It Can Suck

My friend Scott the artist writes…

“it’s really hard being an artist. first, i have a little voice in my head that is constantly telling me that i need to get a real job. and i don’t have a huge group of voices to counter that in my life. more just like the Spirit and my wife holly… but she even has limits to the little money that comes in (and rightly so). secondly, creating is exhausting. it’s a constant pouring out of yourself. like this week… i’ve just needed a few chill days to restore myself before i’m in the bump and grind of another three weeks of creating. and thirdly… i think this is the hardest and what’s hitting me now… is you step out and try your best to create and do it…. really put yourself out there and trust this is what the Lord has led you into…. but when you hit those walls… it’s totally devasting.”

I learned in a class called “The History of American Pop Music” that America was unique at the time of its founding in its attitude toward art and artists. (I knew that class would come in handy some day.) In order for fledgling America to thrive it had to focus on those activities and individuals that made tangible contributions and helped its bottom line.  America couldn’t afford to waste time on things as trivial as painting and music making.  These were pursuits for non-contributors to society – young women mostly, those who were seen by society as incapable of doing anything that truly contributed to the nation’s development, incapable of doing real work.  These outcasts were allowed to entertain themselves while the rest of the country did important profitable stuff.

The mindset has stuck and is now exported from America to any country influenced by our economic and sociological philosophies.  Now the message spreads to every continent: painting and music making isn’t real adult work.  Fans of the arts and those in the arts tend to be those with excess time or money…and slackers…and liberals…and those who can’t do anything useful or smart…and other people bearing negative labels.

The older we get the more serious and wise we become and the less time and energy and interest we have for juvenile things like art or artists.  And God forbid a bright child decides he wants to play the violin or write jingles or take photos when she grows up.  Join the army, sell AmWay, even be a preacher but don’t be creative for a living.  What will the neighbors think?  Because you won’t make much of a living.  People don’t pay for the frivolous ability to paint pictures or write melodies.  You’ll never have the stuff everyone else has, you’ll never make this country great by buying the stuff everyone else has, if you insist on being a flake artist.

Music is the hardest hit I think, at least here in America.  How many schools no longer teach music?  What gets stolen more often: a song or a painting?  Music, our society seems to think, isn’t valuable.

Creativity is applauded by this country as a whole when it is profitable: Pollock and Picasso, Bono and Britney.  If your kids turn out to be on par with any of these you smile, sit back in your luxury car, and say, “I always knew he could do it.” Because that kind of artist makes a real contribution: money and fame.

Lest someone think I’m complaining, the artist life is a great one.  But it would be nice if guys like Scott got a little more respect than they currently do for their work.  This is work we’re doing, after all.  And it has value, moms and dads, teachers, and the rest of America.  It has value that can’t be accounted for in your spreadsheets.