Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Scarlett, jazz, and pretzels

“There’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t like something.” My grandmother used to say that and it’s a good thing to keep in mind when you’re creating a work of art. I was reminded of that recently when I saw an exhibit of artifacts from the making of the movie, Gone With the Wind.
            I hadn’t realized that so many people opposed so many aspects of the famous film, which was based on Margaret Mitchell’s bestseller. There were letters there from the NAACP protesting the portrayal of African Americans. Ultimately, the filmmaker did consult with the head of that organization and compromised somewhat on the objections. There were also letters from the head of the KKK. I think even that hateful organization was assuaged by taking out a scene they found offensive to their creed.
            Although the movie was wildly popular and still is, no one thinks it was a balanced portrayal of how things should’ve been. It was not politically correct, may not have been accurate, and is probably not great art. But it endures.
            Wynton Marsalis, the great jazz trumpeter, had some insightful observations in an interview I saw the other day. He talked about the vagaries of being dedicated to any art form. I got the feeling he had first-hand knowledge as he described how fickle the public and critics can be, how difficult it is to make money and still maintain artistic integrity. His advice? Be resolute. You hear a lot of advice for artists—be persistent, be dedicated, be patient—but be resolute is probably the best advice I’ve heard. When no one else believes in you, you have to continue to believe in yourself and run that gauntlet between the people who like this and the people who hate that.
            This is a problem that confronts us when we do something creative. Portray what we think is true or what we all wish were true?
Ultimately, it’s for the artist to decide. Sometimes, the world wants you to bend yourself into a pretzel so it can toss you into the box with all the other pretzels. Don’t do it. Be resolute.
           My published novels, The Legend of Juan Miguel and The Passion of Juan Miguel are available on Amazon.com.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Georgia O’Keeffe and I See Eye to Eye

Georgia O’Keeffe said in her later years that living on the wide open, barely civilized prairies of north Texas inspired her to begin her lifelong journey as an artist. She sensed in the place and the people what we Texans sense in ourselves—freedom, unbending self-reliance, and unending possibilities.
I feel a kinship with her. I grew up on the same high tabletop plain she was talking about. The most important thing I learned from it was to be content with solitude. And I learned the corollaries of that, to look within for meaning, for entertainment, for the sound judgment of your real instincts.
When she was in her 20s, O’Keeffe taught art at Amarillo High School and later at the West Texas Normal College in Canyon. She painted the magnificent Palo Duro Canyon, the haunting endless flat prairies, and the unmatchable sky. Like so many others before and since, she found some things there she never expected to find, like beauty, mysticism … God, even.
            Is there really beauty on the lonely wind-swept flat dusty plains of North Texas? Yes, it’s there. The place is indescribably beautiful but only if you’re looking beyond the surface. O’Keeffe learned to do that during the few years she spent there, and we’re all the richer for it.
I’ve been researching Georgia O’Keeffe’s time in Texas — five or six years in the late 1910s — for my next novel. What a treat to see one of my favorite places through the eyes of one of my favorite artists.
My published novels, The Legend of Juan Miguel and The Passion of Juan Miguel are available on Amazon.com.