When I was really little, I used to swim out to the buoy and float in pretty much any ocean I came across. The first time I did it with a friend with both of us kicking on a raft, I was hooked. I progressed to braving the deep alone raftless and eventually, like a baby walking for the first time, swam to the buoy regularly until my wet skin shriveled and my face became raw from the sun and salt. Floating when I became tired, I felt so in control. Past the waves and the violent crashes of the whitewash, I felt immediately carefree yet courageous. Looking back and focusing on the horizon, I was intrigued with how the big broad beach and everything on it literally disappeared.  Like magic wands, every wiggle of my legs shrank the people at the shore into pin sized dots and even the brightly colored beach umbrellas melted into the beige sand becoming lost and insignificant. My new found perspective allowed me to become one with the large, limitless water in a spiritual way.

After I read “Jaws”, I became perhaps irrationally afraid of sharks and now, sadly, I can’t swim more than say ten or twenty feet out. If I ever venture past the waves, I immediately catch a wave back into the shallow waters as quickly as possible. But I’m not a great body surfer really and the joy is fleeting. Even in a kayak, I can’t get over the preoccupation that a great white may be lurking nearby. I even tried to purchase military grade shark repellent on ebay but then read that it really doesn’t work – well, unless you break it open into the mouth of the shark as they are attacking you.

I wonder now what other activities  I used to revel in that for whatever reason I now avoid for fear of something. Fear of criticism? Perhaps. Fear of disappointing my family. Often. Fear of not being appreciated by those whose admiration I crave for my hard work and efforts.  Sure. Fear of not having any money left at the end of the month. Lately. What pages in my life wrote in new fears thus diverting my behavior away from the bold, fearless and joyful? How do these fears affect my ability to be creative, productive , prolific and happy? Like the Australian surfers who swim with sharks regularly and never seem to get bitten,  (I assume because they are not afraid) , how can these pages of my life be rewritten day to day so that I may again swim out into the vast ocean but more importantly past the sharks to all of my various buoys?

I once took a simple personality test. Before you continue to finish reading the page please try this. Draw four simple shapes: a circle , a triangle, a square and a squiggly line (really it’s that simple) just as described on a plain piece of paper. Step away and then look back at the page of shapes and choose only one shape that you feel most drawn to. Which did you choose? The triangle supposedly means you are obsessed with “power” (one of the only two people I have ever worked with in my life that I didn’t care for picked that shape), the squiggly line means you want to be “free” (my husband picked that one), the square means you want “security” (never mind who picked that , let’s just say it never would have worked out) and the circle means…what? Did you pick the circle? I did. And, yes…it means that you “crave love”. No surprise that most artists pick the circle.

So why is it then that so many of my working artist friends, some successful, some still just starting out, are emotionally destroyed by and just hate the idea that they are creating for what I like to call monetary feedback. Ironically, income is one way that any artist clearly knows that others admire their work – other than applause (but let’s face it, most people clapping usually have a ticket stub in their pocket). Why then do artists have a problem when money is exchanged for their efforts?

Cut to “J”, a Grammy award nominated songwriter, who was struggling when we first met (he had to share a car with his wife or even take the bus while their kids were in a private school because they couldn’t afford to repair the BMW.) His songs soon literally salvaged and made two if not three diva’s (no exaggeration here) careers. One of his hits knocked a very annoying song off of Billboard’s number one spot that had everyone in the industry chanting “please kick that bloody song off as we can’t stand listening to it any longer”. He scored.

So we sat next to each other at a party and craving his inspiration and wisdom I couldn’t wait to speak about songwriting. Instead, the first words out of his mouth to me were, “I’m miserable”. His words were not the inspiration I was expecting and it certainly took the topic I had hoped to cover (me) off the menu. I asked ,“Why?” He responded that as a contract writer with a huge label, even after multiple hits, he felt uninspired. He could do it ,sure, but it wasn’t like when he was younger and he could just sit in a living room with a friend or two and write from his heart. He now felt that he was paid to put out hits the way a car manufacturer churns out parts; Clean, quick and sterile. Part of me wanted to slap him across the face and say, “Snap out of it!”. But, as Joe Walsh said to me when he visited my orchestration class in Santa Barbara, “They call it the music industry for a reason”.

Cut to “L” and “R” – a great artist and established photographer. I had lunch with “L” recently and she mentioned that people were expressing interesting in purchasing her paintings but the offers came with a price. (I’m paraphrasing). ”I want it to look like the one you did with the girl but my bedroom has pastels so the primary colors won’t work….” Similarly, for “R”, the black and white photographer known for his amazing photos featured in many popular magazines he had a problem being asked to “add a little color…” on the one sheet or portrait. He had since found a new use for the term “negative” when referring to his work.

The sad truth is that no artist wants to compromise – ever. But sadly when we are making art for profit we may have to compromise. Perhaps one can simply set a price for that compromise like any other business and never undersell oneself. But more importantly, for me, when someone wants to pay me for my services , I am now able to separate the work I do for money versus the work I do for my art. The analogy may best be approached by looking at the prostitute’s dilemma. Sure….you do tricks. But nothing can match being in love and you will never stop thinking that you are worthy of it. And you will never stop trying to find love and you also know that love will most likely never be found on the street. So then I wonder what shape should an artist pick? Circle, Square, Squiggly or Triangle? Can one train his or her brain to choose more than one?

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Art ‘n soul

January 28, 2009

I’m not sure why I remember this so well, but in a Western Civilization class in high school, my teacher Ms. O’Brien said that there were several things that were universal to every single culture on the face of the earth.  War was one. The belief in a deity (or deities) was another.  I forget the third frankly. But I remember the fourth. It was art.

Since we walked upright we have had the need to express ourselves in a way that was different from the day-to-day otherwise known as the ordinary.  Our words,  facial expressions and gestures might communicate,  “I’m angry”,  or , “I love you”.  Yet, it is certainly interesting to ponder that it is universal to rise above just the spoken word, especially if it’s true that every civilization of any time or place has had or now has  an aching need to express sentiment in a unique and deeper way, that is, through some form of “art”.

For me, the most obvious and prolific expressions of art in the modern world are love songs and nude portraits.  To compose and sing after cupid shoots an arrow hard into one’s figurative heart or to caress with pigment and then share the curved detail of  a loved one’s naked back  while too becoming exposed to the entire world celebrates the intense emotion of love in a way that mere words cannot and connects us with others  in such a profound,  spiritual way.  In contrast, Graffiti is a territorial slap of paint which replaces the silver bullet with bossy, defiant primary colors.

I now sometimes look at art of all sorts, especially that of another time or any creative work that doesn’t particularly strike a chord with me initially with a different perspective.  What is the expression, the emotion, the message?  Then, I try to see if in casual conversation I could express it with literally just words.  For me, it is an exercise that forces me to delve into the deepest crevices of my thoughts and say things out loud that perhaps I never would have uttered.  How ironic that creating in isolation and experiencing art in silence feels safe and natural but translating that same emotion to a simple sentence to be shared with another face-to-face feels awkward and frightening.

Therefore, I wonder if art was and is born from a lack of the ability to communicate in our simplest form comfortably and honestly.  It’s strange that perhaps what connects us so universally and almost telepathically with the world so magnificently also separates us when we are the artist.  Perhaps creatives at times have become too dependant on expressing ourselves through inspired means and should every once in a while just use simple words more often to connect honestly with each other – even if we’re angry but especially if we’re in love.

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