Matt Kirby Installation / Commission for Hospital Lobby

This piece, by Matt Kirby, is one we installed for a private collector not long ago. Found objects, fabricated stainless, rare woods. I feel Matt’s a genius at blending these elements. What does the piece mean? I forget, but Matt and the collector know.

Met today with a designer for a major hospital. Hospital’s building a new cardiac ward. He’s looking for something dramatic yet unpredictable for the lobby, which has a 30′ ceiling. Wants to hang it from the ceiling, which I love doing. He couldn’t find what he was looking for on the West Coast, so he came to us. Yeah, I think we can fill the bill. More on this later, after the contract’s signed.

I loved the pretense of talking on the cell phone; anything to maintain concentration at this time. So cute, but the man ain’t duped.

Copyright Ownership: Artist or Collector?

What do you have to do to establish copyright on a work of art you create? Sign it. When a collector buys the piece from you, who owns copyright then? You do. For how long do you own copyright? Until 75 years after your death–not that it will do you much good then, but it might prove a good gig for your heirs.

My point? With every work of art you sell, you should state on the Certificate of Authenticity that artist is the sole owner of copyright, and that no image of said work can be reproduced in any form without written permission from the artist. This means on websites, stationary, calendars, cards, whatever. If you do grant copyright permission, please make sure you always get credit in items not for sale. In items that are sold, well that warrants a contract and a royalty. Of course a client can always buy copyright, but that’s an expensive proposition.

Copyright abuse is flagrant and constant. Little steps like this will help protect you. I go into this subject in considerable depth in the book, but at this late hour, that’s enough. I’m heading for the rack and a book. Early meeting in the morning with a designer named Kelee Katillac (yes, really). Great client, great woman.

Letter for Artists’ Respect / Walk

Drafted a letter today to help ensure that artists in my region will be shown the appropriate respect, and opportunity, that they should be where Civic Commissions are concerned. As all of you know, in the arts the “genius” always resides in some other town, usually one larger than your own. Well the time for that narrow attitude to assume its grave has come; I intend to be one of the pallbearers.

America, region-by-region, no longer has to exclusively look to the major cities for artistic brilliance: it’s in our own backyards. Sure it may not always be brilliant at first. But without providing the opportunity, faith, and leadership, it never will be. That, gentle reader, is the point.

Do I really want to be drafting this letter, with all its complications, on a Sunday afternoon? Hell no; I’d rather be at the batting cages, or on the bike paths, or playing poker with Johnny Butler. But duty sometimes gives you no choice. This is one of those times.

Took a fine walk in the country this afternoon with one of my sons and the mutts. We went to the mansion above, now vacant, and wandered the grounds, as I have for 30 years. I’d give the name of the joint, but I don’t want gangs of other folks going there. Is that selfish of me? Sure.

Ben Franklin / Saunas with Russians

Reading Benjamin Franklin by Edmund S. Morgan, Yale University Press.

Some quotes from this most astounding individual:
“I would rather have it said (of myself), He lived usefully, than, He died rich.”
“Let all men know thee, but no man know thee thoroughly.”
“Halfwits talk much but say little.”
“Speak with contempt of none, from slave to king.”
“Tho Modesty is a Virtue, (excessive) Bashfulness is a Vice.”

That’s it for now. We don’t have to talk about art every day. Now off to swim laps, then deflate in a sauna with a bunch of Russians. Some fine woman’s also pestering me to take her to dinner tonight; well, she deserves it. I mean anyone who could tolerate me…

Art Snobbery / Art Inclusion / Weegee

The Critic, by Weegee (Arthur Fellig)

Ok, so dig it. You enter a gallery in a major city, and no one greets you. You spend ten minutes appreciating the art, and no one asks if you have any questions, or invites you to the next opening. Finally you get around to leaving, and no one thanks you for having come. Oh, this is brilliant public relations.

Is it any wonder that artists starve? Is it any wonder that only about 7% of all Americans buy art, while nearly 40% can afford it. Why is this? Because the majority are intimidated by galleries, and afraid of being silently mocked. They may not have the background to speak about art in an informed way. So, does this make them inferior? And do you think the car dealers darer treat them this way? It’s no wonder that so many of them own luxury cars, while so few own art.

Look, we all know snobbery is rooted in insecurity, is a reflection of unenlightened attitudes, and a form of intellectual bullying. Unfortunately this not only has a negative effect on art sales, but also discourages people from the lower ends of the economic ladder from participating. And that’s what makes my blood boil the most. What, because a kid is from the ghetto, he/she isn’t qualified to participate in the arts in the way a middle-class or rich kid is? Gimme a break.

Talent can be found anywhere: ghetto, farm, suburb, small town. It’s only a matter of cultivating it, and giving that talent a chance to flourish. It’s a matter of believing in it. This is why I structure all my major projects to be inclusive, techniques for which we’ll discuss another time.

The snobs of course will say I’m trying to lower the high standards that they maintain. Not at all. I’m trying to raise the level of accessibility, and make the arts more inclusive. This will only result in more participation, more sales, fewer starving artists, and a general spreading of sophistication. It will even make the snobs more content in the end, since we’ll invite them to the party too. Hell, I’ll even buy them all beers. Nobody’s really content living that way anyway.

I’ve always loved Weegee’s photography: gritty, real, utterly lacking in sentimentality. At the Getty last October I saw an extensive exhibit; this was before my talk in LA that night. Will never forget it. The ranting woman on the right, by the way, was a hard-drinking acquaintance of his whom he posed in the shot.

Excerpt from Cool Nation

Here are the opening scenes from the third chapter of Cool Nation:

The Invasion

They came out and the crowd, girls mainly, were screaming, and the screaming got louder, then they took up their guitars and started to play but you couldn�t hear it for the screaming, and when they shook their hair and sang into the mikes the screaming just got louder, and louder. The first song ended and the screaming went on and the second song started and the screaming never stopped and when they finished they all bowed, then Ed Sullivan came out and tried to regain control over a thing that not even he had ever seen before, or likely believed possible.
The band left the stage and gradually the screaming subsided into orgiastic moans and hysterical weeping, all of them as if mourning the passing of something or some presence or some event but no one seeming to know what.
Seth and I were on our bellies, watching the black-and-white. We heard Stephanie and Jean weeping behind us. I turned.
�Oh stop it. They�re just a band.� But they wouldn�t stop.
�What do you know? Jean said. �You aren�t old enough to know anything. And they aren�t just a band. They aren�t.� She went on crying. �They aren�t.�
Dad was looking at her from his rocker, Mom from her end of the sofa, Dad holding his Kansas City Star in his lap.
�What do you think?� Mom asked him. Allen, my younger brother, was on her lap, and waited open-mouthed for his answer.
�Not much. I saw it when they brought Presley out. It�s the same as that.�
�It sure doesn�t sound the same.�
�You mean the music, or the screaming?�
�Well.� He picked up his Star and went back to reading. �It is. It�s all hype. Only this time it�s Limey hype.�
�They do a pretty good job of it.�
�They ought to. They learned it from us.�
My mother went back to her Edgar Cayce, bouncing Allen as she read.
My sisters went back to their crying.
Seth and I watched them, then left the room. We�d seen all we wanted to.
We went down into the half-dark of the basement, to Jackie�s room, walking across the shuffleboard tiles to his door, from beneath which a bar of light shone and through which the jamming sound of his music pounded. He only listened to bands like The Beach Boys or Smokey Robinson or, of course, Elvis. It was Marvin Gaye he was listening to now.
I knocked, he didn�t answer. I knocked again, he didn�t answer. Then I opened the door just enough to see his flailing maniacism as he danced, shirtless, before the mirror, spinning, hitting the floor, bouncing back up, spinning and stopping and spinning back the other way. We watched him, the tattoo on his arm, the insane driving motion of his legs, the power of his madness.
Seth pulled on my arm. �Come on,� he said. He, like everyone, was afraid of my brother, afraid of him as I had never been. �Close it, Pete. Close it.�
Silently I did, and we went back up the stairs. We would not be seeing Jackie that night.
We waited around until they came back on, their appearance signaled by the screaming, then we watched until they bowed again, then we watched the more familiar, if entirely contrived world of Bonanza, and afterward I walked Seth home.
�Good-night, Sethy,� Dad said.
�Good-night, Seth,� Mom said.
He told my parents good-night.
Silky saw us going and got up to accompany: her job. Yes she was a collie, a tricolor like the one on TV, loving and always with me and obedient and although not as smart as the one on the screen she was smart enough. I had grown up with her by my side; she would later die with me at hers.
What else can you expect? It was that time in the Sixties when it still felt like the Fifties, when neighborhoods were neighborhoods and dogs often roamed with children and we were allowed, at age seven, to walk to the candy store on State Line or the one on Mission Road without my mother ever once worrying would someone stop and take us, or stop and sodomize us, or just shoot us from a passing car for sport. The thought would never enter her mind, or ours.
It was that time: convertibles and unlocked doors and �Moon River� playing on your parents� Hi-Fi; neighbors you knew and street games at night and the escalating but distant war on the evening news; families that seemed complete and unified and neatly whole but of course weren�t�being human; and always the certainty that America could do no wrong. It was that thing that we�ve since lost, along with our national innocence, and will never get back; that thing that we all want back but this time without the naivet�, without the innocence. It was that time, but it wasn�t going to be that time much longer. You could almost feel how it started to change in one harsh, frost-bound February night, and how it would soon change forever. No band from Liverpool did that. We did. Then we adopted them as a symbol of it all, which perplexed them almost as much as it confused us, then we blamed them, then in the end we killed one of them. But that of course was all much later.
Seth and I went out into the frozen night, down the back steps and across the brief pasture.
We passed the little barn and I heard Nancy Jane, Blaze and Shasta snuffling inside. Nancy stuck out her head and I said, Hey, darlin. She watched with equine indifference as we crossed the acre that served as our backyard. In Indian Heights in those days you could have horses in your backyard if your yard was big enough. Ours was big enough. The house, naturally, was big too.
It was a house on the order of Ozzie and Harriet or Father Knows Best, but bigger even than those. That�s how Indian Heights was: big post-war houses, two-acre lawns, dull complacency, hidden addictions, overt prejudice. A white paradise�or a white hell, if you prefer. It even came with a guarantee from Neuman Realty: no Jews or blacks would ever be allowed to move in. That was their policy. Years later the Neuman brothers went to prison for fraud. That was their karma.
Don�t get me wrong though. I�m not ungrateful to my parent�s generation for having built a nation of Indian Heightses. I�m certainly not ungrateful for having grown up among its broad streets, its lush yards, its air-conditioned houses. If I�d been raised in the soiled want of The Depression, then hardened in the gore-spattered hell of The War, I�d have built a nation of Indian Heightses too. But I wasn�t, and I suppose there�s also a reason for that.
Seth and I crossed the pasture. The elms, enormous and overspreading, rose up above us like titans or guides or silent guards, and walking beneath them I always felt a secret presence and certainty. I felt as though they watched over us.
The elms bordered the pasture fence and the fence was made of split-rail oak that had come from the Ozarks in some long ago before my birth, when Dad and Cary had brought it up here on a truck and split it. Cary didn�t split wood anymore. They had him in the asylum in St. Joe, and he was not the only one of us destined to go there. Some kids used to ask me, in that snotty Johnson County way of theirs, what it was like to have two crazy brothers. I never answered them. Mom told me not to.
Seth and I ducked through the fence and jumped the stones across the creek and walked up the hill into his parent�s backyard�the big white house and swimming pool and tennis court and hydrangeas. Mrs. Drummond was from California, and when she moved here to marry Mr. Drummond she essentially rebuilt what she had had left behind in Orange County�she hated it here that much. Seth didn�t. He had me and I had him and we had the world, and to us that was all that mattered.
We stopped at the back gate. �Did you like them?� I said.
�Oh yeah. Did you?�
�Do you think your dad will let you grow your hair that long?� Meaning to the collar and eyebrows instead of just a crew cut.
�Why not?�
�I�ll be lucky if he gets me the boots,� I said.
�Did you ask for them?�
�What did he say?�
�That only greasers and Mexicans wear them.�
�He would.�
I didn�t ask if Seth�s parents would let him grow his hair that long, or get him Beatle boots, or anything else. That was already assumed.
�Well,� I said. �I�ll see you at school.�
�See you.�
He opened the gate to the stockade fence, closed it, and was lost within the depths of the Drummond compound. I said Come on, girl, and Silky brought her nose out of the bushes and followed me home.

Discipline / Exhausting Rewrite / O Brother Where Aren’t Thou?


What many people outside the arts don’t understand, is that to succeed–both aesthetically and financially–takes just as much discipline as it does the CEO, Professional Athlete, Lawyer, Doctor. In most cases it takes more, since you already have the day job, and for your night job your calling happens to be to a discipline that we almost never feel equal to, in which we regularly disappoint ourselves, and from which the check is always late–often by a decade or two.

This kind of discipline ain’t any screwing around. You don’t get there by going to all the parties, hanging out in all the bars, and talking about all the great work you want to do. If you believe in yourself, if your goals are realistic, and if you’re a little bit pissed off (that sometimes helps), then you clamp your mouth shut and work your butt off. Why? Because you’re giving something to the world that is bigger than you, and more important than you; in a sense you are serving others, and that requires great discipline. The end result will speak for you. THEN you can go to all the parties and bars, at least until you start the next piece.

One more week of redrafting this book; 65,000 words in 14 days. Yeah I’m exhausted, and I don’t give a damn. I can tell the book has bite, I love the way it’s polishing, and I know my edge is staying sharp. The following help me keep it that way: Immerse myself in the city, immerse myself in the country, go to the gym, go to the bike paths, go to the odd bar, and always read read read. Do or say the unexpectedly kind thing, then watch the reaction with pleasure. Constantly challenge your perceptions. Everyone’s list is different; there’s a short list for me.

Watched O Brother Where Art Thou last night with my family. There are few perfect movies that anyone can manage to produce, given the complications, but the Coen Brothers achieved perfection with this one. And lord the music. Makes me want to go back to Mississippi right now. Funniest scene? There are too many to count, but I think when George Clooney gets pulled out of the boxcar is pretty good. Also the Cyclops. The Horny Toad. The Southern Politicians. The fistfight. Etc.

And John Turturro. One of the absolute best actors in Hollywood, and one of the most underrated. Who’d have believe that this was the same dude in Quiz Show and Miller’s Crossing? His range absolutely leaves me in awe. Talk about discipline.

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James Woodfill / Pulse / Welcome to Chris Doyle

PULSE, by James Woodfill, 11th and Oak, KC, MO

The brilliance of this installation, by James Woodfill, I think speaks for itself.

I am certain that the upcoming installation by Chris Doyle for the Downtown Arena will also be brilliant, evolutionary, unpredictable. I applaud it as a selection.

I only regret that, at this point, no Kansas City Artists will be executing installations for the same structure. Hopefully that will be amended in the future, and everyone will work together to create unparalleled opportunity for our artists, celebrating regional talent, while gaining national respect for the same.

For now? We should only welcome Chis Doyle to our city. This issue has nothing to do with him; in fact he should be applauded for his accomplishments, and the innovation of his installations. Hence: Welcome to KC, Chris, and good luck with what many of us are sure will be an exceptional project. No, I ain’t gonna to start raving about barbecue, jazz, and Westport; you’ll hear plenty of that before you’re done, and I’m a vegetarian now anyway. Well, at least on Mondays.


Boulder Bookstore / Old Flame / Enduring Flame

When my book tour started a year ago, one of my first signings was at the Boulder Bookstore. It’s a big joint, with a huge speaking area on the 2nd floor. I gave a radio interview when I hit town, later checked in at the store to meet the manager, stepped out for dinner, came back an hour later, and 70 people were waiting for my talk. Whoa.

I did my best to make them laugh, make them gasp, inspire them. Afterward I answered questions, then signed books. The line snaked all the way to the back, and I was thinking, Man, this is great. (Note: at some later signings, where the publicity didn’t mesh, a total of 3 people showed up. That’s sometimes how it is in the beginning. You still give the audience everything, you just don’t sign as many books.)

At the end of the line was a smiling blonde. She gave me her book, I asked her name, she told me in a voice that resonated back 30 years, and I looked up. It was a chick–I mean woman–I’d dated in high school. The last time I’d seen her The Who had just cut Quadrophenia, Nixon had resigned, and we were wearing bell bottoms. Yeah, my mouth dropped.

We went out for coffee. Laughed. Talked. Laughed. After three hours we still weren’t done. She had the same smile, walk, everything. For those of you who have been through this, you know what I mean. Sure she’d had her disappointments, just as I had, just as we all have, but all that mattered was the good memories, the love we’d been fortunate enough to know, the love we’d been even more fortunate to give.

At midnight we looked at each other, the unanswered question on both our minds. I walked her to her car, kissed her on the forehead, and told her good-night. That was enough for both of us. The past was the past. But to have an Old Flame show up like that… I think when we care for someone, it is often for life. No matter how the circumstances might change, the warmth remains the same.

I went to the hotel and called my Enduring Flame. It was wonderful to hear her voice, this woman who had shared in so much, taken so many risks with me, and of course put up with me and the way I live–or have to live. Then came the voices of my sons. Damn good day.

Santa Fe the next day.

Rewrite for Everybody’s Game / DLR Group / Jerry Moon

Heard from a publisher last week who’s interested in Everybody’s Game. Large house, many successes, but I’ll not name them unless we sign. They have an earlier draft of the book, which I finished last fall. I’m happy with that draft, but being a writer, I know I can improve on it. So I asked them to wait a couple of weeks while I polish once more, and think things over. Man, the book still feels right, though I’ve not looked at it for four months. Instinctively I can tell what needs refining, what needs expanding, and what to leave alone. I feel very strongly about this book and subject. Read synopsis at bottom and I suspect you will too.

For all you painters and sculptors, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ll finish this draft in another week, which means a lot of coffee and not much sleep, but I’m used to that. Afterward, the publisher and I will talk.

Had lunch with good old Jim Galle. He’s a principal at DLR Group architecture. We brainstormed on a new sculpture project. I’d love to discuss it, but it’s still in the storm stage.

The paintings at top are by Jerry Moon, for whom we have a show on March 24th. These pieces, now sold, were done in egg tempera, and done with very small brushes. Dig the way he puts in the curvature of the earth. This hints at enormity while still keeping the paintings at moderate size. Very intelligent use of perspective. I love his titles too.

Synopsis, Everybody’s Game, 65,000 words
Organized sports have become a disaster for most kids because of how certain adults run the games: the yelling, negativity, and occasional violence. Most leagues tolerate this, and I confront them head-on, revealing how these cruel attitudes have ruined children’s sports, and why it is time for a change. Why would I know about this? Because I was a baseball coach for eight years—albeit a kind one.

Everybody’s Game is about changing kids’ lives by coaching baseball—and all sports—with compassion. It’s about life and its myriad challenges, and sacrificing as a parent or coach, even when you’re broke and overworked. Especially it’s about the things that will matter when you’re on your deathbed: how many struggling children you helped, as opposed to how many games you won.

To keep the book compelling, in alternating chapters I tell about my team of “geeks” who grew into confident ball players over several seasons. Why? Because millions of children feel discounted athletically, as millions of parents once did, as I once did too.

Primarily though the book is about growth: for the child, the parent, and the family. Programs like Oprah place great emphasis on this; so do I. My voice is one of humor, experience and compassion, as I take the reader on a rewarding journey.

I discuss how to be an involved parent or effective coach, covering practices, drills, games, and so forth. But I also cover medicated kids, depressed kids, overweight kids, and all the decadent influences that parents have to deal with in today’s world. The tested solutions I offer unfold with each chapter. So does the philosophy of how when you coach well, you create a sense of community—something our society sorely needs.

My own story as a writer unfolds with the book as well: the enormous challenges I’ve faced, and my deep love for my family. I tell how coaching was thrust upon me—me, an artist and one-time athletic failure—how at first I resisted it then came to love it, mostly for the kids. I even learned to hit homers at age 40.

Teaching as I entertain, I reveal how coaching with discipline and love is one way of giving back to your society beyond the overwrought professional world, since the journey of the child comes before that of the adult. I’ve written this book to be timely (steroid scandals, out-of-control parents), but also timeless.