Put On Your Art Eyes
Talking to the comedian Mike Birbiglia, the visual artist Wendy MacNaughton said that the job of the artist is just to “put on art eyes.” “Most of the best drawing in the world,” MacNaughton said, “has nothing to with making a quote-on-quote good drawing. It has to do with seeing what’s right in front of us. I call it, putting on your art eyes.” “That’s what joke writing is too,” Birbiglia said. “The job of a comedian is, like you said, to put on art eyes. It’s listening, looking, and paying attention.”
So that’s the theme of this SIX at 6: the art created by putting on art eyes…
Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite
In 1967, John Lennon bought an 1843 Victorian circus poster advertising a show “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite.”
At the time, the Beatles were working on what would become their eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “Lennon found himself short on new material,” Rolling Stone reported. “A glance at the poster provided a welcomed dose of inspiration.” Lennon said, “I had all the words staring me in the face one day when I was looking for a song.” Borrowing entirely from the poster, Lennon wrote the 7th song on Sgt. Pepper’s, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” “Everything in the song is from that poster,” Lennon said.
The West Wing
The night before he was scheduled to meet with the TV producer John Wells, Aaron Sorkin didn’t have any ideas to pitch. Sorkin had some friends over and at one point, he and the writer Akiva Goldsman snuck down to the basement to smoke a cigarette. There, Sorkin told Goldsman about the meeting with Wells. On the wall in Sorkin’s basement, there was a poster of his 1995 movie, The American President. Goldsman pointed at it and said, “You know what would make a good TV series? That. If it wasn’t about the romance between the President and the lobbyist, but it was about the Senior Staffers at the White House.” The next day, Sorkin walked into the meeting, he said, “and sitting with John were a number of Warner Bros. TV executives. John said, ‘So what do you want to do?’ Instead of saying that I don’t have anything to pitch, I said, ‘I want to do a show about Senior Staffers at the White House.’ And John reached across and said, ‘You got a deal.’ That’s how the The West Wing happened.”
System of a Down songwriter Serj Tankian was stuck on the bridge of a song. He had the opening verse, the chorus, and the second verse. No bridge. Sitting with the producer Rick Rubin in Rubin’s home library, Tankian was explaining his frustration over finishing the song. Rubin told him to pick a book off the shelf, open to any page, and look for the first phrase to catch his eye. Tankian grabbed the Bible, opened it, and read, “Father, father, why have you forsaken me?” That became the bridge of Chop Suey!—the first single on their second album Toxicity and one of their most popular. The music video was the first metal song to be viewed over one billion times on YouTube. Out of curiosity, I searched, “System of a Down iconic lyrics.” The top result:
“My experience is,” Rubin said, “when you are open and looking for these clues in the world, they’re happening all the time. And they’re happening often right when you need them.”
Could I Do Something With That?
Jerry Seinfeld was asked about how he comes up with jokes. The interviewer said—take the chopsticks bit, for example, how did you come up with that? (Seinfeld has this joke that begins, “I see the Chinese are hanging in there with the chopsticks. Obviously, they’ve seen the fork…”) He came up with it, duh, at a Chinese restaurant. He said he wears art eyes everywhere. “I’m never not working on material,” he said. “Every second of my existence, I’m thinking, ‘could I do something with that?’”
Walking Past Ideas
“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day,” the science fiction writer Orson Scott Card said. “The good [artists] are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” To see them, put on your art eyes. Pay attention. See what’s right in front of you. Think, could I do something with that?