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The Gift Of Music In Life.

February 28th, 2020

The Gift Of Music In Life.

In 1983 I was a troubled fifteen year old kid in a dysfunctional home. My family was very poor. As such, we lived in a very poor housing project, which meant that all of my friends were poor as well. Each of us were dead end kids with very little hope of a future. At the time, every phase of my life was filled with extreme adversity. There is very little from that time period that I recall to be positive. However, I can remember one of my very first escapes from the tribulations of my difficult childhood... baseball. At the age of eleven, I had discovered baseball cards. I was immediately hooked on collecting them. Looking through my baseball cards took me away from the problems that I was forced to deal with in my life. I loved them so much that I would often walk the two miles to school every day just so that I could spend my bus money on baseball cards.

I was an amazing wheeler dealer when it came to collecting baseball cards. I had a knack for finding kids who had old cards sitting forgotten in shoe boxes in their bedrooms. I had a very natural instinct for finding kids who had older siblings that had moved on to bigger and better things than collecting cards. These cards would be left behind, collecting dust. I would trade whatever toys I could to acquire those forsaken treasures.

By the time I reached the age of fourteen I had nearly 10,000 cards. I had cards that were worth ALOT of money at the time that I owned them... and I was absolutely fanatical about their care and upkeep. Every single valuable card was treated with utter reverence and kept in protective plastic. Never once did it enter my mind to actually SELL any of them. Collecting those cards was simply too important to me to let any of them go. It was the one non destructive escape that I had.

Baseball cards were an obsession that lasted until I turned fifteen. It was at that time that things seemed the most difficult for me as a child. My home life was... bad. The adversity of my life at home caused severe repercussions in every other phase of my life. I was constantly getting into trouble. I struggled everywhere I turned. My friends were not much better off than I was. It seems that poverty creates many brands of adversity, and each of us were dealing with something or another that kids should not have to deal with. Then, one day I heard about an upcoming baseball card show at the local mall. Normally, I would have been excited to go. Card shows were rare... and when they did happen, it was better than going to Disney as far as I was concerned. The opportunity to look though so many rare collectibles was something that always made me excited. However, I was excited this time for another reason. A plan had formed in my mind.

On the day of the card show, I packed up my entire collection (which was no small feat) and loaded it into my best friends car. He could not believe what I was doing. When I explained what I had in mind, he tried talking me out of it. He did not know that I had not told him the entire plan yet. Accompanied by several of our core group of buddies, we packed into my best friends car and drove to the card show so that I could sell my beloved collection. Despite the many inquiries as to what we were doing, I would not fully divulge what I had in mind. It probably seems like I should have been conflicted by what I was about to do, but I can assure you that I was not. I had too many problems with too much complexity to enjoy the simple pleasures of collecting anymore. The escape they had provided simply lost its luster.

When I arrived at the card show, I found a baseball card dealer and showed him what I had to sell. Now, I have to tell you... not only was I meticulous... I was EXTREMELY knowledgeable when it came to baseball card collecting. I KNEW what I had. I KNEW the value of every single card in my collection. I also knew how badly the dealer was trying to rob me with his incredibly lowball offer. But... I was young, eager, and I had a plan. Despite the fact that I probably received one tenth of what the collection was worth... I took the deal with a smile.

As soon as the cash was in my hand, my friends followed me to the Radio Shack at the other end of the mall, where I bought the biggest Boom Box radio in the store... along with the eight D-Cell batteries needed to run that behemoth. Next, we went to the record store. I bought an entire stack of heavy metal cassettes. As long as I live I will never forget the excitement on the faces of my friends. They were my true family. They were just like me... kids with nothing. Kids with no hope of ever HAVING anything. When we left the mall with my brand new radio (which was the meanest radio you ever laid your eyes on), along with all of our favorite heavy metal tunes, each and every one of us felt a hope that we never had before.

It was the ultimate sacrifice for that fifteen year old version of me.

Recently, I decided to check up on the value of that old collection. Me and a buddy looked online at card after card from that amazing collection of my past. The dollar value would have been a staggering thing to tally up. I have never once regretted my decision to sell those cards. Not even after seeing how valuable they are now. You see, the music that I bought on that day... it saved me. Time and time again, it saved me. It saved my friends too. We were dead end kids. We had nothing before I made that sacrifice. After, we had the music and all of the joy that it could provide. Everywhere we went, that music went with us. We took turns carrying that monstrously heavy radio... volume cranked up the entire time... and it made all of our lives that much better.

In the decades since, music has never lost its importance. No matter where I am. No matter what I am doing. Music is with me. It is a gift beyond value.

As always, thank you for reading. -John Alexander

The Bitter Taste of Defeat

April 13th, 2018

The Bitter Taste of Defeat

When I was nine years old, my art teacher told our class about a special contest that was being held. The school was having a painting contest for the fourth and fifth graders! Each student would do a painting of their own choosing and put it on display in the gymnasium. The gallery would be left standing for two days so that each class from every grade could view the paintings and vote for their favorites. At the end of the second day, the whole school would gather in the gymnasium and the winner would be announced! It was going to be a very fun thing for everybody.

At the time, I happened to be a rather creative (but extremely misbehaved) fourth grader. I was very good at drawing things like tanks, airplanes, and cars... old roadsters happened to be a specialty of mine. For my painting, I thought very hard on what I wanted to do. I finally settled on what I thought would make a really cool thing to hang on a wall... I painted an old car ( it looked like a roadster from the 30's ) driving down a road. The sun could be seen hanging in a cloudy blue sky with snow clad mountains in the background. An airplane could be seen flying in the distance. I worked very, very hard on this painting and was quite proud of it.

When the gallery was set up, I simply could not wait to get into the gym to see how my painting looked hanging up next to everybody else's works. When I found it, I was very excited. I had taken the time to look at each and every other painting in the gym and honestly liked mine more than any other. Finally, it was time to hear who the winner was. I waited with nervous anticipation as the principal stood up and prepared to read the winners name off of the little card he held...

Well, before I can tell you what you may be already guessing at, I have to tell you about a little something that happened a few months prior to this contest. Some of you may have heard of a little movie called Star Wars. No? Well... it was a snazzy little space movie that literally every single child in the known universe worshipped in a positively biblical way ( myself included of course ). It had just hit the movie theatres. You may be wondering, why would this have any relevance in a story about a painting contest held a long time ago in an elementary school far far away? It's simple... nearly every painting in the building had to do with, you guessed it... Star Wars.

So. There I sat with bated breath as the principal read the name that was written on his little card. I closed my eyes, so nervous about inevitably being thrust into the spotlight. When he read my name out loud, I had no idea what I was going to do! As you no doubt have surmised, the name on that little card did not sound anything like MINE. I opened my eyes first in bewilderment, then with utter shock at the realization that everybody was clapping loudly for another kid instead of me!

I sat in stunned silence as the principal was joined by our art teacher in front of the winning painting. The boy who won was a fellow fourth grader from the same class as me. While the student body continued clapping, he was asked to join the principal and art teacher before his painting. When the clapping began to die down, the principal asked him to describe the painting for everybody. I will be happy to describe it in my own words...

The painting depicted a heated space battle between the evil empire and the heroic rebel forces... one of the many space battles depicted in the gymnasium that day. Imperial star destroyers ( lopsided triangles ) shot at x-wing fighters ( lopsided flying x's ). Lopsided stars could be seen in the convoluted background, along with the 'death star' ( a lopsided circle with another lopsided circle inside of it ). Triangles, X's, and 'shooting lines' covered the entire painting. It was a big hit... a REALLY big hit.

I was not impressed.

Not only was I not impressed... I was angry. I felt my cheeks color red with rage. I felt my hands tighten into fists. 'How can you people not see that those are just triangles and X's??' I wanted to shout. C'mon man... a SECOND GRADER could have painted that! Look at my CAR! It has doors... it has spoked wheels that look like they are spinning! Look at the AIRPLANE! It has wings. It has a propeller and a cockpit! The mountains even have SNOW on them for crying out loud! My god! There are at least fourteen other paintings just like the one he did! I demand a recount! YOU PEOPLE ARE BLIND! YOU... YOU... ER... oops... sorry... this is just a story about something that happened a long time ago in an elementary school far far away.

Back to the story:

I did not demand a recount. Nor did I accost anybody regarding their choice to vote for the epic star wars battle scene. I did feel deeply upset though. In my young mind I had won that contest. I have to wonder though, if I were able to see those paintings side by side today... would I feel the same way? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I cannot say for sure what I may think now. What I CAN say is that as a nine year old boy, I did not like The Bitter Taste of Defeat. I did not feel like congratulating my fellow classmate on his victory. Nor did I feel the need to compliment his painting. I sulked. I pouted. I acted like a big, fat, baby. When I realized how I was acting, I felt deeply ashamed of myself. I wanted to be better than that... more than I wanted to win the contest in fact. Losing felt miserable. Acting like a loser felt even more awful.

Until today, I had not thought about this life event for many, many years. When the memory of it hit me, it brought a big smile to my face. It was my very first art contest after all. Despite all of my hard work, I fell short of victory. At the time it seemed like winning that contest was somehow an important thing. I do not even know why I felt that way. But The Bitter Taste of Defeat taught me something about myself. It taught me that losing sucks, but acting in a way that makes you ashamed of yourself is worse.

Luckily, the lesson has carried on in life.

(Originally posted October 31, 2014)

Once upon a time in a Factory Near You

June 29th, 2017

I began my factory career in September of 1996. When I first began, I often said that I had no intention of becoming a thirty-year man… but if I did become one, there are far worse things that I could have done with my time. During those early years, there were more than 2000 people working in our facility, which had been a pillar of the community for the better part of a century. In those days, finding a decent parking space was almost as difficult as finding an open seat in the cafeteria.

At the time of my hiring, all eight floors of the massive structure were alive with activity. There was not one corner of the facility that was not being utilized for something. Everywhere that you looked, people were bustling their way from one place to another, frantically trying to keep pace with the tremendous amount of production that we were responsible for. It was hard work. Every day was a concentrated blast of activity that left me exhausted by the time I punched the clock to go home.

Despite the often grueling nature of my day to day routine, the people always made the efforts worthwhile. Many were the people who left an indelible impression upon me. First, we became friends. We worked hard together, struggled together, and always laughed together. No matter how hard we worked, we made sure to have fun while we did it. Day after day, year after year, we fought side by side in the trenches, until finally, we became family.

In those early years it was easy to laugh. There were so many of us who became close friends that the tremendous rift between upper management and production workers such as ourselves did not seem to matter much. Despite a recurrent theme of blatant disrespect, and a clear and present “us and them” mentality lorded over production workers, we still managed to work hard and have fun while we did it. However, nothing lasts forever. As the years wore on, we watched production dwindle as line after line left the facility, never to return. Where once we were the crown jewel of the corporation, our plant began to degenerate at a steady pace. While we watched our products leave, so too did we watch the labor pool steadily decline.

As the years of decline slowly passed, the facility became more and more empty. Entire floors became gutted out ruins with only the sound of air handling units to give them a semblance of life. Walking through these areas invoked the ghosts of past activity. The mind could actually see the ghostly shadows of equipment long removed, operated by faces long gone. Only the sound of near silence could break the spell before the actual voices and sounds of the past became a reality. As more and more portions of the plant took on these sepulchral qualities, the writing on the wall became more and more pronounced. The inevitable conclusion would not be a good one.

On November 5, 2015, the entire labor force was suddenly gathered together and herded into a remote warehouse that most people did not even know existed. As we all chatted nervously, shuffling from foot to foot in anticipation of what was to come, a man stepped up to the front of the crowd and called for silence. After some jostling about, he was granted a nervous quiet which allowed him to read the edict which he had come to deliver. Flanked by our plant manager, as well as various other higher-ups in the corporate hierarchy, the man read the announcement that our plant would be closing permanently in the early part of 2017. Our careers were ending. Our jobs would be sent elsewhere. It could be said that we had been running on life support for quite some time. After that man read the edict, it was obvious that the plug had been pulled. So began the slow and agonizing death of what was once the centerpiece of the organization.

Fast forward a little bit to the end of June, 2017:

Today, as I cleaned out my locker, I found a funny note that I had written to a friend who is long since removed. Yellowed with age, the note which had been tucked away for over fifteen years nearly brought tears to my eyes. It was a joke letter supposedly written by one of my fellow coworkers to another. It was merely one in a series that I had written once upon a time. These joke letters would circulate amongst our group on a regular basis, and we would laugh hysterically at each other as we read them. Part of what made our days so special was the fact that we teased each other incessantly. It was all in the name of fun, and a necessary part of who we were as friends and teammates. As I read the note, I remembered all of the joy that it brought to us. I recalled how important it was to each and every one of us that we be able to laugh with each other… and to laugh at each other in turn. No matter what we were going through either at work, or at home… we could always count on each other to make the day full of laughter.

Now, all of those friends are gone, my locker is empty, and all that I have left is a note that I had written once upon a time. Not long after reading this note, I found myself sitting alone in the very cafeteria where once no seat could be found. As I sat there alone, whiling away the last lunch break that I would ever take in that facility, I could not help but think of the isolated feeling that I had when I very first was hired. Despite hundreds of people surrounding me, I knew nobody and felt alone. If one of the strangers had gotten up from his or her seat, walked over to me and said “One day you will be the last man standing in this plant”, I would have laughed out loud at the utter absurdity of the whole thing. For some reason… I cannot seem to laugh right now. The laughter will return, it always does. But… somehow I know that it will never be the same.

The Foot Eating Man

June 24th, 2015

The Foot Eating Man

In my last blog entry, I told the story of an encounter with a coworker regarding my artwork. That encounter was strange enough in its own right, but it pales by comparison to the one that I had with 'The Foot Eating Man'.

While occupying some downtime at work, I happened to be browsing my online gallery at Fine Art America. As I looked at one image after another, a relatively new coworker who had been watching over my shoulder suddenly says:

"You don't think that is ART do you? I mean... really..."
I turned to him with a bemused look on my face and asked "Why wouldn't I?"
"Well, when I look at art, I want to see something beautiful. Not headless people running around, or people with animal heads. It is ugly. I would not buy that."

After a moment of laughing at the situation, I told him that most people who actually buy art are only looking for something that matches their furniture to their drapes and have little or no interest in artwork designed to provoke thought. I was still clicking from one image to the next as I spoke. As I clicked on one image in particular, he stops me and says "You see... like THAT one... what is THAT supposed to be? I would not buy that." He was speaking of my image 'Dreaming of a Nameless Fear'.

I looked at him and dropped the bomb:

"You do realize that this is MY artwork... don't you?" I moved the pointer over by John Alexander to emphasize my point.

The look of incredulity on his face was utterly priceless. I could almost see him eating his own foot. Before he could speak, I let him off the hook. I told him that I did not take his view personally. I explained that we are all unique individuals equipped with our very own interpretations of what we find appealing. I then scrolled down the page, showing him comment after comment after comment and said that luckily for me, there are plenty of people out there who enjoy what I do.

I pointed out that my images have purpose. While looking at Dreaming of a Nameless Fear I said:

"You see a monstrous, headless figure chasing a terrified man across a gray and gloomy dreamscape... and you think it looks ugly." I looked at him meaningfully. "It IS meant to be ugly in a way. Look at the title look at the description. It is an image that illustrates the terrors of subconscious fear and anxiety. In your dreams, your fears do not always have a face... which makes them even more monstrous. All of my images have such meanings. You simply have to look at them differently than the way you look at paintings of flowers or landscapes."

I am quite certain his opinion was not swayed in the least. His perception of what he finds appealing was not changed for the sake of my explanation. This does not bother me in any way. As I mentioned already, we are all unique individuals. We have our very own opinions. Not everybody looks for profound meaning in artwork. Not everybody thinks art needs to have a point.

Look at all of the artists and photographers who make a living off of flowers plants butterflies boats birdsfruit baskets puppies and kittens. There is nothing thought provoking, nothing profound, and nothing meaningful in such things. They are easy to identify with. People buy them because they are familiar. You can go anyplace that sells art and find these images in abundance. They sell because they are easy to look at. Hell, even I can enjoy looking at familiar things.

Not everybody likes the surreal or the abstract. Not everybody wants a message. Not everybody wants to look at something profound. And of course, not everybody is going to be drawn to what I do. I am fine with that. The world of art has room for everything. I hope that in the end, people will look at what I do and find it to be important. I feel as if it is.

Despite my encounter with The Foot Eating Man I feel quite alright with the direction I have taken creatively. I personally find quite a bit of beauty in what I do, and do not find it to be ugly as he so pointedly stated. The Foot Eating Man can go buy a picture of a kitten sniffing a flower as far as I am concerned!

As always, I appreciate you taking the time to stop by thank you for reading.

-John Alexander

Digital Defense

May 20th, 2015

Digital Defense

Recently, while at work, I was stopped in the hallway by a fellow coworker. He had heard that I was an artist and was wondering if I did portraits... or to be more specific... caricatures. I replied that sadly, no... I did neither. I told him that what I do is much different. As I was en route to something important, I was unable to explain in any detail what I do creatively. Instead, I told him that I have a website which displays my artwork. He expressed interest, so I wrote my address on a napkin and handed it to him. I honestly didn't put any thought into it after walking away. Over the years, I have had many people express interest in my art on the rare occasions that I have brought it up, and rarely did they have any real intention of following up with an actual visit to my site. You can well imagine my surprise when a few days later, this very same coworker stopped me in the hallway once again...

"I went to your website" he said.
"Did you really?" I replied, with a very genuine look of surprise on my face.
"Yeah, I did. You have alot of HANDS in your artwork... did your realize that?"
"Yes. I have noticed that. What a great observation by the way. Thank you for looking."
It was at this point that he kind of cocked an eyebrow, tipped his head back, and hesitantly pointed out another observation that he had made. He noticed that my work was done on the COMPUTER. I told him that he was correct. He then gave me a look and began to say "Myeah... then you didn't really MAKE them..."
Now, before I tell you how I responded, it should be known that I have long, long ago let go of being defensive over my chosen medium. Some people may take such things personally, but I honestly do not. It is only a matter of people not understanding my medium. Back to the story:
I looked at him and started to chuckle knowingly...
"Ah, I see that you are one of the misinformed. You mistakenly believe that what I do is a matter of a few points and clicks and VOILA! ART!"
"Well... that pretty much IS the way of it... right?" he asked with a look of skeptical disbelief.
"Let's just say that many of my images... many of the works that you just looked at on my website... took me over 30 hours to make. That would be an awful lot of pointing and clicking wouldn't you say?"

Once again, I did not have the time to discuss the matter further. When I left him, I do not think that his opinion had really been swayed, and that did not bother me in the least. Nor does it now. However, it did make me think of the matter once again. I used to think about it fairly often in fact. Many have looked down upon my chosen medium for quite some time. In the eyes of many, digital artwork is not acknowledged in any way that could be considered positive. It is easy to see why when you think about it. On a computer, I do not have to prepare a canvas. Nor must I mix my color palette. I have an entirely different set of tools... and no clean up. I use multiple programs for multiple purposes... each one as important as the last... and each one requiring years of dedication to master. It has taken many years for me to get to the point where I am now. Much like painting... it takes time to become good at it.

I think much of the misconceptions are derived from the way we have been brought up to view computers. Many of us older folks grew up with sci-fi movies and shows that depict computers as all powerful entities that can accomplish virtually anything they are commanded to. "Computer: paint me a landscape." Beep, boop, beep bop... (( robotic voice )) "Here is your painting... is there anything else master?"

In the real world, computers do not work in such a way. They only do what we make them to do. I know that my own particular computer has no voice command allowing me to order virtually anything I want from it. If I tell it to create a bizarre, vaguely disquieting, surreal image with a touch of social commentary as it's primary focus... I will be no closer to finishing the image than if I were to simply shout that command out of my window. Sci-fi channel be damned... I have to do it all manually.

Computer novices and those who may not be overly interested in art are not the only ones that I have known to possess such misconceptions regarding my chosen medium. Traditional artists have been thumbing their noses at digital art for as long as it has existed. Personally, I think it is rather silly. It is sort of like athletes of different sports beating their chests and saying "I am more of an athlete than those of OTHER sports". A basketball player thumbs his nose at a soccer player. A soccer player thumbs his nose at a football player. A football player thumbs his nose at a mixed martial artist etc. etc.

It really IS silly when you think about it.

At the end of the day, what really matters is what is created. As artists, we all have our own unique things that we bring to the table. Some of us have been doing it for quite some time, while others are at the beginnings of their own artistic journeys. Some of us create things that are compelling. Some of us do not. It really is in the eye of the beholder. The tools that we use to create the art within us are simply a means to an end. What difference if it is a paint brush, or a digital pen and mouse? If the finished product causes people to pause for even a moment in their own daily struggles just to stop and look... well... it must be art.

As always, thank you for taking the time to visit. Thank you for the kind words of support. Mostly, thank you for being there... wherever 'there' may be.

-John Alexander