Saturday, February 21, 2009

Don's Right (Yes, You Read That Correctly)

When all is said and done, Don and I are in agreement about the central point of Don's latest couple points: "I'm not saying that the mere presence of money mucks things up. It's when the primary motivation for the creation of the art is to make money. That's when that slippery slope that leads to rampant mediocrity and shallow horseshit theater gets all slidey." I agree entirely.

Furthermore, like Don, I would extend this to non-arts jobs as well: "Here's a clue - don't take the job because of how much money it pays you. Take the job that you want. Find a job that seems like it will be challenging, fulfilling and pays you some kind of wage and then work hard to do it well. If you take a job because it gives you benefits (and that that is the main reason to take the job) then all you will end up having is benefits." Nicely said.

I even agree with him -- brace yourself -- that art is not a job: "The quality and value of a work of art has absolutely nothing to do with the economic status of the artist and everything to do with the honest endeavor to create something new and personal to share with the world."

I know you're all think I'm saying this to lull Don into a false sense of security so I can bash him in the nuts, but I'm not. Oh, sure, I don't buy his analogies, whether prostitution or poker, but life is too short for arguing about analogies and metaphors. What's most important is the central idea: art is an end in itself, not a means to something else, whether that something else is fame (yeesh) or wealth or whatever.

Don isn't saying, nor am I, that you shouldn't get paid for your work, or that your art isn't worth anything. What we're both saying, I think, is that once you start thinking about your "career" and "putting food on the table," you are thinking instrumentally, and you're starting to lose your way.

This isn't about purity, it is about focus and priorities. And perspective.

I'm going to go a step further -- although I think Don would agree with this, and may have himself said something similar in the past -- and say that I don't think it is a particularly good idea when artists make their entire living from their art. I think non-arts jobs keep artists in touch with the regular, non-artistic world and with regular, non-artistic people who they need to understand in order to create things that illuminate their reality. Oh, sure, there are artists whose total focus is on their own inner world, and whose ability and willingness to communicate with the world is negligible, and those artists will do what they do regardless of what people say. They need a different way of living, one either based in independent wealth, or extremely spartan. But aside from those outliers, I believe most artists benefit from keeping a foot in the quotidian.

Does that cut into their available time for artmaking? Of course it does. But when all is said and done, how much time can anyone spend making art nonstop. The creative imagination needs some rest, some time for processing things unconsciously, some new experiences to serve as raw material. But Don's right: choose the job carefully, so it doesn't deaden and abuse your soul, but rather enhances it.

Another step, this one I doubt Don will follow me on, but I could be surprised: I think artists need to give back. I know that in many ways the art that they create is a gift in itself, and I agree with that. But I think they need to share their talents with others. This might be teaching, or mentoring, or working in a school, or being a Big Brother or Big Sister, or volunteering at a neighborhood center or a nursing home, or any number of things where an artist can share the richness that is in their soul. This is another way of spreading the wonder of the arts, and is another way for the artist to add to their rootedness in reality. If at all possible, the focus of this contribution should be on helping other people connect with their own creativity, help them identify the meaningfulness of their lives, tell their own stories, share their own richness. In other words, it shouldn't be about the artist, but rather about others.

It would help enormously if Obama could create a program for universal health care -- the effect on artists of that single change in their lives would release more creativity than any increase in NEA funding could ever do. This isn't a pre-req for what I am saying above, just something that would help it to happen more easily. Nevertheless, the basic message Don is communicating is good advice: keep your eye on the ball.


Anonymous said...

But I think they need to share their talents with others. This might be teaching, or mentoring, or working in a school, or being a Big Brother or Big Sister, or volunteering at a neighborhood center or a nursing home, or any number of things where an artist can share the richness that is in their soul.

Be surprised. I agree 100%.

I knew we'd find some common ground!

Scott Walters said...

Should we quit while we're ahead?

(Actually, I have a feeling that we agree about more than we disagree about, prostitution aside...)

Anonymous said...

I'd say you are correct.

Our main differences lay primarily in our method of expressing it.

Simply put, you are a lover and I am a fighter but we're pretty much on the same side of things (for the most part.)

I've been on a bit of a tear lately that Arts Journalism is too tepid for anyone outside our tiny circle to actually give a shit about and when asked why I'm so confrontational, my response is that at least it gets people (both inside the circle and outside of it) to get passionate about what sometimes feels like an irrelevant art form.

A flawed approach but everybody's gotta have a style.

Anonymous said...

Back up a sec.

You are a fighter. No doubt about that. You just like lovin' a little better.

Me? I just like to fight.

Scott Walters said...

I alternate between fighter and lover, which confuses people. Most think I have a split personality. ("Who says that?" "They do!" "Shut up! I'm trying to write!")

By the way, I agree with you about tepid arts journalism, which is not only overly polite, but almost totally lacking in thought or ideas. People magazine could do a better job -- at least there'd be pix.

I think our point of divergence is the attitude toward the general audience and the American people.

Think Again: Funding and Budgets in the Arts

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