This image of the music box, Martha my Dear, shows the 6 foot by 20 inches canvas and the first step in my process of painting this canvas. Below the canvas are the two stretched 12x16inch speaker box canvases. This background image turned out to be all wrong for this project. I applied a different technique for the background. That was an awful choice.
The background colors exist to appear only when I scrap away the top layer. Any specific design of the background colors is unnecessary. When I scratch, what I want to see is a diverse mixed of colors that add interest and contrast to the top layer of paint. A third rate abstraction style is all that is required to make that happen. But I choose fancy instead of practical, and this project fell off the easel.
This did not become blatantly obvious until after the music was applied. I did not apply the top layer of titanium white heavy enough, which allowed the background and the blacks to show through. Then I made things worse when I used a darker gray color for the words. I realized I needed to lighten and reduce the contrast of the canvas. What I had left to finish was the scratching of the top layer of paint. That went as expected, and the contrast of the art was softened but fell short of expectations. I sensed failure. I was looking at a canvas that needed to look like the Beatles album cover that contained the song, Martha My Dear, disc one, side two, first song. It did not.
The Beatles’ White Album is entirely white except for their name in a light gray. That is the template I originally wanted for this canvas. Here is my seventies copy of the White Album (lighten up to better represent its original look). Sadly, as a cash poor college student, I sold my original release album once I copied it to my reel-to-reel tape recorder.
Out of desperation I repainted over the existing words with layers of titanium white. I then repainted the words using a lighter gray. That improved the look, but the original background still existed under all this paint. That meant I could not re-scratch this top layer. Instead, I gazed over the canvas with light applications of white gesso. That was the softening technique that worked. The scratching still shows, but it is now white and white now dominates this canvas. When I placed samples of my music up against the canvas, that was the moment I knew I could now move on. So it goes.
This first image of Martha my Dear is of pile of music that I carefully built. Laid end-to-end the music is, oh! That measurement came to twelve feet, seen in the image below. Hum? From the start of this project the plan was to control the amount of music and therefore its length, knowing that the canvas was only 72 inches. Hum?
Warning! All the next stuff is kinda geeky. The main purpose of this blog is to document this art. Any entertaining value is strictly accidental. Besides, I would never want this art, these blog entries, or my videos to-go “viral,” This is out of fear of becoming a one-hit-wonder and/or bad timing for my eventual 15 minutes of fame option.
Anyway, what I have to work with is a roll of heavy primed canvas the length of six feet and my choice to cut the canvas at twenty inches in width. Luckily, I have two options, with one being building two connected six-foot canvases frames. Seems like a lot of work. Or, what I will do, which is to reduce the length of an artwork by meshing the music together.
Here then are three basic sketch ideas. Each of these resulted in a project length of around 102 inches. That is easily workable with the addition of the two speaker boxes attached on both ends of the canvas frame. These boxes will also be out front of the canvas, with music attached allowing the music on the canvas to slide under, reducing overall length. An example of this would be the left side of the last image of the Chopin Prelude music box.
This next image is my about time to move-on-lets-work-on-the-canvas-next.
But first here is my final “sketch” for this next music box. To add documentation, I rarely have done any drawing of any preliminary sketches for my music projects. I have several sketchbooks I used when I first started out as a portrait painter back in the 1970s. Since then, I have simply preferred photography over the pencil.
This last preliminary image shows I can attach all the music to a measured six feet by twenty-inch canvas, along with the added speaker boxes.
I am posting early to document this process. The image below is part of the sheet music I put together. I am using the notation software Notion that is a part of StudioOne, the DAW used for the final soundtrack. This worksheet is dated November 20th. By putting in the hours needed I found to my surprise that the draft of this music was done after a bit of tweaking today. This sheet music will then be my template to create the visual part of the artwork. The circled parts of the image below show the music that I will build. The choice of notes was made the same as it has always been: I look for an interesting part of the arrangement that has a good start and finish that will fit the artwork. Today’s projects, I no longer am concerned about the fitting the music to the artwork. That is because I don’t want the artwork to fit anymore. Moving the music outside the canvas makes for an open and improvisational look. This is art without borders.
The sheet music is what the artwork samples. To explain, I create and when required; I pay for the right to create a cover for the music. From that cover I then choose a sample and that is what the viewer sees. I then import the sheet music notation from Notion into StudioOne. With a few days of work the music will be finished. Notion works great to produce a musical draft. StudioOne then takes that Notion file to a professional level. Its only limitation is the skill of this artist.
I am not trying to overestimate the quality of this shorten by a minute cover of this great Beatles song from their White Album. The same White Album that I stood in line on a November day at the record store on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin, the day of its release. Nor am I trying to denigrate this fabulous piece of music by chopping it up into smaller pieces visually and in the performance. No, this project and the others like it, which I now refer to as musicBox instead of Interactive Constructive sculpture, are challenged by the typical viewer’s attention span.
A lengthy piece of music can lose a viewer’s interest waiting for the song to end. They can simply walk away, not comprehending what they are looking at or what is being heard. There will be many viewers, especially younger ones, and listeners who have never heard of this music, or do not connect to the music. Shortening helps, but the music, no matter the quality or the length, means more to me than another cover song. No, this music exists as a voice of an artist extending a finger forward. I am a bright shiny object. If you ever get the chance Push the button. I do.
Seeing this artwork in the studio only then can you grasp its three-dimensional effects. Since I am in the Studio, I see enough pieces of this never ending puzzle snapping together to confirm this is the way forward. The long path of this art genre, Interactive Constructive Sculpture, or to simply (MusicBoxArt (MBA)), is opening to a clearing of whatever-I-am-doing, wherever-it-is-going, it all appears good-to-go.
When I started this project, I took a ruler and open up the tailgate of our RAV 4 to measure what was the longest and widest artwork it could comfortably fit. That turned out to be an artwork 6 feet but no wider than two feet. I then returned to the studio to cut two feet off a 6 foot wide primed canvas roll for this Chopin project. Although the canvas was two shorter than I needed, I figured that was a problem I would eventual solve. I did. The length of this artwork (MBA) is eight feet, and the added two extra feet expanded the depth of the artwork, creating a dramatic effect. That is good. This music is dramatic.
Since the beginnings of this art I have tried different techniques to add movement and drama to these artworks. That was done in the effort to bring an artwork closer to the many emotional dimensions of the sound of a song. This latest music box is showing new promise.
This image shows my first test hanging of this Chopin project on a canvas that comes up short. I knew I would need eight feet of artwork to accommodate my already truncated version of this music. The canvas length is only six feet. I picked that size canvas because that is the maximum length, along with a width of twenty-four inches, that I can comfortably load in our 2014 RAV 4. If you look behind my 1974 self-portrait in the next image, you will see part of the artwork titled Schindler’s List. I cannot fit this work in the car, therefore I cannot show it. To make this capable of travel, the plan is to break this half of the artwork into two smaller pieces. That will not be easy, and that is why this Chopin project will be made to fit. I want to exhibit it. Also, the image below of the layout of the music on front tables shows my later plan to accommodate an eight-foot artwork on a six-foot canvas.
This outstanding ArtinMusic video shows my first test to confirm that I have solved the problem of an eight-foot artwork work on a six-foot canvas. It includes a minor mishap that confirms the toughness of this construction, which just may add to the definition of what is art.
I would like to make a brief comment about today’s elevation of high craft as art, which blurs the separation of what is Art and what is a craft. Let me add to the confusion with the idea that all art is craft, but not all craft is art. Much of today’s art is craft disguised as art. That is because craft sells. The public does not want to spend their monies on an object that has no physical value unless it is finely crafted. That means the artist must have put in a lot of effort into it, which then justifies the buyer paying an excessive amount of money for an object that has little physical value or use. Art Galleries and Art Exhibitions see that also and that is why everything out there that sells today is short on being Art and high on craft. Of course I said that all art is craft, but not all craft is art. That points directly at the problem of defining Art which is a lot easier to grip if an object has a quality finished high craft look therefore it must be art. The Art Galleries and the Art Exhibitions see that and run with it for their own survival. The Art market is all in on maintaining the flow of money. Calling something that is actually nothing, Art makes it easier to sell. Especially if it’s pretty.
The obvious answer is Art, because of the monies. Or is the answer craft because neither the balloon rabbit nor the urinal present anything original. Or is there something else to consider?
I have been working on this next project since October 8th. This work will be another Interactive Constructive Sculpture or to shorten the style name this is my next Music Box construction. Yes, as mentioned in previous posts the music has now become an integral part of this art, or then again, the music has now become a separate art performance attached to a visual artwork with the same name. Names or styles do not matter. What matters is originality and capturing the attention of the viewer.
According to Wikipedia, this music was requested by Chopin to be played at his funeral. I probably first heard it in the movie The Pianist, 2002, which I do remember watching. Rediscovering it lately I didn’t think of this music being necessarily sad or tragic, but rather a great example that reaches deep into my understanding of musical appreciation. I am not talking but music that touches one’s soul. That seems meaningless to me, for just what is “one’s soul?” I cannot define it, but I can say I feel it when Ilisten to it. Here is the version from the soundtrack of the movie The Pianist, which is two minutes and twenty-six seconds in length.
Of course, to not strain a viewer’s attention span much beyond one minute, I had to do some musical chopping. I have this draft arrangement that any Chopin fan would find shabby in comparison to the original. I would agree with that. That does change what I had to do. Viewers in front of a Picasso, Van Gogh, or Rembrandt artwork would be hard-pressed to last even one minute. Currently, the music is about a minute and a half, which is long. My hope is by editing out some of the repetitious measures, and upping the pace, that the music will keep the listener’s attention from drifting. The ending is also uplifting compared to all the covers I listened to. That is to keep the viewer from dozing off.
The following is the only picture I have of this project. On a group of tables, I have laid out an idea of how the music will sweep across and beyond a six-foot-long, by two-foot canvas, it will somehow be mounted on.
Here is the all-done-but-the-signing studio image of the project, You were on My Mind. I completed it the day before it was to be hung in a local exhibition sponsored by the Valley Art Association, of which I am a board member. The next day I with the help of Jeff hung this artwork successfully at the Heyde Center for the Arts.
This other image is when I returned the day after to help to hang other artworks for the show. My caption I texted along with the image to Jeff (an art friend) reads, “Waiting to be seated.”
Jeff is an outstanding water colorist and art teacher. He is creative in his style, theme choices, and presentations. All that, along with his personality and motivational abilities, has contributed to his high level artistic respect among his peers and sales of his works. Luckily I have had a number of lunches with Jeff to discuss in my usual meandering way, what is art? its value, purpose, meaning, etc.
I have little else to add about this art project that is not in the following video. I do have some words about how this project has contributed to a change in this art.
In late 2018, I purchased my first cover license for Africa. That license was for 25 Music Boxes, which was the only option for a cover that made some logical sense for me. That project used a .5 watt sound system. Over the years, I have continued to purchase cover licenses for 25 music boxes when I have only ever used one copy of the music for every license. I am fine with that; I did not write the original music. Only recently have I sold my first piece made under a cover license. That buyer turned out to be a private company I once worked for, and who had purchased another work years earlier. To be honest, until my stuff sells for tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars, no one is going to pay me any attention. In the end, it is all about the value of the monies. No real money, no actual concern from the music industry. Their responses to this art so far have been pretty standard and generic, such as a dropped entry on Amazon, removed listing from Etsy, or a demonetization on YouTube. In money terms I have made little to cover my expenses in maintaining these promotional outlets. I used those three sites not for selling but more so to get the word out. Over many years, the results have been little to nothing. That matches my experiences with Art Fairs and Exhibitions, with the costs of exceeding the results. The only major benefits of my online promoting have been the hundred plus videos on YouTube and my 660 entries on this blog, which document this story.
That brings me to my first change that has come about because of this project. I am no longer calling what I do as Art (although the words art and artwork will still be used for description). Once, I added that push button to hear the music, I started to wonder what I should call what I am doing. My art genre title became Interactive Constructive sculpture (I made that up). After finishing this project I am now considering it is time to acknowledge the moving of my artistic needle to the center between performance art and visual art. Maybe, the genre term, Music Box, as a better description then artwork.
The fact that these music boxes are designed to hang on a wall instead sitting on an end table gives the impression to Art Jurors and Art aficionados the leeway to still call what I do as Art. That may keep me in the running for Group and eventually one person Art shows in the big towns. Think about it. For all the art venues out there that need to make monies calling a show of wall hangings of Interactive Constructive Sculptures is a mouth full. Easier to say come see and play the creative music boxes by Scott Von Holzen. That will certainly attract the ordinary gallery walker. As for the people with the monies, that may pert their interest for Art that they can easily afford and can actually have fun with.
With those thoughts I want to mention something interesting with these so called artistic music boxes of mine. Since the very first art that showed up on cave wall, to Van Eyck, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and beyond most visitors spend only seconds looking at art. This latest project has music that is about one minute twenty seconds in length. Since this art is fairly unknown add that time to another ten to fifteen seconds looking at the artwork. That brings the total viewing time to easily one minute and thirty seconds a visitor could spend looking and listening. That puts this artwork in an exclusive category. That is amazing considering I am and this art is still and unknown, unknown.
Finally, this is the grip I have. What is the deal with Jurored (the art deciders) Art Shows and their rewarding of honors and monies to at best is high end craftsmanship. What I am referring to is that all Art shows I have been apart of, from my first exhibition way back in the 1970’s to the Pablo show this early October, have been strangely captivated by the finely made, untouchable, buttery smooth looking, and exquisitely crafted objects that easily get a one-up on the competition? Throw in a shallow social or environmentally connection and you got a winner, or at less an honorable mention. It is absurd, and I will explain.
On an ordinary 7 day working week I spend 10 hours a day in my Studio. Around 60 hours of that time a week I use for project time. The rest of my time is being used for maintenance of everything else art and music related. This project’s worksheet has a start date of September 8th. I finished on October 7th, with the signing. I spend four weeks on this artwork for a guess total of 240 hours spent in the planning, figuring out, solving problems, correcting mistakes, and the constructing of the artwork out of wood, aluminum, canvas and paints. Then there is the writing of the music followed by the creating of the performance and the building of the stereo system along with speaker boxes needed to hear the artwork’s music. All this effort requires a high level of learned skill, or craft, which is a process that I have taught myself. I use this process to put together all the items I created with the end goal being a work of art.All art starts as craft, and end only as art when the final object represents something greater then the sum of its physical parts. Recently I have found a simpler way to expressed that idea of something greater with the words ennobling an object (from the french writer Guillaume Apollinaire concerning the rejection of Marcel Duchamp’s infamous Fountain by a 1917 jurored exhibition he help organize). His three words separate Art from Craft and I am sure the art deciders of this world would understand that. But instead they have convinced themselves that high Craft, a level of skill, is itself art. It is not. Artisans who take ordinary objects and combine them together in a presentations that are buttery smooth, with a meticulously finish, that screams do-not-touch, your fingers will mar the shine, and that intimidate the viewer with absurd amounts of attention to detail create nothing more then high craft which is lovely to look at and expensive to own. Those considerations has caused jurored art exhibitions, and the art deciders to raise high craft in stature to their art comfort level. They keep awarding an art process as the artwork itself. In reality I see highcraft as the putting separate parts together to create an overall high finished object that substitutes for everyday ordinary. It is the high finishing that the art deciders see that raises craft to art. They are rewarding the ennobling of the process not the objects. They know not what they do.
Well, I thought it was time to do a video demonstration of my scrapping technique that I first used in early April 2020 on the project I Will. I’m writing this many days after I made this video, and have continued to scrap here and there to further my graffitiing of this musical portrait.
I have since the beginning of this art in 2006 used words to reinforce the artwork’s connection to the music I was portraying. My thinking is that the copyright people are touchy with the use of lyrics, so to not to offend I felt it was necessary to select words found in common language from the lyrics. That, of course, then diminished their impact. Still, I felt the words, much like the up and down flow, represented what I was portraying. By being selective in my words, I found I could create the added possibility of different meanings.
Recently, I have added more words to my artworks for a different purpose. I do this by breaking up sentences or phrases into smaller pieces and placing them randomly all about the canvas, like graffiti on a wall. Then, to negate their value as words, what do I do? I scrapped them away. It is the words’ presence, not their meaning is what I am after. It is like the artwork. I am not painting sheet music. I am portraying an up and down flow from the music.
By graffitiing the words, I am borrowing a technique used by Jean-Michel Basquiat where he would paint over words, as if so to say ignore them. I changed my mind. I agree with that. This is a continuation of a fundamental part of this art, whose principal theme has always been to portray music like a portrait painter: yea, it kinda looks like him, but it isn’t actually him, it’s a portrait.
This is the background image. Again, as in the past, nothing fancy or creative. My goal was to cover up the white primer paint with colors that fit together. The final top layer of paint will again cover up this high school abstraction. Later, after scrapping the top layer of paint, a higher abstraction painting will appear.
This image shows my graffiti words from the song, and the two layers of Prussian Blue topcoat. I learned from Play that Song, out-of-frustration in trying to cover the entire base coat, to let some of the base show through adding interest and depth. This next image shows the results of taking a small pallet knife and scrapping away the Prussian paint to reveal the base layer. The scrapping across the graffiti scrabbles the words’ presence while intensifying the abstraction. The use of a small scrapper creates narrow lines that display the action of the artist’s hand (Jackson Pollock without the dripping)
Starting with the first music painting back in early 2006, I had to deal with what to do with the background canvas. From the beginning, I had straightforward ideas of how I was going to apply the up and down movement of the music the artwork was portraying. What I did not have was what to do with the background. Since I did not want to paint sheet music. I knew I would not paint in the five lines and four spaces that make up a music bar line staff. What I came up with was to paint background rectangles that had the basic shape of a staff but more so resembled the artwork style of Mark Rothko. Here is an image of an early music artwork and a masterpiece by Rothko.
Over the years, my backgrounds became less Rothko looking and more generic. Probably out of the repeating need to apply pretty paint to blank canvas, to form a foundation for the music, and/or maybe to add some value to the artwork. Here is an example of a well used horizontal abstraction style using a roller.
A latest new background style came about when I constructed my own squeegees and practiced the technique developed by Gerhard Richter. This large Bach work BWV 1065 from 2014 is an example of my squeegee efforts.
I used those background styles and many others less unique for my backgrounds over the years. For each new painting, I had the same goal to fill in the canvas behind the music. It was not until early 2020 that I developed the idea of scrapping paint. Now, in later 2021, and with this latest scrapped work, I believe I am close to replicating this technique consistently. To this day, I am surprised with each first scrap of the pallet knife that what I am actually doing actually works.
I started Play that Song on May 17th. The artwork was finished in early July. The artwork project was completed with the adding of the music and the signing and dating on August 25th. This is the only artwork project that was completed in 2021. The only other artwork I have finished was After the Gold Rush, at the end of February in Minnesota. Although I completed the music for this artwork, I never built the framed or created the sound system. All that never happened because we were getting ready to leave. On March 1st we returned home back to Wisconsin.
Here is my YouTube video discussing this artwork. The music still sounds “catchy” to this day. That convinces me that k after all these months spent on this project the choice of music holds well.
To add to the video review of Play that Song, here are some of the technical improvements that were made. My aluminum frame for this artwork now using one inch angle instead of three-quarter used previously. That makes for a stronger, stiffer frame for the artwork. Moving the speakers out from behind the artwork to in front allows the artwork to sit closer to the wall. The pastel colors I chose for the canvas framed speakers and the controller box, I have used before in early artworks. The pastels were used on small pieces of the artwork. I never had the concern if the pastel colors actually work with the overall color scheme of the artwork. Being an old school photographer, I was always looking for interesting contrasts, so that is where the pastels come in. Besides, the music having its own color scheme and its outside placement on this work allows displays its independence from the artwork.
The challenge remains: how do I, or don’t I, connect the art, the music, and the artist. That mystery still lies deep, only partially uncovered. The last improvement is the first time use of magnets instead of glue to connect the wooden music pieces to the canvas frame. Although the magnets can cause damage to the top coat of paint, their easy removal releases the wood pieces, which better protects the canvas when being moved. The idea of gluing rigid wood pieces to a foldable piece of canvas, and then trying to handle that canvas without having the wood tear loose, is absurd. Especially when I am still using an experimental layering of top paint that needs to be easily scraped off, and takes time to harden.
On September 2nd we will take this artwork to be exhibited in the important fall art exhibition at the Pablo Annual. In 2019, to my surprise, The Blue Danube took third place. Surprisingly not, nothing came from that moment in the light event. Now, two years later and the payment of a twenty-dollar exhibition fee, we will give it another try. I hate pay-to-display events, but I want to convince the Pablo that it is time to schedule this art for a one person show. That means I need to keep myself in their face while working to convince them that my combination of art and music fits well with the Pablo’s overall approach to the arts. I am going to make this happen, knowing that the squeaky wheelgets the grease. What grease and this art have in common I am not aware of, but that metaphor pops up from memory like “Once there was this little old ant who thought he could move a rubber tree plant.” From the time I first heard this song to today I have considered myself to be one of those stubborn son-of-a-bitch ants. So it is. So it goes. So goes I.