Saturday, November 24, 2018

Black Dogs

I once had a conversation about depression with a good friend. He was worried about me. He said that the "black dog" had visited him from time to time. Most of the time, maybe a "black puppy". A melancholy. Tolerable. Even useful to the creative mind.

But the art world is geared toward feeding the darkest of dogs. I think it's a false sense – a vestige of what used to be, shared mostly by folks who are not in the arts -- that the arts are a search for beauty. That may have once been true. It is a rapidly diminishing reality. 

What the art world values today tends more toward the negative, the naughty, the cynical, the dark. I remember listening to “Tales of a Red Clay Rambler” podcast interview Ben Carter did with Stephen Hill. Carter said one of the most telling things about contemporary culture and the arts…and he did so in the most off-handed manner that it belied a truth deep and accepted, but a truth that seems to have crept up on us unawares sometime in the last century. 

The observation Ben Carter made in his interview with Hill was this (and I paraphrase): “You seem to be one of the few well known ceramists who actually, intentionally tries to make beautiful pots.”


Such an honest evaluation. And how true.

But we’re surrounded with negativity in the art world (not so much in the craft world where the community of potters has somewhat successfully fended off “art”). We have been unwittingly forced as creative people to believe that there is no meaningful distinction to be made between the twee of Thomas Kinkade and the grandeur of Frederic Edwin Church. To the contemporary critic, both are compressed – flattened -- into one na├»ve “pursuit of beauty”. And “good art” doesn’t go there. Art has moved on. Art explored beauty and found it wanting.

But if our compulsion is toward hope, if we want to pursue the positive, if we remain – counter to culture – hoping to believe it possible to grasp some truth in beauty, we’re probably going to need some help. Some support.
And we’re probably going to need to pick our feet up out of the mire from time to time and find some high and dry ground from which to gain fresh perspectives – especially when the coincidence of the dark world so perfectly coincides with social media.

My friend’s " black puppy" metaphor is pretty good. I’ve appropriated it for its usefulness. It pretty much describes my not infrequent melancholy.
But I've also got a vile temper that's easily provoked when my sense of entitlement to a good life gets threatened. As long as I can keep feeding that delusion of entitlement I'll probably be safe from dangerous depression. Maybe.

Family is, for me, not the thing to lean on. My family has suffered me the most. Depending on me has proven an exercise in pedaling a bicycle that has no chain. Still, for some reason -- possibly a dearth of alternatives – that family somehow continues to furiously pedal our tandem, in spite of an obvious lack of forward progress.

Over the past few years the dawning realization is this: I have lived a fairly solitary existence insofar as my livelihood didn't involve co-workers of any kind, rather, it involved days and months of solitary shop work. I'm a social guy but I happen to love that solitude -- my own music, books, thoughts. But that extravagance of solitude came with a downside: When I needed the help of "networking" it wasn't there. Social climbing -- even if but for the sake of financial security -- favors and always will favor who you know and not what you know.

That's one reason I've leaned a little too heavily on my connections with friends on the internet forums, social media etc. I felt a little less vulnerable and a little more connected to the possibility that I had the ear of at least somebody with life experience that might help me through mine.
Of course, I've also learned that most of that connectivity is pretty delusional too. Social media isn't a terribly honest communication. At its best it's friendly. But at its worst, that friendly is nothing more than telling us what we want to hear.

For instance, I’m often complimented on my facebook postings. That's one of those delusions I liked to have fed by social media. My smarter me doesn't listen, but there's still at least a vestigial adolescent in me that craves affirmation in the valueless pursuits -- music, art, writing -- that define me.
Anyway, the social internet is of great value if you can find a small group – especially one that crosses often into the 3D world – and especially one that fosters differing opinions and eschews our tribal instincts to cloister. Such groups are harder – harder to find and harder on our egos. But they often get honest. I love that honesty when I'm not hating it and I hate it when I don't love it. 

The slough of despond that the art world is constantly shoving us into doesn’t end well, and the honest hand that reaches down to help us out of it is quite often not welcome. It might be to our advantage to maintain the bridges we’ll need to go over it. It will always be there. The helping hands might not be.

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