Sunday, December 19, 2004

what is an artist anyway?

The following message was sent to me this afternoon via AIM. I don't have the guy's email address- he sent this and bailed, leaving me no way to respond. It's been bugging me for hours... I hate rehearsing and re-rehearsing conversations, so I'm instead just going to post my reply publicly, and he can read it at his leisure. I'll be able to explain myself better without a back-and-forth anyways. I'm calling him Mr. X to minimize the offense.

Mr. X: Rand I read some of your short stories, and while they were well written and entertaining they were disturbing. Do you now love american capitalism to the point that you would forsake your artistic desire to express yourself for the desire to replace people with computer programs? When I came out to California and met you I thought you were an inspired artist, seeking his manifest destiny as a musician in New York, but from reading this I am alerted to the fact that you are a suboordinate to Corporate "one-up-manship." Tell me if I am wrong? I HOPE that I am. Let me know.

Let me give you some background. A troupe of Michiganites happened to be in Southern California last summer, and decided to come visit me (I was living in a suburb of L.A. at the time). The one I actually knew and one other came out for spiritual advice, Mr. X came out for artistic direction, and the fourth guy came out to talk about the colors he'd seen while doing shrooms and to be a general lag on any conversation in his presence. In the minds of the two people who I newly met who were actually worth a damn, I was sort of a wise sage/hermit who lived way up on top of the desolate mountain (at his mom's house), who they got to finally meet after treading through miles in the snow barefoot and taking a shortcut through the Mines of Moria. After months of travel, they finally arrived at the Elven palace (congratulate my mom on her decorations... she loves it), to meet the great and powerful artist and spiritualist they had been seeking. There was a wee bit of an expectation put on me in this visit. Anyway, I hung out with these guys for a couple days, each got exactly what he wanted (especially shroom boy), and they took off.

I like helping others with their personal and artistic progression. I'd even teach free classes if I had a wad of cash to sit on already, if, of course, I actually saw some growth in my students... I need a constant reminder that there's some hope for human individuals. That doesn't however mean that I feel that my role in life is to be a mentor. I'm an artist and a thinker... anything else that I become is by chance. I've had at least ten people in my lifetime who have openly and officially labeled me as their mentor for one reason or another, and I'm sure there have been numerous others who did so silently (I honestly never know that I'm seen that way until a person tells me). This guy's anger is actually a huge compliment... I wasn't aware that his image of me was so important. Let's keep this in perspective though... he's met me once. Once, that's it. He presumed to understand me in the context of encouraging his art, hearing a few of my songs, and reading a couple of my poems. Now he's presuming to understand me in the context of a few short postings.

Art is the expression of something that can't be communicated as well through other means. When you look at a painting or hear music that touches you, you feel something that has significance to you. Art should communicate one or more ideas and/or one or more emotions. The reason that people love art is because they have some difficulty reaching these thoughts and emotions without assistance... that's fine... artists like the fact that their work is needed. An art lover needs to experience, an artist needs to express.

Why do I like helping others reach their potential? I feel that I'm expressing something to them that they wouldn't otherwise be able to touch. Counseling is a form of artistic expression for me. I have to understand their thoughts, emotions, and desires and then proceed to create a conversation that will communicate the idea or emotion that they can't see for themselves for some reason. That is however only one of my favored forms of expression.

I've always been searching for a mentor, but have never found one. I have never idolized anyone, but have always put importance on my own perfection. I mean this quite literally- I have never idolized anyone; I didn't want to be my daddy, I didn't want to be my mommy, I didn't want to be the president, I didn't want to be anybody except for this slowly developing vague ideal of myself. Right now, you're thinking, "Okay, Rand didn't idolize anyone around him... he must have either instead idolized some superhero in a comic book or decided early on to be 'unlike' everyone else.".... please go back to the beginning of this paragraph and read the damn thing again... we're not going to get anywhere with this if you don't start listening.... my image of perfection is something that I've created in my own imagination with great time and effort.

I also don't want others to want to be like me... I want them to find something in themselves that they can unlock with their own effort. When I'm teaching someone, my aim is never to mold them into a replica of me, but to teach them how to mold themselves into what they already see for themselves. In a way, that's having them model themselves after me, but let's not get too clever here. For some reason, almost nobody seeks to develop themselves into their own ideal of themselves, and it takes an incredible amount of work to even communicate the idea to them. I only had two days to attempt this with Mr. X; two days wasn't enough.

So Mr. X saw one side of me briefly, and has probably been using that to some degree to aim his own development. He's a young man shooting to be a poet and director, and he's still formulating his artistic voice. He's working very hard at this, which I admire, but he still has a very idealized concept of what an artist actually is and does. This is the big problem with idealizing others... you think for some reason you have to follow in their footsteps and fit a mold... that's neither artistic nor expressive. The musician that writes music that sounds like his favorite band isn't expressing anything internal except for his love of that band. If you're trying to unlock the doors of the subconscious and really express something true, why wouldn't you expect something unique to emerge?

I've been extremely hesitant about playing my music out.
#1) I don't expect anyone to like it.
#2) I don't expect anyone to get it.
#3) If 1 and 2 don't work out, I have no other tools to communicate with the listener.
#4) I hate the path that's expected of me as a musician.

I'm supposed to listen to the radio, do my research and emulate the best bands, and come up with a unique and original twist on what's out there. That's not expression... that's creative marketing. I don't give a fuck what's on the radio, I have no intention of emulating anyone, and if those two things don't produce something original, I'll wait eleven months for my lease to run out, find an apartment that's further from the sidewalk, and jump. I'm writing for my fourth album now, and I've only recorded one professionally. I'm supposed to send my CD off to every major label I can find, let them rearrange everything, start a steady dose of heroine and sex with fifteen-year-olds, and then I'll finally be an artist. Why doesn't that feel like creative expression to me?

I create to express something personal, not to fulfill some cultural expectation. Of course, every potential listener is so in-tune with that expectation that they'll probably never even see me walking by. Even the indy scene follows a formula and has a pre-defined sound. If I don't ever figure this thing out and start playing, I won't ever have an audience, I therefore will have nobody to actually express my thoughts and emotions to, and in turn, my art will be inexpressive. Is this a problem? Yeah, a fucking big one.... I truly intend to get shit going here in New York, but I have no idea where to start. I won't start emulating the radio if I fail though... I'll just have to keep playing Russian Roulette with this thing until I finally lose the energy, accept defeat, and make the greatest personal expression of that defeat that's possible.

As you can see, I'm pretty big on this self-discovery/self-expression thing. The particular article that pissed Mr. X off was the one that I wrote a few days ago entitled 'Rand the Hatchet'. What Mr. X doesn't understand (and yes, I've tried to explain this before in terms of his poetry) is that not everything has to be a bio. "Hi, my name's Rand. I have brown hair and..." Stop right there. I don't want to read about your fucking hair every time, Rand... tell me all about it once and get it over with. I need a day job to survive, and to me, writing computer programs that challenge my abilities uses up the same artistic juices as writing a song... that feels productive to me. Would I prefer that to connecting with an audience on a more emotional and spiritual level, hell no.... but it counts for something, and with this one, I get paid. Does this mean that I won't pursue my music? Nope... my day job is to facilitate my music... if my day job becomes my life, I only have eleven months left of that before my lease runs out. If you throw me into a situation, and I have to go through it anyways, I'm going to want to rip its guts out to learn something about myself through it and to then express my findings somehow... it's then no longer a waste of my time. My job is, in fact, to improve on things so that we can get rid of people... am I for or against that?... I'm very much for that and very much against that. I have compassion for people and agression toward people, and I want to understand both of those emotions and communicate them vividly. "An artist doesn't do that, Rand." Oops.