An Allegory with Venus and Cupid: Unveiled

Written by Paige Hudson

October 22, 2020

The painting An Allegory with Venus and Cupid is an especially spicy piece, filled with hidden messages and drama that has left people contemplating the real meaning since its creation in 1545. It is layered in parables that have been questioned, theorized, and debated over the centuries. It is a work of art that holds symbolism prevalent throughout society and time.

Along with the formal analysis there will be personal and psychoanalytic point of view as well. In order to fully develop and elaborate on the potential of this painting, the article will be split into sections. Each figure is a parable in itself and will be most comprehensive in a subsection of their own. My effort here is to leave you with fundamental knowledge on this piece and to also wonder for yourself how it all ties in together and what you think it could mean.

Before diving into the analysis of this painting, there are some important details from the Mannerist era that went into shaping this piece.

Mannerism blossomed from the Renaissance somewhat rebelliously. This new movement broke the rules held carefully by renaissance artists. Instead of looking toward nature for inspiration, they turned toward art itself and past masterpieces.

The term ‘Mannerist’ comes from the first known art historian, Giorgio Lazatti Manierd (‘Manierd’ meaning ‘style’). This new style of painting presented figures from religion as well as mythology and held characteristics like twisted postures, ambiguous scales, distorted perspective and rich colors. All of these characteristics will be discussed along with deeper hidden messages and interpretations throughout the article.

Our master artist behind this painting is Agnolo di Cosimo, or more popularly known as Bronzino. He was thought to have been commissioned by Consimo I de’ Medici as a gift for King Francis I of France.

Visual Analysis

Each artwork veils its unique motifs through the formal elements of art. This painting in particular holds peculiarities within its colors, lighting, space, and composition.

The title alone has proved to be the first enigma of this piece because An Allegory with Venus and Cupid is not necessarilythe real title. It has also been titled Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, as well as A Triumph of Venus. Thus, further adding mystery to the unconfirmed collection of visual allegories.

Not surprisingly, this is not the only secret behind the painting. In this part of the article I will break down the piece through its foundations in effort to unveil its truth and establish its structure.

Venus & Cupid

Upon first viewing this painting, the blatant eroticism between Cupid (young boy in the left foreground) and Venus (woman in center foreground) is evident. The scene tone shifts from romantic to uncomfortable when realizing this soft sexual pose is held by mother and son. They create this pose with Venus’ legs draped across the ground, framing the bottom of the piece, and her body upright. The positioning of her arms and body create a twisting motion. Cupid is sculpted around her, and with this, the two figures adopt the figura serpentinata pose that is classic for Mannerism style paintings. The two are highlighted with bright flush tones that contrast the Ultra Marine and Phalo blues of the background and the coldness of the other figures.

Venus is positioned as the central axis. She holds a golden apple from The Judgement of Paris in her left hand that confirms her identity for us. Cupid holds an awkward pose to pleasure Venus with one hand on her breast and the other holding her head, while also kissing her. If we look at the lower half of his body he is partially kneeling and almost kicking two doves away, this will be discussed more later on.

The two figures hold the first point of attention among many and are the forefront attention of this painting. Although Venus and Cupid are the center staple, Venus, by size comparison, is much larger than any other figure in the painting. This could be Bronzino’s way of using a hierarchal scale in his painting, showing that Venus is in control and therefore the most powerful.

Folly

To avoid this initial form of detached passion, or maybe to get a clearer answer for it, the eye travels to each of the other figures.

The little boy beside them is in movement as if to shower them in flower petals. His expression is joyous and unbothered by the many things going on behind him—as well as the thorn piercing his right foot.

I would also like to note the lighting in this painting, along with the layered bodies, there is a definition of shadow that adds depth and mystery to the underlying figures. The longer you look at it, the more chaotic things become.

Deceit/ Fraud

Behind the young boy is a girl in a green dress. She seems calm and emotionless but looking a bit closer we see her body tells a much different story. Under her gown she has the body of a serpent, the legs of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion. Her right hand holds a honeycomb while her left hand twists in a strange position to hold the stinger at the end of her tail. Below these two figures is a pile of masks that will be theorized later on.

Father Time

Above these two figures is a bearded man who we can assume to be Father Time or, Chronos, due to the hourglass hidden behind him. His skin is more vibrant with color which makes him look more human-like but his highlighted wing reinforces his godly status. We can also see that his grey beard and baldness shows age, therefore reinforcing Time, but his skin and muscle show youth.

His right arm frames the top half of the painting while his hand is bent backwards. This suggests that he is either holding up the blue sheet or trying to tear it down. It is difficult to decipher the meaning of the movement. This detail will become important in later discussion.

Oblivion

The person, or illusion of a person, in the top left corner has a mixed look of surprise and possibly disgust by Father Time’s actions. This character has been given the name of Oblivion by past art historians which will be analyzed later on, for the sake of convenience I will refer to it by its name. Oblivion’s head is only partial, with the back half missing, much like a head that was cracked open, or a mask attached to a body. The position of the hands show Oblivion is clearly holding up the blue sheet.

Jealousy

The screaming woman is likely the most debated over because she seems out of place compared to the coolness of the rest of the painting. Although it seems she is hidden, she is impossible to miss. Her colors are dull in comparison to the rest of the figures skin tones. She is the epitome of suffering. She faces away from the carnal scene in a world of her own.

What does it all mean?

Venus & Cupid

Venus and Cupid are a dichotomic representation of female and male sexuality. Another name for this is man vs. nature. I.e mother nature, chaos, and divine feminine vs. humanity, order, and divine masculine. The two are in a constant opposition, which requires balance to maintain stability. This reflection of balanced primordial energy has many names and comes in many forms throughout the expansion of life.

Female and male energy are like yin and yang. Female energy is loving, caring, and cyclic like a circle. The male energy is aloof but direct, like a straight line (phallic). Together these form a spiral, similar to the figura serpentinata (spiral) pose that Venus and Cupid create in the painting.

Venus’s facial expression is relaxed, nearly lazy in passion and her lips are slightly parted. Even though she is entangled with Cupid she does not seem to be completely focused on this affair. I believe this is because in her right hand she is taking Cupid’s arrow from its sheath as if to disarm him. Cupid seems too entranced with Venus to notice or even care that she is doing this. This could be viewed as an analogy of man vs nature.

Man becomes pleasure-obsessed, as Cupid is with Venus, which can make people become ignorant or naïve of nature and cause them take advantage of what they are given, i.e Cupid’s arrow. That is, until something happens that reminds humanity (Cupid) that we are defenseless against Mother Nature (Venus). This constant balance of order in a chaotic world is necessary for our survival, but when we become power hungry, we will be put into check by the powers that be.

Contrasting this is the pinkness in her and Cupid’s ears and cheeks. Blushing is an involuntary psychological response to a few different things, including romantic stimulation. The positioning of her hand tells one story while her body and face tell another.

Doves

In the bottom left corner are two doves, one is almost completely hidden. Historically, this bird is a symbol for innocent love and the divine. It is difficult to decipher whether they are included in this painting to be exclusively symbolic, or to show that Cupid is pushing them away.

If Bronzino painted them in to represent the purity and divinity of the two, it could mean that this affair is normal and common among gods, and that they really do love each other. However, if it is the latter, it represents the opposite. It would show us that this rendezvous is not of purity. It is not godly. It is not moral, and Cupid is trying to hide that.

Folly

Moving on to the right-hand figures, the young boy has been thought to represent Folly by previous art historians. He is so caught up in the passion between lovers that he is indifferent to the thorn piercing through his right foot. He does not register the pain because his mind is engrossed in excitement and pleasure by watching them.

I believe this is a connection to man vs. self. Once a person becomes overtly obsessed with their own pleasures, they become gluttonous. They no longer are filtering their actions through morals but justifying it through satisfaction. It seems, at the peak of this obsession, the person is no longer aware of themselves. They give up themselves and their power to attain something else, whether that be a feeling, person, or thing. The thorn in this situation could be an expression of morality, the one thing consistently grounding people in their humanity.

Deceit

The young girl carries a slew of meaning on her own and has been named Deceit/ Fraud. She portrays innocence in her youthful face but hides a mutated body of three combined animals. The first is the serpent. Snakes have held many forms of meaning throughout time but specifically for this painting it is seen as fraudulence or deception, as well as wisdom. She is cunning and holds truths unknown to others.

Then she has the legs of a lion or otherwise strong animal, powerful and ruling. And finally, the tail or a scorpion, venomous and therefore dangerous. The girl is a hidden figure, but she symbolizes the truth behind Mother Nature. She is beautiful and full of life, objectively innocent upon first look, but a bit closer and we see she is wicked and unexpecting with great power.

A honeycomb in her right hand is an emblematic form of temptation. In her left hand she holds the stinger of her tail. It is turned away from the viewer in effort to partially hide it. Between both hands she holds ambidextrous power. You can have the sweetness of the honeycomb, but it comes with the price of her venom. Just as we accept the fruit and harvest that nature provides, we also have to deal with the powerful misfortunes that can be laid upon us at any moment.

Additionally, the foot that is pierced with the thorn (of the boy) is encircled by the girls’ venomous tail. This connects back to the root human nature, the side of us that is entrapped in the threshold of chaotic feminine, a direct line to our animalistic tendencies. This is why his facial expression does not align with his suffering, because it is masked by appetence and consummated by mania.

The girl is in shadow because when people encounter deceit in their lives, it is usually hidden behind something or someone they were too trusting, hopeful, obsessed or infatuated with. Folly could be any one of us at some point in our lives with someone or something. Failing to objectively consider all sides of a situation could easily let us fall victim to deceit or fraud. When unguarded by the possibility of pleasure in some form, humans fail to see an important truth or possibility.

Dante’s Inferno Connection

An interesting connection is the resemblance between Bronzino’s and Dante’s personification of “Fraud.” Dante named his character “Geryon”, who resided at the eighth circle of Hell (Fraud.) He seems to resemble a dragon overall, but Geryon had the face of an innocent and happy man, the paws of a lion, the body of a wyvern, and the tail of a scorpion.  The girl in An Allegory with Venus and Cupid seems to be a reference to Dante’s Inferno.

Father Time

To the top right of the piece we see Father Time. The positioning of his hands, after much consideration, left me to believe that he is trying to hold up the sheet instead of taking it down. This is because his left hand is holding onto the fabric and the sheet is draped over his right hand.

If Bronzino wanted Father Time to give the appearance of tearing it down, I would like to think his hands would be gripping the sheet, rather than holding it up. His expression seems concerned with the figure to the far left, as if not sure if they will also continue holding it up or maybe out of concern for the situation taking place in front of them. Father Time is helping cover the truth.

Oblivion

So who is the other figure hiding this lewd affair? They have never been given a confirmed identity. However, we assume this to be Oblivion for the following reasons. In Greek mythology, he is known as Lethe. The word ‘lethe’ means forgetfulness/oblivion/concealment. This is also related to the Greek word aletheia, which means ‘truth’.

With these things in mind it would make sense why Bronzino chose Oblivion to be in opposition of Father Time. Time is holding up the fabric, trying to hide the erotic scene, and is shooting a worried look towards Oblivion in fear of him uncovering the truth. Oblivion holds a shocked expression with vacant, empty eyes. His head is partially broken and missing, this is an allusion to his names true meaning, “forgetfulness.” He is also helping to conceal the love affair taking place.

Jealousy

Last but not least is the figure with the greatest mystique. The woman (or thought to be woman) hidden behind the couple. She pulls her damp hair with clenched hands and screams in agony. The tones of her skin portray sickliness. At a closer look, the fingers are red and swollen, the gums are toothless, and there is pain reflected in her expression. These are all symptoms of syphilitic alopecia. This one figure is what lead theorists to believe that this painting was actually meant to portray the various signs of syphilis. The toothless gums are also an indication of mercury poisoning, which was common in Renaissance times for trying to provide therapy for syphilis.

Syphilis Theory

An Allegory with Cupid and Venus was created fifty years after the discovery of syphilis. It spread throughout Europe and caused a widespread panic as the “new plague” and venereal disease. This woman figure solemnly convinced people that the true meaning of this painting was that “unchaste love comes with great consequence.” This theory could be elaborated, but I do not believe it to fully justify the deeper and hidden messages given to us by Bronzino.

Another theory, one I agree with, is that this woman is Jealousy. She is suffering in undeniable agony and holding her head. Jealousy is an ugly feeling, especially when acted upon and she was meant to portray that emotion. She was not meant to be pretty or even likeable, especially among all the other attractive characters in this painting.

She is holding her head because jealousy is essentially a mix of intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and insecurity. The woman is letting jealousy take over and losing herself in the process. She is perfectly placed behind the two figures and in shadow because she is an afterthought in her own mind, and therefore is painted that way.

Psychoanalysis

The psychoanalytic side of this piece encourages us to break our minds open even further and work ourselves into the depths of this piece.

Eroticism between mother and son is, in Freudian terms, the Oedipus complex. This complex occurs during the phallic stage of psychosexual development (between 3-6 years of age (keep this in mind when looking at Cupid’s face)). The Oedipus complex is when a young boy becomes sexually attracted to his mother and apprehensive toward his father. There has been much debate over this theorized complex, but this painting portrays it well. Although this painting came long before the study of psychology, it is still relevant to it. If you find this interesting, I encourage you to do further research.

 The sexuality between young boy and mother is clear. There is emphasis of childlike features when looking at Cupid’s head, but his body is closer to that of a young adult. As we can see, Bronzino was an incredible artist and clearly understood anatomical proportion, so why would he paint Cupid this way?

 To show the love between mother and son at various stages of life, in my opinion. Young boys tend to be closer to their mother than anyone else in childhood (hence the complex) and here we see Cupid’s child-self kissing his mother. The young adult body shows a different situation, it is closer to the Genital stage in Freuds developmental chart. In this stage (puberty to adult) adolescents begin to become sexually experimental. This is evident with Cupid groping Venus’ breast.

Another idea deals with Venus taking Cupid’s arrow of love. This could mean a few things. The first is that even though mothers are (or supposed to be) loving and caring towards their children, they can also be the opposite. When we are young, we don’t understand why our mother might yell at us or treat us poorly. We don’t see her struggles or even realize that she is a real person with real emotions usually until we are well into adulthood.

Our mothers, especially for boys, can be the person who teaches us that love is a beautiful and necessary part of life, or can teach us that love is manipulation, guilt, abuse, or otherwise. In this painting we see the action taking place, but not the reaction. We don’t know what Venus is going to do with the arrow. We don’t know how Cupid will react when he realizes she has stolen it. And we don’t know how this situation as a whole will shape him into an adult.

The second explanation relates to man vs. nature, that although we have no choice but to trust and love her, hence, mother nature, she still carries the authority over us to rid us of any power or control we might think we have. Any plans (order in our lives) we have can be ruined at any moment, and when this happens, we slip into chaos. We slip back into the true identity of nature.

Masks

The other detail I would like to discuss are the masks below the boy. The masks represent the personas among people, and even gods. These items connect to Oblivion because he appears to have a mask as a face. The ambiguity of Oblivion is brilliant because it reinforces the idea that we only know what he is on the surface and keeps us guessing at who he might be. It would be ideal to think people are what they seem to be in our minds, but as we’ve learned, that isn’t the case.

The masks also connect to Deceit because she is hiding her truth, just as the masks hide a person’s true form. Each character has been painted with the purpose of making the viewer look closer and think deeper. They have a perfected persona on the outside, and we identify them with our interpretation of this. But then we can see their actions, and this shows us a peek at who they really are. The masks have been included to remind us that no one is who we think they are.

Conclusion

An Allegory with Cupid and Venus is by far one of my favorite Mannerist paintings. It simultaneously consists of qualities taken from artistic masters before its time while still bringing fresh ideas into the art world. It has held my attention every time I have seen it as I’m sure it’s done for thousands of other artists. The longer time goes on and strays further from this painting, and the more society progresses from the state of humanity in the time this was created, I believe the true and original meaning is slowly lost and unrecoverable.

 The final and jarring conclusion I have come to is that Father Time is actually holding up the fabric of time. Although we see the painting and can attempt an answer, the answer sits with Bronzino in the grave. It is still hidden behind this blue sheet of time.

The truth is that we will most likely never have a definite answer but rather interpretations. Whether that be our own or those of the ones that choose to chime in. But maybe those perceptions of it are even more important in the long run. Maybe it’s the collection of thoughts from people that keep the painting alive. Maybe the authenticity of the piece sits inside the minds of its viewers and expands itself through time and perspective. In the end, it is the creative observer that has to dismantle this sheet of time to reveal their own truth behind the piece.

The Music of Daniel Blake

Written by Alexander Greco

September 23, 2020

Photo Credit: @visionofele on Instagram

Born in Arizona, but currently residing in Los Angeles, Daniel Blake is an eclectic musician with roots in classic rock, old school and 90’s country and blues, and contemporary folk. Having released a number of singles, including his most recent, “Freeway”, and his EP, Circle Mountain, Daniel is quickly gaining recognition, with his music already being featured on a number of television shows and a Spotify-official playlist.

Daniel’s music immediately struck a spot in me, as it possessed the same calm yet haunting expressiveness of some of my favorite artists, Ben Howard, Bon Iver and Adam Granduciel, and the same simplified, emotive style of contemporary musicians like All Them Witches, Wild Child and Josh Abbott. Blending styles from across blues, folk, country and rock, along with the ambiance of synth and keys in the background, Daniel’s music echoes in your mind with calming yet soulful songs of love, life and a roaming freedom.

When Daniel and I first started talking, he communicated in a handful of 3-5 word sentences, and I thought, “Fuck, I’m gonna have to wring the answers out of this guy.”

However, despite Daniel’s laconic first responses, once he did open up about music, his answers were some of the most detailed I’ve received in interviews (even beating out a few writers I’ve talked with) and Daniel’s passion and experience with his craft became crystal clear.

And so, while I usually include much of my own thought in these sorts of articles, with this article, I let Daniel do much of the talking and step back more than I usually do.

Without further ado, here is my article/interview with Daniel Blake.

Background

We began our interview discussing how Daniel became involved with music and how he eventually arrived where he is now.

Xander: “So, to start off with, how did you get into music? How did you start singing and playing? Have you had any formal training in music, or are you self-taught? Have you been a part of any other bands or musical projects, and, if so, what were those like?”

Daniel: “My dad played music at church so there were always a couple of guitars lying around the house.  I eventually learned a few of the basic chords (G,C,D & EM) which gave me something to build off of.  I later took some lessons at a local music shop but wasn’t too involved in music at school.  I had tried forming a couple of punk bands when I was in Junior high and High-school.  However, they never amounted to much.  mostly just recording 15 minute instrumentals we would listen to while driving around town.  I didn’t really start singing until I was in my 20’s when I started singing at church.  From there I started messing around with an old 8 track recorder we had lying around the house.”

X: “How have you developed over the years? And how have you arrived where you are now in your career?”

D: “When I first started out I really had no clue what I should be doing. I pretty much just started recording music and uploading it to Soundcloud. It was sort of nice to work at my own pace to learn about the best ways to use my voice. I eventually had to step out and present it to the world, which is when the journey really began. It was difficult to find a venue that would allow me to do a set so I had to start at ground zero. Basically playing anything available which at the time was mostly open mics.  Like anything else, one door always leads you to another door until one day you look back and say, ‘man, that’s a lot of doors!’ haha.”

Influences

Next, Daniel and I delved into his musical influences. I knew about a number of them, and his songs possess the unmistakable echoes of voices and sounds still reverberating from the dawn of folk, country and classic rock (Dylan, Cash, Neil Young, etc.). I called Ben Howard the moment I heard his first song, and I wasn’t surprised to learn he listened to Iron & Wine. Still, Daniel’s catalog of influences was quite broad, and I enjoyed hearing about all the artists who’d left a mark on his music.

X: What other musicians, musical groups or eras of music have influenced you? How did early influences like Tom Petty, The Beatles, Van Morrison and others affect you? What about their music do you enjoy? And are there any contemporary artists you resonate with or find any inspiration from?

Credit: @ojodeloba

D: I love old country music (Hank, Willy, Waylon & Cash).  The songs remind me of my grandpa and his friends sitting around in a circle, telling stories and teasing one another.  It sort of feels like home I guess.  I’m also a big fan of a lot of 90’s country/blues music too (Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Brooks & Dunn, Bonnie Raitt, SRV, Dire Straits…).  All of these artists are a piece of me in one way or another.  The common thread for all of these artists is great songs.

D: However, there is something much deeper (especially for groups like the Beatles).  They constantly evolved and experimented with different ideas. they pushed the envelope and opened the world up to new sounds.  Every song didn’t need to be a love song.  It was okay to create something just for the sake of making something new.  As far as contemporary music goes, I feel like I may be a little behind, haha.  However, I have definitely been influenced by artists like David Grey, Ben Howard, Band of Horses, Iron & Wine & Postal service.

After this, we discussed Daniel’s influences in a more general sense.

X: Are there any cultural, social, religious, or other kinds of influences on your music or your songwriting? Are there any personal experiences that have shaped your music and songwriting, or even your outlook on making music?

D: I think that if you are an honest writer it is impossible to write something that does not somehow reflect the issues that are going on in the world.  At the same time, I really try to zoom in on a moment and tell a story.  It’s sort of like painting.

D: If you try and paint the whole world it would be impossible to include enough detail to really give anyone a sense of what it’s like to live here.  However, once you zoom in you can start to see more and more detail.  If you were to paint a doorknob you would be able to express all of the reflections and metal fibers.  People could determine if it is on a wood door or a glass door.  If it’s night or if it’s day.  Whether it’s on the inside or the outside of the building.  All of the clues on and around the doorknob help to give you a sense of the environment, just like the subject matter of a song.  I basically try to say it without saying it.

D: There are a few moments that really stick out as playing a major role in the way I approach songwriting.  I remember driving home from work listening to the radio when a Red Hot Chili Peppers song came on.  I realized that I don’t understand most of the lyrics.  However, the overall sound (melody/production/cadence) all flowed together in such a way that it didn’t seem to matter.  This memory stuck with me for a really long time. The foundation for any great song is always a strong melody and production.  This however sets up roadblocks that you must learn to navigate around.  In fact, it forces you to write better lyrics because you need to figure out ways to say what you want to say within the constraints that you have setup for yourself.”

Songs

Next, Daniel and I spent some time talking about his some of his specific songs, as well as a bit about the recording process for his recent releases.

X: Can you tell me a bit about your latest release, Freeway? What was the inspiration for it? How was the process of recording and producing it?

D: I’m originally from Phoenix, AZ.  Throughout the years I’ve made dozens of trips back home to visit family.  Whenever I would get to the middle of the stretch; I would look at the small clusters of housing developments and trailer parks.  I imagined what it would be like to grow up in a town like that where you constantly see cars passing by on the freeway.  I imagined that the freeway could become a symbol of hope, especially for a couple of kids growing up in broken homes.

D: The recording process was a lot of fun.  I worked with Bill Lefler; who had produced all of my previous work.  My good friend/guitar player Paul Redel came into the studio and laid down probably 100 different guitar tracks.  I stood at the doorway and watched as Paul would play a lick and Bill laid on the ground turning knobs on the pedals.  Each take was completely unique, magical and a mess at the same time.  From there, Bill had the task of sifting through all of the takes, cutting and pasting things together until it started to sound like something completely out of this world.  During an unrelated session, Bill had hired a horn player for something else he was working on at the time.  The horn player had finished the session a little early so Bill asked him to mess around with a few takes on Freeway, which sort of added a whole other element to the song. 

X: Can you tell me a bit about your other releases, like the Circle Mountain EP, Here With Me and The Ones You Love? What have been some inspirations or motivations for these songs and others?

D: I had eventually come to the point where I realized that you are extremely limited without having any music out in the world.  When you first start out in this industry you have a lot of unrealistic expectations about the way things work.  You imagine being greeted by some A&R rep the second you step off stage who signed you to a label.  The sad truth is that there are very few stages you can step off of if you don’t have any content, not to mention the fact that A&R reps typically go after people who are doing pretty well on their own.  I realized that the next step would be to release my music out into the world, even if it didn’t receive much attention.

D: I spent several months trying to record my music at home when I finally threw up my hands and decided I needed a producer which–was the smartest decision I ever made.  I met my producer Bill Lefler through a friend of a friend.  I was impressed with the artists he had worked with in the past and quite frankly I felt honored that he would be willing to listen to some of my homemade demos.  Bill really sold me on his enthusiasm.  He appeared to understand what I was going for and was excited to share some of the ways he thought we could get there.  We initially agreed to do the first track on spec; which is another way of saying “if you don’t like it then you don’t pay for it and move forward with someone else”.  However, it didn’t take much time into recording the first track that I realized Bill and I would be working together for a long time.

Credit: @ojodeloba

D: At the time, I had about 20 songs I had written which gave us a lot to work with as far as options.  I was open to Bill’s opinion because I wanted him to be excited about the songs he was working on.  I also figured that eventually all of the tracks would be released, each at the right time.  We decided to do 5 tracks and picked four that we were both excited about.  We left the last slot open for something new I would write based on the feel of the first 4 tracks which happened to be “All I Need”.  Overall, the experience was really great.

D: After releasing Circle Mountain, the EP had caught the ear of a music supervisor who asked me to record a cover of the Dido song “Here With Me” for the TV show “Roswell New Mexico”.  This was a major milestone in my career as up to this point I could only dream of having a song on TV.  “The Ones You Love” was a Christmas song that was mixed in with the other demos I had originally sent to Bill when we were working on the first EP.  I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to release an original Christmas song for the simple fact that there are too many covers floating around and Christmas songs typically get re-visited every year.  Bill liked the idea of doing a really stripped-down version to sort of give it that “Carpenters” sound.  Again, the recording process was a lot of fun and is something I will always cherish. 

In Parting

The last thing Daniel and I talked about was probably my favorite part of the interview. It’s really goddamn hard to make it as an artist, as a musician, as a writer, and so forth. While so many of us look up things like, “What is ‘so-and-so’s’ morning routine?” or “What does ‘Person X’ do to get motivated?”, I don’t think enough people take the time to listen to the actual advice and experience of people who’ve made it further down similar paths that we’re walking.

So, I’ve been trying to talk with people I interview more about what people actually need to do to be successful. The sad truth is that recording a beautiful song, writing a deep piece of fiction, or painting a stunning landscape is only the first step in an endless marathon to success. Luckily, with this knowledge, you can start learning what steps to take next.

While Daniel’s response here is more geared toward music, a lot of what he says can certainly be translated to other creative industries.

X: A lot of people who read the magazine are independent artists, musicians, writers and so forth who are trying to break into their respective fields, or are even just starting, and so I’m sure a lot of people would love to hear from someone who is a bit further down the path from where they are.

X: What do you think is important for aspiring musicians to know about the business? Do you have any advice for musicians trying to start their career? What are some things you wished you knew getting started? And do you have any advice for marketing music, getting your name out there and picking up traction with your music?

@ojodeloba

D: It’s a very difficult question to answer because no two artists’ paths are the same.  However, there are a few things that I think are key to being successful in this industry.  First off, it is extremely important to be a part of the music community.  Seek out local open mics or artists hangs and make as many friends as you can.

D: When you’re first starting out, the friends you make in the music community are often the only ones standing in your corner, pushing you to keep going.  It’s also a good way to expose yourself to any potential opportunities that may come up (“oh, you need a keyboard player? I know just the person”).  You will learn about the best producers, mixing engineers & mastering engineers.  You will learn who curates which events or which events are simply a waste of time.

D: Secondly, I think it is extremely important to have a balanced perspective of the world.  Understand that this thing you are trying to be successful at is un-relatable to 99.9% of the people in the world.  At the same time, you need these people more than they need you.  Don’t use your platform to complain about all of the struggles that come with doing this thing you chose to do.  Instead, make great content that can provide an escape for these people.

@where.is.rachel

D: Lastly, I would say that you need to work harder and smarter than everyone around you.  Figure out a way to make the best content possible.  As an indie artist, you are pretty much self-funding all of the services that would come with a record deal.  No one says, “This guy looks like a complete hack but I know he’s indie so I’ll give him a chance.”  You want people to look at the work you put out and assume you are already signed.  You may need to work a full-time job so that you can afford recording/marketing/PR fees on top of food, gas & rent.  The hard work doesn’t end once you have a mastered track.  In fact, often the hardest part is getting people to listen to your beautiful track.  This is in part why it’s so important to make as many friends who are proud of your work and are willing to pass it along.  Everyone you have in your corner (friends, curators, producers…) are all advocates for the work you put out to the world.

And here we’ve arrived at the end of my interview with Daniel Blake. It was great getting to hear from Daniel about his experiences creating and recording music, and he definitely gave some solid advice for anyone looking to make a name for themselves in their respective creative fields.

There’s one thing he said that stuck out to me: “Understand that this thing you are trying to be successful at is un-relatable to 99.9% of the people in the world.”

I could probably write an entire article just on this sentence.

If you’re out there trying to make it as an artist, musician, writer and so forth—if you’re out there trying to do the impossible—you might find yourself living a life that no one around you understands. As Elton John said, “It’s lonely out in space.”

Most people will never even put in the initial effort to try. Just taking the first step forward will set you aside from almost everyone else in the world. From there, the path forward is difficult. You’ve already set yourself apart from most other people in the world, and now you have to set yourself apart from all the people who’ve already set themselves apart.

But, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to at least put in the effort and say, “I gave it what I had.”

And, even if the path is an isolated one at times, know that you are not alone. Know that there’s others out there walking, hiking, crawling and climbing similar paths.

­-

I definitely had a great time hearing from Daniel, and I always love getting to sit down and enjoy new music. You can find Daniel’s music on Spotify (“Daniel Blake”), and you can find him on both Instagram and Linktree as @danielblakemusic. Give him a listen, and expect to hear more great songs from him in the future.

A Collection of Essays by Tara East

Written by Tara East

Re-Published May 27, 2019

A World Worth Writing For

Unfortunately, writers’ guilt is all too common. When we are working on a project, we feel guilty that we aren’t doing something more practical or useful – even if that task is nothing more than basic domestic chores. Ironically, as soon as we leave our desk to carry out said useful task, we feel guilty for abandoning our project. “I should be writing!” is the familiar, tedious mantra that plays in every writer’s mind.

Lately, though, I’ve been struck by the other type of guilt creatives suffer from. Perhaps you are familiar with it? The “Is my art doing anything?” guilt.

Part of me believes in art for art’s sake. With so much ugliness and helplessness in the world, I believe there is a place for aesthetically pleasing art. What harm can come from admiring something that is beautiful? What’s wrong with reading fun, frivolous fiction and indulging in the escapism it offers? Then there is the other part of me. The part of me that scorns this irresponsible reader. This placid person who chooses to read the latest bestseller while soaking in a tub of Epson salt as the world burns outside their window.

A vision that spurs the question: how can reading and writing contribute to solutions?

The “civilized” world has never been perfect. For better or for worse, technology’s omnipresence means we can no longer remain ignorant of our imperfection. In the face of these serious and urgent global issues, how can writers contribute to the crafting of solutions? Do their storytelling and communication skills offer anything of value?

Some argue that the publication of books reflecting current global issues is vital. Of course, these people tend to be authors. Ann Patchett (author) recently stated that she has moved away from reading classic literature in favour of contemporary texts. She believes that the accountability and challenging themes presented in recent works have once again made reading a political act.

To contradict Patchett’s point, I recently started reading Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ and I have been shocked by the timeliness of the commentary. Many of Esther’s existential concerns remain relevant today.

“I felt now that all the uncomfortable suspicions I had about myself were coming true, and I couldn’t hide the truth much longer.” (31)

“A million years of evolution […] and what are we? Animals?” (87)

This modern classic was published in 1971. A fact that saddens me slightly, as it illustrated how little we have evolved in the last 47 years. As an aside, I bought my copy of ‘The Bell Jar’ from a second-hand bookstore. The previous owner had unlined the above passages (and others) in pencil.

I wondered why someone who loved a book enough to read it with a pencil in hand would ever part with said book. This question was immediately followed by the thought, “Maybe they died?” Given the sombre tenor of these passages/the whole book, and the former reader’s obvious identification with them, I hope their ending was happier than Esther/Sylvia’s … That being said, I was constantly impressed by Plath’s ability to clearly articulate what depression felt like. I’ve never experienced depression (though the evening news does test me…) but Plath’s considered descriptions of Esther’s mental state bridged that divide. I got it.

If nothing else, this is what writers can do. They can communicate ideas. They can shape messy and complex emotions into tidy sentences. They can shatter binaries and expose hidden nuance. They can repackage complex problems into comprehensible forms. But. Is this the only irrefutable claim that writers can make? That they can present readers with information?

As the saying goes, if information was the solution, we’d all be happy millionaires with ripped abs.

You can write about the issues that trouble you, but you can’t make people read your work and you definitely can’t make them do something. While the publication of cli-fi and other challenging literary works are appearing more and more, the market isn’t exactly flooded. (No pun intended).

In a recent episode of The Garrett Podcast, Jennifer Mills, author and literary editor of Overland said that while the magazine has been successful in the publishing of marginal voices, few submissions address our present-day issues like the Anthropocene (humans impact on non-humans). Instead, most of the submissions received are concerned with relationship dynamics.

Is this because readers want escapism or because writers do?

Mills, who has published her own Anthropogenic work, Dyschronia, says that she intentionally constructed a plot that offered little in the way of solutions or action because that is what she sees in society: passivity. An observation that is no doubt reinforced by the submissions she vets.

Information is key. Without it, people may not understand the depth of a problem or how to fix it. Historically, the publication of good writing has played a vital role in the mobilizing of populations and the igniting of revolutions. Within our current culture, the problem is not a lack of information but our passivity and denial in the face of it.

Perhaps this is where our writerly self-consciousness stems from. Words are the tools wielded by skillful writers, but are we simply hiding behind our profession? Perhaps we should accept the fact that the gap between information and action is too wide? That our culture is passive. That a challenging book is likely to achieve little more than a 3.5 star rating on Good Reads. That it is time to close our laptops, start a biodynamic farm, become vegan and trade our cars for bicycles…I’m not being facetious; sincerity rests in this hyperbole.

It is true that the grandiosity of the world’s problems is overwhelming, but none of these issues occurred in isolation. We are all driving cars, drinking takeaway coffees, shutting our mouths instead of speaking up, lying to our kids about where the steak on their plate came from and buying caged eggs because they’re a dollar cheaper.

We need to do better. We need to do something.

Writers can offer solutions in their weekly columns and fiction. They can encourage readers to re-evaluate their opinions and behaviours by holding up a mirror. While a single blog post cannot change the world, our combined voices do have the power to shift culture.

Together, we can aspire to create a new culture. A culture that carries re-useable cups, that walks to work and eats ethical, sustainable food. A culture that votes. A culture that allows minorities to have space without slipping into fear that they are ‘taking over.’ A culture that questions why education hasn’t changed in 150 years. A culture that swivels its gaze away from the individual to focus on the collective. A world that is less about stuff and more about substance.

That, my friends, is a world worth writing for.

How to Produce Art when the World is Falling apart

Sir Philip Sidney stated that poetry was “the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk little by little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges.” Ezra Pound believed that “The arts, literature, posesy are a science, just as chemistry is a science. Their subject is man, mankind, and the individual.” And yet, still, sometimes, we struggle to justify our creative practice.

If you’re in the middle of a personal crisis, it’s unlikely that you will have the energy or the mental bandwidth to produce art.

If you stop to consider big problems like climate change, terrorism, refugees, our shrinking job marketing, rising house prices, the privatization of health care and a multitude of other issues, sitting down to work on a short story or novel can seem self-indulgent and pointless.

What good is a novel when the world is falling apart?

It’s important to acknowledge these feelings of inadequacy because simply ignoring them won’t do anyone any favours. However, it’s equally important that artists continue to produce work despite this feeling of inadequacy. Art itself may not be able to solve our complex, incomprehensible social, economic, political and educational problems, but artists must continue to use their skills and ability because we need art, even if the world is falling apart.

At their most basic, novels provide a space for escapism and entertainment. At their best, a novel can inspire us into action by forcing us to confront our own behaviours and beliefs. We may ask ourselves why we do the things that we do, whether our behaviour is contributing to the solution or to the problem, and how can we change for the better both individually and as a society.

Stories don’t have to change the world. If you want to write stories for the sole purpose of escapism, both for yourself and your reader, then that is an honourable use of time. We need a little escapism. We need books that we can read at the end of a long day; books that offer comfort instead of further confrontation. It’s okay to read funny books or adventure stories or mysteries. Not only is it nice to escape into a different world with different people and different problems, it is also nice to see those problems get solved.

Here’s the thing though, even nice books have value beyond mere entertainment. Whether consciously constructed or not, narratives contain the observations and reflections of their author. They are stories about people living with other people. They contain insight and knowledge about human behviour, our relationships with ourselves and others, our desires, strengths, and weaknesses. A novel is a response to the experiences an author has had and the observations they have made. They contain magic, and though this magic is unlikely to reverse climate change, novels can still teach us something about ourselves and the world we live in.

Novels have purpose.

A well-crafted and thoughtful novel that asks hard questions may not alter the general public opinion, but it can cause a shift within a reader. You may choose to write a dystopian novel based on scientific fact about where we’re heading environmentally, or you may write a speculative fiction novel about what the world would look like if women became infertile (The Handmaids Tale – Margarett Attwood), or if we intentionally used clones as a means for organ harvesting (Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro). Stories such as these act as a type of role play. They allow us to ponder and explore potential future spaces. If we continue to remain passive about particular issues, what will happen? Additionally, they provide a container for our personal and social fears. Not only is the writer able to unburden themselves, but it also allows the reader to experience their innermost fears while remaining within the safe, imaginary confines of a story.

The world may have a lot of problems, but when has it not.

If you’re still struggling to justify your need to create art, perhaps my final point will convince you. When we look back on the type of art that was produced at any given moment in history, we can see the prominent concerns of that time through the themes, structures, and styles that are repeated across different works by different artists. We need to write stories that capture this moment in time. That explore our societal concerns. That showcase our collective psyche. Artists need to make their contribution to the historical record because we have skills that scientists and politicians don’t have. We can take incompressible problems and present them in a consumable format that will make you feel something, and that is a very special skill indeed.

Why Writers are so Obsessed with Process

Whenever two or more writers find themselves in a room together, there are a handful of topics that inevitably bubble to the surface: money, publishing, current projects, favourite authors, latest reads, and most importantly, process.

If you are new to creative writing and developing your craft, an interest in other writers’ habits is understandable. We’ve all been a beginner at some point in our lives and we all know that the best way to develop our own skills is to learn off someone who can do the thing that we want to do. Of course, it’s also advisable that you actually practice the craft you intend to become good at.

If you want to learn the piano, you go to a piano teacher. If you want to learn another language, you take classes or buy an audiobook. Whenever a known author is interviewed, questions regarding their process inevitably arise. You could say that ‘Tell us about your writing routine’ is the literary equivalent of talking about the weather, but this frivolous question serves as more than a mere icebreaker because within this small request lies a myriad of even smaller questions:

  • Do you write in the morning or at night?
  • Do you write longhand or use a computer?
  • Are you a pantser or a plotter?
  • Where do you prefer to write?
  • Do you aim for a specific word count, page count or a set number of hours each day/week/month?
  • Do you research before, during or after the first draft?

Writers have a lot of questions when it comes to process, but this fascination is not limited to newbies.

Two years ago, Charlotte Wood, a successful and established author herself, released her book The Writer’s Room. Here, Wood has curated a myriad of insightful interviews between herself and some of Australia’s best-known authors. Though the content of each conversation varies, Wood always encourages her interviewee to talk about their writing process. Though some authors respond to such probing questions vaguely (perhaps because their process is loose or frequently changing), others describe their rigid or elaborate routines in fine detail.

These conversations were initially only available online. However, the interviews were so popular that the publication of a print edition became viable, which proves just how hungry writers are for this conversation. We don’t want to read these insightful interviews on our laptops and forget about them, we want a physical copy that we can highlight, dog-ear, and return to again and again whenever we need a touch of guidance or inspiration. Writers not only love talking about process, they love reading about it too.

Despite the almost cliché nature of the topic, writers continue to ask each other questions about process. Fortunately, we’re also happy to answer them. Sometimes these answers are dull and predictable, but sometimes they are surprising, ingenious, and entertaining. By exposing ourselves to other writer’s approaches, we may gain insight into our own creative routine or learn new techniques that can be adopted into our own practice.

Our continuing obsession with creative practice is driven by our need to understand how writing works. We’re all looking for a way to articulate what can sometimes feel like a very mysterious and fickle practice. All artists struggle to explain how they transformed an idea into a creative artefact. This discussion of process helps give shape to what can otherwise be perceived as an almost mystical unfolding.

That being said, the question of process also contains a subtle and self-conscious subtext: “Is your process better than mine? If I adopt your habits, will I become a better writer?” Deep down, we all hold the same subconscious belief: there is a secret to writing, we just need to find it.

However, discovering this secret is impossible as every author has a different answer. Lee Child writes his Jack Reacher novels without an outline and without revision (jerk). Stephen King is a panster too, but he typically produces three drafts of each novel and prefers to write at home. J.K. Rowling using outlines and writes where and whenever she can.

In terms of hours clocked, Maile Meloy, Kate Morton and Steven Pressfield stick with two to four hours a day (typically in the morning). Others like Chuck Wendig, Dani Shapiro, and Margaret Atwood keep standard working hours, starting at nine in the morning and finishing at five in the afternoon.

Despite advances in technology, we are still weighing the pros/cons of longhand vs typing. Jackie Collins writes all her books by hand, as does Quentin Tarantino; two names I never thought I’d see in the same sentence! Joe Hill writes his first draft by hand, but then edits the work while typing the second draft, and J.K. Rowling has experimented with both longhand and typing.

Every writer’s process is different, and yet we keep asking the same question. We keep searching for some kind of hack in the hope that there is a hack. We want to hear a clever sound bite that promises an easier way to get inside our own story. One simple tool or word of advice that will guarantee our success.

No one wants to hear, “just write.” No one wants to hear, “if you do the work, the work gets done.” No one wants to hear, “finish writing the novel, edit it, email it out and maybe you’ll get published.”

When asked about her own process, Elizabeth Strout recounted a conversation with her neighbour who had just finished painting his apartment. When she’d finished gushing over this domestic accomplishment and complimenting him on the tremendous achievement of painting an entire apartment by himself, he replied: “There’s no magic to it.”

The same can be said of writing: there is no magic, you just do it.