture consumption: this week I read Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion's 1970 novel. It's short and intense. I've been a Didion fan for many years, but for some reason never read her fiction till now. I'm so glad I did!

I usually read about a book a week, but I hadn't finished a book in a couple months. I got bogged down trying to read Moby Dick and a Foucault reader at the same time. I so rarely don't finish a book I've started, but I had to take both of them back to the library. I just couldn't do it. I don't know what it was about Moby Dick. I'm used to reading big, old novels. I love them. I was even enjoying the characters and the beginning of the story. But I was 200 pages into it and nothing had happened yet!

(Part of the difficulty may be that I'm preoccupied with my screenplay right now. I'm also having a hard time sitting still for 20 minutes to meditate.)

And the Foucault. I've tried a few times over the years to read Foucault, because his writing has been so influential in so many areas. But every time, I give up, feeling stupid. I'll read paragraphs three or four times and still have no idea what he's talking about. It's like code. The words are familiar. The sentence structure is familiar. But the meaning is hidden.

So Joan Didion was a relief. Clear, direct, beautiful.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


It's been raining softly for hours. Almost all day. It was dark when I woke up. I thought it was about 7 or so, judging by the light, but it was almost 9.

I'm reading a book about Jusepe de Ribera, a Baroque painter, who I think is going to be a favorite of my artist character. He paints in a style made famous by Caravaggio called tenebrism, where the emotion of the scene is heightened by the use of dramatic illumination and deep contrast. He's famous for paintings of the martyrdom of various saints, so there are lots of pictures of figures twisting in agony, faces contorted, etc. Beautiful stuff.

Looking at these pictures makes me want to find a life drawing class or group in Austin.

Spoiling Movies.

Don't read this post if you're going to see The Namesake and you don't want your experience to be affected by my opinion of it. Don't worry, I won't give away any of the plot.

J. and I had been looking forward to this movie since we saw a trailer for it weeks ago. I loved the film of Vanity Fair, made by the same director. I didn't see Mississippi Masala. But The Namesake is another film where the trailer is much more coherent and affecting than the actual film. The folks who make trailers these days are very talented people!

It wasn't a downright awful film, but it suffered from the problem of so many film adaptations of novels: a structure that starts to feel like "and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened," etc. That said, there were plenty of really beautiful and moving images and sequences.

The actor who played the central character -- well, it's hard to say for sure if he's the central character, which is kind of a problem, plot-wise -- is great. Every moment that he's on screen feels true in a way that the film as a whole does not.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Eyes and teeth.

For Christmas last year, my mom and dad gave me $500 for new glasses. I told them I thought I would spend it on a trip to the dentist instead. My eyes and my teeth need attention, but I decided my teeth should come first.

I used to get my teeth cleaned every 8 months or so. I loved my hygienist and dentist in New York. And in Nashville, I went to the clinic at the Vanderbilt dental school. But I got out of the habit when I was living on the road, and since then I just haven't had the money. So it's been a few years. I take good care of my teeth, brush and floss religiously, but still...

So I took my $500 to the dentist down the street. He found a few cavities, nothing too big, and he decided he wanted to replace the enamel in some spots where my gums are receding. Fine. But the whole thing was going to cost about $1500. So I had him do $500 worth.

The price of the first visit, the exam, included a cleaning, but he said they do that after they fill the cavities. But since I can't afford to have the rest of the cavities filled, I don't get the cleaning that I paid for. I guess I could go down there and tell them I won't have the money for the cavities any time soon, so I'd like to cash in on my cleaning.

I'm embarrassed to do that. Embarrassed, I guess, that I'm so poor I can't afford to take care of my teeth. Worried that the people in the dentist's office will think I'm pathetic. As if it matters what they think of me. It seems every little stress in my life can be traced back to my feelings of failure.

Now, every day when I have to take my glasses off to see anything closer than 2 feet away, I am reminded that my teeth still need attention and I still need new glasses.