September 29, 2014

Comparison and self-doubt are the thief of creativity

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that "comparison is the thief of joy." Comparison is also the thief of production and creativity. It is deadly and antithetical to the artist, the creator and the creative process. Philip Larkin said to the Paris Review:
"Everyone envies everyone else."
He also wrote a poem, 'On Being Twenty-Six':
"I feared these present years, 
The middle twenties, 
When deftness disappears, 
And each event is 
Freighted with a source-encrusting doubt, 
And turned to drought."
Quentin Blake said: "As soon as I knew something was intended for print, I tightened up."

Hitchens wrote, embrace the doubt and comparison:
"The main thing as I keep saying, I never tire of saying is, to keep testing yourself against other writers who are better than you. That’s what qualifies one as a writer I think, permanently running the risk of having to say I don’t know why I bother."
He elaborated on this:
"[With George Orwell] you don’t get the sense for example when you’re reading Proust or Nebokhov or George Eliot that you shouldn’t be in the writing business."

September 28, 2014

George Orwell - Writing is hard, Ctd

George Orwell's1984 is the classic of classics. One of the most celebrated book in the English canon that speaks and sells powerfully to this day. Yes 1984 is a classic. Yet for Orwell, the writing of it was most testing. Early drafts were seen by Orwell as "ghastly" and "dreadful" messes. While writing 1984 in May 1947, Orwell wrote to his publisher Fred Warburg: 
"Of course the rough draft is always a ghastly mess bearing little relation to the finished result, but all the same it is the main part of the job."

September 26, 2014

Will Self - Art is theft, Ctd

Kingsley Amis by Anglo-Polish impressionist painter Feliks Topolski
Will Self (@wself) said during a panel conversation on Dubliners by James Joyce:
"Being pray to the anxiety of influence - and if any writer tells you that she or he doesn’t suffer from the anxiety of influence then they’re a stone-cold liar."
He explained how W.H. Auden notoriously used to write "GETS" in the margins of books for "Good Enough To Steal":
"W.H. Auden notoriously used to write in the marginalia "GETS", in the margins of books for "Good Enough To Steal". So I most re-read James Joyce’s Dubliners to steal stuff."
Will Self also explained that he likes to think he's a good enough writer to thieve. He said in the Guardian:

September 25, 2014

Conference Drawing

My Conference Notes Cartoon of Josh Richards (@Mighty_Ginge) at @Create2014Co, more here.
I do Live Drawing. I also do Conference Drawing. This is where I go to conferences, seminars and talks and document what is said through words and coloured drawings. Think mind maps. Think story boards. A wonderful way to remember the special event and the special ideas and contacts made. Below are 12 images from the 12 conferences and events that I've done Conference Drawing at over the last year. Click the links below to see a full selection of images from each of the 12 events. 

Read more about Live Drawing here. See a full chronology of all the Live Drawing cartoons I've ever drawn on my Flickr page here. See how I work and think and process ideas on my Live Drawing Tumblr portfolio here.

Ireland - A cynical tax haven?

Fintan O'Toole by Jon Berkeley
Fintan O'Toole wrote in May 2013, Ireland needs a better economic strategy than ‘come here to avoid tax'. He said: "An official White House report categorised Ireland as a tax haven in 2009 and last week’s Senate hearings on Apple’s creative accounting embedded the phrase in public discourse. If it takes permanent hold, the consequences could be enormous." He then said:
"I was browsing Forbes, the magazine for billionaires, online about a year ago. There was a piece about Ireland’s status as a tax haven. Apparently through some technological glitch, you could see that two phrases had been edited out and replaced with euphemisms. Thus “Ireland’s tax favoured status” was struck out and replaced with “Ireland’s hospitality”.

And the statement that “US companies can pretend to be headquartered in Ireland in order to avoid US tax” was doctored to say that US companies can “set up shop in Ireland”. This kind of thing is amusing, but it’s also deadly serious."
Fintan O'Toole explained how critical language is to international community's perception of Ireland:
"The Forbes piece is a perfect illustration of how vulnerable the perception of Ireland is to changes of language. Ireland is either a hospitable place where you can set up shop like a friendly village grocer or a cynical tax haven, and increasingly, in the US, it is routinely referred to as the latter.

September 24, 2014

Live Drawing at Arcadia Deli (@ArcadiaDeli), Belfast

Drawing Irish writer and thinker Colm Dore (@ColmDore) at Arcadia Deli
I spent the last Saturday of August 2014 drawing at Arcadia Delicatessan on the Lisburn Road, Belfast. With me being a regular this was a great way to interact with the staff and also meet some of the other customers, and of course draw them. I was operating on a donation system and started quickly. It was the usual Saturday bounce with young children smelling of grass and running about in their freshly used rugby and football kits; mums and dads doing their meat shopping and selecting a choice wine for the weekend dinner party.
It was great to see Irish poet Michael Longley come shuffling into the shop and accept my offer for a sitting. He was a joy to draw and speak with and you can see a Vine video of the drawing and a good selection of photos below. You can also see a full range of my cartoons of the staff and customers if you click to see more below.
This was a great way to lift things for the shop, the customers and the artist, all coming together in a cherry triangle of high spirits. Art, business and shopping - an intoxicating mix!
See my Live Drawing blog here, with a post on drawing Michael Longley here and drawing at Arcadia Deli here. Read about how I do Live Drawing from my website here. See a full chronology on all the Live cartoons I've ever drawn on my Flickr page here, and see how I work and think and process ideas on my Live Drawing Tumblr portfolio here.

The vivisected Northern Ireland

Cartoon if Isaiah Berlin
For the committed anti-sectarian and anti-tribalist in Northern Ireland, I give you Isaiah Berlin and his explanation on monism and why the belief in one unalloyed, fixed, unchangeable doctrine leads, inevitability, to the vivisection of society:
"There is little need to stress the fact that monism, and faith in a single criterion, has always proved a source of deep satisfaction both to the intellect and to the emotions… [However] it is bound, provided it is inflexible enough, to encounter some unforeseen and unforeseeable human development, which it will not fit; and will then be used to justify the a priori barbarities of Procrustes - the vivisection of actual human societies into some fixed pattern dictated by our fallible understanding of a largely imaginary past or a wholly imaginary future."
Also read Kenan Malik on multiculturalism here. Newton Emerson on a vivisected Northern Ireland, he said:
"Census figures for the Upper Ormeau Road… is 57% Catholic and 27% Protestant, yet just 36% describe themselves as "Irish", with the remainder evenly split between British and Northern Irish. So what can explain the DUP’s betrayal of an area that epitomises Peter Robinson’s stated vision of a Northern Ireland "at peace with itself" and "for all of us, not them and us".
Cowardice in the face of loyalism must be a partial explanation, and it is quite some cowardice, as the upper Ormeau Road are believed to barely number into double figures. Electoral calculations in Belfast and more widely against the TUV will also be a factor. However, this retreat from its own policy and constitutional objective implies so much short-sightedness, spinelessness and stupidity that there has to be a deeper explanation.
Is the DUP really envisaging a Northern Ireland that depends on Catholic support which would in turn depend on tolerance, neutrality and equality? The fact that the party sees no value whatsoever in protecting places like the upper Ormeau Road suggests its true vision is a retreat into a patchwork of ethnic laagers, with Northern Ireland becoming a Catholic Bosnia overlaid with a Protestant Republika Srpska. What other explanation can there be when ten loyalists with a ladder outweigh the 40% of Catholics in upper Ormeau who, even now, have made their peace with partition. 
What the DUP wants or fears is not necessarily what will come to pass. Council reorganisation still points more to a “Belgium on the Bann” scenario, with an Irish west, a British east and an uneasily shared capital. But that less-than-ideal future is the best we can hope for and every step the DUP takes to the right brings the Balkans closer into view."
Read more about the divided Bosnian city of Sarajevo here:
"Nineteen years after the war ended, Bosnia operates as two "entities", the predominantly Muslim and Croat Federation, and the overwhelmingly Serb-dominated Serb Republic (RS). The highly autonomous RS was recognised by the peace settlement. Many Muslims regard it as the product of ethnic cleansing, while for Serbs its existence is a guarantor of peace."

September 23, 2014

How Matisse inspired Miffy

The creator of Miffy the Rabbit explained here (45m25) how Matisse inspired him. In an article in the Telegraph, 'I saw Matisse - and came up with Miffy', Dick Bruna said:
"[In Paris] I saw Picasso for the first time and Léger and all those big painters. When I saw Matisse's work – especially his late collages – he became the most important man in my life."
Also here and here. Below is how Matisse inspired other modern graphic designers.

Christopher Hitchens - We are in need of a renewed Enlightenment

Benjamin Frankling, a pillar of the American Englightenment, by Gerald Scarfe, here
Christopher Hitchens said:
"Above all, we are in need of a renewed Enlightenment, which will base itself on the proposition that the proper study of mankind is man and woman. This Enlightenment will not need to depend, like its predecessors, on the heroic breakthroughs of a few gifted and exceptionally courageous people. It is within the compass of the average person. The study of literature and poetry, both for its own sake and for the eternal ethical questions with which it deals, can now easily depose the scrutiny of sacred texts that have been found to be corrupt and confected. The pursuit of unfettered scientific inquiry, and the availability of new findings to masses of people by electronic means, will revolutionize our concepts of research and development. Very importantly, the divorce between the sexual life and fear, and the sexual life and disease, and the sexual life and tyranny, can now at last be attempted, on the sole condition that we banish all religions from the discourse. And all this and more is, for the first time in our history, within the reach if not the grasp of everyone."
Jenni Russell (@jennirsl) wrote that there's nothing inevitable about the victory of enlightenment values. In an earlier post I wrote that Christopher Hitchens said that enlightenment principles need to be fought for and defended by every generation. Scottish historian Niall Ferguson (@nfergus) noted that "the greatest thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment were not nationalists but cosmopolitans".

In Northern Ireland, where tribal acrimony and antipathy govern all levels of public discourse these principles are exceptionally necessary. We need to move away from what David Hume called "the vulgar motive of national antipathy."

In a Letter to Lafayette Monticello in May 1817, Thomas Jefferson said:
"Ignorance and bigotry, like other insanities, are incapable of self-government."
I earlier wrote that we could say that sectarians are mentally and morally unwell. And so as Christopher Hitchens said, "condemnation of bigotry and superstition is not just a moral question but a matter of survival."

September 22, 2014

We are deluding and damaging society if we cannot speak freely of the public dead

Cartoon of Paisley with Harold Wilson, Ted Heath, Jim Callaghan, Thatcher, Major and then Blair and Ahern. By Ian Knox.
[UPDATE* - Ed Moloney spoke about the passing of Paisley on New York radio here, and said among several rich comments that "Although Brian Faulkner was brought down by a broad coalition of Loyalists, the scene was set years before that by Paisley’s agitation."]
[UPDATE II - Clifford Smyth wrote on Ed Moloney's blog that when Paisley began his political career in the 1960s Northern Ireland was a stable and peaceful society and Irish Republicans were reflecting on why the IRA campaign waged between 1956 and ’62, had failed, and how a reshaped strategy might succeed.]

Compulsory praise, homage and adulation. The scurrilous sanctimony of it. I've written about it three time before, the death eiquette (here, here and here), and will go one more time. When Paisley passed, there was as expected, and on schedule, a mass outbreak of moist and dewey eyed encomium and panegyrics. A bombardment of hagiography and neuteured, one-sided reqiuems. Pure, leader-reverent propaganda. Total distortion. Total self-delusion of the worst most self-harming kind. If the man was a thundering bigot, incubator and mobiliser of hatred for over half a century that needs ruthless examination and full public acknowledgement.

Yet death in Ireland is a time for seeing only good and burrying the bad. Fintan O'Toole wrote about it and said:
"Death is one of the things we do well in Ireland. There is a decency, a kindness, a communal instinct to try to lessen a family’s grief by taking a little bit of it onto ourselves...

September 12, 2014

The protocol, convention and etiquette for public figure deaths

Scanlan's Monthly cover by Ralph Steadman of Richard Nixon getting punched
When a prominent public figure dies we are guaranteed a steam train of piety and praise. The media will compliment where compliment is due, this is right, but it is wrong for the media to allow any public figure eulogy to go unchecked. There must be a recognition, public airing, examination and learning from the bad, their wrongs and their mistakes, their misrule, misdeeds and misbehaviour. The deceased public figure is not untouchable, the deceased public figure is not a sacred cow; a unifying consensus of reverence does a disservice to the public and to posterity.

I will punch that sacred cow. Yet the establishment wont. Glenn Greenwald calls this The Protocol For Public Figure Deaths.  A convention and etiquette that outlaws honest criticism and imposes a vow of silence. In his obituary for Christopher Hitchens, Glenn Greenwald criticised both the convention of non-criticism and Hitchens himself,  saying here:
"The death this week of Christopher Hitchens and the remarkably undiluted, intense praise lavished on him by media discussions... Hitchens was an extremely controversial, polarizing figure. And particularly over the last decade, he expressed views — not ancillary to his writings but central to them — that were nothing short of repellent. 
Subordinating his brave and intellectually rigorous defense of atheism, Hitchens’ glee over violence, bloodshed, and perpetual war dominated the last decade of his life. Dennis Perrin, a friend and former protégée of Hitchens, described all the way back in 2003 how Hitchens’ virtues as a writer and thinker were fully swamped by his pulsating excitement over war and the Bush/Cheney imperial agenda: 
I can barely read him anymore. His pieces in the Brit tabloid The Mirror and in Slate are a mishmash of imperial justifications and plain bombast; the old elegant style is dead. His TV appearances show a smug, nasty scold with little tolerance for those who disagree with him. He looks more and more like a Ralph Steadman sketch. And in addition to all this, he’s now revising what he said during the buildup to the Iraq war."
And so:
"Nobody should have to silently watch someone with this history be converted into some sort of universally beloved literary saint. To enshrine him as worthy of unalloyed admiration is to insist that these actions were either themselves commendable or, at worst, insignificant. Nobody who writes about politics for decades will be entirely free of serious error, but how serious the error is, whether it reflects on their character, and whether they came to regret it, are all vital parts of honestly describing and assessing their work. To demand its exclusion is an act of dishonesty.

September 09, 2014

Ralph Steadman and Quentin Blake on the term cartoonist

If there's one thing I struggle with it's what to call the Live Drawing aspect of my work. The name for me is a little clumsy. As are the terms cartoonist and caricaturist. As Ralph Steadman said:
"In some ways ‘cartoonist’ is a derogatory term. People have said it to me dozens of times – you’re just a cartoonist. But I’m rather keen on the Wittgenstein bit about the only thing of value being what you cannot say. That’s the thing about drawing: when you try to say something in pictures, it gains a dimension that language can’t match. I like that.”
And I wouldn't even use the term illustrator. As Quentin Blake said:
"There's a snobbery about illustration." 
Ralph Steadman said that he's an artist, not an illustrator, but prefers cartoonist to illustrator:
"I always wanted to be an artist, period: I hate the word illustrator - it just sounds so limp - I prefer cartoonist. Goya was a cartoonist, Daumier was a cartoonist, even Picasso used the cartoon form to express himself. But cartooning has got a really bad name now hasn’t it? People think it’s just something for filling up a column in a newspaper [adopts condescending voice] ‘Oh, it’s only a cartoon, here’s a fiver…’ I’m not trying to be artsy-fartsy but I don’t like the division that one thing is fine art and another thing isn’t."
"Cartooning meant more to me than just funny pictures. I needed to apply it as a weapon almost."
And finally Ralph Steadman said:
"I try to use cartoon as an artist. I hate artistic snobbery. It’s bullshit. You should have no truck with it whatsoever. Have no truck with it."

September 08, 2014

Philip Larkin - 'On Being Twenty-six'

As I savour these last few minutes and moments of my 26 years in this society and make it 27, I want to share my cartoon of Philip Larkin and his poem, 'On Being Twenty-six.' In a period of change and challenge and in a time of self-doubt and crippling comparison, Larkin's word are hugely soothing and encouraging. I also want to share this as a shout out for Lyra McKee as she approaches the 26 mark and battles the precarious and uncertain forces of the freelance world. You too Lyra can take strength and guidance from a successful poet who often thought he was useless. Here it is,  Philip Larkin 'On Being Twenty-six':
I feared these present years, 
      The middle twenties, 
When deftness disappears, 
And each event is 
Freighted with a source-encrusting doubt, 
      And turned to drought. 

September 03, 2014

The Orwell Method

George Orwell by Ralph Steadman, with full selection here
[UPDATE: Christopher Hitchens explains how Orwell was "arguing all of the time with his own prejudices and his own fears and his own bigotries and his own shortcomings."
UPDATE II: Also read my blog post from September 2013 on opposition as the ointment to groupthink.]
Paul Muldoon explained:
"Be deeply suspicious, first of all, of your own prejudices before you begin to approach the prejudices of others."
V.S. Pritchett echoed this:
"George Orwell... was more likely in politics to chasten his own side than the enemy."  
Christopher Hitchens too:
"The unpleasant facts that George Orwell chose to face were usually the ones that put his own position, or his own preference to the test."
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