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March 11, 2009

Art’s not dead, it’s just asleep

I’m hard pressed to say anything terribly insightful or helpful about: the economy, the state of the record industry, the ever shifting but hopefully not evaporating options for the creative minds in our communities who wish to make a living from their respective talents.

If I had any real insight into these matters, I’d be the wealthy CEO of a very influential consulting firm, the head of a local nonprofit arts advocacy group (cough sputter wink) or maybe even a working musician.

I know a couple dozen creative types who’ve made careers for themselves, some of whom are doing pretty well indeed. The rest keep straight jobs and, when they’re not honing their creative powers for the purposes of fighting evil, applying Tiger Balm to their lower backs with a 4-inch putty knife or sleeping, they gripe to each other about psychic taxes paid and tolls taken on their creativity.

Next time you hear your artist/musician friends saying things like, “It’s really difficult to work 40 hours a week and muster the energy to create anything worthwhile,” or “Why do I get the feeling that the Creeps are gaining on us?,” I’d like you to take a few seconds and engage in a little mental callisthenics.

1. Think about how much you like good music. Now think of how much it made your skin crawl listening to the mindless crap they were playing at Supercuts the other day when you got your highlights touched up.

2. Ask yourself, “Do I like the music/art that is made by people in my peer group? Does it have value to me and my community? How do they manage all of that?”

3. Finally, consider the notion that footage of Britney Spears propped up by fists full of anti-psychotics, strutting around in a plaid skirt and whale-bone corset brandishing a riding crop, and “singing,” might not be the Grecian Urn that we as a culture hoped to leave our completely be-fucking-fuddled progeny to unearth and speculate about in a thousand years.

4. Believe in your artist/musician friends. It’s not easy and it’s rarely glorious. But it is important. Isn’t it?

I’ve had serial conversations about these topics for years that, while instructive, have led me to absolutely no helpful conclusions. I’ve discussed with friends the position that artists ought to be able to make a living from the skills they’ve spent their lives trying to hone, in the same way that as long as there are cars, mechanics ought to be able to find work.

A culture that values a product (read: art) will pay for that product and thus, for the artist’s continued refinement and production as long as it is valuable. If an artist is not given the opportunity to benefit monetarily, his or her creativity has a tendency to drift toward hobbyist status, and maybe end completely. Furthermore, the culture that no longer supports artistic development and refinement is one that is unraveling. Do mine eyes deceive me?

A couple of things come to mind next in rapid succession.

First, the urge to downshift into some mutant Darwinian notion that the most productive, best and brightest artists will rise to the top is wrong. Fucking wrong. Please stand in the corner, listen to Nickelback and think about No. 3 on my helpful exercise list until you’ve learned your lesson.

If, while you’re over there, you decide to get clever and lob some free market junk at me, you may be excused to change into your ascot and chinos, drive down to the boat club and laugh it up with the other AIG goons. The market is run by assholes and has failed to elevate the status of the arts, and often seems actively antagonistic toward them.

Also, you should know that me and all my Pinko buddies, sipping our green tea, smoking our Bolshevik rollups out back behind the Dumpster — we are watching you.

Next: “What about “Art for Art’s sake?” Here’s a promising, shiny little marble of an idea to roll around on my internal roulette wheel (tick-tick-tick). Yes, what about it? Could it be that when Art is partially or fully deflated of the element of commerce, it goes back to a chrysalis state, and that its closer proximity to the creative impulse could render a more pure, and eventually more appealing, form that will then be given the opportunity to flourish anew?

If I remember to, I’ll think about it more during my lunch break.

Listening to: Touch and Go catalog.

 

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