Tag Archives: Art making

Van Gogh Painted the Sky Last: Thoughts on John Grochalski’s Winedrunk Sidewalk

2 Sep


So that’s a photo of a van Gogh painting that hung in the recent exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new location, MET BRUER, called Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.

The whole exhibit was really fantastic but this painting really floored me.

Because van Gogh painted the sky last.


Something about this strikes me as counter-intuitive. I mean, sky’s are a pretty integral and magical part of the man’s work.

and of course:

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This got me thinking about artist process. How did van Gogh paint? How did Beethoven compose? How does art get made? And is there a right or a wrong way to do it?

I know how I do it.

I get up every morning at quarter to five and I write until it’s time to get ready for work. I do this five days a week, taking weekends (and of course vacations) off. This is also the schedule that John Grochalski keeps. In fact I got my schedule from him, and not just because he sleeps next to me in bed.

John decided that if he was ever going to get any real writing done he needed to make sacrifices and the sacrifice he chose was sleep. I thought he was crazy and watched for years as he pulled himself out of bed each morning and made something out of nothing.

Then I saw all the something he made.

See that pile there next to the computer?


That’s a lot of poems.

Eventually I joined him.

In conjunction with this schedule, he created a blog called Winedrunk Sidewalk in 2008. He vowed to write a poem a day.

Every day.

And (with a handful of exceptions) he did.

For nearly 10 years.

This week John informed me he was done with Winedrunk Sidewalk, that it no longer served in the way it was supposed to. As he said on his final post:

But I soon developed WineDrunk into a poetry site, mostly to keep me writing regularly. I think I’ve achieved that. And it’s been really wonderful to have had people read and comment on the blog. I think of WineDrunk as a fine piece of digital art. But this year I’ve gotten rather restless with the whole thing. Concentrating on writing a novel while revising another novel lead to a lot of frustration on my part in having to post a poem daily and to try and have that poem at least maintain some quality, some shred of artistic value.

8 years. A poem a day. That is nearly 3,000 poems. Three thousand times that he crafted something from nothing and while the poems themselves are art, the blog, as a whole is also art. A testimony to the process of making art.

So how exactly does one make art? Pretty much everyone in the world has an opinion on that.

If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not “inspired.” … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written. – Neil Gaiman

Solid advice but is that true for poets too? Should they only write when inspired? What constitutes inspired? What’s the difference between that and procrastinating? I know so many talented people who want to make art but don’t because they don’t make time or because the only wait until they are inspired. Is that better? Is the art better?

What makes you a good writer? What is the proper mix?

Much has been written about this. Charts have been rendered. Famous writer’s brains have been picked clean.

In the end, everyone’s routine is different but one thing seems abundantly clear. Without a routine, there’s no work. Without work, there’s no art.

Three thousand poems is an impressive feat and putting yourself out there every day takes real guts.

Everyone is going to find their own routine. Those that write every day might find the same kind of magic and frustration that John found creating Winedrunk Sidewalk. It’s never going to be perfect but it will always be true.

Sometimes we paint the sky last.

Sometimes we write a poem every single day for nearly a decade.

Either way, we make something from nothing.

Rest in peace, Winedrunk. You done good.


Let’s All Go Down To The River and See What We Find

28 Apr

Bruce Springsteen opened his show last Saturday at the Barclays Center with Purple Rain. He walked on stage, bathed the audience in a sea of purple light, said absolutely nothing and just started singing. It was a beautiful tribute to a legend lost too young.

Forever Prince. And then he said:

“We’d like to dedicate this show to Prince. There’s never been anyone better … Bandleader, showman, arranger … Whenever I would catch one of his shows, I would always leave humbled. I’m going to miss that. We’re going to miss that.”

Afterwards, he played Meet Me in the City and then as promised he played the entirety of The River and then another hour of some of his best songs: Badlands, No Surrender, The Promised Land,  Backstreets, Because the Night, Lonesome Day, The Rising, Thunder Road. His encore was Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, and finally Shout. Yes, the Isley Brothers.

It was 3+ hours of pure rock and roll like only Springsteen can, and has, delivered for decades. The man crowd surfed at 66 years of age. CROWD SURFED.

At which point my husband leaned over and said, “Oh please don’t drop him. This has been such a terrible year already.”

And while the hits were great, it was really hearing The River in it’s entirety that was really amazing. Like this chilling rendition of Fade Away.

That ending, my God.

And for as great as these clips are, the really amazing part of the concert was not recorded. And that was Bruce, talking about making that album. Before he played Independence Day he said this, “I was 24 or 25 years old and trying to talk to my father. He was never that vocal, so I thought, I’ll write him a song. I’ll write him a song.”

And then he went on about writing The River. About looking around and seeing the things he didn’t have in his life – a love story, a family – and how he thought if he sat down and wrote about all those things he wanted, maybe, somehow they would come true. How he wanted to capture it all, for himself, yes, but for all of us, too.

And I felt so lucky to be there. To be in that space listening to a man whose music I have adored my entire life talk about his PROCESS.

And I looked around at my fellow fans, in the hope of some sort of communion only to find a sea of people dicking around on facebook. I’m not even joking. Bruce Springsteen was on stage RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM talking about how he wrote some of his greatest songs and the people around me were bullshitting and on twitter and facebook.

Why do we constantly devalue art-making? So much of his music is iconic. This is the man who said, “Is a dream a lie if it doesn’t come true? Or is it something worse.” And he’s standing up there telling you how that happened and you’re on…….facebook.

And I know things have changed. I’m not that blind. But in the same way I watch people photograph art at museums and then walk away not really seeing it. Not even bothering to look. Just recording it. The same way people next to me at the concert were more concerned with how many people liked the video of Bruce singing Purple Rain that they just posted.

We aren’t living right now. We aren’t experiencing things as they happen anymore. Everything gets recorded and photographed and posted and paraded around online. We’re losing something here. Something important.

My friend, Brad, said this in a beautiful post he wrote about Prince:

There will never be another Prince or a Bowie. Music isn’t valued anymore. Money (and the lack of it) is the motive. So is social media outreach. So are Facebook likes. Rock and roll is fading from the airwaves, like a weak radio signal as you drive out of its radius, flickering out before going to static. Alternative rock is too fragmented to make a difference. Rap and hip-hop have gotten boring. Pop is disposable more than ever. We’re living in the future Warhol predicted. Everybody’s famous; especially the ones who don’t deserve to be. Our 15 minutes are almost up. Our rock stars are dying off. Soon our radios, our Spotifys, our streams will be filled with the voices of ghosts.

And it’s true. Music isn’t valued. Writing isn’t valued. Art isn’t valued.

I used to drink at a bar and one of the guys there was a big music fan. He used to talk about music all the time and when I called him out for stealing music from the people he claims to love he said, with a whiny voice, “Oh, poor indie rockers!” And all I could think was, yes, poor indie rockers who aren’t going to make it because you can’t bother to pay them for what they do. Because to you, it has no value.

Prince was famous for policing how his music was shared. He’s not an easy guy to find online. But what some saw as greedy, I saw as a calling. Prince believed in the sacred exchange between a creator and a fan. He believed in the value of art.

So when Springsteen is up on that stage talking about how the music that these fans adored came into existence, that it wasn’t just sitting in lyrical heaven waiting to be plucked down, that it took work and heart and sweat and tears and pain and heartache and hope and love because that what it takes to make art….well….when Springsteen is saying that, you better fucking listen. Because  as this year has so painfully taught us these artists are not going to be around forever.

Now I know that in that sea of fans I wasn’t the only one listening.

I just wish there were more of us.

All the same, I heard you, Boss….. Untill the end.



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