TWC Podcast – Episode 01 – Art and Death

Robert Cullen’s “Other Cities”

The First Episode is here!  Robert Cullen discusses his latest album “Other Cities,” and what his process is like and where he finds inspiring moments in his music as well as his annual Top 50 Albums of the Year list. We go into to some heavy territory with how death and mortality lends itself to much of his art, but how it helps him come to terms and accept his beliefs.  I also go on a mild rant at the end of the show about some of our previous posts on whether or not depressing content is worth experiencing if it affects oneself too much.

LINKS

1. Robert Cullen’s bandcamp – http://robertcullen.bandcamp.com/

2. Kashiwa Daisuke – http://kashiwadaisuke.com/  (also my favorite song of his https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xc1cZ9Ee2eo )

3. ML Candelario’s “Good Art/Bad Subjects

4. Daniel Hansen “A Response to ‘Good Art/Bad Subjects‘”

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Our First Podcast Episode Coming Soon!

I recently sat down with musical artist Robert Cullen to discuss his album Other Cities as well as other artsy fartsy stuff. He’s a swell guy and very thoughtful.

We’re in the process of editing the audio now, so in lieu of posting an article today we’re going to keep working on it. We’re excited to show you what we recorded!

Stay in touch,

Dan

An Interview: Cameron Strittmatter Pt. 2

This is a continuation of an interview conducted with writer/actor Cameron Strittmatter. See Part 1 if you haven’t already.

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You know we talked a lot about your faith and the gospel. How does your faith influence your art, if at all? Which I believe you mentioned that it does. A follow up question to that: You said that what intrigues you is darkness and mystery and that at the center of your artistic voice comes the fact that death has been conquered. How does your faith coincide with your intrigue of darkness and mystery in your art?

Not another painting by Cameron Strittmatter

Yes, so. Part 1: My faith, has influenced my art insofar as, as I come to understand my purpose as a human. Being called to make disciples and to become more like Jesus. That seems to be the big thing, the big deal that everyone’s talking about in those gospels. It takes you back to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” So as an artist or as anything – And I think that I’ve been given this fun archetype as “eccentric person.” – People will believe me if I say I’m an artist.- To pursue that to excellency. That anything less, is being bad at being a human. You’re wasting something. You find yourself at an odd impasse knowing that everything will be restored and everything will be wonderful. And then at the same time worried that you’re not going to provide something wonderful. It’s a curious juxtaposition. So yeah, my faith directly influences that, in that not only do I want to create but I want to get better. And I know that that’s a process that will never stop. Which is cool. And I don’t think that there will ever be a finally christening moment but only that we’ll be getting better as we become more like Jesus. And I don’t know what infinity looks like but ahh!

*Head explosion gesture*

*Laughter*

I just had an aneurism. My nose might bleed as I think about these things. So yes, a call to excellency is one thing, and as a christian, we have the freedom to do what we do best. Because it’s impossible to not communicate the gospel. That’s another thing, As far as your terms “Implicit vs. Explicit”,  Implicit faith within work of any sort results in communication of the gospel.

YES.

Whether that’s art, or labor, or craftsmanship, any kind of care shown. If you have faith, it is displayed and a person comes to know who Jesus is by your actions. That way I think that its our obligation, but it’s not really an obligation because there’s no stopping it, the more you thinking about it, and reading about it, and praying, you just start broadcasting the gospel! Faith, art, yes.

Without faith, art even lends itself to, because I remember before that, my art had very little direction and wasn’t very good, not to say that those without faith can’t make good art, that’s just ridiculous, but that art speaks on the absence of it. There’s no escaping the central conversation of Who is Jesus? And your art will display your answer to that regardless of your faith. Yeah so. That’s polarizing.

Your second question was how does darkness… what?

Expound upon the relationship between your interest in the darkness and mystery and, what you stated earlier as, “At the heart of death lies an empty tomb.” 

Yes. And so given that purview, that death, while frightening, doesn’t have to be avoided. And I think, having the hope of the gospel, allows you to kinda take off your life jacket, when contemplating darker things, and go for a swim. And even if it does – I’m not saying that it can’t destroy you – You will not be lost, And I think that’s a thing that the non-believer is at risk of doing. When you contemplate these things, when you look over the edge of your boat and you try and figure what’s swimming down there for too long, eventually something is going to investigate you. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s a creepy image.

I just think that being a believer there is less to fear in examining your fear and communicating it. And, I just like scaring people.

*Big laughter*

I love being scared. I think that we are created to have an awe, and a holy fear of God. And little tiny fears especially when are created for a pleasure response, (which is a weird thing) lend themselves to that itch we can’t quite scratch. Again, I’m interested in a Cosmic fear. Sort of a Lovecraft-ian just uh, bigger than terror sort of thing. Again, it ultimately reflects a creator that we cannot know,  at least not completely, but we do know that he loves us. And that there is security and therefore just a lot of fun to play around with uh things that normally have fangs and horns. Yeah.

Awesome, that’s exactly the type of answer I was looking for.

Are you recording this?

Yes.

Oh.

What is the last good film you have seen?

Oh, that’s easy, The Grand Budapest Hotel. I loved it. Oh my gosh. Have you seen it Dan?

I have seen it! What did you like about it?

Ralph Fiennes performance is just so outstanding. And he’s this bizarre pansexual deviant. He never denies his homosexuality, while at the same time he openly displays himself as a brutal slayer of old woman sexually. And just really enjoys sexually satisfying old ladies. So, you’re at this intersection of where his sexuality is really a non-matter. You learn all of his flaws: his quick temper, his willingness to permit murder so he can escape prison. At the same time you see a love and a camaraderie form between him and Zero.

All of his (Wes Anderson) films I really enjoy because they’re pictures of these people that refuse to live the way the world has ascribed to them. And it’s about everyone’s reactions to that one special person who lives the life that they seem to envision is correct and everyone else is like “This doesn’t seem to match up with what I’m observing!” So I think his movies are about crazy people. And I really identify with that, because as long as you’re persuasive enough you can convince everyone else around you that something incredible is happening.

And just in his love for zero, what was his name? M. Gustave?

I think so. 

Yeah, the way he acted out his love and affection for the people he held dear, was weird and christ-like for me.

*Laughter* 

But he knew that he was probably going to get shot on that train and just like did it anyway. Because he was like “This is a non-issue!” Anything that he had he just gave up. And I just thought, “This is a really weird, and beautiful communication of the gospel.” God uses broken and bent sticks to make straight lines. It really reminded me of that. And then there’s the inherent charm in any of Anderson’s films.

Oh yeah. He always has a wonderful cast. I love good acting. I love good directing. When you put those together, you’re going to have solid work.

I love how, even if he says they’re foreign, that if the actor can’t do the accent he tells them to not even try. Like Ed Norton who’s just like “Hey guys.” It’s kind of childish that way in that these nice american people are like “Yeah, I’m from… Berlin.” There’s a wonder in his films to beauty and to peril.

I have a friend-he’s a musician- and … it’s actually my roommate, Justin. He was talking to me the other day and he said, “ The great difference between children and adults, is…” And this goes back to the topic of insanity, “For kids, anything can happen!”

You don’t know what to expect in a day. That expectancy? Pffft. I don’t know! Starts to dim as you get older. So when it happens it goes from being interesting to upsetting. I wrote about that a little in the ghost story. I was reflecting. It’s semi-fiction. I was just dealing with weird stuff going in my house. And I was like “This is scary.” Because I didn’t know!

To bring it back, Anderson, his films are just full of awe and wonder. And he has his adults behaving like children. But in a splendid way, not a childish way.

Now two: Divergent.

(Here cameron goes on a huge tangent on the film divergent, which is worth noting someday but in fact is very long and tedious and not exactly on topic. So we will save it for another blog post.)

What music are you listening to?

Right now I’m listening to Beck’s latest album (Morning Phase) .

It’s really good.

One of his finest. Again, it just really stands out, because there’s this feeling of mastery. That he’s taken this thing of senseless lyrics and just trippy music and combines them. I think the secret with him is he’s always been expressing something. He just hasn’t be using the english language to do it. Not the traditional way anyway.  And this one seems less random. The lyrics seem pretty random. But I see mastery budding up, also its just weird to be inside the head of a 3rd generation scientologist when they’re an amazing artist. It is bizarre. I don’t know how seriously he takes it, but that always occurs to me.

But oh gosh the album rules, you’ve heard it?

Yeah. I like it.

Usually when I write I listen to music but if the lyrics are too prevalent I tune it out. That’s why I don’t like christian music, it seems as though they turn the vocals up a few notches.

I know exactly what you mean.

They’re right in the front, and I’m like bluh okay! Yeah so for Beck, it’s not important what he’s saying as long hes making the mouth noises. I think he does for english what Sigur Ros does for icelandic.

That’s funny you say because that’s who I’ve been listening to. There’s an emotional truth that they can communicate through their music that doesn’t require me to understand what they’re saying.

Yeah, totally. Also I like Beck’s album because its horrifying. It’s filled with horror, and I mean again like the awe of something terrible coming. And it’s reflected through the monastic chanting sound to it. You know what I’m talking about.

I do.

Okay. So I’ve been listening to Beck, and just a lot of rap.

Laughter

I’m not even joking. Ellie Goulding is like my number 1 when it comes to just delicious to listen to. She’s not rap, but still good. Do you know who Andy Mineo is?

Yeah!

My favorite thing is, looking around, culturally we’re at a really weird time where – I thought this tension would take a little while before it started to snap back. But a spiritually starved community starts shooting out spiritually charged artwork. You got like, NOAH, other films, and like good christian rappers who can take on most mainstream rap artists.

It’s certianly surprising to me to see how many talented rappers are coming out and producing great stuff. 

Yeah! So Andy Mineo, and guilty pleasure stuff like Will.I.Am.  One of my favorite lines from his songs is “I look in the mirror and I say ‘you’re the shit, you’re the shit’ g*ddamn it, you’re the shit, you’re the shit.”

Wow. Does he really say that?

Yeah. It’s great.

How do you worship?

There’s only one form, and its where you stand in church and sing along in with a band.

Right.

That’s what I do. Can I tell you this? Ever since I was going to church with you and Tim back at Reynolda, when I wasn’t even a christian yet, somehow I made a decision that I was never going to be the guy with his arms in the air. Like while now I think emotionally and spiritually about the past restraining thing. It turns out I just don’t do that. But I am jamming really hard.

But worship, I think, kind of ties into true religion is this: to care for the orphans and the widows. You know what I mean? Worship is how you live. Back to love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind.  Worship is inescapable as a Christian, you can never be not worshipping. I think not worshipping is in fact just bad worship. There’s no such thing as no worship, you’re just doing a shitty job of it. How many times have I said “shit” in this interview?

*Laughter*

It’s implicit in everything that you do. Which takes us back to art, and I think one of my favorite ways – even in how I pray, because sometimes I have a hard time just closing my eyes and thinking out whole sentences to God. Sometimes if I just write it out like a letter, but not even letter, just like spoken conversation, I’ll just write without perceiving some sort of spiritual understanding or response, because I never hear a booming voice that’s like “YES, CAMERON, GET A TOYOTA CAMRY.” I find that that sort of time for reflection works. I think that we are designed differently in that we should worship however we’re good at.

That’s what’s so weird. There are so many people out there and everybody is good at something. Even if its something stupid. I think that as a Christian you should figure out what you’re really good at and get even better at it. And use that as your main focus of worship.  Don’t worship it. But use it to worship because then it will do amazing things no matter what it is, art or otherwise.

One last question: Does God like your art?

So, scripture says that when he looks at me, all he sees is Jesus. Because of what Jesus did. So I am bound to think that God likes what I’m up to. When it glorifies him.

Is it in revelation, where it talks about even the boats of tyre being brought into the new kingdom of God? But the gist you see is the best that mankind had to offer is accepted and brought into the new creation so what you see is people working hard at what they’re best and offering it as their first fruit to God and God going “Nailed it, keep going.” You see at the beginning he goes, “Okay Adam, be creative, name all these things. I made em, you’re going to name ‘em. What are they called bro?” and Adam going “Uhhh… Leaches.” And God going “Great!” and leaches being “Yeah! leaches!” I just wanted to use the most alienating animal as an example. You see this joy that God has in watching us act like him creatively. So as an artist, it is mandatory for us to create if we are to look like proper Christians. And the So I think that God likes what I’m doing as long as I’m focused on him, because I mean the art is good but it falls second to who he is. My art would be meaningless without Christ. While I am hardwired to do art, I am not my art. That’s another hard thing as an artist, but that’s for another talk.

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I had such a blast talking to Cameron. He is a fantastically creative fiend and a huge encouragement in my artistic pursuits. You can check out his writing at his blog here.

 

An Interview: Cameron Strittmatter Pt. 1

Cameron Strittmatter is an actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, novelist, short story writer and has just finished Bible College.  He has written and produced several films and plays and has recently taken up writing short stories for his blog. http://seadanger.wordpress.com/

 

We had a lengthy discussion that, because I don’t want to cut much out, will be published in two parts.  The following was transcribed from a videochat and thus may or may not read like writing. It’s more so the ramblings of two very sad men.

My words are bolded and his words are not. Here we go:

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Not a painting by Cameron Strittmatter

How would you describe your artistic voice?

I would describe my artistic voice, currently, as defined by the knowledge that at the heart of death lies an empty tomb. And that that’s very exciting. So that defines everything else. Even though I’m a silly person with silly things to say, my tone and voice find their roots in horror. Even though I don’t write about horrifying things. It’s an overwhelming sense of doom is what motivates my humor.

How would you describe your short stories?

I would describe those short stories as one of two things. A. Thinly veiled fantasy writings about my feelings of women I’ve just met. B. Outpourings of my heart that don’t seem to fit into bigger projects. I usually go to write for the blog if I have thought of something while working on Battle Wizards (his newest novel), or the upcoming play that I’m working on that just doesn’t fit. It’s usually darker or heaver, or… vague. I use it to work out how I’m feeling at the time. Be it a thinly veiled mask of me being attracted to someone, or … I don’t know, one day I just wanted to write a story about a mermaid and also I’m scared of the ocean.

They’re so eclectic but there is a definite tone that’s consistent throughout your stories. I especially like your last one. 

*laughs*  Code Red?

It is awesome

Thank you.

What attracts you to certain pieces? What intrigues you as an artist? 

Darkness intrigues me. I’m very interested in what is scary, and I mean that outside of the banal slasher sense. That’s not scary. Because even in my silly things, there’s this awful unknown something that’s overbearing and… it’s a mystery… Wait what was the question?

What intrigues you as an artist? 

Yeah, mystery. I don’t know, somebody was telling me the other day that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. You’ve heard this before?

I have.

Which, I guess, makes sense but there are these odd times in life where when you do the same thing every day, day-in day-out, and something seems to happen differently anyway, and its that little mystery of  “Why? I got up, I ate breakfast, I went to work, I came home, everything was the same why is the result not the same?” and it’s this insanity of day to day life where even though you’re trying so hard to keep static, it changes, and it’s a thing that’s totally out of your control. So for me, in my imagination, it kind of spins out as being eaten alive by your best friend and a mermaid, and returning from a trip to the moon. So yes.

Do you believe there is a difference between good and bad art?

Yes.

What separates the two? What constitutes good art and bad art? 

It’s tough because the line between craftsmanship and art is sometimes difficult to gauge.  Because I think mastery always results in good art, even if it’s not their masterwork. I think that time and blood spent on something is what will be beautiful. One of my favorite quotes is from Propaganda. Have you heard of him?

Yeah. 

Yeah, he says this amazing thing in one of his songs, I think you would appreciate: “But worth, value, and beauty is not determined by some innate quality, but by the length for which the owner would go to possess it.”  Something is only valuable by how hard someone goes to get it. So in the face of the gospel, something is made beautiful by its pursuer not in the work itself. So Yeah, there might be some little happenstance where someone magically does something and you’re like “Holy shit, you did nothing and this is beautiful.” But more often than not it takes blood spent to make it good work. I think you can find value in simple things but overall it’s the cost that’s attractive for me. That’s the difference between good art and bad art for me. Because bad art… I think there was a really clever boy who wrote an essay named “Implicit vs. Explicit.” And I think that really went a long way to define a lot of the feelings I had about bad art. When the desire to get your point across comes before making the art, I think it starts to come off the rails a bit. Would you agree?

I would agree. I would say that I hold to that sort of view.  Good art communicates, but it doesn’t communicate at the expense of its form. That was the point I was trying to get across, that the message or the communication shouldn’t come first, the form should. Because when its all said in done, like when you go to a movie, or a gallery, like you said, you’re going to see mastery of the form. Doing something wonderful that you couldn’t do or fathom, to witnesses someone else’s imagination, not to go see what someone’s political agenda is.

Right.  My favorite artwork is where form and function are inextricable from each other. It’s simple and complex.

Can you give an example of that? Because I know what you’re talking about, but I can’t think of a specific example.

Sure. Like, in a pedantic way; movies. Obvious things, like Terrence Malick, or not so obvious. As a christian you look at his movies and say “holy crap, the gospel!” And it’s laid in a way that is so intangible. So that’s cool. But a really good example would be a film like “The Prestige.” The entire movie is a magic trick. And the movie is about magic and how it doesn’t exists, but it nevertheless does exists, and at the end its almost as though christopher nolan turns to the camera and says “Ta-da!” It’s excellent. Something like that. In visual arts, there’s an abstract painter and he only uses ancient japanese techniques… I can’t think of his name, do you know who I’m talking about? He was commissioned to do a Special Edition of the ESV bible.

I know who you’re talking about, I saw the video a while back but I don’t know his name either.

He uses gold in every single one of his paintings. He just hammers it in. So in this case, the vehicle doesn’t work without the intent. All of his works might be confounding at first, but really work when you meditate on them.

 

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Part II of this Interview will be released early next week.