Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday Musings: Amazing Animation

That's right people, I'm not giving up on Monday Musings, even if I've missed pretty much every Monday since its inception. Take this as steadfast dedication or mulish stubbornness... either way it seems to be a solid virtue on the ancient path of getting shit done. 

Yesterday I rented Monster's Road, a documentary about a prolific yet obscure clay animator named Bruce Bickford. I highly recommend the film- this guy is fascinating. Not only because of his talent or unbelievably voluminous attention to the tiniest of details, sculpting dozens and dozens of almost identical forms descending in size millimeter by millimeter, not only because he's essentially a one-man movie-studio and his father is positively Shakespearean with his half-genius, half-curmudgeon, all alzheimer-inspired haze of eerie pondrances, but because Bruce is clearly working through some issues.

This guy is the perfect example of why 99.9% of art and literary criticism is laughable. Before I saw the documentary I sat through Bruce Bickford's animated short Prometheus's Garden, and I was throwing around all sorts of ancient Greek symbolism, Dadaism, stuff from Freud and Proust, isms here, isms there, isms isms everywhere. Turns out Bruce was beat up a lot as a little kid, and he vented his frustration by imagining a word in which "little guys" could have power- the power to punish jerks, to become giants, and the power to create. 

Bruce shakes his head with bewilderment describing his reaction when someone asked him to describe the symbolism in his film... for Bruce, a story is just a story, and there doesn't have to be an explicit reason for the warrior to morph into a giant werewolf/milkshake... (you just have to check it out, believe me.)

It's not entirely uplifting. Bruce's work has been largely unrecognized and underappreciated, his relationship with his father seems icy at best, and although he has produced a massive amount of material and is proud of his work, sometimes I thought he seemed a little lonely surrounded by all of his thousands of sculpted clay figures... a little lost.

But he's also extremely self-reflective and admits that all the dark fantasies which resulted from his sucky childhood were channeled into his art. I find this idea extremely appealing. Especially during a time when I'm looking back over the past 17 years in academia and hating myself for not being more...

More of everything. More social, more serious about practicing music, more accepting, more relaxed, more adventurous, more studious, more fun... Sometimes it seems like there's no hope of starting today fresh because there have been so many shitty days prior. Days when you didn't do your best, days when other people screwed you over and stole away your sunshine, days of disappointment and failed diets and dumped dates. Sometimes it feels like you're working against the massive pull of that vast darkness, and that it's not even logical to hope you can overcome.

Well Bruce didn't overcome so much as repurpose. He took all the blackness and rolled it around in his palms until it was soft and pliable and he used it- prodded and sculpted and beat it into hundreds of thousands of frames of concentrated energy... truly an art of catharsis. This guy has modeled one rocky childhood into an ever-evolving, unbelievably complex source of inspiration. None of this art would have ever existed if he'd grown up with The Cleavers.

Which is to say, don't despair of an un-ideal past, of missed opportunities and regrettable happenings which you think may be holding you back. They might just as well be the very palate which you'll use to paint the newest, most innovative, and passionate chapter of your own story. 

We're all goddamn crazy. And people who seem the least crazy are usually simmering the fiercest just below the surface. So take all that crazy and use it to sculpt something awesome. You are in charge of your story, and you might as well make it so that all the bullshit was worth your while in the end. Then you'll have gotten the better of every darkness. You'll be using it, instead of the other way around. 

I'm not saying artists are the happiest people in the world.  But I am saying there's a reason perfect people don't make art. Either they don't exist, or they don't have enough clay. 


Keep smiling, keep believing, keep me posted. 



  1. Hi Hannah,

    Been quietly reading your blog for a while now and this is the first time I've been moved to comment.

    This is a very inspirational post, just as a reminder to, as you say, be more.

    I have nothing else to contribute, just wanted to say you've inspired at least one person to try harder and look up Bruce Bickford's work

  2. I'll definitely give this guy a look see.

    And i definitely agree with your thought of the people who seem the least crazy are usually those ready to blow. Everyone needs an outlet. Hell, I think that's why most of us bloggers are here to begin with...

  3. FYI
    You can get get documentary from Netflix

  4. I really liked this post. And I lurve clay animation :D

  5. That which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, after all.

  6. I'm not so sure.

    That which doesn't kill you makes you you.

  7. Hi,

    I was headed to bed - because I needed to be up early for a rent inspection. However, I decided to suss out your YouTube videos and read more of your blog which I first saw a few weeks back. It's now an hour and a half later...

    So...wonderful job! I love being taken on a journey through someone else's thoughts and worldview. I did check out the Bickford clip and I endorse your comments about why we sculpt, write, whatever. I sometimes think that being overly-educated about how it works doesn't really help in making it work. But you can't unlearn things, so that's a moot point.

    When I wake in too few hours, I will apply the 'seat of the pants' advice and get writing again.

    Thanks, Hannah. Keep it up.

  8. An artist that I really think you'd enjoy (if you haven't already heard of him, anyway) is Phil Hansen. I think his work is right up your alley. If you type his name in under Google (or your preferred search engine of choice) his website should be the first link. "philinthecircle .com".
    Though, you've probably heard of him already. Anybody else reading this comment, if you like Hannah's work, then I bet you'd also like Phil's work.
    Okay, I won't bet... only because I don't have money to lose if I'm wrong.. :P
    Great blog and Happy President's Day! (I'm not even sure if that's the right holiday, what I DO know, though, is that today is a federal holiday and I didn't have to go to work! Sweetness!)
    Hope you enjoy Phil's site!

  9. Monday musings is quite ambitious, this coming from the lazy author of Sunday Afternoon Noodle ^_^ Great post, thanks for the heads up on both documentary and artist. Excellent review. Is it a crock of shit to see a reference to Freud or dadaism? Not in the least if that observance is an honest visceral reaction. Reviewing is art in itself (just ask the late Manny Farber), where words spoken or in print strive to describe the beauty or complexity of a thing and it's thingness. Bruce Bickford has an affinity for clay and animated figures, and in their own way these idioms strive to describe the beauty or complexity of his textured life.

    Anyway, I just found your blog and enjoyed that. Now where is that dang subscribe button?

  10. *squeezes hanna really tight and then buys her dinner for totally making this girl's day!*

  11. This is great. i enjoy reading your blog

    I also like to write poems, and songs ; I wrote some short stories and then got discouraged since i've never took any classes on writting it was easy for me to put it aside, but I'm sure i'll get back to it eventually.

    I also felt the same way about making music ; i'm barely recording some tracks at home now and i've been thinking about making music for 10 years now.
    well cheers!