“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…)

Kevin Heider on Balcony TV

At the end of September, Kevin spent a beautifully sunny autumn morning on a rooftop in downtown Cincinnati with several other local artists for the inaugural video shoot for Cincinnati’s own Balcony TV channel. (check out a few photos from the shoot below)

Sponsored by the good folks at Cincinnati’s Downtowne Listening Room, Balcony TV offers “music with a view.” It’s a cool project. And it’s a great way to discover new artists from all over the world.

Kevin’s live/acoustic performance will give you a good taste of Balcony TV’s mission and format. If you like, share it. Cheers!

I Don’t Want Your Love: A Retro Vibe

I don’t want your love. It’s not a statement directed towards anyone in particular — I’m generally not a mean guy. It’s a metaphor, my attempt at a classic lyrical blues hook.

Materialism. Excessive demands and expectations. Mistrust and dishonesty. In any relationship, these distort and distract from authentic love.

Conceived while meditating on Martin Scorsese’s 3+ hour documentary on Bob Dylan while imprisoned in my Baltimore townhouse as hurricane Irene pounded the east coast back in 2011, this was my second attempt at writing a blues song. It was fun to write, a blast to record and produce, and it remains a favorite to play, especially when The Honest Stand (my band) is fighting alongside me on stage.

I’ve now attempted to give this “bluesy garage-rock tune with a retro vibe” a properly retro lyric video. That was the goal, anyway. And I really hope you enjoy it. Because, honestly…I do want your love.

Arti Valorem

Arti valorem. It’s a directive, a suggestion, an ideal, something we should all encourage. It’s Latin (according to Google translate) for value art.

Two recent bits of pop culture that struck this chord in me this year were the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! and the….uh….SAG Awards acceptance speech delivered by the cast of Stranger Things. (I know, right?) Let’s start with Hail, Caesar!, a film that I thought was subtly brilliant in its cultural commentary and hilarious in its subtleties.

In the scene featured below, George Clooney’s character — a bona fide movie star named Baird Whitlock (think Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments) — has become disillusioned with the motion picture business. Here he scoffs at the suggestion that the movies he’s been making for years actually have any “artistic value.” He’s promptly put in his place [and repeatedly, hilariously slapped in the face] by Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix, who tells him, adamantly:

“Just like the director does what he does – and the writer and the script girl and the guy who claps the slate – you’re gonna do it because the picture has worth and you have worth if you serve the picture. And you’re never gonna forget that again.”

The film revolves around Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) trying to clean up other people’s ridiculous messes, all while being courted for a job that would have him making bombs and airplanes instead of movies, a job that would make him a lot more money. But in the end, Eddie chooses to go on serving, in his own way, the inherent value he sees in the art of motion pictures, despite the disheveled and chaotic lives of all the folks involved in making them.

The picture has worth, and you have worth if you serve the picture. It was a message I didn’t quite see coming. And it came, as I said above, in a subtly brilliant way. Also, this scene is so. freaking. funny.

While much of what comes out of Hollywood these days seems to fit snuggly in the category of escapism, even something that feels purely escapist at first glance can have a lot of substance simmering beneath the surface. This was the case, I found, with Netflix’s surprise hit Stranger Things.

The show was a fantastic throwback to everything 1980s. When it won the award for Outstanding Performance in an Ensemble in a Drama Series at the 23rd Annual SAG Awards back in January, one of the show’s lead actors delivered an acceptance speech that gave me chills and moved me to view the show in a whole new light, to think more deeply about the ideas at the heart of the entertainment. The speech is a rousing, impassioned battle cry insisting that art has value and that artists have a purpose: to cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society.

Read this excerpt and then watch + listen to it below:

“This award from you, who take your craft seriously and earnestly believe, like me, that great acting can change the world, is a call to arms from our fellow craftsmen and women to go deeper and, through our art, to battle against fear, self-centeredness, and exclusivity of our predominantly narcissistic culture and, through our craft, to cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society by revealing intimate truths that serve as a forceful reminder to folks that when they feel broken and afraid and tired, they are not alone. We are united in that we are all human beings and we are all together on this horrible, painful, joyous, exciting, and mysterious ride that is being alive. Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of Stranger Things, we 1983 mid-westerners will repel bullies. We will shelter freaks and outcasts, those who have no homes. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. And when we are at a loss amidst the hypocrisy and the casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will, as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the meek and the disenfranchised and the marginalized. And we will do it all with soul, with heart, and with joy. We thank you for this responsibility. Thank you.”


Art has value. Value it.

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?

DIANA: No.

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!