“artists” and Artists
Starry starry night.
Paint your palette blue and grey.
Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the
Darkness in my soul.
Perhaps I am writing this for myself.
Perhaps this is an unburdening for which I am seeking witness.
Perhaps it is a fit of ego.
Since I was a small child, and I mean around five years old, I saw myself as an Artist with a capital “A”. Some people will make this sort of claim as a sort of justification that they should be endowed with greatness. At that age and for many years it was not about drive and passion and some strange feeling of destiny. It was about both joy and concern.
I find creativity of any sort a deeply ecstatic experience. I used to drive my family nuts when putting condiments on my hamburger because the mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise had to be arranged just so. I love painting, I love singing, I love dancing, I love writing, and more. It is its own reward. The feelings that pass through my entire body feel like sparkles of light that then flow out of me to every living thing on the planet. It is glorious. I cannot imagine doing anything else…
I grew up during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. As a deeply empathetic child these events rattled me. When much later I watched the movie Across the Universe, which makes use of Beatles songs in order to portray the events of the 1960s, I came out a complete basket case. In particular I remembered how upset I had been about the Kent State massacre. I would have been six-seven years old when university students were killed for peacefully protesting the war. I had not been born into a safe world where parents listened to and protected their own children.
At some point I had a discussion with myself about what I wanted to do with my life. What I wanted to do was save the world: save animals and trees from destruction, save people from hatred, save the whole damn planet. That’s a big call for a little girl. I thought about politics: the problem with political power is that if you don’t change how people see the world, a politician can only go so far. I thought about various types of helping jobs like conservationist: again, if you don’t change people’s hearts and minds, you can only go so far. Then I thought, Art changes hearts and minds. Art has on many occasions brought people to care and to act on the behalf of what is most life-affirming. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, without being a great book, nevertheless caused people to sympathise with the plight of enslaved peoples and do what they could to end US slavery in the nineteenth century. At the age I had this discussion, I don’t believe I was so eloquent with myself, but the ideas were all there.
For me this was an obvious answer, but it gave me more fervor in selecting my future path.
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land.
And now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity.
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen,
They did not know how.
On various online publications I see articles on how to become rich and famous as an artist, how to do your work more effectively by doing it like an artist, how to raise your status through artistry. To be an artist has become a feel good commodity and an “easy” path to self validation.
I really wish I could make a living through my art. However, to do it as the gurus say I should quite honestly would kill my soul. I am no angry artist who makes abstract works that make everyone feel confronted. Though, to be honest, there’s a place for that. No, I want to do this in the way Jim Henson did when he told Jerry Juhl and his writers: let’s make a show about world peace and created Fraggle Rock. However, I am a woman and to take this path is to not be taken seriously. And to be honest, I’m still confrontational. I celebrate those who are vulnerable, so that everyone can see their beauty — regardless of gender, color, religion, age, shape, you name it. I bring to people’s attention startling ideas that could potentially change the world, and being who I am, they are often presented like a great big pot of joy soup!
I have chosen to place my time and efforts on my art, and as a consequence I make less than poverty wages. I only get by because I have a partner who is just making enough for the both of us at a social justice nonprofit. This is where people sniff that art degrees are an MRS. The world is falling apart because people have lost focus on such things as kindness and generosity. I am dismissed for reminding people of this. Nevertheless, I tell people that like toilet paper, it is possible to be both strong and gentle.
Artists with a capital “A” rarely know that the rest of the world eventually found them “great”. Many have died in penury. They simply followed their calling. And yes, it’s very much a calling whether or not every such Artist hears angel trumpets. I have had standing ovations, I have had the odd five star review for my work, but quite honestly I have in no way cracked the “1000 true fans” mark. I can only physically do so much. So, I keep creating and keep hoping what I do is reaching even a few people, and like a pebble dropped into a still pond, make the most beautiful silvery waves.
Someone recently sent me this message about a song I published in support of Australia’s queer community during the national marriage equality survey.
Thanks so much for sharing that song. I got goosebumps and cried while listening to it just now, it is beautiful as is the sentiment behind it. It really spoke to me (and I am one of the people feeling devastated about the lack of respect in this so-called debate about my family, community and relationships)
As of this date fifty-five people have bothered to look at it. Sometimes I get frustrated thinking, how can people even know whether my work is good or bad if they don’t even look at it? Sometimes I think, I thought I was all right, maybe I am wasting my life. Then I get a letter like the above.
This is a hard call. It is impossible for me to ever know the value of my own work. But I continue to live my life as an Artist. I continue to care.
Perhaps they’ll listen now.
In peace and kindness,
Lyrics to “Starry Starry Night” by Don Mclean