Tag Archives: inspiration

Indulging My Inner Geek

I hope you will forgive me for getting my geek on as I am about to do. Although I rarely discuss my early influences, I find on this particular occasion, an irresistible force compels me to do so.

In 1977, I saw Star Wars on the big screen and my eyes were immediately adjusted to what storytelling could be. I was eight years old and knew at that moment I would be an artist and a storyteller. Up to that point, my imaginary worlds were mainly inhabited by dinosaurs, army men and matchbox cars – fueled by reruns of Lost in Space, the original Star Trek and Godzilla movies on Saturday afternoons. While these certainly offered fuel enough for my overactive imagination to work with, Star Wars gave me blasters, light sabers, an evil empire with incredibly cool costumes, aliens, dogfighting starships hurdling through a galaxy far, far away and … the force. All these things were revealed through a story that seemed vast, deeply satisfying, strange and yet somehow familiar.

Darth Aric and Princess Cassie

I was obsessed with the universe that Lucas had created and wished I could live there in the way many people now wish to live on Pandora (the world of James Cameron’s Avatar). I collected the action figures and dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween (that’s me, dueling with my friend, Cassie, who obligingly agreed to go as Princess Leia.) Being an industrial designer, my father made the costume with which I won a city wide contest, complete with prize money and a photo op with the mayor that ran in our local newspaper. The lights of the chest plate blinked, the dome of the helmet was sculpted from Bondo with about 20 coats of auto-grade glossy black paint … it was truly awesome.

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Like so many artists of my generation, I credit the experience of seeing Star Wars for the first time with jolting me awake, opening my imagination in the same way a stick of dynamite would open a pop can – mind blown. Since that day, the Star Wars universe has offered me a wellspring of inspiration – but it did more than that. Wishing to understand how Lucas came up with his world and the story that so engaged me, I began looking into the things that inspired him, hoping one day that this would lead me to create a world of my own. I learned that he was drawing on two of his personal interests – history (especially World War II) and the works of Joseph Campbell (professor and author of many books on the comparative study of world religions/mythology including Hero With A Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth). This got me interested in these areas and lead me ultimately to the historical, cultural and myth-based art I create today.

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The prequels came out when I was an adult and like most who grew up with the original trilogy, this return to Star Wars left me disappointed. I hated several of the characters (like Jar Jar), plot points (midi-chlorians) as well as the over-use (and in some cases oddly ineffectual use) of CGI. I also found the humor in these new scripts agonizing. Consequently, I wrote these new films off as “written for children” and wondered if my adult mind was simply immune to the magic of future Star Wars films. This never really rang true however and I hoped one day there might be something new worth celebrating in the Star Wars universe that could make me feel the same exhilaration I had felt as a child.

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So, when I heard that Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney, I had intensely mixed emotions. I felt betrayed by Lucas who started out as a rebel director fighting the evil empire that was the American film industry only to forge his own empire – now ultimately to sell that empire to an even larger one. Simply put, he had started out as Luke and was now Darth Vader. Facebook memes showing Leia Organa as “the next Disney princess” made my stomach turn. On the other hand, I felt cautiously optimistic that Disney would find a way back to the original Star Wars universe I loved.

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Successfully avoiding all spoilers (I only allowed myself to watch the official trailers), I walked into the IMax 3D theater with my wife and daughter a few days after Christmas without a clue what to expect.

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So, what is my reaction to seeing The Force Awakens? I want to call director, J.J. Abrams, and the producers at Disney/Lucasfilm and thank them for breathing new life into the muse I have drawn on for as long as I can remember. It is good to see Star Wars alive and well again after its long hibernation and I look forward to many more films exploring the far reaches of that galaxy far, far away.

-Aric Jorn

Creativity in the Face of Oppression

My art does not tend to be political. I am more interested in exploring the human imagination and its quest for meaning as revealed through myth, culture and story. However, today was June 4 and, upon its 25th anniversary, I found myself reflecting upon China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre – and not for the reason you might think. tank man I was attending art school at the time, my sophomore year about to give way to summer break, so those young protestors putting themselves in harm’s way were the same age I was – full of ideas and a natural human desire to express them. They were attempting to secure for themselves those fundamental freedoms that I in the United States took for granted.

So it was, as I attended a college actively teaching me how to think outside the box and encouraging me to express my ideas openly and creatively, that I suddenly became fully aware of the billions of people who live in political systems where freedom of speech and of expression is far from guaranteed and often nonexistent – places where it is literally dangerous to claim these simple freedoms as basic human rights. My understanding of such places to that point had been purely intellectual – seeing the instantly famous images like the one of the loan student facing down an entire column of tanks made it real for me. Here were young people putting their lives on the line for something I woke up with every morning – the freedom to express themselves without fear.

Only a handful of places can compare with the level of government censorship endured by the people of China. Surely North Korea has taken it to even greater extremes and I cannot help but pity those who are forced to live in such abject darkness. But however distasteful I find the suffering of those living in that type of closed-circuit system – shut off as they are from the world around them – what gave me reason to reflect was an article in the Los Angeles Times. It tells the story of how, despite the government’s best efforts to seal them, people continue to find creative new ways to shine slivers of light through the cracks. tank man uncropped Every year, it seems, there is a dangerous game of cat and mouse being played between small groups of citizens trying to keep the memory of Tiananmen Square alive and the government who is trying to eradicate all record of it. This has forced protestors to be innovative and to find ever more creative ways of sharing their story.

Just as 9-11 has become short hand for one of the greatest tragedies in American history, many Chinese came to refer to the events at Tiananmen Square as simply 6-4. When censors realized this, they established a ban on this number combination for weeks before and after the infamous date. People reacted by calling it May 35th or 63+1 to get past the censors and I imagine this worked a few times before officials caught on. As stated in the article, “as the date gets closer, even words as innocuous as tomorrow and today are often banned from the Chinese Internet.”

Since signs and banners are prohibited in the square, one group tried to get thousands of people to come to the site and join together to perform “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miserables. I have yet to hear whether this flash mob style protest succeeded and, if it did, I am waiting with fingers crossed to see if someone managed to capture it on their smartphone and smuggle it onto the internet. Playing cards at Tiananmen Square Innovation and creativity has kept the events of 1989 alive. Again the article tells how someone armed only with a deck of playing cards took a photo at the square directly behind a guard, arranging a hand to display cards that read 8,9,6,4 (in reference to the date) and A,K,4,7 (referring to the rifles that cut down so many innocent students 25 years ago). They blocked their face with the fanned out display to avoid the punishment that would surely befall them were they to be caught by authorities.

To me, these attempts and the hundreds like them, demonstrate that the human spirit will always find a way to express itself despite any and all attempts to oppress it and that the capacity of the human imagination to find a crack no matter how thick the wall, is truly boundless.

~Aric Jorn

You can read the Los Angeles Times article in its entirety here.

Sculpting Myths: Buddha

April placed an unusual number of demands on my time that made it difficult to blog as often as planned. Despite this, my work has continued and I would like to present the third piece in my “Sculpting Myth” series, Buddha: The Awakened One.

Buddha-Bronze-on-stone

This piece is actually two reliefs fused together, fashioned of cold-cast metals and resin-infused stone in various combinations to achieve several different looks.

Buddha-coppr-on-bronze-1Buddha-Bronze

My Inspiration for Buddha: The Awakened One

Buddhism has long provided a source of inspiration for me and I have incorporated several of its practices (such as meditation) into my life.

As with many early traditions, symbolism in Buddhist art is highly nuanced, its meaning often missed by those unfamiliar with it. For instance, each mudra or hand gesture of the Buddha represents an important Buddhist teaching. For those interested, here is a great article that outlines ten of the most common mudras.

When I decided to leave the traditional career path and strike out on my own as an artist-entrepreneur, it was not without trepidation. The Buddhist idea of living in the present moment while rejecting fear and worry about the future did much to give me the courage to keep moving forward in the face of uncertainty.

With this in mind, I chose the Abhaya mudra. Abhaya is sandskrit for fearlessness and the open-palm hand gesture represents protection, peace and a sense of deep inner calm in the face of fear and uncertainty. It is the perfect symbol for me as I continue my own artistic journey and, in sharing this piece, I hope others will find it equally inspirational, seeing their own potential reflected back upon them and realizing there is nothing to fear.

Buddha-framed

Like the Yggdrasil piece I unveiled in early April, Buddha: The Awakened One is 10 inches in diameter. It can be hung as a plaque and is also available framed in a high quality shadowbox. Each Buddha is hand detailed, weathered and sealed for a long life, stamped on the back and accompanied by a signed certificate.

Produced in the USA with materials supplied by local, small businesses and offered to the world in humble gratitude. Available as always at the Jivotica Etsy store.

~Aric Jorn

The Fragmented Journey

This week’s post is for creatives who struggle with multiple muses…

I used to wish I had only one great passion in my life – a single driving ambition. I imagined the heights to which such a focused life would lead and a part of me has always envied those who have this kind of singular devotion and the success that often accompanies it.

Instead, I’ve spent my life juggling many interests. As a result, I’ve often felt over-stretched – that ache of knowing I will never realize my full potential in any one discipline because I allow myself to be pulled in so many directions.

Growing up, the idea of becoming an artistic “jack-of-all-trades” was a fate I viewed with distaste even as I resigned myself to it. Ironically, I landed my first job (Jr. Art Director/producer at J. Walter Thompson) specifically because I was a well-rounded creative with a background in art, music, writing and theater. Over the years I have come to appreciate the value of the fragmented journey. Replete with variety, it offers a wide range of experiences that would otherwise be lost in the periphery.

The hats I currently wear in my professional life include: a sculptor at Jivotica (3 days/week), a pottery artist and historical presenter at The Henry Ford (3 days/week), a theatrical director for two schools (2-3 days/week) and an author penning two original plays each year and working to complete my first novel (1-2 days/week)

Obviously these numbers don’t add up to the traditional 7-day week. Though I’d love to say I have come into possession of Hermione’s time turner, sadly, this is not the case. Some of the work is seasonal and some of it overlaps – forcing me for instance, to be a stage director and pottery artist on the same day fitting in some writing in the evening once my daughter is asleep. At other times, I am forced to sacrifice work on one project to meet the deadline of another and soon find myself scraping the edges of my day-planner for any unclaimed hours … or even minutes. There are times when I get so frustrated at having to leave things 90% complete, I just want to scream.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the excitement and variety of my life and often wonder whether I would get bored if I arose each morning to do the same work as the day before. At the same time, I find myself longing to take each project further than my schedule will allow. Over the last year or two, I’ve hit a point where the latter impulse is winning out and I am working towards simplifying my life so I can reach higher in the areas of greatest interest. Until then, I will continue to find joy in the winding, forking path and realize that I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to walk as an artist-explorer for a time.

So, to all you who are struggling as I have (and do) to make room for several interests rather than choosing between them – take heart. There may come a time when you make the decision to focus on the one or two things that most fulfill you but in the meantime, don’t overlook the excitement and satisfaction to be found in the fragmented journey.

~Aric Jorn

Contemplating the Muse (part 2)

Like most people, I get frustrated when a project hits a snag. Whether it’s a sculpture, script or novel, if something interrupts my creative flow, the project stalls. If repeated attempts to solve the issue don’t succeed, I soon find myself absently surfing the Web, checking email or doing something equally unrelated to my project. I do this so I can “come to it fresh later.”

These breaks can be helpful if they are short and inspiring. Too often however, one diversion leads to another and I lose precious time in an unproductive state because the activities have hijacked my focus.

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So, how do artists keep from getting derailed when their muse appears to have gone on holiday? How do we fight off distraction, avoidance and procrastination? A recent interview in NEA ARTS magazine with Marc Bamuthi Joseph suggests one possible answer and it is a practice I have adopted in my own work. Marc says:

“Inspiration is a tool like blood, like breath. As removed as we are from the auto action of respiration, there’s a way we can have a more active relationship with [it]. In the same way, we can have an active relationship with our inspiration to be healthier, more generative individuals. So, don’t sleep through inspiration.”

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This struck me immediately as a call for mindfulness – a call to meditate – a practice often centered on an active relationship with one’s breath to raise awareness and avoid succumbing to one’s inner auto-pilot. I’m not talking about sitting cross-legged with the incense burning (though that can be useful too). No, I am advocating a general awareness that fends off fear and avoidance commonly disguised as idle distraction.

So, when I become aware of the little voice in my head telling me to “take a break,” I try to recognize it for what it is. If a break still seems like a reasonable idea, I make that little voice commit to an end time and an activity that allows me to remain receptive to inspiration. Then I can take a break without losing my clarity of purpose.

The challenge of course is in identifying the distraction before it … distracts you. I’m still training myself to do this. It’s not easy but the more I practice the better I get at spotting them in time.

~Aric Jorn

Contemplating the Muse (part 1)

A recent issue of NEA ARTS magazine really got me thinking about inspiration, that intangible, inexhaustible and often elusive wellspring that enables artists to express ideas in new ways to enlighten, delight or challenge their audience.

While every artist has their own ideas as to the source of inspiration and how best to tap into it, one concept seems ever present – inspiration is not something that simply happens to someone (or doesn’t) as a boon from some unseen benefactor whispering in their ear, rather it is the result of an artist’s dedication to their work and the open-minded awareness they maintain of the world around them.

NEAARTS

Consider the following quotations selected from the NEA ARTS issue on inspiration:

“[If inspiration is lightning], working on your craft is making yourself a lightning rod.”  ~Chris Thile, musician

“[The artist] realizes that the only way [inspiration] can happen is if you’re working and thinking, centered and always aware.”  ~Muriel Hasbun, photographer

“When something sparks a new idea about an unrelated topic, that’s inspiration. If you keep your eyes open wide enough, you can find inspiration in just about anything.”  ~Septime Webre, choreographer

So, before screaming at your muse for not showering you with ideas, ask yourself if you are working hard enough at your craft and open to seeing the inspiration all around you.

This issue sparked so many ideas that I’ll divide them up into several posts. Until then, I invite you to read it yourself (#4, 2013, “The Inspiration Quotient: A Different Kind of IQ”).

~Aric Jorn

Greatness Over Popularity

For anyone working as an artist (or running a customer-focused business/organization of any kind), I cannot recommend highly enough the blog (and many books) by Seth Godin. His post yesterday on “The Humility of the Artist” struck a particular chord with me and I want to share an excerpt with you here:

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“…[When the] prospect hears your offer but doesn’t buy, the artist responds, that’s okay, it’s not for you.

Isn’t this arrogant?

No. It’s arrogant to assume that you’ve made something so extraordinary that everyone everywhere should embrace it. Our best work can’t possibly appeal to the average masses, only our average work can. Finding the humility to happily walk away from those that don’t get it unlocks our ability to do great work.”     ~Seth Godin

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At first blush, it may seem counterintuitive to suggest that great work will result in a smaller audience (and that this is a desirable result) but if you take great to mean authentic or unfettered by any attempt to make it universally liked (homogenized), it rings true enough. When an artist surrenders authenticity in an attempt to please everyone, it is unlikely that the resulting creation will be anything more than average.

With that, I invite each of you to make something 100% authentic – something great – even if you are the only person who likes it.

~Aric