© 2018 by J. Eric Thompson

A Consideration of Fashion

There are two American Dreams, if such a notion still exists. Traditionally, you hope to find a job that you can tolerate that makes you enough money to support a loving family to retirement, hopefully saving enough to live out the rest of your days stress free, at least financially. Then there are artists. Their American Dream consists simply of doing what they loved doing in their youth well into adulthood, often eschewing financial stability and 401Ks (thus the starving artist) in order to play until the day they die. The difficulty that comes with such a determination to make a life of creative pleasure, to adultify childlike pleasure – the inherent arrogance of finding someone to sponsor your revelry, the weight of wasted time spent not playing, the easily-mocked silliness of pursuing a life of whimsy – is often stressful to the point of misery. But that’s usually good for the work.

 

At some point, ambitious artists make a conscious decision to take themselves and their goals seriously. To the outside observer, these swaths of painters and comics and sculptors and musicians and designers and writers and photographers and dancers and performance artists can easily come off as ostentatious, puerile. Gaggle-esque. Ugh, you know actors… There is an inherent arrogance in daring to offer your creative services to someone for money. You’ll dance for them or give them a pretty picture you’ve painted. It’s hard not to roll your eyes. Get a real job.

Children played policeman and pilot and astronaut and baseball and doctor, too, but these children weren’t creating, they simply placed themselves into practical and pre-existing vocations (although dollars to donuts says children who constantly played different pretend games found themselves desiring in adulthood to storytell in one way or another, to live the lives of others, to create). And thankfully so; the world would be a very different place were there no one to actually get shit done around here. Although art’s cultural impact and value on our society can’t be ignored. Even though the job is fairly automated by this point, the world needs people to program ditch-diggers, too.

We must also consider the quasi-creative individual who either gave up or became sidetracked in their pursual of the latter Dream. Those who can’t do teach. Those who can’t teach teach gym. What about those who can’t do or teach and don’t need a job in the first place? Those are CEOs of music labels and Tinseltown bigwigs and bazillionaire art collectors – philanthropists; a million-dollar title in itself, if only by phonetic frufiness – who not only have finagled a way to remain surrounded by something they love (or at least see money in), but they have, via their philanthropy, created the industry. They’ve allowed not only a means for artists to make money doing what theylove, but for the unseen and blue-collar technical workers of the art world as well; gaffers and editors, PAs and roadies,  assistants and and critics, oh my!

But in the purest and most enviable positions of all are the artists. Playing. So there is a tendency for misunderstanding their industry or motivations because it all just seems so full of itself. Consider fashion: We could all expound forever upon why one drawing is a piece of art and another is just a map; art, it seems, taunts practicality. It uses practical applications (words, pictures, sounds) as a base to flourish upon, in the way that gibberish means nothing but words communicate ideas. If you could argue that the New York runway shows and crazy fashion trends have no impact on our clothing culture, I argue, then, that Moby Dick should be a whole lot shorter: A whaling captain tries to get revenge on a whale but dies without succeeding. The End. Who cares what color the whale was? Hell, why even write it in the first place, since it didn’t actually happen?

Why wear a hat if it’s not too sunny or raining? By that note, why isn’t every hat a sombrero? We can all agree that no one plans on wearing Alexander McQueen’s veiled antlers on a trip to Arby’s, I would hope in the same way we can agree to forego giving Van Gogh a hard time for his lack of detail and all those damn swirls, or the way we get mad when Tom Hanks talked funny in that one movie with the chocolates. The flourish is the part that gets your attention and makes you think about what you’re seeing. When’s the last time you questioned not only the practicality, but even the very raison d’être of a hat? Therein lies the artist, allowing – often even forcing – an observation; I.e. not only can art magnetically attract a gaze, but it can even subconsciously persuade the observer to ask a question, even if the question is only, “What the fuck?”

Enter Michael Kenneth Wood. Finally beginning to garner the recognition he deserves after years of hard work and a (relatively) newfound passion for millinery, Michael’s creativity somehow finds a way through the medium he uses and simply commands attention. His evocative aesthetic transcends the fact that you’re looking at a hat; not only are you forced to ask How, in a technical sense, he could have crafted something (so many things) so beautiful and true simply by bending and cutting some wood and feathers and metal and string and fabric, but also, and more intensely: How was he even able to conceive of this?

I never thought that I would find inspiration in a hat. Or hope. I don’t know a homburg from a hard hat but anyone with even a soupçon of creative intellect can find beauty and originality and truth in Michael’s work, or because of it. The most striking/meaningful/impactful artistic creations are not necessarily deeply, but properly rooted in the practicality of the medium itself. All any artist desires to do is create something true and unique, medium be damned, thus the pathway for proliferation of art and creativity and the memetic sensibilities of our culture: artists cannot help but stay true to themselves and what they believe and what they want to accomplish or say or question or highlight. And in doing so, they hope that their truth and filter can make the observer see or ask or feel something they hadn’t felt before. Better yet, artists hope to inspire others not to create art, necessarily, but to stay true to their knowledge and vision themselves, and hopefully on and on down the line. Inspiration may only be paid forward, contrary to what philanthropists practice.

As all art must be grounded properly in its medium, so too must the artist be cogently aware of reality. This is never more observable than in listening to an artist discuss their work. It has been my experience that the most impactful artists feel a bit overwhelmed and even embarrassed when asked about “process” or “motivation” or art for art’s sake, because a discussion on something so impractical (arguably unnecessary for our day-to-day existence) inherently sounds pretentious or self-centered: “Well, this is how I like to play.” The best artists understand the reality of how off-putting a lowered guard of humility can sound. Of course, as with any granfalloon, there are a myriad of artists who aren’t, in fact, grounded in reality nor possess even a hint of humility (usually an indication of hackiness or arrogance to the point of distaste, no matter how talented) who tend to give their peers and industry a bum rap.

In every sense, Michael Kenneth Wood is a true artists, poised to lead a life playing a game that he created. His artistic talent is not news to him. He’s known since it was possible to know that he has something to say and cannot necessarily use words to say it. Yet he’s found his voice, and it’s inspiring for us, even for those who don’t or won’t or can’t pursue a life of creativity. Artists like Michael Wood give hope to those of us who dream of a life of expression, who yearn to find truth without being told where to look, to create it without being told exactly how. Lucky for him, because he gets to work hard at play. And lucky for us, because we get to watch.

Click here to see a small gallery of his work.