Archive for the art Category

Why So Serious, Part 2

Posted in art, soccer, writing with tags , , , , on August 27, 2014 by cueball

It started with Eric Cantona.  Actually, it really started in third grade when I decided to play soccer instead of football like all my cousins.  My contrary nature and need to find my own path rears its beautiful head again.

It was Cantona who really turned me into a soccer fan though.  At the point that he was at his Manchester United height (and depths) I was in college. I had stayed a soccer fan and occasional player throughout and then this, quite honestly, insane soccer angel entered Manchester United’s line-up and my life. 

King Eric was one of the players who embodies the magnetic draw soccer can have.  On one hand he was a mesmerizing and brilliant player.  On the other hand he did this.  The list of red cards, other sundry offenses don’t obscure why we are drawn to him. 

For me, Cantona represents everything I love about soccer and sports in general.  The magnetic unpredictability of the whole enterprise.  It is players like him and currently Mario Ballotelli and Luis Suarez in soccer or a Johnny Manziel in football that draw us to the games.   

As much as the sports moralists like to rail against these players because they are “bad influences” (“Think of the children!”), these players represent the reason we love sports.  They are all unpredictable.  Unfortunately, they are unpredictable both on and off the field.  We don’t know what is going to happen with them.  As much as people search for sure things when they gamble on sports, they gamble because of the rush of not knowing what will happen next and having some kind of wager riding on the outcome. 


Why do we become obsessed with sports or novels or movies or craft beer or comic books?  What is it that these things provide us?  In my opinion, and in the opinion of Albert Camus (someone infinitely smarter than me) it is because they are created worlds that provide us with unity and coherence. 

These things all have some type of internal logical framework.  They always follow that framework making it easier to comprehend and grasp the workings of what is happening.  This is different than life.  Our everyday world and everyday life is to a great extent full if illogic.  It rarely makes consistent sense and it rarely pays off the way we want it. 

Homebrewing gives you a sense of control.  From the initiation of the idea of the beer you want to brew, to the ingredients you choose, to the actual brewing, to the finished product, you as a brewer control everything in this universe.  It is the same with writing a novel. You create and control the universe from beginning to end.  These things become almost acts of Zen meditation.

In part Zen is the study of the way to give up the illusion of control of those things outside of you. Completing the tasks of art is a way of replicating that.  You control the universe of your tasks even if you cannot control the outcome.  You may have an idea of what beer you are trying to make and if you do everything right you will probably get very close, but then again you may not.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t because the idea is to keep replicating the actions you can control.  That means more times than not you will get the beer you set out to create. 

Creation and creativity is not about creating the thing you want.  It is about the act of creating.  The joy is in (here is that phrase again) the process.  The joy is in doing the thing, because if you do it right, you will get a harmonious outcome even if it isn’t the one you envisioned to begin with. 


Musings on creativity

Posted in art with tags , , , , on August 8, 2014 by cueball

All artistic and creative endeavors are attempts to push the limits of the chosen discipline. 

Right now in the world of craft beer (yes, brewing is a creative endeavor) the India Pale Ale (IPA) style has been pushed to and past its limits in hop taste and alcohol content.  The IPA, particularly the American strain, is naturally a hoppy beer.  A quick primer, if you make a beer really hoppy you have to increase the amount of malt in the beer to keep the beer’s taste balanced enough to make it drinkable.  If you increase malt you increase the available sugar for fermentation which increases alcohol content. 

Many brewers have pushed the hop bitterness and alcohol content to such a level in their quest to make the hoppiest IPAs possible they are in some sense not making IPAs. 

The creative instinct is to always push to find new ways of expressing the same ideas or take an existing idea and push it all the way and past its limits.  That is how something new and different gets created. 

Bebop for example was created as an extension of traditional jazz and took the blues forms of jazz, increased the speed of the blues making the solos dizzying virtuosic performances while at the same time trying to find the most important notes in the music and attacking them at jagged sideways angles. 

Back to beer, the stout style was an extension of the porter style in 19th century England.  It began as a slightly darker and higher alcohol porter known as a stout porter, but slowly displaced the porter style entirely and became known as just stout.  Today true porters are rare, but stouts are ubiquitous. 

That brings up the other thing about creativity.  As it seeks to push the limits and find new ways of expression it inevitably destroys something that came before.  Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  While it is true that two forms of the same artistic discipline can exist simultaneously, it is also true that one of those forms has to become the dominant form over time.   

What is the drive that makes artists and creators push the limits to find and create the next wave?  Is it a natural rebellion against the status quo? Or is it an innate restlessness and curiosity that constantly seeks new input and knowledge? 

The answer is probably a little of both.  Certainly not all creators are overt rebels, but any true act of creation is an act of rebellion.  Also, all creators have a little curiosity hardwired into their brains and personalities.  Overtime the artist ages and matures and as they do, one of two things occurs:  get comfortable with what they are doing and start “mailing it in” ceasing to push the limits of their creativity or they become more confident in their rebellion and intentionally push to find new ways of expression and make their audience think and become a little uncomfortable. 

There is a reason many of the most successful musical acts best music came at the beginning and the start of the middle phase of their careers.  That is when they are still taking chances and trying to push themselves as well as the music.  As they get older, many artists become stuck doing the same songs over and over again.  Not just playing the old hits, but recreating them time and time again in the guise of new music.  That isn’t just due to losing their artistic fire, but the more successful they become the more business depends on their success.  Once you become an industry instead of an artist, it becomes a lot harder to take creative chances on a new album.  If it doesn’t sale, jobs will be lost and houses will be sold. 

Art and creation are destructive rebellions that push the limits of their discipline.  Sometimes watching those limits be pushed in real time is disconcerting, but in retrospect it is always fascinating. 

Ideas On How To Review Stuff, Part 2

Posted in art, beer, books with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2014 by cueball

Here is Part 1.  I didn’t know it was going to be a part 1 until I started writing this morning.  Sometimes I think I really should come up with a plan for what I write.

“Whose there?”

This is a great way to start a story about a young man finding himself.  (It’s from this little play by this guy here.)

That has always been the hardest part of writing fiction for me.  How do you start?  What are the first evocative words to pique the interest of the reader and get them to read on to the next sentence?

You are staring at a blank page with all these ideas running around in your mind and now you have to put something down and get it started.

When I’m reading a short story or a novel, I am fascinated first by the opening then everything else the author tries to do.  When I’m reading something, especially something new, I read it on two levels.  The first is just to enjoy it.  I’m reading and letting myself become part of the world the author created.

On the second level, I’m analyzing and deconstructing the different parts of the story as I encounter them.  I’ll encounter a new character or parse the details introduced because these details are there for a reason and I am trying to understand the reason and figure out what the author is trying to make me feel or see.

I can still enjoy what I’m reading on the first level, but I am completely engaged by the second level.  My enjoyment on that first level has no bearing on my intellectual assessment on that second level.

I actual enjoy almost everything I read, as long as it conforms to the internal logic it has set up and written truthfully.  I have the ability to allow myself to believe completely in the world that I am reading about.   Then, I try to step back and outside that world and look at whether the work does what it thinks it is doing.  I’ve found I do this with every creative art I enjoy.

In any creative endeavor, the creator has an idea of what he/she is attempting.  They have a plan and an idea and they try to make it really.  That is a truly brave thing, taking a part of who and what you are and placing it out in the world for everyone to judge.  I think it is incumbent on those who presume to review those creative endeavors to take it as seriously as the people who create.

Craft beer is a creative endeavor for the brewer.  I have been reading a lot of beer reviews recently, and I find much of what are labeled reviews are severely lacking in treating beer seriously.  That does not mean you can’t have fun and be interesting, but you have to believe that craft beer is an endeavor worthy of your time and intellect.  Someone took the time to come up with this recipe, brew this beer, ferment this beer, package this beer, and sell it.  The least someone can do is come up with a little more than, “This beer sucks” as a review.  A simplistic review does not help you as a drinker of beer nor does it help the brewer to figure out what they did right or wrong.  At the end of the day, do you like is all that really matters, but you should really try to think about why or why you do not like it.

I am discovering that reviewing is an important part of the creative process when done right.  Good criticism helps everyone raise their level.  When that happens we all benefit by getting better product.  For this to happen, the reviewer has to give considered criticism and the creator has to be willing to take criticism.

I promise there are beer reviews coming.

Craft Beer Is Creative

Posted in art, beer with tags , , , , , , on December 23, 2013 by cueball

The brewing of craft beer is a creative enterprise.  It is as the name says a craft.  It is akin to woodworking, pottery, weaving, etc. an art-form that has real world applications.  The creativity necessary to make a distinctive beer from the same recipe everyone else (for the most part) is immense.

What makes someone an artist?  The Oxford Dictionaries define an artist as:  a person who produces paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.  It goes on to include someone who practices “any of the various creative arts, such as sculptor, novelist, poet, or filmmaker” in a later part of the definition.  If you keep reading, it finally says:  a person skilled at a particular task or occupation.

They almost get it.  The definition I prefer is a person who looks at the world differently.  Someone who sees some inanimate objects and has the ability to infuse them with life and soul in order to interpret the world they see and add to it in some interesting and/or life affirming way.

Is that not a craft brewer?  A brewer takes water, hops, and malt, cooks them together, cools the creation, adds yeast, and creates a new version of beer that is different from the beer someone else may have brewed at the same time.  Brewing is at once a tradition past down from the Sumerians and a creative endeavor to test what the brewer can do.

Not every beer is craft just as not every painting is art.  Those mass produced paintings you see in every mid-tier to cheap hotel, doctors waiting room, and bank lobby from Maine to Hawaii probably make up the majority of paintings sold in the United States.  Just as the mass produced beer the big two (Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors) churns out every year is the vast majority of the beer sold in the US.

That does not diminish painting as an art form.  It just means some crappy artists have gotten together with a few large companies and figured out a way to monetize the concept.  The difference is that those who have figured out how to mass produce beer as if it was a widget and sell it ubiquitously and cheaply have come to define beer and brewing to the majority of people.

Honestly, craft brewing isn’t going to usurp the big two.  They are too big, too entrenched, and have too many tentacles in the power structure that governs alcohol sales in this country.  What craft beer should do is keep working at making better beer and be an alternative that provides a different view of beer.  A view that makes the world look a little better and look a little different.  That is a very good thing.

If you see a brewer today, wish them a Merry Christmas and thank them.