As The Primitive Entertainment Workshop nears its sixth birthday, it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve never written a proper “MISSION STATEMENT,” although, to be fair, I’ve written dozens of manifestos and rants that more or less defined the meaning and purpose of this project.
HOWEVER, for you literal heads, who don’t want to have to read between the (rather confusing and intentionally poetic) lines, let’s knock out some basic tenants of PRIMITIVITY, so that we’re all on the same page:
1. EVERYONE has the ability to make art, to tell stories, to sing, to dance, and to be creative. The PROBLEM is social conditioning, which tells us that SOME art or dance or stories are BETTER than others, and that only GOOD art or singing or stories are worthwhile. AND THIS IS COMPLETE HORSESHIT. Arbitrary conceptions of artistic value are socially constructed, often imposed by CORPORATIONS to sell things (like music and toys and movies) or by SUPPOSED ELITES, who believe they know BETTER than you, either because they make a lot of money creating or selling ART, or because they are SCHOOLED in art or dance or literary theory—and therefore have exclusive rights to these fields. If art is only good if it looks like it’s SUPPOSED to look, where the hell did Picasso and Braque get off making those weird, ugly, scattered looking paintings and sculptures? (The previous, artificial definitions of “GOOD” art had to CHANGE, and that was only possible because there wasn’t anything in the ART that made it inherently good, it was in the “SEEING” of the art that the value was imposed. [Check out John Berger’s Ways of Seeing for more on this topic.]) EVERYONE can dance and sing and make art and tell stories. EVERYONE. The stupid, artificial, socially constructed VALUES associated with art MUST BE EXPOSED as pointless and restrictive and elitist and destructive. They limit a person’s enjoyment of making and doing because they are constantly judging whether or not what they are doing is “GOOD ENOUGH,” and we can’t allow these concepts to continue to strangle the creativity of the population.
2. Making and sharing our creative works are joyful experiences with untold positive benefits for everyone involved. Making art (or stories or poems or songs, etc.) is fun! And sharing your creations with others, once you stop worrying that they are going to think what you’ve made is terrible, is also fun, and both the making of art and the sharing of art can be delightful, meaningful experiences. Many people think ART is that stuff you buy for a lot of money and put on your walls (or stuff into museums)—and although most people can’t afford to buy a REAL Klimt or Monet or Leonardo da Vinci (how many times have you seen a reproduction of “The Last Supper” on someone’s wall?) they will often buy a print of a famous painting and put it in a fancy frame and slam it up on the wall of their home or office or dorm room. Sometimes, wealthy folks will buy ORIGINAL works and put them up too, and sure, you can buy decorations for your walls by and from people who you don’t know, and you might enjoy looking at them, and you might have people comment on how lovely they look—but they will never be as meaningful as a work that was made by YOU or by someone you KNOW and love. You put a piece by a friend or one of your kids or a family member on the wall and you don’t just have a cooler living space—YOU HAVE A STORY! A story and a connection to the act of creation. Creating a piece of art (or a story or a poem or a dance move or a song) can be incredibly fulfilling—especially if we can get over the fear of wondering whether what you are making is GOOD ENOUGH. It is! If it’s a silly drawing, enjoy it because it’s funny. If it’s a bad song, feel good about TRYING to sing (and then listen to a Top 40 radio station for a few minutes, and realize that what you made, although it doesn’t have the million dollar “PRODUCTION” value behind it, is probably more meaningful, more intelligent, and more relevant than most of what is on the radio and making some corporation a ton of money.) If you trip while dancing, just get up and dance some more. (Happens to everyone, even at the Olympic level!) If the paint drips or you color outside the lines or you can’t find a word that rhymes or you write yourself into a situation that you can’t figure out how to fix—SO WHAT? Have fun making stuff! Enjoy the mistakes. Learn from them. Finish what you started—even if it’s bad—and move on. If you don’t like how that drawing turned out, do it differently next time. Don’t judge yourself by society’s concepts of what is “good” or “sell-able” or “worthwhile.” Enjoy the experience. Have fun sharing what you made. Make somebody smile. Just be sincere and remember that PLAYING is one of the BEST things you can do. Play, explore, learn, share, and (hopefully) make connections. Kick the arbitrary value judgments to the curb.
3. Keep making things for as long as you enjoy making things, and when you get bored with one thing, try making something else. The joy in playing a guitar is in learning how to make sounds that you find pleasant (or UNPLEASANT, if that’s what you’re into)—and then (when you get over whether people are going to laugh or cringe or say something nasty to you) you can share your playing with other people, and if they care about you, they’ll say nice things and everyone will have a good time. If THEY are really good at playing guitar (and you’re just learning,) they might show you how to play a few new notes or how to change your grip, so you can reach those higher notes a little easier. Most people who are competent and confident (the decent people) will happily help those who are just learning, and you can make some connections that way. I would argue that drawing or writing or dancing have exactly the same mechanics. You get more comfortable and confident the more you draw or sing or paint. Nobody starts with the Sistine Chapel or “Bohemian Rhapsody.” You start with macaroni sculpture or “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and you practice. Enjoying the practice helps. It’s like learning how to swing a bat in baseball. You load the pitching machine with a hundred balls, set it to a speed that’s just a bit faster than you’re comfortable with, and you swing the bat about a thousand times. Some of those swings are going to be misses, some will be foul balls, and some will be serious smashers that would have landed in the bleachers. You don’t give up if you miss the first pitch. You adjust your grip, “choke up on the bat,” make sure your footing is solid, and you keep trying. Or, if you have the luxury, you ask your older sister or your dad or your coach or your best friend to come down and practice with you. Maybe you still won’t hit like Babe Ruth (I don’t know very many baseball players,) but you’ll have a good day spending time with a friend or family, make a few memories, and maybe get a little bit better. Art is exactly the same. The more you do it, the more you learn. You can look at work you like (or read books you enjoy or listen to bands whose music you love) and try to do what they did. You probably won’t be able to reproduce what they did, exactly, but that’s fine. You aren’t trying to be a counterfeiter, you’re just learning what the art form is about. And most subjects (painting, poetry, making movies, sculpting…) are going to have books that you can read, documentaries that you can watch, how-to videos online, or professional coaches available who can show you the basics. You just have to keep trying, keep learning, and keep making things (some will turn out better than others). You keep going, UNLESS you’re not that much fun, and then you move on to something else. (You can always come back and try again later, if you want to.) And you shouldn’t think of this as FAILING—just think of it as moving your focus to something that you might enjoy doing more. If you LOVE practicing something, you are already WINNING at it. It’s not about making the PERFECT painting or writing the perfect story or singing the perfect aria or hitting the perfect home-run. It’s about ENJOYING what you are doing. (Personally, obviously, I’ve never been trained in drawing or perspective or artistic techniques. I studied literature, poetry, and anthropology in college, not art, but I still LOVE to draw, and I think my “bad,” little drawings are fun to make, and they occasionally make OTHER PEOPLE laugh, too. So—win / win!)
4. Research what you love. If you like poetry, read poetry. Read about poetry. Read about poets. Listen to poets read their work. Listen to OTHER people read poets’ works. Find books of literary criticism that explain the nuances of the poem’s structure and metaphors. You do this for inspiration, to get ideas for new avenues and angles that you can explore and try out for yourself. Maybe you don’t LIKE to research things, and that’s fine, too, but the more you immerse yourself in whatever it is you love, the more you will get out of it—and the more confident you will feel when you try to SHARE your passion with others. (Not everyone will like the same things that you do, and that’s FINE!)
TO RECAP: The basic tenants of The Primitive Entertainment Workshop are the following:
—EVERYONE can and should make art.
—Ignore the arbitrary value judgments imposed on creative works by society. (If it’s not “pretty” or “commercial” or “worthwhile” or “adult” enough… WHO CARES?)
—ENJOY making and sharing things. Have fun and share the experiences. This will help you make connections to other people, and that’s great (and worth more than money!)
—KEEP making things, as long as it’s still fun. You will become more comfortable, confident, and skilled, as long as you keep at it. If it becomes too boring or frustrating, however, feel free to move on to something else. There are a million ways to be creative and no reason why you can’t try all of them. (Well, I suppose there are time constraints, but consider this: Is it better to spend you time doing something exciting and new that you might enjoy, or would you rather just sit around being bored and watching other people do things?)
—If you find yourself REALLY enjoying something, then dig into it. RESEARCH what you love. Study it. Find out everything you can about it, about the people who do it, about how it started, and about where it’s going. Educate yourself!
—Experiencing the thrill of making something of your own, and then sharing your work with others and making connections, these things are more important than making money. (We all have to eat and pay our bills, but ART and CREATIVITY are what separate us from the plants and viruses and non-A.I. driven machines. We have the option to JUST eat, sleep, work, reproduce, and die—as programmed—or we can BE CREATIVE and make our mark (however small) on the community in which we live and function, and in so doing we can try to make a positive impact on the lives of those around us (in our families, communities, and extended networks.)
ART BREAK: Here’s a piece I call “Faceless Conspiracy”:
It’s simple and probably “stupid” in the eyes of some, but I think it catches a certain mood that seems to be hovering in the air lately (just like the weird little balloon people in the drawing.)
It was just ink on paper, but then I ran it through a photo filter to give it a little “noise,” and then I used a freeware sketch program on my phone to add the colors. It’s a simple process, but I enjoyed making it, and I’m happy with how it turned out.
My point with this little “art break” is this: ART DOESN’T HAVE TO BE FANCY OR OVERLY COMPLEX TO BE FUN OR MEANINGFUL. I draw every day, although I’m not what most people would call an “artist.” However, I THINK of myself as an artist because I make art. I’m also coming from a distinct outlook. I’ve chosen to identify with several different groups whose members challenged the meaning and purpose of ART and the relationship between art and society. I’m throwing my lot in with the Dadaists, the Absurdists, the punks, the Ray Johnson-led New York Correspondence School, the underground comix artists, the Situationists—and I’m purposely putting my “bad” art out there, into the PUBLIC EYE, as if it were FINE ART, to challenge the notions of what counts as ART (which, as I mentioned above, I believe is defined by arbitrary, socially imposed, and overly restrictive value judgments.) I draw every day. I write every day. I share what I’ve made (whether folks think it’s “good enough” or not) every day—486 days in a row without missing a single day and counting! And I might not be changing what the world thinks ART is (or can be,) but I’m doing what I can and I’m having a GREAT TIME while I’m doing it!
I’m also hoping to show that even simple art can have POWER. Not everything I draw is great. VERY FEW of the works of art that I’ve created have connected with people, but I use the WEED strategy for my production ethos: I make thousands of drawings (as a dandelion produces thousands of seeds)—and I know that most of those drawings are going to disappear without ever taking root or making an impact—but there’s always another drawing blowing in the wind that might land on fertile soil and take root. I honestly don’t have any idea how many drawings, paintings, zines, collages, books, add-and-pass pieces, pamphlets, essays, rants, manifestos, postcards, poems, podcasts, videos, lunch-bag puppets, and decorated clothing items I’ve made in my 46 years of life (a LOT,) and most of the things I’ve created have disappeared into the crevices and landfills and dead-letter offices of time and space, but that’s okay. A FEW people out there have been affected and influenced. I know a couple of folks who found out about POSTAL ART because of the backyard art parties that my wife and I used to throw where we showed a bunch of the artwork that we’d received in the mail and then told folks how the system worked. I know people who write stories and poems now, either because they saw me packing a notebook around and scribbling in it while we were working together OR because I agreed (happily—always happily) to publish their stories of poems on The Primitive Entertainment Workshop. Both of my kids enjoy crafting and creating because my wife and I brought them up in a household that encouraged making things and being creative.
None of this is EARTH SHAKING—but who cares? They are little ripples, and tiny ripples can move a long distance—and a thousand drops of rain can create a huge puddle or even fill a stream and cause a flood! (Metaphors—from my poetry background!)
MISSION STATEMENT: (Official—for now—until I change it—because change is inevitable…):
The Primitive Entertainment Workshop is dedicated to promoting creativity and creation on a mass scale by showing how EASY it is for ANYONE AND EVERYONE to produce creative works. We make simple, fun, “primitive” art; publish our everyday stories and poems and reviews and essays; and try to encourage EVERYONE to read, research, explore, make things, and play.
I don’t think I can put it any more succinctly than that.
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!