Inspiration+ Drugs - repost

(This post originally appeared in August 2008 here on The Flying Trilobite.  Lots of fascinating comments on that post too - check 'em out.  I thought I'd re-post it for new readers.  Comments and debate welcome.)- -
So here's the thing.

While in University, and continuing to today, I'll show somebody examples of my work for the first time, and I will hear, "Whoa, so just what are you onman? Must be some good s--t!"

Yeah, the good s--t is my brain. My creativity. My diverse range of interest and my hard-won madskillz with a pencil. My brain dwarfs other brains. And I can tell you why.


I've been attempting to write this post for a long time now. It's a hard one to write without sounding smug and preachy or after-school-special. So I'm just throwing it out there in plain language and not worrying too much about it.

I don't drink alcoholic beverages, and I don't do recreational drugs, and I follow no religion. Period. Never have, and likely won't. Over the course of an entire year, I maybe polish off one glass of wine divided up over New Year's, a random evening and my wedding anniversary. I should probably drink a bit of wine for the health effects. Keep meaning to do that.

Let me cut off some common assumptions at this point: I really really don't care if other people drink alcohol. It is not something I do, but I am not passing some kind of moral judgement on people either. In a free and open society, I am free to not drink and think you're cool. No need to explain to me how it's really good I don't drink, and you admire it, or to accuse me of accusing you of wrongdoing. Telling me my coffee-drinking is "at least something, kind of wimpy, but something," makes me laugh.

I don't drink or do drugs for a bunch of reasons, but here's one of the largest. As I emerged like a delicate, lumbering butterfly into my University years, I was asked "what I was into" more and more. And in my first year survey course of Western Art, we began talking about Hieronymous Bosch. Bosch did fascinating things, unreal visions of heaven and hell with the most unlikely structures made from the tools of alchemy. And a theory we were presented with, very popular and assumed to be true by my peers, was that ergot of rye in the fields near the artist were causing Bosch to experience the effects of very mild LSD.

Everyone nodded. Of course. It was instantly assumed this is where his genius and creativity stemmed from.

It was an outrage! An outrage because what if it wasn't ergot of rye? A great disservice to a great mind. It was an outrage because in my view, it smacked of complacency by my fellow art students. Wanna push your art further? Drugs. Worked for Bosch.

If it was true, than my mind would be unremarkable without intentional damage inflicted upon myself. No thanks. I needed to hold fast against the weak undercurrent of peer pressure and create fantastic, unreal images in the face of pure sobriety.

I'm not the next Hieronymous Bosch. I'm doing what I do. My body suffers from asthma, and I have some medications I take regularly, daily, along with a love for coffee. Throwing more into the mix will not help. One day, will someone cite my puffers as the source of my creativity? I hope it is not the case.


And I spoke above of my thoughts on alcohol, how do I feel about drugs?

I think they are kind of lame. (There I go, sounding like an after-school special.) I am especially weary of marijuana. It is so present and so popular now, you can't escape it at parties. And users always want to tell me all the scientific facts they know, about how it's no worse than alcohol, they only use it sometimes to fall asleep, I've studied it way more than you, blah blah blah. You know why it bugs me? Because alcohol stays in your glass and on your breath, but marijuana goes into everyone's lungs. Smoking marijuana is lame and selfish.

I am writing this post not to judge others, but to judge myself. Perhaps it is not an achievement to be visually creative without drugs, and this is seen as nothing more than a fearful person stamping their foot saying "I don't wanna". In my view, my brain dwarfs many other brains. My synapses are intact, my dendrites and neurons hum happily. This creativity is mine, and not the product of liquid or inhaled inspiration.

I'll reiterate, I really don't judge others by what substances they use for fun. Friends say I'm fun at parties. I simply get cross when someone gets pushy or insulting by wondering what drugs/alcohol/religion I am on, and won't believe I can live without those things.

Please feel free to disagree on this touchy topic, and make comments.

Oh, and cheers!

This week I am re-posting a few pieces previously posted due to the topic. In order, these pieces are entitled, from the top, Anthropomorphic GestationKnowledge Pupates, & Asthma Incubus.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Art Monday: sick day and caterpillars

Art Monday falls prey to a sick day. Please consider this repeat drawing as a test-pattern. Click to enlarge a bit.

Hopefully this is just a 24 hour bug and I'll be in fighting form tomorrow. Enjoy the caterpillars and chrysalis.

- - - - - - - -

Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
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Artwork Mondays: Inspiration + Drugs

So here's the thing.

While in University, and continuing to today, I'll show somebody examples of my work for the first time, and I will hear, "Whoa, so just what are you on, man? Must be some good s--t!"

Yeah, the good s--t is my brain. My creativity. My diverse range of interest and my hard-won madskillz with a pencil. My brain dwarfs other brains. And I can tell you why.

I've been attempting to write this post for a long time now. It's a hard one to write without sounding smug and preachy or after-school-special. So I'm just throwing it out there in plain language and not worrying too much about it.

I don't drink alcoholic beverages, and I don't do recreational drugs, and I follow no religion. Period. Never have, and likely won't. Over the course of an entire year, I maybe polish off one glass of wine divided up over New Year's, a random evening and my wedding anniversary. I should probably drink a bit of wine for the health effects. Keep meaning to do that.

Let me cut off some common assumptions at this point: I really really don't care if other people drink alcohol. It is not something I do, but I am not passing some kind of moral judgement on people either. In a free and open society, I am free to not drink and think you're cool. No need to explain to me how it's really good I don't drink, and you admire it, or to accuse me of accusing you of wrongdoing. Telling me my coffee-drinking is "at least something, kind of wimpy, but something," makes me laugh.

I don't drink or do drugs for a bunch of reasons, but here's one of the largest. As I emerged like a delicate, lumbering butterfly into my University years, I was asked "what I was into" more and more. And in my first year survey course of Western Art, we began talking about Hieronymous Bosch. Bosch did fascinating things, unreal visions of heaven and hell with the most unlikely structures made from the tools of alchemy. And a theory we were presented with, very popular and assumed to be true by my peers, was that ergot of rye in the fields near the artist were causing Bosch to experience the effects of very mild LSD.

Everyone nodded. Of course. It was instantly assumed this is where his genius and creativity stemmed from.

It was an outrage! An outrage because what if it wasn't ergot of rye? A great disservice to a great mind. It was an outrage because in my view, it smacked of complacency by my fellow art students. Wanna push your art further? Drugs. Worked for Bosch.

If it was true, than my mind would be unremarkable without intentional damage inflicted upon myself. No thanks. I needed to hold fast against the weak undercurrent of peer pressure and create fantastic, unreal images in the face of pure sobriety.

I'm not the next Hieronymous Bosch. I'm doing what I do. My body suffers from asthma, and I have some medications I take regularly, daily, along with a love for coffee. Throwing more into the mix will not help. One day, will someone cite my puffers as the source of my creativity? I hope it is not the case.

And I spoke above of my thoughts on alcohol, how do I feel about drugs?

I think they are kind of lame. (There I go, sounding like an after-school special.) I am especially weary of marijuana. It is so present and so popular now, you can't escape it at parties. And users always want to tell me all the scientific facts they know, about how it's no worse than alcohol, they only use it sometimes to fall asleep, I've studied it way more than you, blah blah blah. You know why it bugs me? Because alcohol stays in your glass and on your breath, but marijuana goes into everyone's lungs. Smoking marijuana is lame and selfish.

I am writing this post not to judge others, but to judge myself. Perhaps it is not an achievement to be visually creative without drugs, and this is seen as nothing more than a fearful person stamping their foot saying "I don't wanna". In my view, my brain dwarfs many other brains. My synapses are intact, my dendrites and neurons hum happily. This creativity is mine, and not the product of liquid or inhaled inspiration.

I'll reiterate, I really don't judge others by what substances they use for fun. Friends say I'm fun at parties. I simply get cross when someone gets pushy or insulting by wondering what drugs/alcohol/religion I am on, and won't believe I can live without those things.

Please feel free to disagree on this touchy topic, and make comments. I am away from the internet while on vacation, and will respond when I return.

Oh, and cheers!

This week I am re-posting a few pieces previously posted due to the topic. In order, these pieces are entitled, from the top, Anthropomorphic Gestation, Knowledge Pupates, & Asthma Incubus.

- -
All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.

Knowledge Pupates Part 3: how I left paganism for science

Part 3
(Read Part 2 here about my reasonable University days.)
(Read
Part 1 here about my pagan-ish High School days.)

Back in my coffee-slinging days, a co-worker of mine pointed out how some customers never change their style. You know the type; they are stuck in the seventies, tucked-in plaid shirt & jeans, kind of shoulder-length hair that's not long enough to be committed to being long hair. Or they are stuck in a sixties-hippie earth-mother look, lots of swinging beads and mismatched patterns on layered clothing. You observe them with a fashion-forward eye, and think, "if they just tweaked it, it could be very retro-cool". But fashion is passing them by, and they are content, or at least oblivious.

The painting at left is kind of like that for me. I hadn't finished developing a look, and maybe it was over before I began this painting. I was still elated by the final product of Symbiosis that I kept painting these figures in sap green and naples yellow. This painting resides inside an antique black box with wire wrapped around it through the lid to evoke threads and wrapping.

I have blogged briefly in the other two parts of Knowledge Pupates about how I began to find reason & science more appealing than superstition and old fairy tales. And my thoughts continue to develop. I don't want my learning to stop, I want to keep learning throughout my life, and right now, I hope I always feel that way. One can no longer contain the sum of all human knowledge in a lifetime; we have access to so much information, the mind reels. I wish I could live a thousand years, a million years just to keep learning, and to see how humanity develops, how I would develop. Instead, I am content with my lifetime and its abundant opportunities to develop myself.

My fashion continues to evolve, from hip-hop lite teen, to gothy university days, to a general darker aesthetic now. My art feels different now, still dark, but maybe a little less cluttered. And my beliefs have altered, and I have sought out different positions to sort out how I feel. 9/11 changed things for a lot of people. I can remember the confusion it caused. A few years later, I read Richard Dawkins essay, Time to Stand Up in A Devil's Chaplain and I was amazed at the strength of his statements. They cut right to the heart of the harm irrational religious thinking can do.

And religious thinking worries me. I plan to have kids, and there are children I care about in my family, and I want them to continue to be little questioning machines their whole lives, always asking "why? why?" after each statement. Religious thinking can carry on with the "why"'s for a bit, and then it comes down to trusting "God said so" or having faith that irrational ideas will work out in the end. In sci-fi authour Kim Stanley Robinson's excellent Green Mars of the Mars Trilogy there is a classroom scene where the kids play a game to have their science teacher keep regressing into finer and finer explanations by asking "why?" until the game comes to a triumphant end: the teacher stammers and replies "we don't know", to the childrens' delight. In this time and place in the universe, I can think of no greater purpose for humanity than to continue to ask questions.

I started this blog with the intention of showing my artwork, self-promoting, and generally giving myself a weekly challenge. I don't want to stop looking at the bagginess or fitted-ness of men's pants each season, and I don't want my art to play out the same couple of techniques and images over and over. I don't want to stop developing my opinions on the politics and religions of the world, because although themes re-occur, the situations are still developing.

I think I have painted enough creepy green people for now.

Knowledge Pupates Part 2: how I left paganism for science

Part 2
(Read Part 1 here if you want to know about me as an arrogant youth).
I call this drawing Anthropomorphic Gestation. The caterpillars are gathered around the central one who seems to be coming out of human clothes. I feel it represents the mixed-up sense of the world of my early twenties: if I was an arrogant teenager, I was busy trying to be a very unusual university student, in a Fine Art faculty of many others all trying to be weird and unusual also.

I love books, and the ones I love I read over and over again. University was a heady time for me, and I was trying to soak the world in like a sponge, and figure myself out with each gem of fact that came my way. While taking a history of western art, a history of scientific discovery, and a humanities course of the renaissance, I was almost overwhelmed by the leaps and bounds of that age, in art, writing and science.

I was coming up against walls in magic I believed worked. Some of the coincidences still had me fooled, sure, (a popular book on astrology showed Gemini with a blue-fronted Amazon parrot, and I had one...) but I was finding holes. I had been impressing myself and other friends with The Celtic Book of the Dead cards for a number of years. I am no cold-reader, and sometimes it was almost eerie what the cards said. (Fantastic artwork on those things too.) Every once and a while though, I'd by stymied. Couldn't read the cards so they would make sense of the situation. And then I discovered one of my favourite artists, Brian Froud, had made a Tarot-style deck of his own. Anyone could make a deck. I simultaneously began to doubt diviniation by card-reading and wanted to make some of my own, with my own designs based on my renewed interest in science.

"(Percy) Shelley had been an inadmissable mix of species, like a baby bird who has been handled by humans and now carries their smell; ...His heart still embodied the appalling mix, and was therefore a tangible offense against the inherent separateness of the two forms of life."
Tim Powers, The Stress of Her Regard, 1989

Tim Powers is an author who writes about the historical, magical events that were never recorded. He does it incredibly convincingly. He uses pseudo-scientific concepts for magic to explain how Shelley, Keats & Byron could be plagued by lamia-vampires, and each of his books is a well-researched, historically accurate work of fantasy. Absolute dynamite. I thought this was great, reading about magic, and he explains things. The artistry of his writing left an indelible stamp on my thinking. I know it sounds very basic, but from these stories of Powers' vivid imagination, I realised that things could be figured out.

As I say, it was a heady time. I was studying Symbolist Art like Jan Toorop ("O Grave..." pictured below), Fernand Knopff, & Odilon Redon, the influences of which can be seen in my drawing above, (the Symbolist eye on the left chrysalis looking inward toward the soul, and the maiden soul erupting out of the weird rock-moon thing). I was reading David Brin's Earth and saying it changed my life, (even though I spent about 6 weeks pronouncing the word "paradigm" with a soft-g.) I was living with a blue-fronted Amazon. I was speaking fluent sign language. The martian meteorite ALH 8001 was being scrutinized. I began drawing trilobites.

Enter Richard Dawkins.

River out of Eden by Richard Dawkins slowly grew on me, "doing good by stealth". I began drawing images of Mitochondrial Eve, and re-read chapters again and again. The prose was so beautiful, and so clear at the same time. "...we shall follow it back through a time scale incommensurably older than the legendary Eve's thousands of years and African Eve's hundreds of thousands. The river of DNA has been has been flowing through our ancestors in an unbroken line that spans not less than three thousand million years."

Beautiful concepts, inspiring ones, and the best part is they are true. My mind was pupating.

In Part Three of Knowledge Pupates: A new painting! Fashion crimes!