The Continuum: The Connected Web of Art, Business and Love
In this wide-ranging piece, Simon Meek discusses the threads of art, business and relationships that have led him to his current place in the world.
The scene: The mid-nineties, somewhere in rural Bedfordshire, UK.
The twentysomething me is sitting on the floor of a house having a quiet epiphany. It's the house of the manager of my band and I'm reading art books from her collection, while someone strums a guitar nearby. The manager's cooking something intriguing for tea while on the phone she's organising an installation for the artist sat on the sofa to my right. Someone's just brought round a very early PowerBook and we're thinking how cool this gadget is and how we might use this thing called PageMaker to do better flyers and posters for the band.
This was the first period in my life where I consciously understood a thing I now call "the continuum". This flash of intuition has guided almost everything I've done since then, and revolves around the idea that everything is connected, and all art, business and relationships are essentially components of a single entity.
Bear with me. We'll tackle art first.
Let's start with art, because that's the easy bit.
I think that whether you're a writer, a traditional artist, a poet, a dancer, a chef or a musician, you're doing exactly the same thing, albeit in different media with different toolsets. That thing is communicating truth, or at least truth as you see it.
For instance, if you can write a song, I believe that with a bit of practice you can write a film script. If you're an installation artist, you can likely stage a play. It might seem a stretch that a musician can be an amazing photographer, but I think it makes perfect sense. If you have something worth saying, you can say it in any medium. Andy Summers from The Police is a great photographer, and he clearly sees the commonality between art forms. His website suggests that:
“...music and photography are kindred spirits in that they are nonverbal arts, but handily, may have interchangeable terms.”
Stage two of one.
In the mid-nineties I was primarily a musician, but I was learning other skills too. We were running our own record label, communicating with the local press, putting on shows and, crucially for me, making our own artwork. This was to be my first brush with design, but more importantly, it made me realise that once you throw what could loosely be called "business" into the art mix, it's hard to take it away again.
Schedules, budgets and logistics provided a framework for getting stuff done and out the door, and I found that getting stuff done on time and on budget was just about as enjoyable as writing songs, and that they had a symbiotic relationship, or were maybe just two sides of the same coin. And if you do everything yourself, and you mostly pull it off, you pretty soon decide that with some research and practice, you can turn your hand to many different things.
In my case, the natural progression from using Quark to design record sleeves was to move into more general design, and this led me to my first job, designing interfaces for touchscreen kiosk systems with what would now be a called a startup.
At the same time, I was investigating this new thing called the internet, but very definitely from the perspective of making a site for my band at the time (that artist from the sofa was now my singer). I bought a copy of Laura Lemay's Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML in 14 Days, and set to. A couple of weeks later, I'd made my first website. A friend told me at the time that I'd never write another song. I knew that was rubbish, because for me, writing a song and making a website were pretty much the same thing.
And so, in the later nineties, I got a job in London as a web designer. Music and playing guitar had led me there, but it would be relationships that would get me to leave it again.
Controversial I suspect it may be, but I regard relationships as part of the continuum too. They're there to be nurtured and cherished, and I love it when a relationship — by luck or design — recontextualises itself to form something new. For instance, that band I mentioned with the artist who was also a singer? The third member of that band was a brilliant beats programmer/producer figure called Matt, who I'd been at university with. The band fell by the wayside, but the relationships remained, and at a particularly good music festival, Matt and I decided we'd start a business to do web stuff. That business was Elated, and working for Elated gave me the out from the London job.
Incidentally, while in that job in London, I met both my wife and a new musical collaborator. More of the latter in a minute.
Let's briefly recap.
The continuum brings together art, business, and relationships, all of which are parts of the same thing, and shape your life. One thing begets another, and the strands push and pull each other, forming a semi-chaotic state over which you can exert just a touch of control. As Bill Hicks said: "it's just a ride".
These days I still regard everything as one enormous whole. Nothing is separate. The guy I meet in my son's playground turns out to be in need of a keyboard player and invites me to go and play a few dates with him in Europe, but also has a really interesting day job and can teach me a lot.
People ask me more and more for video for their sites, so I learn how to shoot and edit video. It's all just storytelling and composition really, much like writing a song, or indeed structuring a web page.
The musical collaborator from that London job now works for a big museum in Oxford, and guess what? They need an identity, a site and a video for a side project. That's too much work for me on my own right now, so I get the artist from twenty years ago, who was then my singer (keep up at the back) and is now a D&AD award-winning freelance designer, to do the identity elements of the job. We all gather in Oxford to shoot the videos, subtly recontextualising the relationships as we go along, and meeting new people along the way. Now that's fun.
This approach does have some downsides though. I'm coming up with little projects all the time and find it really hard to switch off. Because everything is one, its hard to keep things separate, so things that should just be fun become slightly tainted by wondering how to bring in other people or ideas to make them "better". I'm still learning to say "no" to things that seem fun and to know when it's OK to leave business (or art) at the door.
This is not the end, beautiful friends.
But all in all, the continuum has served me well. The principles of fundamental inter-connectedness seem to hold true and work well. Most of all though, it's a way to make sense of the things that seem to lead us randomly from one place to another, and it encourages you to take what small amount of control you have and make the very best of it. I feel like there's much more the continuum can give me, like I'm just scratching the surface of it, and I'm looking forward to seeing what it throws up next.
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