Without art we lose beauty. Art is the ability to find and translate beauty. Beauty is hope. Beauty is always around but not always available. She can be quite elusive at times. Artist must follow her and remind us all that she is still alive.
This work requires we take the long view of things, and a humble one. It’s easy for the artist to inflate his importance to the world. Like any field, dominance in that field is quickly mistaken for dominance worldwide. We forget our niches. Even the greatest of songs will ultimately be relegated to the place of background music. Great art masterpieces will be used to dress up a living room. They will be forgotten, or at least under-utilized, or perhaps rightly utilized.
Think for a second of the shoe-maker (or cobbler). They make good, sturdy shoes that protect our feet and hopefully keep them comfortable. They provide humanity a great service, one that is completely taken for granted regularly. What if providing the world a great song or a great piece of visual art is really more like making a great shoe (not even so much in the fashion sense). Through artistry, integrity, and commitment we can provide great pieces that will be put in a closet. In other words however important a work may be at one time it will not remain that for long, especially in today’s world. The reality is that humans can only consume so much, and for so long. After we absorb something we have to move on.
The artist, fortunately, is the same. He or she must move on as well. He must find a new thing to say, a fresh reality to explore and articulate. Like the consumers, the artist can only live with and under a certain creation for so long before moving on.
Of course certain works make it into a category of “transcendent,” which means at its core that a work is timeless, or breaks normal cyclical rules about consumption. It has a sense of timelessness, or “staying power” - longevity in its connective power. But those are exceptions, and even those have cycles of use and re-use. The reality is that we are creating consumables, things enjoyed (consumed), and then forgotten, at least for the moment. Lasting impact, though, may have already happened.
That is the magic really of art (and all created things really): we will never totally know there intrinsic value. No matter our attempts to measure outcomes we will never accurately know how our pieces effected others, let alone ourselves.
How can we know the reality of a world without our works? Even the slightest influence of a background song my have changed the nature of reality for one big decision. Let’s be honest, it usually is the small things. Art may be one of those small things.
Ours is ultimately not to know the value of intangible things. Inner compelling may not be justification for some people, and certainly for some pieces, but it ultimately must play a part in the value of art, if not for the artist.
In our valuation of art we mustn't forget to measure its effect on the artist. What might life look like for the artist without his art? What would happen if an artist did not have a creative outlet? What would spoil and turn rotten within him?
The End of Hope (part 7)
The final word is that there is no final word. The artist always attempts to create “the holy spectral shiver” in his work, something told or made so well as to carry the capacity to actually transform upon experience. Literally.
Many will offer here class sort of debates that art never makes its way to lower classes who have not been trained to make it a priority (or who do not that the time to learn). That is the true power of the greatest art, however. The greatest makes its way through the classes. It lures even the coldest, pragmatic cynic. The kid from nowhere who simply finds something about it irresistible. He will not have the language to explain it, but he will KNOW it.
Most artists have had themselves this sort of transformative experience. Only after receiving such a mind-altering thrill can one truly be inspired to create it. Our ability to receive great art (of all kinds) is directly proportionate to our ability to make it.
So inspiration must be a 2-way communication. We must always be open to the move of the Muse. She will draw us in to something that seems so far removed from anything we are doing. She draws out an insight we didn’t know we were looking for. Then days or weeks later that insight or line makes its way perfectly into a song or art project. Incredible fit. Unbelievable. So good it actually brings into question who is actually writing this thing: she or us? Is she actually the author?
Perhaps we are co-writers, but it seems clear the deeper we get into the process that she is definitely the executive and we the associate. Of course we must have discipline and put the pen to paper but she keeps it from being only mundane business. She gives the whole writing process its meaning. She keeps us coming back time and again to the core, to the essence. She reminds us what words on paper can become. She lifts us out of our limitations to see the transcendent healing power of our work.
And we mustn't forgot it is her who gives us the call in the first place. Think of it. Why did we get involved in the arts so many years ago anyway? Why were so particularly drawn to certain forms and ways of expression? Do we create our tastes or discover them? The reality is that we, along with our teachers and families, etc discovered a deep-rooted passion for our art form. It was already there, responding with great fervor when first given the chance.
It may not have been love at first sight but there definitely was some sort of strong personal connection. Something about the thing kept us coming back again and again. The lord of inspiration was tantalizing us with her beauty.
When we said yes we were rewarded, vindicated with a certain confidence we had in no other arena of life. There, in the midst of our destined art form, we became something new, something powerful, something capable of creation. We found our voice!
The End of Hope (part 5)
So in the end the end is joy. Joy encompasses everything: the pleasure of attaining a personal goal or dream, the experience of great community and culture, and the mystery of the zeitgeist, knowing is good right now.
Joy is capable of withholding immediate knowledge, a skill very important to the joyful. There will be many occasions where the rationale for certain things won’t be there. At this level, things are self-justified, or beyond justification. They just are.
And the authority for doing such things is self-evident. It comes from within, ultimately from God if you can swallow that. No man can bestow it upon another. It is completely independent. Joy in this sense is for the brave individual.
But courageous individuals in this experience can share it with others. That is the real beauty. Our joy must be found within us, but can be shared and amplified outside of us. There is a rich tapestry of share joy, which ultimately becomes hope.
**But it must start within us. And unfortunately evidence of the gift is usually found in restlessness and passion. It is the consistent feeling of being off balance, without the comfort of a home. It is a necessary restlessness.
This is the dying to oneself that must be first. This is the dedication to the process. This is the allegiance to the end. At the time it does not feel good. It does not have a sense of hope and ultimate purpose. It feels rather horrible and hopeless actually.
There is a grieving process. We must lose our “right” to getting something “out” of the process. We are simply committing our whole selves to it. We have no idea at the time what that means. There is no master plan or career path highlighted.
It is simply death to oneself and commitment to one’s gift, to the thing that was implanted in us without us. It is a surrender to the process of growing this fledgling seed into whatever it is to become, which we can at best vaguely intuit.
***That may sound like a deterministic sort of will power. “I will do this come what may.” It sounds like a fierce sort of discipline. But for the creative the journey through death into life is not a matter of mere will power. There is much else going on.
First of all there is the obvious call into the process. Where does “it” come from? “It” is not some idea we conjure up. Though some may try to take credit for “it.” The truth is we do not create the invitation. “It” comes from another.
And not everyone hears “it.” No matter how hard we try to explain to someone who has never heard this call we come up short. It is very similar to the attempt to explain a vivid dream. No matter how soon after we wake up, the brain can’t piece it all together.
Even if we can, it sounds ridiculous. The other person may politely listen but there is absolutely no way they can feel the intensity of the thing we just experienced. That’s how the call to create comes. It overwhelms us then sneaks away.
The End of Hope (Part 3)
Is there a reward for hope? Is there a practical reason to continue hoping? Is success in some form or another a part of cultivating hope within us? In other words, do we believe that what we seek is better than where we are at?
Some will try to philosophically contend that hope somehow is an end in itself, that it is sort of a state of mind or attitude. While not all wrong, there does seem to necessarily be more for the conditions of what we call hope to blossom. In other words there is an object to our hope. And somewhere innate in that object is not just its creation (or bringing forth into reality), but also its blossoming (what may in our time be connected to “selling”). In other words, success.
Do we pursue some creative endeavor only in the prospects of its possible success? Or is there something innate to the calling that is deeply part of us regardless of success? Yes. But somehow our job is to get the thing inside us out. Some at this point will bring out exceptions of course. People who did what they were called to do but faced only failure. Some may mention Jeremiah the prophet - called to failure. Perhaps. But then how do we know his name today?
We think for a prophet success is people listening to the words spoken and changing. Not so. Success for the prophet is getting his word out. Period. Did Jeremiah do a good job in getting the word out from his heart to the public? Yes.
That’s what we don’t realize. How did Jeremiah get the attention of the royal courts? How did his word make such a big impact so as to be considered a threat to the royal way of life? He must have done something to get the popular vote. Or did he? Even they didn’t like what he was saying. In that sense, he was universally annoying. But he didn’t stop. And people didn’t stop hearing his words from God. He did exactly what he needed to do. Isn‘t that the kind of success we mean?
Success isn’t albums sold or price per painting, but it may include that. We really get to determine what success looks like for us. We get to tell our creative endeavors what the goals are. No one else can tell us what the goals are.
Obviously viability will likely be one. We are not free to determine what viability means (in other words, it comes down to a certain number of sales, etc.). But we are free to determine the values and vision of our particular company.
We have the creative freedom to dream it up, to fight it out, to discover what it looks like for us. That is the beauty of it all. Too often we get hamstrung on the initial viability needs, to the point where that becomes the only goal.
The goal is the what. We define the “what’ whereby we judge ourselves successful or not. What are your goals? You decide them. You must figure out what those really are. What is it you want to do? Only you can decide that question.
Process of Becoming (Part 4)
The further we get into the “how” of marketing and selling our products the cheaper they will feel. We will realize inevitably it is the same exact process of selling no matter what kind of product. We will also realize that ultimately we have a “product.”
That feels cheap for some artists. Others have no problem insisting on the valuation of their art being high, advocating for their work against ignorance. “Does art have a value?” They insist on that question. If so, charge like it. When it comes to music in our culture it has little valuation. People love it. There is no doubt about that. But people are generally unwilling to pay for it, or to only pay a small amount. It has no scarcity so it ultimately gets valued as something abundant.
How with music, as an example, do we counter-culture to bring a valuation that makes sense? How do we align closer to people’s great love for it with a price that seems to suggest or honor that? Maybe that is where the live ticket price comes in. Any such methodology discussions are essential, but so completely relative to time and situation that they do very little good here, save to remind the artist of the importance of his time and team. Both are essential to keeping focus on the prize. This is where DIY has served artists horribly. Artists tend to control, manage carefully details, etc. When it comes to the business aspects of art there are simply too many things to manage with that sort of precision. It will drive a wedge between art and artist. Very soon the artist will feel more like a salesman. Suffice it to say that there is a reason artists do not go into sales. Most are simply horrible at it. And it might be the last thing they should do if they actually want to make a career of their art.
You will need a team. Sounds ridiculous to even think of with limited budgets and constrained time already. “It’s easier to learn and do it myself.” At this point, maybe. But what is at stake ultimately is the very art you are here to make, sell, etc. You will jeopardize your art without a team. That includes marketing, business, etc, but it also includes other creatives weighing in on who you are. We all need support. We all need encouragement. We all need people who know what it’s like.
A team of like-minded creatives keeps us moving forward. They in no way reduce or supplant our need to be alone, to write in isolation. But they can inspire the very act of doing so with faith and gusto. We can face isolation with hope. Somehow being a part of a creative collaborative of sorts pulls out of us a sense of responsibility to our gifts. It reminds us that our gifts bear the weight of eternity, that we are not without a commission. The gifts themselves are that commission. It is so easy to lose track of those creative gifts though. Prevailing culture and life itself will quickly swallow them back. We must learn to protect and wield them with grace. This almost necessitates having friends with similar pursuits.
As the inner creative life is protected and given the freedom to be pursued there is a sense that our life is not our own. We begin to sense that pulling or compelling to go into new areas. This takes focus and great courage. With like-minded creatives this shared fear can almost lessen its impact. We are moving forward into the unknown together. We will all be going different ways for different pursuits but all in some way have shared a similar journey. We have learned together the joys of creative process, birthing something out of nothing. We have also all shared the burden of seeing that thing born raised into a little person. We collectively have felt the sting of failure to launch.
Together we empower each-other to fail. Failure gets put in its proper place, not as something to be utterly avoided but something to be celebrated, learned from, grown into. Failure can never stop us from becoming who are meant to be! Failure can wear many faces. And just as we seldom define clearly what success looks like we give our potent ability at self sabotage ammo when we allow failure to be defined by our inner critic. Failure is simply the refusal to try. There are times when it becomes much easier to believe lies that make it convenient for us to not try. We get seduced into believing all sorts of things about the condition of our efforts (“this was failed from the start,” “you should have never started”). Believing means trusting in what we have been entrusted with. In other words, if we can start with the assumption that we did not ask for our gifts, they were already there we can remove so many of the pride issues and other lies. If the gifts are honestly there then a failure to believe in them is simply a lie based on fear. We did not decide their existence. We did not conjure them up in our brains. We simply discovered them and in some way are held accountable for their realization.
That discovery may be one of the most important for the artist or creative. We do not ultimately create. We mine or excavate what is deeply written innate in our capacity. We become guides of the interior. We work from the inside out. This could be in some ways the job description of the artist: interior excavator. One who digs into the human heart (earth) to discover what latent realities are already there. One who interprets the data and reconstructs the pieces to the public.
This again must be a fearless process. Fear can only interfere with such work. The artist therefore must be fearlessly honest with the process. Again, their job is not to create, but to articulate their discoveries of what is already there. They must enter this work with the sort of passion of a potent archaeological dig. We are onto something big here. What we discover can change the world, or at least the way people understand the world. Inner realities are worth (or worthy of) the process.
Often we get going on a project and we get hung up on the obstacles being outside us. We assume sort of a halt. This thing or that thing isn’t lining up. Until we get that thing resolved outside we can’t really get things moving inside. This is most certainly not true. Our job is to keep focus on what it is we do. We focus on the “what,” over and over and over. As we articulate the “what,” dream about the what, sing and paint about the what. That is our primary role.
Many a great artist have been pulled into the “how,” some to the point of making a career of it. They eventually become “how to” experts to other artist types. They are worn out by the inward task of staying focused on the “what.” There is nothing wrong or less than about the “how,” it is just not the most important place. An artist gifts dictate for him what thing she can pursue. The gift itself is the guide. Though entrepreneurism is required, it is done on our terms.
We don’t limit the scope of our work by being stubbornly anti-capital. We don’t harbor a sense of guilt for making a profit on our work so that we can actually sustain it. But we also aren’t necessarily involved in the exploitation of that work. Somebody will have to be. That is the reality. Exploit is such a pornographic term, but ultimately the point. There is a necessary process of taking your project from inside you to outside, and then from your living room or basement to the community.
How far beyond the local community you as an artist want to take your work is a matter of conscience and sometimes economics. Can the local community sustain your project? In NYC, most likely yes. In a tiny town, probably not.
Again, the point here is do NOT get caught up. Don’t get stuck in this area trying to “figure it out on your own.” If you do, slowly but surely you will loose your grip on what is most important: your creative process. That is your untouchable!
So the time must come for the artist to decide fundamentally what he wants. He must decide what he really wants to do with his art - NOT what kind of art he wants to make, but what impact he hopes it will leave. Intentionally unintentional.
In other words, the things you create have an impact on people. Now, of course, we can not control how people will experience that art (we can not know what experiences they will bring to interpret it), but we can control what we are trying to say.
This is not pedantic or coerced art. This is not us telling inspiration what to do. This is very, very high level work. It require some years of doing to survey others: how does this music effect you? What does it do for you? Why do you listen?
Connecting their experience with our desire is probably the goal here, but we design the experience. There is no doubt about it. That is our job. We make the calls. We deliberate over the colors and chords and words before they see them.
We do not ask their advice. We create. We can seek input, but we discern. We are responsible to the muse. We must take ownership of the piece, no matter how collaboratively it was created. For the movie director that is very collaborative.
Still, there is only one listed as The Director. Someone has to be the leader. Someone has to make the final calls. Someone has to take responsibility. Not just for commercial success, but for emotional impact. Where will this experience lead people?
It is an offering though. Remember, our artistic creations are offerings, ultimately to the Muse who inspired them. They are meant to be received there first. After that, we can not really know how a piece will connect with people. It is not for us to know.
And the reality is art is ridiculous. But that is what makes it powerful! Art is frivolous, impractical, nonsensical. At best it entertains. At worse it completely distracts. Still without it as Dostoevsky once said, we are left only with reality and political solutions.
Without art there is no imagination. The world becomes a very dark place. Chapter 7 of Notes from the Underground contain his “the most advantageous advantage” philosophy, noting the power of a man who acts out of his own volition.
Men who act from the inside out have a rare freedom. It is not independence as we think of it today. That mostly means detachment, aloofment, today’s “rationality.” What he is talking about is truly being free from cause and effect thinking.
Doing something to do it. That may be a guttural definition of art. Why a man does it, other than some internal drive to create, is a mystery, even to him. That’s the beauty, that’s the war cry of art. I seek to please no one here but the non-rational drive in me!
That is about the point the artist really starts to make art. The critic becomes a figment. Hipster celebrity and taste-making become a sideshow. The real stage is this live birth of something un-contained, something direct from the gods themselves.
As artist we are the mother, not the father. We are the carrier, but the Seed has divine origin. We become like Mary, overwhelmed by the Spirit and suddenly into an adventure unlike any other. The artist echoes, “Let it be.”
Of course, as "mother" we birth the baby. We have the labor pains. We are inconvenienced by discomfort. Like a mother we also prepare knowing that from the day that baby is born the goal will be someday to let it go, to send it off.
We are plagued by the inevitable tension of loving something so much that we can not keep to ourselves. It is completely ours for a while. It is completely dependent upon us for many years. But someday it will get a life of its own and do what it will.
In those days, we can not control it. Once out into the real world it creates its own life. We direct it. And, of course, for many years we speak directly into it, influencing its outcomes. But the point is that it becomes its own independent life.
That is both comforting and terrifying for most artists. “That piece is part of my soul, now the world will see my barred secrets and judge me.” Yes, like a parent, it is true. We will be judged by our kids. But also like a parent of an adult, we won’t.