What Makes Great Art?

I really enjoyed this doc. I'm not super big on oversaturated, long, drawn out psycho-analysis of what art means but this was an interesting watch. You can really tell when someone's just laying out a babbling brook of art talk BS, and when the ART actually dictates the BS... Not the other way around... Too often we see insane, over-the-top, explanations designed to mask simply crap art. I hate that. It got me thinking about what is the formula for a good piece in such a subjective realm?


What makes great art?


I like to think it's more mathematical than we like to believe:  Technique + Subject x Energy + Emotion Evoked = A Mighty Fine Piece of Art.


Chef's Recipe.

  One of my favorite things to do on a cold, slow night, when the temps fall and the rest of the city opts to stay indoors, is find a dark pub.  I go alone.  I bring a book, and sit as far away from anyone as I can without drawing suspicion.  I usually order a heavy beer or big glass of red wine and I read.  It's one of the few times when I can read without distraction.  I don't have my apartment to clean, or dinner to cook,  or Facebook, or TV, or email, or the ever present pressure to draw...  I just read.

Tonight I was well into a new favorite genre, the cookbook, or more accurately biographical cookbooks that are restaurant/chef specific.  The kind that is more than a recipe list, but not entirely a nonfiction life story.  Hardcover, pictures, recipes, and most intriguingly a hidden story of artistic success.

As is often the case in these types of establishments, where I'm often reading like the outcast not dancing at the family wedding, there is a few small congregations of well intentioned young service industry folk.  Drinking fucking Fernet.  Fresh from a boring Monday night shift, cut early, and trying to impress each other with stories of their unusually well manicured palettes for such young ages.  They tend to be the only other patrons in these dark pubs I like to search for focus and solitude.  Socializing is why they come, and what I'm there to avoid.  They're riding the adrenaline of a shift that wasn't busy by any real standards, but almost certainly understaffed, and they need to talk about it.  It's the post game press conference attention...  I'm merely the asshole stuck under a TV with the cooks version of Sportscenter being stuffed into my ears as I read with my eyes.  And tonight, tonight I fucked up.  Tonight I'm reading a goddamn cookbook in my secret pub where I go to focus.  Tonight I fucked up with my choice of genre.  Tonight there will be no focus amidst the press conference of cooks as they notice my literature. 

All it took was one sentence and I knew I was done focusing.  "I love that restaurant.", presumably reading the cover of the obnoxiously large, inconspicuous, hardcover book I was reading at the bar.  My own fault, admittedly.  I closed it, slowly, deliberately.  I looked up and asked the question he knew I had no choice but to ask, "Have you you ever eaten there?".  This is where I'm confident I'm done reading the book for the night...

"No.  Have you?"

Me, "No."

Him, "You should try his Kimchi recipe."

Me, "I'm not really reading his recipes."

Him, "Huh?"

Me, "Yeah."

Him, "It's a cookbook dude."

Me, "kind of."

Him,  "Where do you work?"

Me, "At home."

Him, "You're not a chef?"

Me, "No."

Him, "Why are you reading a restaurant cookbook?"

Me, "I'm not, I'm reading a story, more of a biography."

I've never been too interested in fractions.  In the math of a thing.  I've always wanted to know why the math problem became a problem to begin with.  This young man saw that I was reading a cookbook.  I felt what I was reading was an explanation into a successful artists' successful business.   It was never about how much flour in the breading, or what his secret to the succulent crispy skin was on the duck, it was about how he became the author of the book I was reading and paid for.  How he made is his passion, desire, and inspiration, the admiration of so many?  As I tried to explain this to the perplexed cook I was unnerved that we aren't viewing the path to success as the important ingredient that it is.  He and I were talking about two different things.  I was reading the story of an artist, an entrepreneur, a person's life.  He was looking at a cookbook.  

No one has ever read a book about Vincent Van Gogh with the hopes of learning how he mixed his oils.  We read about Vincent with the hopes of learning what made him an artist.

I went to a Trump rally...

On Sunday, November 6th, 2016 two days before the 2016 Presidential Election my friends and I were watching football and talking politics.  You couldn’t get away from it.  The ads, the social media, a giant Trump plane flying overhead.  As we sat there discussing how insane the whole phenomenon of Donald Trump had become we learned that there was a Trump rally literally happening two miles away that was starting in 45 minutes.  So we went.


I can say that I have a certain enjoyment for the political season.  It’s fascinating to see the perspectives, the differences, and observe the psychology of it all.  I have been very outspoken this political season on my own social media pages and genuinely found the interactions my opinions and posts have caused really interesting.  I’ll state very clearly that I think Donald Trump is the most embarrassing excuse for leadership our nation has ever presented.  Which in turn has made this election one of the more entertaining we’ve ever seen.  However, this is NOT, and should NOT be entertainment.  These are our lives.   Whether you choose to participate or not in the political conversation, or even vote for that matter, make no mistake you will absolutely be affected by the outcome. 


I went to the rally to see first hand what it was that I was so against.  I figured if I could sit behind a keyboard and watch the videos, read the hysterics, formulate my judgments, and throw cyber stones that have contributed to the chaos of this campaign I needed to see it for myself.  What I saw was an environment that allowed the darkest qualities that our nation can foster the freedom to peak their heads into the public light for just few hours.  It was as if someone said for just this afternoon you could be the evil you feel, and you can do it in public.  The crowd and the speech spewing out of the speakers fueled that fire.  The energy was violent.  Patriotism was a mask for hateful rhetoric.   I felt that by standing in the center of this crowd, taking in the chants and absorbing the words being spoken around me that I was now concretely justified in the words I have already written about Trump.  The words I have written about a large portion of his supporter (not all), and the message he is selling both blatantly and subconsciously.  It was actually more awful than even I could have imagined.  It’s one thing to see such hate on a screen and be able to brush it off as simply the media.  It’s another thing altogether to be submerged in the pep rally of America’s hidden flaws and shame.  


Donald Trump is a celebrity.  In America we love celebrity.  What basketball team Kevin Durant will play for holds more importance in our attention span than when 49 people are killed in a gay nightclub in Orlando.  Don’t believe me?  Go to Google right now and type “Orlando”, the first suggestion is Orlando Bloom, a far cry from Orlando Shooting.  Now if Orlando Bloom had been in that nightclub we’d be having a far different conversation.  So how does this relate to Trump’s celebrity?  Our culture has blurred the lines between realistic achievement and fame.  Fame holds a certain level power and power is an attraction.  We also associate fame with success.  We assume that being famous means being rich, which must mean being capable.  That is not always the case.  If Kevin Durant had decided he was going to play basketball for the New York Yankees we’d all be scratching our heads and laugh it off as a joke.  So why on EARTH we accept that Donald Trump can run for President is beyond me.   It is also a very disturbing quality that is becoming more and more prevalent in our nations personality.  Actual achievement and celebrity become further less reliant on one another.   Even scarier, celebrity has taken precedence over accomplishment and that has miraculously reached presidential levels.  Quite literally. 


The day an America hears the words “You’re fired” in a sentence tends to be one of the worst days most of us will experience.  Yet here we are idolizing a man that has made those very words his motto.  Think about that, he has made a celebrity of himself by exploiting what most Americans would consider one of the worst things they will ever experience, being fired.  And we are considering, very truthfully, putting this man in the drivers seat of our nation.  That is not a mentality of hope, or change, or inspiration, or dreams, or success, or ambition, or leadership, or of DEMOCRACY.   The fact that half of our nation believes what this man is spewing is proof enough that we need to think very seriously about what we are.  How did we allow this?  How did we allow our neighbors, friends, family, classmates, co-workers, that guy on the bus, the lady at the bank, and on and on and on…  to become so unaccountable for the values that the United States of America is built to represent? 


What I witnessed at the Trump rally was truly the mold of America’s future.  That mold was given a breath of oxygen in the form of Donald Trump and it grew at a rapid pace.  Ideas of racism, fear, ignorance, and complete dismissal of fact in order to fuel that moldy growth were inflamed.   There was no basis for the hate other than the uncomfortable joy that people seemed to experience having been given a platform to express the hate, the racism, the fear, the ignorance.  I stood there and listened to people stoically pronounce entire cultures as terrorists.  I watched an Eastern African man on the tarmac of the airport working as the crowd uttered slurs of racism and fear that a man of color was employed at an airport.  I heard thousands of people completely dismiss our very own Federal Bureau of Investigations findings of emails, yes, emails of all things, as though they were the equivalent of two planes hitting the Trade Centers themselves.  They wanted Hillary dead, because of emails that our highest levels of investigators have ruled to be nothing at all.  TWICE.  That’s the level of disillusion this crowd exemplified.  Trump’s supporters wanted nothing other than the chance to let their hate and anger and bigotry be heard outside of their own privacy.  This was a festival atmosphere with the hope and carelessness that could dismantle a free and equal nation.  The very being of what makes this country great.


Trump’s very speech began with an insult to the organizers of the event.  He begins his campaign to obtain your vote in a BLUE state by insulting and degrading those working his event.  The man whom is running for president reduces his own rally by saying, “That’s what we have to put up with in life, real geniuses.”  That is the essence of Trumps campaign.  He continues to assure the crowd that our country is “Going to HELL”.  With no fact, no reference, no reasoning he wants us to believe we are in a state of hell.   The irony of the situation when Trump proclaims that “generations of radicalism, and terrorism” would be imported into Minnesota was obscene to the clear-headed observer.  Ironically I was ACTUALLY STANDING IN A CROWD OF RADICALSIM AND EXTREMISM!  They just happened to all be white, angry, and afraid.  As Trump casually empathizes with Minnesotans for our suffering having had to live beside Somalis I couldn’t help but cringe as the heads in the crowd nodded confidently with approval.  Listening the to guy to my left yell out, “I wore my combat boots for a reason!”  There was no sense.  No logic.  The speech itself had no real context, only claims.  Its focus was on imaginary disasters, and how bad the current leadership is.  Nothing was truly explained as people jumped and cheered and chanted.  It was as if the entire speech was the first sentence of a paragraph and he simply forgot to read the body.  It was hard to comprehend that this was a PRESIDENTIAL speech! 


The fact is what he says doesn’t matter, let alone make any sense.  He IS the Republican nominee.  On Tuesday he DOES have a chance.  Americans have actually diluted their sensibilities to the point that we are bringing a person of this magnitude of intolerance to the world’s biggest podium. 


The one positive take away I can come up with about the overall nature of the rally is that at least these people were there.  This is an Internet election.  I read daily posts from all sides of people saying that they simply don’t care about politics, and if so-and-so is elected they’re moving.  I find that incredibly weak.  This is your country.  I’m personally not going anywhere if Trump is elected.  It just means I am going to have to work harder and make my voice even louder.  We do not have to allow this kind of mold to define our society, to consume and eat away at the opportunity and greatness we are fortunate enough to live with here in America.   We are in control of the world we wish to live in.  As much as there are hoops to be jumped through there is still very much a passion to be a better nation.  That is regardless of what you envision that nation to look like.  Politics are not going anywhere; to dismiss them as annoying is to forfeit your voice for change.  To accept the ideology that has brought Donald Trump into this conversation is to concede that we are a nation that lacks integrity, that lacks honor, that lacks morals, that lacks compassion, that lacks hope. 


In one of the most unprecedented elections in history it is very clear that Trump is without a doubt one of the greatest threats to the things that make me a proud American.  You don’t have to agree.  But to disagree would simply mean you are not paying very close attention or that you are most likely harboring a great deal of anger and fear.  Unfortunately anger and fear are not the virtues of America.


We live in the most diverse and free nation on the planet.  And that gift is being threatened.  Vote. 


Mark Rivard.

Interviewed by Adam Stoloff, art student at Pratt NYC. (Roughly 2010-2011)

1.    I was hoping that you might be able to share a bit about your artistic background. Have you always been artistically inclined? Did you attend art school? At what point did you see this as a career path?


I was always interested in art.  I remember being in 3rd grade and celebrating Van Gogh’s birthday by trying to recreate his “Olive Tree” painting.  He was the first artist that I really took to.  I think it was the whole ear thing that was super crazy and intriguing to me.  I did the typical art courses in high school but never thought much of it.  Ironically it was a drawing course that almost cost me my diploma!  I couldn’t stand the structure of the class environment and rebelled against it whenever I saw the chance.  I did a portfolio review with the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and could have attended school there but at the time art didn’t hold my attention strong enough so I followed first love skiing and went west to Colorado. 


It really became a career a few years ago, but I was pushing hard to do something with my art for the last 7 or 8 years.  It was completely by chance that I rediscovered my love for art after a having surgery on my knee and being laid up.   That’s when I had the big epiphany that this was what I was going to do with the rest of my life.


2.    In my opinion, as artists, we have a compelling drive to develop our own, unique, style. We try to expose ourselves to different mediums and tools in order to hone in on it, and when we find it... in a way, we awaken. Granted, that is just my opinion, but I am wondering if you would be able to describe your artistic style? What are some of the tools that you have used to hone your skills and awaken the artist inside?

I never thought too hard about maintaining any sort of style.  I have felt like that will develop naturally and change as you go.   I really enjoy learning new mediums and experimenting with new techniques and have realized that my style will come through whether I try to force it or not.  I have done numerous different mediums on numerous different surfaces and have been told that you can always tell what’s a Rivard, so-to-speak.  As far as the art coming to life I have never really had look for it to awaken because I think that most artist generally have the knack that keeps them always thinking about what they can create or viewing the world around them with a particular vision. 

3. You had mentioned, on your web site, that skateboards are the cornerstone of your work; that it sparked a re-interest in art. So why "skateboards?" What is it about this form of canvas that drives your artistic expression? Is there a back-story? Or is it just derived from a passion for the sport? 


I come at the art world from a very different background than most.  I wasn’t an art student; I was a student of the “Action Sports” world, for lack of a better term.  I learned the action sports business and I applied what I liked about that business to what I was trying to do within it.  I was always drawn to the marketing and promotional side of things and brand development and the art direction of a company.  The skateboard was simply an available canvas at the time, and being a skateboard designer was like a dream job for me.  I knew nothing about the art world when I started to really make a lot of art, but I took what I knew about the action sports world and used that as my model for business in the art world, marketing myself as an artist in a similar way to that of an athlete.  Eventually I began to learn more and more, and study more and more of what was going on in the new contemporary art scene.  Much like the way I studied skateboard magazines and ski magazines, I was now studying publications like Juxtapoz, reading every single coffee table book I could get my hands on, and other urban/art culture publications.  I read them religiously and learned about every artist I could find and every gallery I could.  The difference about me, I think, is that I didn’t study other peoples art I studied their story.  I tried to learn how others were making careers, and what they did to promote themselves.  I found an attraction to those that put themselves out there, those that didn’t wait around for someone to discover them.


Skateboards are the cornerstone simply because they happened to be the most available form of canvas to me at the time.  It was a really special era for me around the beginning of 2004 because I experienced an outpouring of creativity I have never been able to match to this day.  I drew something like 20+ skateboard illustrations, all by hand with Ultra Fine Sharpies, in a matter of about two months.  Essentially I created a portfolio that I used for years in about two months.  Most of the skateboards that people recognize as my art today were created within that time.  I haven’t really made a skateboard in years, my art evolved into other areas and interests.  This made for an interesting situation where I am now sort of pigeon holed as this skateboard artist.

4. I know that you are classified as a skateboard artist, but do you see yourself as that, or as something entirely different. For instance, the artist Basquiat is associated with forms of graffiti and yet, during his hay day, he would claim that his work was elevated above that status. Do you feel that your workshould be ridden... or perhaps more along the lines of fine art, being placed on the walls of homes, and/or galleries?

The skateboard artist label doesn’t really bother me… I love skateboarding, and as un-cool as it is to say, I love the business side to those types of lifestyles as well, so the label will never bother me.   The art has evolved.  The art I am making now is so far removed from those early skateboard illustrations and that’s simply a result of my progression as an artist.  When I finish something new I always feel like it is without a doubt the best thing I have ever done.  Then within a week it’s old and I don’t think it’s very good anymore.  I think to compare with Jean Michel Basquiat (which I am very much humbled doing so), his early stuff writing Samo was certainly a tool that helped bring him to the art stardom that received.  Art is like anything else, it takes practice.  Kobe Bryant didn’t come out of the womb draining three’s.  The interesting thing I think is that an artist like Basquiat, who I am not particularly impressed with his work, became famous for his story, because he had the charisma that was attractive and marketable.  He drew people in.  That in it’s self was a work of art, living your life in certain way that attracts other and makes people want a piece of “it”.  Basquist had “it”.  Warhol was the master of “it”. 


Getting back to the question, yes, I do think what I did six years ago was shit.  But there are still those out there that love it.  For instance when I started Rivard Art Inc. it was as a company to legitimize my skateboard business.  The interesting thing that happened when I finally got skateboards on the walls of the shops was that most people bought them as art pieces to hang rather skateboards to skate.  Ultimately I’m just happy knowing that the work is appreciated.  The first time I went to the skate park and saw some kid skating one of boards I was so damn happy!  It was a very validating feeling.



5. In my original email, I mentioned that this book is about storytelling as it applies to the visual arts. For me, all designers are visual communicators, and in turn they are storytellers. In your email, you mention that storytelling plays into every part of what you do, contributing to, from what I can see is, your well-deserved success. But I was hoping that you would elaborate on this subject a bit more. What specifically about story telling drives you? In what ways does it play into your work? What message(s) are you trying to convey? What do you want people to take away from your artwork?

Storytelling is everything!  If your art isn’t conveying something it’s just scribbles.  Being able to tell a story is what makes great art great.  People don’t buy a canvas with paint on it, they buy an emotion.  Being able to create an emotion is the tricky part.  I did a show years ago at a gallery in Seattle and for this particular show (which I was in WAY over my head for!) I knew I had to offer something more.  So I decided to that I would handwrite little descriptions and stories about each skateboard.  This really stemmed from my second show ever where some girl came up to me and explained that she was an art psychology student and could tell all this stuff about me through my work.  She proceeded to tell me what all of my art meant and she could not have been more wrong.  Luckily for me I really love to write, writing is my favorite form of expression, and I used this show as a chance to showcase that medium and offer further explanation of what was drawn. It proved very successful.  The written descriptions were a highlight and a point of discussion throughout the show.  This can also backfire.  For instance if you tell a story in a certain way and someone else sees the piece differently you may have just ruined their perception.  It is very difficult to tell artist what their art is supposed to mean.  They have to tell you, not the other way around.  However, I have definitely realized that if you disclose too much you may just be taking away from the piece as well, the art has to be able to speak for it’s self.   Storytelling is what makes art intriguing, it’s why we can stare at a picture and not feel crazy.  Art in all mediums is a translation of thoughts.


6. What are some of the inspirations behind your designs... is their a specific source? or is it more a development from the randomness of life?

I am inspired by a million different things every second.  Lifestyles inspire me, human nature inspires me, and sex, drugs, and rock and roll inspire me.  Though I hate to admit it, relationships have played a huge roll in my work.  There is something about the urban landscape that I am still trying to figure exactly how to articulate that I am very much drawn to.  Did I say sex?  Women are beautiful, they definitely inspire me.


7. Are you willing to share some of the stories behind a few of the boards that you have designed? Do you have a favorite? What is it, and why?

I think I’ll use my board “Broken Lance” as an example.  I drew that board when I was living in Breckenridge, Colorado and going through a crazy transitional period in my life.  There was a lot of alcohol, very little positive direction, and a serious lack of ambition.  That particular board is a great example of pure emotion being translated into my art, and I really love the piece I wrote to accompany the board.  Very few people understand that significance of literature, but the ones that did truly related.  Here is the written portion:


“He stood abruptly from the snow bank he was sleeping in.  Confused, he looked around but nothing registered.  He looked up toward the blinding sunlight and a sharp reflection hit him in the eye.  It was a street sign that spelled the words “Broken Lance”.  He then realized he’d been in this strange place for eight years.  He was aging but not growing.  He looked to the surrounding mountains and understood the attraction, but the town reeked of stale under-achievement.  “Has this really been my life for all these years?” he continued to ask himself.  The funny part was the question had a literal sense because he couldn’t remember many of the nights this town had served up.  He brushed the snow off himself and began swerving in a slight gallop down Broken Lance.  He swerved right into a new day, a new month, a new year, only this year would be different.  This year he would leave the stagnant under-achiever behind.  As the hangover wore off and Broken Lance faded in the distance the clock in his head kept ticking, always clockwise regardless of whether his life sometimes went counter………”



8. I am attending art school in NYC, so naturally your NYC board caught my attention. What is the story behind it? Is this the only board that you created, or is it just one in a series of designs?


That board came out of my first trip there.  The bridge is based off of one of those stone arch bridges in Central Park.  I remember being in NYC and realizing that there were very few places where someone couldn’t see you, hence the ghostly eyes looking down.  I am really excited about doing more NYC boards, I have recently started a new series of boards based all on skylines.  I haven’t done skateboards in quite a while but the timing to re-explore not only skateboards, but also skylines feel right.

9. I saw, somewhere, that you may have already had an exhibition in NYC. The details were a bit difficult to track down. Did this event already happen? Do you foresee any exhibitions, in the New York City area, in the near future?


Yes, in February of 2009 I was part of a show in Chelsea.  It was the inaugural show a new gallery called Art Raw, and I was floored to be invited!  One of my biggest regrets in life is never having lived in NYC, I love the city so much, it is such an inspiring place to me.  I have always wanted to find more ways to connect myself with NYC, and showing there again is most definitely a major career goal. 

Personal Media. (Originally Written July 31st, 2014)

I can’t remember the last time I posted something to Social Media that was truly a personal testament without it being somewhat “branded”.  Of course the art is deeply personal but as an artist when you make the decision to put it out there you’re, in a way, giving into some level of commercializing what you create.  I’m OK whit that.  I’ve thrived on it.  But I miss the time when I could use social media as a way of saying something that I felt, or was feeling.  I miss writing.  I think I’ve learned something about myself over the last few years through social media that I may not have understood had I never came to the realization that I have an audience larger than that of the group of friends and family I actually know and have personal relationships with.  I have a desire to perform.  That’s always been when I’ve enjoyed my hobby craft of bartending the most and done the best at it, when I’m essentially performing.  The same has gone for my art.  I need the pressure and the unrelenting notion that I will be judged.  That’s when I thrive in creating.  All with the exception of writing.

I’ve always thought of writing as my most personal medium and the one I truly find the most personally therapeutic.  It’s also the medium I am the shy-est about sharing.  As the audience has grown the writing has naturally seeked further seclusion.  That is a disappointment to me.  The writing is fuel for everything else and becomes the most honest depiction of what I would love to give to the world creatively.  We do the silliest things on stage.  We don’t allow ourselves to pick our noses when we know other are watching, but we act as though we are comfortable.  Sometimes you just have to pick your nose!  Fear has never been something I allow to change my direction or my need to continue down the paths I’ve chosen.  I’m honored to have been caught with my finger in my nose in the hypothetical landscape of social media from time to time.  It’s a reminder that I am still doing what I do for the right reasons.  And though sometimes the performance of keeping up social media’s becomes overwhelming and devoid of anything actually social, it’s allowed me a voice I could never have imagined. 

Tonight as I was floating through my usual motions working, and plastering my Facebook with promo, I had a small moment of clarity.  I put down what I was doing and grabbed my car keys.  I needed to be reminded, if only briefly, why I loved art.  I needed to do one of those things that you hope no one will see but helps you breathe just a little bit easier…  As I sat in the theater and watched a film I had been so excited to see all I could understand about what I had been doing all day was that I was one of the very few people that lives the way they want to.  That gets to say the things they want to, and show the world the things they want to.  I love what I do.  And though the climate for how these things present themselves often changes, I appreciate those moments when the sun comes out.  And more so I appreciate that I have an audience to see and hear, and READ what I find in some way worthy of sharing. 

So thank you.  Thank you to those that have always read the madness I often write.  And thank you to those who continue to support the madness I relentlessly clog your various media’s with.  Those of you in my closest of circles that have seen 8 million invites and continue to show up and support, fucking thanks you guys…  Seriously.  Damn, I am a fortunate one.  No self promoting needed for that.  This message has nothing social about it.

My Son's First Film: A Fictional Short Story. (Originally Written August 15th, 2014)

I remember the night so well. There was film playing at a small cafe down the street from our apartment. They were going to screen the film with a projector onto the walls. An artsy piece, maybe not the most suited for an 11 year old I wondered? We walked down the street just as the sun was setting and my son skipped with anticipation, careful not to land on the cracks. He was so excited to be out of the house after the long winter and the slush melted through our boots and soaked our socks. We didn’t care.

The cafe was hip, film students in their 20′s lounged around on bean bag chairs and drank Yerba Mate. My son had a Coke from a bottle, the Mexican kind. I knew he’d be up late tonight under the influence of caffeine and inspiration. It was a special occasion though and I could literally see him ingesting the culture and experience. As the lights went dim I sat a table just few feet from the spot he found on the floor of the cafe. Laying on his stomach, his chin resting in his palms. The first scene began play out on the rough white wall and the crackle of an outdated stereo filled the room with a rolling ambient soundtrack. He looked over to make sure I was watching and I smiled at him as he squirmed with excitement, his legs kicking into the air, back and forth like scissors. Five minutes into film his legs stopped moving, eyes stopped blinking, and his little chin dropped. He was in a trance, captured by the moving pictures and the sounds of the story. I watched my son’s first film engulf him and unfold before me and I saw him becoming a new person. For two hours he lay still as a painting on a wall in a museum. The students laughed at jokes he couldn’t understand and he looked to me for clarification. He pressed on to understand what it all meant but even with themes floating over his innocent little mind he soaked up the films energy. He shook his body back a few inches and scanned the room with discomfort as the characters made love on screen. Blushing he didn’t look to me this time, he wanted no one to see his nervousness. I laughed on the inside watching my son revel in the new experiences and filled with pride as his face turned to anger at the betrayal of the main character. The sun was long gone as the film’s credits began to roll and my son didn’t move an inch. Processing a range of emotion, he finally looked to floor pushed himself to his feet and asked if we could see another film next week. I smiled and said sure we could.

That night as I walked home alone I realized I was growing up.

Aging Ambassadors. (Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybek's Final Press Confrence.)

I spent a lot of time smiling today. It’s funny because I was in the same building I have been chased away from by police my entire life, only this time it wasn’t security cameras pointed our way. It was news teams, and we were shaking hands with the same law makers that made us against law to begin with… Skateboarding isn’t something that can be taught. It just isn’t. It can only be learned. So when you have to find a way to express that point to a city full of people that have zero desire to ever learn why that little wooden toy is so important, you have to learn to accept the little victories as monumental. There are very few things in life that are 100% independent of any structural assessment. Skateboarding is incredibly unique and so insanely hard to explain to the general public because it is more than a sport, it’s more than an art, it’s more than a movement, it’s more than an identity… It’s all of those things in their most powerful form wrapped into a wooden toy. It’s incredible…

Vents His Vent. (Originally written December 16th, 2013.)

Another School, another easily accessible gun, anther young man dead (Who it would seem on paper was quite mentally healthy.) and more people shot. It seems the pattern here with young people is when you get upset, you can grab the family weapon head on over to your school and make sure the whole world knows just how mad you are. How that ever became a thinkable option will forever be beyond me, but the bigger question is why? Who’s to blame? Media? The 2nd Amendment? Parents? Video games? Mental Illness? Social Media? Older generations can’t even begin to understand how much different life is for young people than it was for them with the advent of all new forms of communication, so how do we change an entire moral structure that was established pre-mass communication? How do we combat negative aspects of a cultural shift that has progressed at a rate 100 times faster than that of the industrial revolution? Remember when cigarettes weren’t dangerous? It’s a different world, your cell phone is a few key punches away from telling 1,000 people how you feel at any given second without having to think about the consequences. Kids today are faster then the adults of today could have ever been but it’s still the adults job to lead, but they are leading younger generations with a blindness because they can’t possibly know the results of all that has changed has had on our youth. So the young man grab’s a gun and he vents a vent the world will see, the most memorable of Tweets.


The Battle of November 18th-22nd, 2013.


The lights went out on the first night and the traps snapped. One by one the enemy fell. On the second night a new trap was set and as the lights fell, as too did the snap of the traps. The death toll climbed to 12. Enter The WU MOTHER FUCKERS. And on the third night the perimeter of the traps reached outward to the boarders of his land, SNAP-SNAP-SNAP-SNAP-SNAP-SNAP-SNAP-SNAP! 20 had perished and a message had been sent. This rice is my rice you bastards.

All told the battle of November 18th-22nd, 2013 claimed 20+ brave mice. They were given a respectable burial in the woods on the shores of the Mississippi and they will be remembered as valiant warriors. But in the end, nobody pokes the bear in his own home, and NOBODY STEALS MY RICE!



A fascinating article about one of my all time favorite songs made me think about art today.  As is often the case with so many things, physical, visual, audio, verbal, and so on I was inspired to think further.  The idea this song could have been covered millions of times made me wonder why in music it’s acceptable to “cover”, yet visual art tends to be protected by some unwritten rule that you CANNOT attempt to cover someone else’ work…  Yet, we all do.  I am inspired profoundly, daily, constantly, incoherently by the work of others.  It lives in every piece I’ve ever done.  But to blatantly claim a work of art as a “cover” in the visual arts world would mean career suicide.  Why?  If Buckley can take what Cohen created and lift that piece to a height that is inarguable a more profound and lasting work of art, then why are we as visual artist so afraid to attempt the same?  I’m never ashamed to say where and who I’ve been influenced by.  I’ll never be to-cool to admit that I was inspired by someone else’ work.  I admire that about music.  I would be thrilled and honored to no end to know something I created had been covered, and even improved!  I find it funny when artists that live on the highest of horses also claim to be starving.  Maybe it’s time the “Art World” starts looking at some clues from other art world’s models of success.  Just a thought.  And a very interesting read:


The Desolation Days: Where It Begins.

I had this idea after a shot I took while traveling in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan last winter where I wanted to put together a series of photo’s that exploited the negative space.  The scene on Lake Gogebic that particular day was absolutely numb and striking at the same time.  The sun was setting behind a blanket of snow clouds and pure flat light conditions…  Not exactly a photographers dream scenario.  Then again, I’m not exactly a photographer.  I saw an interesting thing that struck my attention and I shot the first photo in what would be come “The Desolation Series”.  It was simply a view across the lake of the barely exposed shoreline on the other side.  Maybe six miles across you just make out the tree line and it created a mix of three different hues of blue:   One of the frozen snow covered lake, a thin strip of wooded shoreline, and the flat, fading sky that was only a mix of what was left of the sun, thick clouds, and snow molecules.  It really wasn’t a very good shot from a technical photography standpoint but it had an impact and the kind of power I look for in any piece of art that strikes my eye. 

There’s something about the use of obvious negative space and the way it makes the viewer wonder what else is there.  The same spirit that makes us eager to explore.  It’s desolate.  It’s curiosity mixed with a light fear that pushes us to want more.  Whether that be in the feeling of emptiness that the photographs provoke, or fear of what may, or may not lie beyond the unclear backgrounds.  What’s out there?  Who lives here?  I think for me personally the photo’s are a complete contradiction to my typical day-to-day life in the city…  And I like that.  My escape to solidarity.





the act of desolating or the state of being desolated; ruin or devastation


solitary misery; wretchedness


a desolate region; barren waste

If I Go Blind.

The color blue. It was the defining tone in my last real visual memory. It was a tone in her eye, that was punctuated by an orange hue from the setting sun behind a beautiful skyline. She moved her hair to behind her ear and smiled into her glass. Her wine had a glow of plum that contrasted perfectly to the shine of baby blue in her eye. We loved our time spent enjoying a drink in our city, we loved our little slice of feeling as if we knew something that nobody else around us saw. We felt a culture and an art in the way we lived. It was our little secret, and the more and more we explored our mutual appreciation for this secret beauty that no one else could see. The more we loved one another the richer the art. We became each other’s work in progress… Painting over the parts of one another that were in constant emotional tide. The blue became a reminder of that tide.

As I sat and stared into the sunset my eyes went blurred, the blue struck heavy against the bright wash of white and jarring red. I reached for something undefinable but it was too late. I suddenly felt like everyone around us knew something I didn’t. I could only see the blue. I could only remember her smile. I could only remember her voice, and the way she spoke only to me. The way the tone in her voice changed when she spoke to me became a representation of contrast in the painting that we created of one another, her voice the soft tones, easy to rest the eyes on. As I went blind I begged for that blue to become the color of life as I knew it. As my sight left reality the blue faded with it. I reached for her, but she was gone. Disoriented, I was left to remember… That blue became more than a color, it became my happiness. Without the blue, there was only an empty, indescriptive void. No color, no value, no past, no present, no future. A simple blank existence. Blind as I suddenly moved through a new world of nothingness I searched only for that shade of blue. I was blind.

My New Shirt.

Yesterday I bought a new shirt.  Seems null, average, mundane…  But it was the first new shirt I’ve bought in quite some time.  Today as I put on my new shirt I felt a like a new man.  I looked sharp, grown up, educated, and powerful.  

And then I looked at Instagram and saw my ex girlfriends lovely post of her new happy times basking in the sun with her new boyfriend.  So I harnessed the power of my new self in my new shirt.  I clicked the indicator that I was, indeed pathetically, still following her, and almost pressed “Unfollow”.  This fucking shirt is broken, I’m taking it back.

When I Become Dad.

I was chatting with my friend Wad today about how we grew up pre-internet and how life was so different and parenting relied on what you taught versus what you feared.  It was interesting and scary.  The kids of today have a future that those that grew up before the “google” era will never be able to fully understand the ramifications of.  How will we measure integrity when the answers are always there in some form of convenience?  How can we understand trust when GPS and social media “Check In’s” leaves nothing to the imagination?  Is creativity in it’s purest form now simply an, “I feel like” emotional response to something already thought of but with the need to individually identify?  I hate “I feel like”, worst phrase since “literally”.  Listen kids, “I feel like you literally can’t think of an original thought.” let alone speak without using some form of horseshit filler that helps you expand the space between sentences while your brain tries to keep up with a real conversation.  We’re running full speed down a dark unknown hallway that is bound to make a sharp left, and we’re doing so blindfolded.  Google, you fucking bastard, you’ve ruined us…  But all of this constant information and connectivity has to have some benefits right?  And it does, the amount of amazing things that have changed the way we live today are simply unimaginable.  And to think of how we survived without them is as difficult as imagining a time when learning about a thing meant lifting more than a finger.  How did we survive a time when a relationship started with calling someone’s home and asking their mother if “Nicole” was home?  How did we endure 15 minutes at the bus stop without Candy Crush?  How could we have ever possibly trusted that our children were out there in the world with no phone in their pocket and no Google Maps to rely on for directions home?  We did this because we taught our children to be smart, not to rely on other people’s smarts.  AND WE TRUSTED that we were smart enough ourselves to have taught them well enough that we didn’t have to worry.  I know I am not a parent, and my opinion is as valid as a caterpillar giving traffic signals, but I hope that when that day comes I have the balls teach my children not how to write a status update but how to write a thought that “literally” tells someone more about who they are…  Not how “I feel like” I am.

    Connection Lost: Tulum

    I’m paging through Google search results about what to do in Tulum, Mexico and I am hit with this sensation that somewhere in the mix of being home for 6 years and trying to create a business I’ve lost a piece of my spirit.  That old part of me that wandered to places without knowing why or what I was doing.  It sounds harsh but it’s actually been really helpful in the sense that, like taking drugs you need time to be sober in order to still appreciate the high.  Not that I am at all a drug user or was or promote that, I’m 34 I have shit to do, I grew well out of that part of my life.  But if you stay high all the time, or are one of those people that bought a one-way to Thailand and never came back, eventually that becomes your reality.  I made a conscious decision some time ago to try and become more than a wonder smile that’s forgotten an hour after passing but someone that builds a piece of tangible life that is remembered longer than a one night bender.  It takes roots, and takes time to manifest itself into that kind of new spirit that lives on longer than a good tan.  But it’s been worth the effort so far…  


    I still crave the far off and uncomfortable feeling of being away from home and alone.  I still know that those moments in my past where I was nowhere near the safety net of my life in the States were some of the experiences that have made me the person I am today.  Able to appreciate fear, and able to understand the perspective that fear lent to my life as a whole.  There’s something inherently invaluable about sitting alone at the end of a runway in the jungles of Costa Rica and looking down as the battery on your phone dies.  Sitting in the shade of a giant tree hoping someone lands a little plane to pick you up and bring back back home to your safety net.  I miss that feeling, but I wouldn’t appreciate that feeling if I didn’t take the time to carve out the part of my life that makes that adventure feel so unique.  And vice versa, had I never left and went out into the world I don’t know if I would appreciate how good it feels to have a home, to have a that place to find my way back to.  


    Tulum is certainly not the craziest place a guy can get lost in, but I’m am so looking forward to pulling into a new town with nothing more than my backpack.  Walking the streets to see if my curiosity to explore is still as lit as it was before I knew how to use Social Media…  Before I had something to go home to.  I’m going to get lost, and I’m probably going to miss my flight home.  When I look down at my phone to see I’ve lost connection yet again, I’m going to be very, very happy…  Tulum, I’m coming to meet you…

    Soldier On A Plane.

    Last night as I boarded a flight I walked down the isle toward my seat.  Off in distance about ten rows up I noticed a single young man sitting with obvious anxiousness and I had that odd feeling I would be seated next him.  Sure enough the intuition didn’t fail and as I pointed to my window seat he quickly jumped up and pronounced with authority, “Yes Sir, excuse me Sir.”, I squeezed into my seat and settled into the flight.  In politeness I gave my usually pleasantry, “How’s it going dude?”…  His response is where things turned from a hopefully easy flight into an important one.


    Young man- “Just left Bootcamp, going home.”

    Me- “Wow, congrats man!”

    Young man- “Yeah well thanks, but I was given an offensive discharge.  Apparently depression is discharge-able.”

    Me (now completely thrown off)- “Oh man, sorry.”

    I was a bit stunned that he just threw that out there and was so eager to tell me something like that.  I sheepishly turned to window and stared blankly as the young man pulled his hood over his head and leaned into the seat in front of him.  I sat there for about fifteen minutes feeling like I should have said more.  A condolence of some type, a word of encouragement, maybe a lighthearted verbal pat-on-the-back for his effort.  But instead I just looked at the pages of my book without reading a word.  It weighed on me, this young man was eager to speak because he needed to talk.  Those pages in my book weren’t giving me any answers as to what to say, and as desperately as I wanted to just close my eyes an ignore the situation I couldn’t.  I had been in a taxi, a bus ride through Mexico, flights, a 4 hour layover, and finally 14 hours later was on my final leg of travel.  I was tired.  But for some reason this young man landed in the seat next to me.  A man who makes a living talking to young people about the importance of climbing out of dark places.  A man who just spent a month campaigning for suicide awareness and mental health.  Here is a young man, who just dropped a giant cry for help in my lap and I sat there silent.


    After a few minutes I closed my book.  Looked at him as we took off and simply said, “Where ya from?”…  I knew I had just opened the flood gates and this flight was going to be a long one.  And open the flood gates I did…


    He starting telling me his life story, his struggles with addictions, his accomplishments, his desire to serve his country, and his determination to get back into the military.  He had a baby on the way.  He had attempted suicides in his past.  He had a story that he was obviously dying to tell and I was his audience for 2 & ½ hours.  I said very little, just occasionally trying to pepper in perspective and bigger picture advice where I could.  He just wanted to talk.  When he finally slowed down, I told him about my own struggles in finding a life I was contempt in, with depression and experiences with suicide.  I used the obvious things-happen-for-a-reason cliches.  I talked to him about how admirable his efforts were, and how much I’m sure his girlfriend appreciated him.  How having his baby would change the way he see’s the world.  We talked at length about everything.  He told me about the day he asked his girl out and we laughed at the awkwardness.  We talked about suicide.  We talked about ADHD and mental illness’.  He told me more about the military routines than I had ever known.  He told me he was embarrassed about the discharge. 


    He had been away from home for three months and clearly had never left.  He wasn’t a well versed traveler by any means and as we flew together I showed him different landmarks from the air, “That’s Cleveland and the south end of Lake Michigan.  That’s Milwaukee down there..”  When we finally landed he instantly called his girlfriend as we taxied to the gate.  I could her excitement on the other end of the line, and I could here her worry.  I felt there was more to the story than even he indulged but I simply let him tell me his version.  And then he said into line the words that told me what I already knew when I stared blankly into my book some 2 & ½ hours earlier, “Yeah, I had someone to talk to.”…


    When we were in baggage claim I shook his hand and got his name for the first time.  I told him to take care and went on my way.  I told him depression wasn’t an offense it was a condition and that it was completely normal.  And that was it for me…  


    If that young man ever reads this hope you’re doing well bud.

    Cinco De Mayo, An American Conundrum.

    Cinco De Mayo, the 5th of May 1862 was a victory for the Mexican Army over the French occupation of Mexico. It is not the Mexican Independence Day, that happens September 16th. Cinco De Mayo is celebrated for the victory of the Battle of Puebla. It was huge victory in the war but did not win the war outright. It's victory was symbolic and moral boost because of it's outright disadvantage to the Mexican Army facing a much stronger French Army.


    Before the Battle of Puebla Mexico was engaged in a civil war with an eerily similar divide of the people. A war of conservatives and liberals who fought over the separation of church and state in government. This war bankrupt Mexico and the president decided to quit paying debts to European nations as a result. So Euro's got pretty pissed and the especially testy Napoleon III decided to invade and make Mexico his own land. The Mexicans weren't having it. They kicked some ass at the Battle of Puebla but ultimately that jerk Napoleon just sent even more troops and within a year had taken Mexico City. However the Frenchies didn't make it very long as rulers because us badass' to the north decided to free our slaves and stop fighting each other. The Americans then focused their testosterone on the French in Mexico and offered our neighbors to the south some much needed support. The French weanies got scared and ran home fearing a war with us. Smart move on their part. We didn't ultimately help aside from puffing our chests at the French. The Mexican guerilla armies did the fighting and killed Maximillian the French ruler and his comrades.


    So you see, Cinco De Mayo is a symbolic source of pride for Mexican people. It also is a bit embarrassing for the French and is neither here nor there for the Americans. But the scary thing is how similar the events leading into these clashes are to our own current political climate. If history has a way of repeating itself we may just be calling on our brothers to the south for a little bailout at some point too... And it's all the more reason why Americans really have no reason to be overly celebratory today other than a misguided excuse to get loaded. Which is fine with me honestly. I love Mexico and it's people and I don't mind sharing in their pride, but let's be real about it... And even more importantly let's understand how important our neighbors are to our own culture and stop this bullshit about giant walls and rapists and drug dealers. Because the reality is Americans will consume enough drugs celebrating Mexico's holidays that we'll keep them at war for many years to come. It's a happy face conundrum.

    Beat Down.

    It's series of beatings we endure. We beat, and beat, and beat our minds and our bodies into thinking that we'll beat the tough part of life out. But we never have and we never will. That's ok. The tough part, as much of a bruise as it may be, is our strength. It's an awful reality that hides no truth. Sometimes it just fucking sucks. Sometimes it just fucking hurts. Sometimes you lose.

    I'm not good at coddling, I'm an entrepreneur and I've failed. My skin thickened, and my mind tightened it's scope. My life followed suit within the crosshairs. It's hard for me to clock out and play a role that may not have my minds focused end goal in its sights. It's hard to relax. I'm fierce in reality, and fierce in expectation, and fierce in direction. I don't like flowers. I like people who fucking grow them in Antarctica. And I don't like today. And I think it's pretty intense that we are at a place where you can read my thoughts. And even more scared that maybe there are people among us who's thoughts we don't read... I'm a lucky son of a bitch.

    P. S. Two mice chewing on a film role. One of them goes, "I think the book was better."