Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Never the Twain Shall Meet

And still the conversation with my brother continued (see previous two posts):

Said another way: "I wish I were an artist/writer/musician" is just that -- a wish. It's not a hope. It has no basis in reality. It completely misses the point that if you were an artist/writer/musician, you would already be writing, p
ainting, or playing music.

Most of us Americans get tangled up in the misunderstanding that writer/artist/musician means you get paid for it. The reality is that quite possibly most writers/artists/musician either don't get paid for their work, or they don't get paid enough to make a livelihood from them.

Now, to the American mind, that can only be understood one way: If you are a "professional" you are good. if you are an "amateur" you are not good.

But without even trying I could name 20 guitar players who are better musicians than almost any guitar playing star you might want to name. And I know artists who never even show their work, though it is stellar. And writers? omg. There are so many people out in this world right now who can express themselves in written word but couldn't sell the first page.

Nobody wishes themselves into "being" a writer. They write. Some can sell that writing. Some can't.

Nobody wishes themselves into "being" an artist. They simply create. Some can sell what they create. Some cannot.

Nobody wishes themselves into "being" a musician. They make music. Some can sell their music. Some never give a concert to anyone but their cat.....and even that, not too often. It's hard to get a cat to stay in the bathroom with you.

Brotherly Conversation Continued (from previous post)

  The conversation with my brother continued:

I have a friend -- a literary critic and writer -- who has a term for the "significance" thing. He refers to the impetus behind being a real writer, artist, musician...whatever the creative being "obligate". I
t's something you can't not do.

I have people approach me all the time expressing their wish to be an artist. It's a weird longing. It's a weird inquiry. In a sense, you either are or you aren't. You're either already doing creative pursuits or you aren't an artist.

I didn't start making pottery because I thought it would sell. I started making pottery because it was such a rewarding creative endeavor by which I could express myself.

It was in the creating -- the making -- that it became obvious that people might also be interested in what I was making. The dog wagging the tail is to be making and discover there is a market. The tail wagging the dog is looking at the market when you don't have anything new to offer it.

I still pursue other creative outlets. I'm obligate. I need to play music. I need to write. There is no market for either. I get it that most male Americans will never understand that.

My songwriter friends have almost universally experienced this. They'll be playing a gig and someone will approach them after they've sung one of their originals. And the question asked is always something like "Is that a real song, or did you just make that up?"

It's a real divide. I get it that folks like me who can't not play music or write poems are a rarity. Most of America thinks (without thinking) that art as a career is some straight line career choice. It's usually not. It usually isn't pursued as a career. It is pursued because the pursuit itself lends meaning and significance to life.

On some level I get it. Most of us are culturally bound to the idea that the only thing worth pursuing is something to which we can affix a dollar compensation for. And so we say "I wish I could make a living by doing something cool that would make other people admire me" ....and one of those things we dream that people admire is the creative arts. That was certainly true for me.

But the "Catch 22" of the whole thing is that if you aren't already pursuing the arts because you have to, then you have almost no chance that you are going to successfully experience them for a living.

The market for commercially viable trinkets'n'things is positively glutted with foreign import crapola that can be bought for next to nothing.

No smart craftsman is even going to attempt to compete in that market that is already suitably served by the mass-produced.. If that's what a fella's bent was in the first place, they'd have likely pursued manufacturing or engineering.

City of Brotherly...Questions

My brothers mostly don't get me. They all followed more "professional" paths (one's a pilot, one's a periodontist, one's an accountant). My world seems strange to them.

Upon seeing me sharing my potter-friend's images on facebook, one brother asked me:

"I wonder after seeing some other peoples' pottery on your website .. to what extent do you have to "stay in your lane" in your designs?"

His question already betrays a businessman's "product" perspective of the pottery. Commodity. Objects for sale in a competitive market. That's the world as he sees it.

I answered:

.... On the one hand, there's lots of sharing. Something you learn pretty early on in pottery is that you make yourself an island at your own risk. Clay is taken right out of the ground and, as such, one acre of clay isn't the same as the previous acre. There are always materials problems to solve. Heck, I've lost the better part of a year's production when feldspar started being pulled out of a different section of the mine.

So, there's a great attitude of sharing among potters. If you don't share information when others are struggling and trying to solve clay problems, you're going to be on your own when you suffer your own clay problems.

With some potters there's a clearly shared influence -- like "schools" -- so that some potters' work can look similar to others'.

Additionally, glaze recipes are handed down in a very folk-traditional way. So, many of us use the same glazes. Of course, our idiosyncratic kilns make it so that the same glaze isn't always recognizable as the same.

But at it's core, most potters I know are part business man and part artist. I heard someone describe mankind as having two basic drives: Security and significance.

I think that what drives the potters I know is the significance thing. And because of that, outright copying at the level of shows I do is pretty minimal. There's not much personal significance to be derived from outright imitation.

Like the moon's light we'll shine
Many a time
But like the sun's?
Maybe once.

There are a few obvious exceptions, but most of us got where we are by being recognized as unique. That also means that nobody is going to climb the ladder to the top using the same rungs we used to get here. It wouldn't work.