“Created” Book Review, Part 2 (of 3): Challenge Your Audience

If you haven’t yet heard of the Created project — Likable Art‘s cool new book for artists and creative types interested in the unique intersection of art and faith — I recommend checking it out. Submitted by 62 different artists [of various mediums], the articles written for the book are just as diverse in style and substance as the artwork created to complement them.

I’m about half-way through the book so far. Since it contains so much rich content from so many uniquely enlightened contributors, I’m taking it slow. I want to make sure I soak in each perspective, to consider each contribution on its own and in light of the greater collection. After reading each article, I’m sitting silently for a few moments to contemplate the corresponding artwork. I’m trying to not simply consume but digest the material.

Part three of this “review” will have more of my thoughts on the other contributors’ thoughts. For now, I’ll simply share this: As someone who experiences creative inclinations in a variety of artistic mediums and appreciates authentic artistry in any form, reading the learned wisdom of others has been invaluable. I definitely have some favorite nuggets so far, and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.

Part one of this review featured one of the two articles I submitted that was not chosen. I’ve dubbed these “the rejected articles.”

Here’s the second…

Challenge your audience. Be controversial.

Flannery O’Connor once remarked: “I am not afraid that the book will be controversial; I am afraid it will not be controversial.”

That resonates with me. I get it. I’ve felt it — that need to be controversial, to push the envelope, to provoke discomfort, to challenge myself and my audience. Perhaps, on a subconscious level, this need exists to ensure resistance against the formulaic, to prevent the asexual reproduction of art wherein passion and the joy of discovery are absent from the creative process and the offspring lack the beauty and necessity of genetic diversity.

In the quest to understand what it means to be fully alive, what it means to be human in light of the divine, there are no heights without the depths. And the depths will always be rife with controversy. Don’t shy away from it. Don’t fear it. Bring it to the light. Present it for discussion in your own uniquely creative way. To merely bask in the glory of the heights without ever diving into the depths is to remain comfortable: “But you were not made for comfort — you were made for greatness.” (PBXVI)

(To be continued…)

“Created” Book Review, Part 1 (of 3): Leave Something for the Imagination

“Wanna see a sign of the end times?”

That’s what I asked my mom as I showed her my advance copy of Created, a new collaborative book for anyone who has ever been interested in the mysterious intersection of art and faith. (The “sign of the end times,” as I interpreted it, was the strange reality that something I had written was just published in the same book as something that Bishop Robert Barron and Dr. Peter Kreeft — two brilliant minds — had written.)

When Cory Heimann (founder + creative director of Likable Art) reached out to tell me about the project and see if I might be interested in contributing, I jumped at the chance. The concept was so cool and so simple:

(1) pick 5 words to share with other creatives trying to do great work
(2) unpack those 5 words in 200 words or less
(3) a graphic/visual artist would create an image to complement + accompany my article

After taking some time to think about which 5 words I felt moved to share, I came up with a couple different options. I sent Cory two sets of five words and three different articles expounding on them. And I let him decide which of those three articles would be my official contribution to the project.

To find out which article he chose, you’ll have to get the book. You can order it here. And if you place your order by February 12th, you’ll also get an exclusive digital album featuring songs from myself and few other musicians  — Alanna Boudreau, Mike Mangione, Joe Zambon, to name a few — who also contributed to Created.

I’m still working my way through the book, slowly. I don’t want the wisdom of my fellow creatives to hit me all at once. I want to let each contribution sink in, to digest each morsel individually, to fully appreciate the whole meal as best as I can. That’s why this Created book review is in three parts. Before I share my full thoughts on the book itself, I’d like to share with you the other articles I submitted for consideration — the rejected articles.

Here’s the first…

Leave something for the imagination.

Honesty invokes resonance. Intentionality inspires active participation. Details and specifics help people relate to a story and its characters. But, sometimes, being too explicit, spelling everything out, or drilling a message or moral home with obvious intent can seem preachy, lazy, or worse…boring.

When you say enough to make them wonder, to make them want to know what exactly is being said while leaving something for the imagination, you challenge the audience to engage in a whole new way. You give them something to talk about, and the subsequent discussions allow us to learn something about art, ourselves, and the people we discuss it with.

With his use of parables — stories more allegorical than explicit — Christ challenged his audience to use their God-given capacity for thought. And when he said “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” he didn’t elaborate or explain what that meant. Rather, he actually said: “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Mt. 9:13). He presented his audience with a truth, then challenged them to unpack it.

When you leave something for the imagination, you leave room for exploration, for growth and discovery. And isn’t that the point?

(To be continued…)

What’s a “listening room”?

Back in February I got to play my second show at the Downtowne Listening Room in Cincinnati. A community space located inside an old department-store-turned-apartment-complex, the DTLR is an ideal venue where local + nationally-touring artists come to play and the audience comes prepared to listen. “Prepared to listen” means that there is no talking permitted inside the venue once the show starts. It’s a rule well-followed by now: if you talk [or even whisper] during the performance, you’ll kindly be asked to step outside. It’s a true listening room.

Scott & Diana SkeabeckThe hosts are an extremely kind and generous husband-and-wife duo prone, as lovebirds often are, to finishing each others sentences. Scott and Diana have created a truly unique listening room environment in the heart of downtown Cincy. After my over-sold-out show back in February, I sat down to ask them a few questions about their mission. Here’s part of our conversation:

ME: What inspired this?

SCOTT: The Downtowne Listening Room was created because we lived in the northeast corridor, the Philadelphia area, and these kind of places were all over the place. And when we moved to Cincinnati — and no disrespect to Cincinnati — there really wasn’t a place you could go to listen to music and hear a pin drop. And it drives us crazy when we are listening to music we love and people are talking and not listening, not paying attention. You wouldn’t go to the movies and ignore the screen. You don’t go to the art museum and ignore the paintings on the wall. But people go out to bars and restaurants and places and they ignore the music, and it drives us crazy. And we’re not even the performers! So that’s why we created it.

ME: When did you start it? And how has it grown?

DIANA: We started it in June of 2015. We’ll be celebrating our 3rd-year anniversary this June. When we first started, it was hard to get people in the door. But Scott did a lot of promotion — sending out newsletters and flyers, contacting radio stations and what not — and over time we’ve gotten a following from people that have come here, told their friends about it, you know, brought new people in with them…

SCOTT: …so bugging the heck out of people works. That’s what we find. (laughs) And I think the hardest thing is they don’t understand what a listening room is. They say, “Well, why would I pay $10-$15 to see Matt or Kevin or whoever play music when I can go to the bar and get music for free?” It’s like, well, you’re getting music but you’re not listening to music. This is where you listen and you get the stories and you get the background. We had a CD from pretty much all of you guys, and we listen to the CD, but then when we hear you tell the stories behind it, we listen to the CD again and we get almost a different experience out of it. It’s like, “Oh, that’s why that line’s in there!” You don’t get that by just passively listening. It’s active listening which is so important. We’re pretty passionate about it. (laughs)

ME: And you don’t a make a dime?


SCOTT: No. All the money goes to the artists.

DIANA: This is our hobby. We don’t golf. We don’t collect art. We don’t collect wine.

SCOTT: And it’s cheaper than a what?

DIANA: Corvette.

SCOTT: It’s cheaper than a Corvette. But only by a little bit. (laughs)

DIANA: Plus, we get to listen to great shows.

SCOTT: Right, and we listen to them in the environment we want to listen to them in. And we listen to the people we like. So…we like you. We really, really like you, as Sally Field would say. (laughs)

ME: Well, I like you guys. So, thank you very much. Anything else you want to say?

SCOTT: Everybody come out to Cincinnati! Downtown! Come to the DownTowne Listening Room! Boom! (laughs)

ME: The lady doth concur?

DIANA: I concur, yes. Come see us!

Art Affects: The New World

Every artist wants their work to mean something, wants their painting, sculpture, book, song, etc. to spark some thought (any thought) in the mind of the beholder. Art is about ideas, ideas that hopefully lead to positive change(s) within ourselves and within the world around us. And every once in a while, art affects us in such a way that we feel compelled to share our thoughts on the art with the artist, who is, in turn, incredibly humbled by the reception and sincerely grateful for the opportunity to be heard, for the chance to make a difference. Every once in a while, a message like this gets sent:

“…keep doing what you’re doing. I can already tell you that a couple of my friends who are blinded by the mainstream media, etc, have started to question things simply by conversations sparked by your songs.”

The song to which this sender (named Samantha) was referring is The New World, track no. 8 on The Spark. Check out the brand new [and super cool] lyric video for The New World below. And as always, if you like it, share it.

Small Things With Great Love

It probably gets annoying, the extent to which we artists are constantly imploring you to buy our music. The old it-only-costs-the-equivalent-of-a-few-cups-of-coffee-but-you-can-listen-to-it-whenever-you-want! bit is a classic plea. But it’s true! For about the equivalent of purchasing three or four cups of coffee, or of going to see a movie (just one movie, just one time) in the theater anytime after 4:00 p.m., you can purchase an entire album of music that someone spent countless hours composing and thousands (minimum) of dollars to record, produce, and package. But this post isn’t a plea for you to buy my music; it’s a plea for you to buy James Rosenbloom‘s music.

James RosenbloomWe all prioritize what we want to spend our money on. Even though it’s only getting more expensive to do so, I love the experience of seeing a film in the theater (I saw Interstellar three times). But I only [maybe] purchase one article of clothing for myself in any given year, as I’m sure anyone who has ever seen me perform live more than once has already assumed (“Is that the same pair of jeans and plaid shirt he wore at his last show? He’s washed them since then, right?” Maybe.) I have enough clothes. I very rarely feel like I need any more of them. But film, music, books, art – that’s what I want to spend my money on! Thought-provoking substance presented to me in an interesting, creative, haunting, honest, beautiful way – that’s what I need more of, what I think we always need a little more of in our lives. As John Keating put it:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.”

I felt compelled to post this post because, as I look at the play count in my iTunes library, I see that I have listened to James Rosenbloom’s brand new album Small Things With Great Love in its entirety 31 times in the last week. (I’m actually listening to it as I type this.) It’s classical. It’s choral. It’s instrumental. It’s old. It’s new. It’s peaceful. It’s adventurous. It’s sacred. And it’s beautiful. James considers his record a small thing done with great love. I disagree. I think it’s a great thing done with great love, an important thing done with a hopeful, dedicated love.

If you’ve ever appreciated beauty, I implore you: consider supporting James’ art. At $7.99 on iTunes, it only costs the equivalent of a few cups of coffee…but you can listen to it whenever you want! (How’s that for a pitch?) I paid $25 for my digital copy when I backed his Kickstarter campaign, and I don’t regret a cent of it. I’d gladly pay four times the iTunes-value again in a heartbeat for the sense of peace and calm this album [on repeat] provided me while working on my taxes (insert GIF of wife rolling her eyes).

In her recent op-ed piece, Taylor Swift called for a return to the idea that “music is art, and art should be paid for.” She wrote:

“My hope for the future, not just in the music industry, but in every young girl I meet…is that they all realize their worth and ask for it.”

James Rosenbloom may not be a young girl (he definitely isn’t), but I hope he realizes his worth. And I hope he can always maintain the courage to ask for it. That’s hard to do in this business. Thank you for your art, James.

Your friend,

Define: Positivity

If you search “define: positivity” on Google, you might get the following definition: the character of the positive electric pole. Before every one of Kevin’s shows at which he is in attendance, either as a courteous stagehand or a fellow performer, Michael Beach always asks Kevin the same question:

“Are you ready to play the best show of your life?”

He always expects to hear a resounding “yes!” And so, solely on the merits of this young man’s upbeat attitude, the ambiguous “we” controlling this website would like to propose to you, the reader, a new definition of “positivity”: Michael Beach