Process of Becoming (Part 4)

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! 

Process of Becoming (Part 3)

Process of Becoming (Part 3)

Now let's talk about the public birthing phase of our projects. As we close in on completion, we are forced to deal with the realities of marketing. Marketing by its very nature must make many decisions about the nature of a piece and its purpose. Some artists may have the luxury of off-loading this area, or giving it over to their management, etc. Generally, some artists (some of the best) are simply overwhelmed by this area. They literally start to shut down during this transition.

No matter how great the marketing the process seems to make arbitrary this painful process they have just been through. They have just given birth to a baby after all. Some would like to spend a bit of time with it before going public. Is going public with the baby more like sending it off to boarding school OR more like bringing to a public event with family and friends? That is a great question. What is our relationship with a work once it has been birthed?

Obviously for the musician this will be much different than for the visual artist, who creates the work, then once procuring a buyer, is done with it. This process may take some time of course, but there is a definitive end to the relationship.

Not so with the musician. They create a life-long relationship with a piece whether they want to or not. That piece of art will forever be a part of their potential live catalogue, sometimes inspiring others haunting them with phases that now seem long past. That’s the great difficulty of many creatives post-birth, they want to make more babies. There is nothing wrong with growing the family, but you got to maintain and parent the ones that are already here too. Baby-making is the fun part! Rearing? Well...

So for the conscientious artist, seeing the baby grow and get strong enough to remain on its own is essential. It is obvious (and just as important) as the creating stage. It requires a different set of skills and work, but they must be involved.

This is the make or break point. Many artists want to maintain complete control of the process, much like they did in creating the thing. They know that world. It worked for them. Now they have to start entrusting parts of the process to others. They are essentially getting parenting help. One such person (a manager of sorts) will basically be another parent. But there must also be grandparents, teachers, aunts and uncles, and of course childcare providers. Some we pick, some we inherit.

Some artists, unlike the controlling types mentioned, have absolutely no trouble getting others to help. They are completely comfortable giving parts of their business to others. They understand their limited time and talents in such areas. Some in this vein, though, give up too much. Soon they find they have given up creative control of how their project is realized, and even how future projects are made. We begin to see how this launch process is extremely important and delicate. The truth be told, some secretly hope to fail. They can blame it on the process, the industry, their management, everything else. But really the key is to define failure clearly, so we do not get duped into believing inaccurately we failed.

Is commercial “success” the guiding light? How much? What does that even mean? How about things “going well”? Artists get very superstitious about these things. But the reality is very few artists know what it is they are really after. What is success?

I encourage here not defining the “how” but focusing on the “what.” What will it look like if we find success? What things will be happening as a result? This sort of visioning exercise is key to getting toward what it is art is really after.

For me, having my art realize its full potential (in other words, actually getting a project to the place where I love it and believe it is done) was enough. I just wanted the piece good enough. I wanted it to the place where I could say “yes!”

But that is not enough. Then what? What comes of this finished song? What does it create in people? Finished in the studio, for the performer, is not finished at all. We have to recreate that same passion and finish live with an audience.

How are those at an experience of my art going to be moved? How am I encouraging them? What am I telling them? I don’t pigeonhole my work, I clarify its power. Does my art bring life to the community? Does it connect and inspire?

Thinking of the what (i.e., What is success?) is scary. We are so afraid of being presumptuous that we are presumptuous. We don’t want to think of ourselves as great, we want to let history and our audience dictate that. Besides, there is lots of great competition out there. Maybe. That’s not how many of the greats thought. They thought of themselves, BEFORE they were there, as already there. It is true some are self-delusional and really not talented. Of course. But for now focus on those who really are good.

“Ok, maybe good, but not great,” many will say, a failed attempt at humility. There again, what is the point of the gift. Who gave it and to whom is it going? If the gift really only was self-realization and no one outside of ourselves was effected, perhaps. But if the gift truly is a gift than it is much bigger than ourselves; and it is actually selfish to sabotage it, to belittle it, to relegate it. It’s ok to believe. In fact, it’s required. Believe it is great. Imagine it as great. What does it look like to be great?

Why not be great? Some will immediately repulse from the question as inauthentic, in-genuine, missing the point. They will argue the artist should not assert toward position or legacy, but simple obedience to craft and instinct. Science if you will. For some this may work, it may be enough. But for others there is something of the magic of art that is much more provocative and compelling than merely mastering the craft. One is focused on the art piece, the other on the art process.

Generally for the audience there is not at first a genuine fascination with the process, or the craft. What ultimately connects them is something deeply emotional, profoundly spiritual that they would have a hard time putting into words.  The effect is real, though non-rational. It shakes something below the surface. It’s something the Hebrews may have called “deep calls to deep” (Ps 42.7). This inner movement caused by the work is what many translate into “great” art.

And they are right. The work must move us. Where critics go wrong is assuming that the project’s ability to create movement is exclusive to them. In other words, if they don’t feel it, it is not there. This is where the mystery of art comes in.

How art works to move people (which is the bottom line), is not always predictable. Where a critic may be sure a work falls flat or is wrapped into itself, the reality is that the critic may simply not be able to see certain aspects of the effect.

The human ability to “feel” art, or to experience another’s processing of life, is not completely objective. Inevitably, our affinities matter. Some things considered by most to be foundational master-pieces may be so technically but not affectively.

We sow the seeds, we don’t make things grow. In the same way, the artist cannot control how and who is effected or moved by his art. Oddly, the artist in this way does not get to choose his audience, only to accept it as it comes. There is a process for the artist in learning to “adopt” his fans. And like a real adoption, this is a process. Sometimes parents in the process will admit to having a hard time loving the child as their own. Sometimes it feels awkward or forced. Even for biological parents, there is ultimately no control over what “type” of children you have. In other words, we do not choose temperaments, intellectual ability, special needs, interest areas, etc. Sometimes our kids are extremely different from ourselves and from each other.

That’s the beauty of seeing how and with whom your art connects. It is a mystery. Some will be fundamentally not the people you imagined. Love needs to be cultivated. Fans need to become more than potential customers. They are human beings and we are all walking through life together. Something about what we have created inspires them to face difficulties with integrity and confidence. We are part of the solution. We need to celebrate the empowering and healing that we are part of.

Process of Becoming (Part 2)

Process of Becoming (Part 2)

This is where will and inspiration intersect. Traditional metaphysics said that man was body, soul, and spirit, and the soul was the mind, will, and emotions. I like that breakdown of the soul, especially as it pertains to the artist’s dilemma.

The mind can only take a creative person so far when it comes to developing new work. The mind (reason) will certainly guide the process and seek meaning from it, but it is almost useless in starting the process. Will and emotions are much more useful. Some have said “write the first draft with your heart, and the second draft with your head.” It is a similar idea. Starting a project (arguably the hardest part) must be done almost out of pure emotion. Reason cannot motivate to the degree required to launch. The will, which sounds sacrificial and determined, is really about deciding to type. There is discipline involved certainly (getting the needed supplies, choosing a time and place, etc.), but the will’s part is simple. Get everything ready.

Once the hands start writing, or drawing, or arranging, etc, the will’s job ends and something takes over. What is it that takes over? Could it be called emotion, or perhaps spirit is more accurate, drawing on our emotions? Many have experienced a sort of “third hand” writing, drawing, arranging for them. Of course it is still their hands and willingness to hold the pencil, etc, but some sort of creative spirit takes over. Something beyond us seems to take over.

To some this will sound like mystical bogus, but those who have experienced the joy and freedom of this sort of inspired creative work know there is something to it. We are the tool of a Muse beyond ourselves. Something is writing through us. And yet we are still guiding the pencil. What the Muse writes through us is unique to us. In other words, though the influence of inspiration may be beyond us, it is still unique to us. That is one of the most powerful lessons there may be for the artist.

He or she is uniquely connected to the Muse. There is an impenetrable relationship; one that no one else may enter, between the two. The actual words and melody are the real miracle (for the songwriter), the packaging later is added bonus.

That initial idea, concept, notion, etc. is a gift given only to one. But obviously that one is specifically placed in a given context (time and place). There is no separating altogether that person from their context, which again is unique to them.

So the artist has two essential relationships that are equally valid and true: his relationship with the Muse and his relationship with his context. Both are completely unique to him, in terms especially of the blend their tension creates. This may be equation of art = inspiration + context. Inspiration is very timeless and eternal, whereas context is extremely rooted and identifiable. There is and must be a tension between the two. They are valid ends of an important tension.

Initially there is no doubt that the context will limit. It squeezes certain ideas. It does not necessarily censor those ideas as much as inform them. Even those new genre trailblazers are still acting (in part) in reaction to what currently is. Some “pure” artists will insist here that art can not be informed by anything other than the depths of personal creativity. The individual suffering enough will inescapably find sacred inspiration. The artist is sort of pitted in complete isolation against the world.

But the artist is a gift to the world, though certainly the world will not always understand and appreciate that gift. Think of the masterpieces over the centuries that were commissioned pieces. Those pieces started as somebody else’s vision. Or at least the basic vision fit into the passion and focus area of the artist. There were deadlines. Proofing. All the things that seem to smack against pure inspiration. And yet the end result was spectacular. Art can be a collaborative process. Some artists will squirm in their seat just hearing that. “Never. Art must be purely the result of one suffering soul willing to face the existential crisis alone and with courage.” Actually quite true. But he does so not necessarily in isolation of other souls.

In other words, the collaborative nature of art is the willing act of facing our existence together. Each person in the group is required in their own way to the same process. But we can go through the process together. We can be in community. The community cannot write for us. But it can encourage and inspire us to write. After all, it is the community for whom this art is ultimately for. Art can not be realized in isolation, though it is created there. It can only be realized by the community.

Process of Becoming (Part 1)

The Process of Becoming (Part 1)

So, if we really are committed to seeing our inner visions become a reality some things will have to happen. There is a “how” to the “what.” Of course, today, we live in a culture seeped in the how. We love to fix things with our knowledge. Of course there are some systems in place for the advancement of the arts. There are “players” in the game that we need to meet. There are processes we need to follow. There are things we simply have to do and a certain order to it.

While this is painfully obvious what is not is the “when” and the “who.” Those too hasty to get into the how will underestimate the vital importance of knowing the right who at the right time. This is the creative side to the how some know nothing about. No matter one’s religious persuasions or mystical sensibilities there is no denying a sense of reverence for timing. Everyone has experienced at one time or another a great thing at the wrong time. Circumstantial realities matter.

And there is absolutely something to the funneling effect of momentum. In other words, the longer we think about doing something and start taking the small steps to get there, we get more and more focused. We have limited ourselves to a focused reality. And soon, like a bike finally getting to the apex of the hill, we start to sense that liberating exhilaration of downward momentum. All the choices and deliberate work of going up the hill have paid off. Now we are experiencing “flow.”

What made us start the ride up the hill at this point? What made it worth it not to give up? What inspired the vision of what was on the other side of the mountain? Life was leading us to a discovery point about ourselves. Life itself had organized our circumstances to bring us to such a point. Basically it feels like an existential crisis of some sort. The beginning of a project is always emotionally dreadful. It brings us to the very bottom of our core. But it also brings us to the realization that there are certain things we must pursue to truly discover who we really are. The painful part is that these are usually not the things we are currently doing. Our being-ness depends on it.

It is essential to remember the “what” (whatever the project is) is ultimately not debatable. There are certain things we simply must do. There are certain innate callings within us that if not heeded will disorientate the rest of life. That is the ultimate vindication for the artist. When asked “why do you do this project?” there is only one answer. “It is what life has called me to do. It has been wired into my being-ness before and beyond me. I do it because I must.”

It’s not self-justification. And it’s not self-realization the way most people understand it (whimsically doing what I want to figure myself out). It’s doing something we feel we must even though its scares us to our very core and requires great sacrifice. Oddly what we sacrifice is not ourselves (for that is what we incidentally find), it is the control of ourselves. We must relinquish the right to control the gift. The how and the when do not belong to us. That lack of control can be absolutely freeing though.

We learn to trust that the gift itself has a life outside of us. In other words, though it was implanted (or entrusted) in us (to us), it had an existence before us and will beyond us. We are the carriers but the gift must live on. It must continue to create.

We are part of the story. We can only see what our limited brain capacity is allowed. The big picture alone can vindicate the individual works. But know this: the power of inevitability is what has created all good things. Being is better than non-being.