Friday, April 6, 2012

On Creativity (Mark Addison Smith)

Mark Addison Smith is a Chicago-based artist who pays incredible attention to the world around him. In other words, he eavesdrops. On his blog, "You Look Like the Right Type," he illustrates snippets of overheard conversation (I know--you’re already hooked, aren’t you?). Two years ago, I wrote this poem inspired by one his images. The majority of his pieces give me the itch to create something in response to them--I think it’s because his art invites so much participation from the viewer. Implicitly, we are being asked to become eavesdroppers, to fill in the blanks with the clues he is giving us.

What I value most in Mark’s art is his interest in and curiosity about others. By lavishing attention on small talk, he shows how every interaction between people can be meaningful.

Q: What is your process for gathering the language on your blog (Do you constantly make notes? Are certain spaces more ripe for inspiring language?)? What is it about language, out of context, that inspires you? What does art have to do with listening/eavesdropping?

A: For my daily illustration project, You Look Like The Right Type, I'm always listening in with an acute ear for what other folks say—inside crowded elevators, over breakfast at diners, in the gym locker room, in line for the bathroom (a source of inspiration, in fact, over the weekend). In a way, the more common the location, the better the quote—people tend to let their conversation guards down in their comfort-zone areas. I've even passed people on the sidewalk and have heard some amazing, out-of-context words that I've later translated into imagery. Any place where regular and, oftentimes, extraordinary folks frequent makes for good illustration fodder.

I overhear and illustrate dialogue in the same day, and my favorite illustration gets posted at the end of the day on my blog at
Mark's notebook. The inspiring line...
Some days, I'll draw as many as ten; other days, I only draw one—but I'm always drawing dialogue. I haven't missed a day since November 23, 2008 when the project began (I've been blogging since New Year's Day, 2009). I carry tiny notebooks in my back pocket that get filled up with text snippets tagged with dates and locations (I've filled well over 20 of them so far in my years of collecting fragmented conversations) that turn into my source material when I begin drawing.

So, yes, I'm constantly making notes. I actually find myself gravitating toward people that seem particularly chatty. Once, while seated next to a mother and her son on the 'L' train, I pulled out a wadded-up receipt from my front pocket and transcribed bits of their amazing conversation—she was curiously asking her son about a man that was of interest to her (her ex husband, perhaps, that their son had just visited) and later began speaking with him about Einstein and the definition of the word 'genius' (he was a very bright 10-ish year old, and she was quite the interested mom). I always assume folks know what I'm doing, even though they don't—I'm rather discreet with my research and have only been 'busted' once. I justify my note-taking as a 'to do' list that I'm making.

...and the image he drew of it.
In order to choose my quotes, I use the journalistic 'information gathering' criteria when listening in—I seek out dialogue with a who, what, when, where, why, and how. If I hear something that covers, say, three out of the six points then I consider that to be a 'golden' quote. I'm most interested in an out-of-context piece of dialogue that provides me with a sense of character, or a lifetime of imagined possibilities (so that I'm inspired to let concept roam free and imagine any type of context—ironic or actual—that becomes coupled with the source words) . My mother once made a statement about her father (whom I never got a chance to meet): "When he died he got over two hundred arrangements." That a great line, I think, and one that speaks highly about his character and the life that he lived.