What’s in the Smiling Bag?
Just what is in the Smiling Bag?
I recently visited an exhibition of work by the artist Sister Corita Kent. She produces a fantastic body of work which was great to see up close, but it was her process that I was most interested in. As with most artists, their working process is the most important and interesting thing about them. I believe she was very conscious of this.
She came up with a list of rules , which can be summarised jovially as “there are no rules”, but there is a definite theme of finding, acknowledging, and respecting your references and role models running throughout them all. Particularly;
“GENERAL DUTIES OF A STUDENT:
PULL EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR TEACHER.
PULL EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR FELLOW STUDENTS.”
Although she was, in fact, a teacher, this could be taken as acknowledging any kind of influence in your life and work. And this doesn’t, nay shouldn’t, have to come from the same field that you’re working in. Independent film maker Jim Jarmusch has this to say on the matter;
“…Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows…”
So… learn to recognise your influences and references. Actively embrace them. Here are three people, among many, that I believe have influenced my own work over the years.
David Lynch – Film Director
I’ve been a fan of Lynch for as long as I can remember. From him, I take his uncensored, stream of consciousness approach to directing. For him, the creation of a movie isn’t a one way process, or two or three even. The direction of his films can be changed based on spotting a red car on the way to the office, or someone fluffing their lines on set, or even a dream he had the night before. He once famously integrated set dresser Frank Silva into the plot of Twin Peaks after he accidentally trapped himself on set!
Incidentally, the name ‘Smiling Bag’ is a Twin Peaks reference.
Bill Hicks – Comedian
From Bill hicks I take his fearlessness of failure. He knew the material he was producing would have a limited audience, and to this day he hasn’t yet found a particularly strong following in his home country. A lot of other comedians would have changed their act or given up all together. But he didn’t. And the discovery that, in some parts of the world, people ‘Got’ him, was enough for him to keep going.
Jim Henson – Puppeteer
This is my favourite picture of Jim and Kermit. Now, take a good look at this picture and tell me how many people are in it.
That’s right… two.
From Jim Henson I take his ability to create fun from very limited elements, in this case a piece of green cloth and two ping pong balls, by simply injecting a bit of his own personality into it. Jim was such a master at this, that he effectively gave his creations life! And while there were some large technical challenges in producing the Muppet Show, the funniest stuff, the real magic, was always in the performance and the dialogue.
So… what’s in the Smiling Bag?
Of course there are more, but those three are at the top of my list. And the first thing you might notice about them is that none of them are in the field of videogames. Of course, many in this field do influence my work, but I think too many people these days, especially in the games field, draw from influences which are close to what they’re making themselves. And while that does still create originality, it’s never as potent as when it comes from somewhere else entirely. To close, I’d like to borrow one more quote from Jean-Luc Godard, again via Mr. Jarmusch actually,
“Always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.’”
So the answer to the question “What’s in the Smiling Bag” is ‘everything I’ve ever seen, listened to, read, experienced, done… it’s a bit of all the people I’ve mentioned in this blog, and many others. It’s me.’
What’s in yours?