Subscribers email me the reasons why they don’t go to work. One should not work for money, they say, or for relatives, intellectuals, selves, instructors, men, dealers, patrons, governments, customers, the masses, or religious organizations. The variety boggles. Every day I spin this sort of information in my ever-boggled brain.
This inbox also fills with comparisons of fine art to other art forms — particularly film, literature and music. Film, they say, has now become work that is fit only for a committee. In film, apparently, no one knows what’s going on any more. Also, because of the expense of filmmaking, the team must regularly fall back on the conventional wisdom. Risk-taking is difficult when confined to formula. “Independent artists” are now possible only in the independent arts, except for the very few.
Literature, with its linear, editable quality, gets off better. Many artists see writing as a lofty, complementary activity that enriches their art. Every day now, thousands of visual artists invade the blogosphere. On another level, living inside a developing novel or poem is seen as a nice way to go. Then there’s the satisfaction of seeing one’s thoughts and characters between their own covers.
Music is attractive with its time-bound measures, immediacy and lovely potential for sharing. Love in a song can be carried by iPod or satellite or whistled between subway turnstiles. How fine to be Christina Aguilera or Cole Porter or Johann Sebastian Bach. Also, music composed in academia needs to be intellectual and new — parallelling much of the visual art that’s made in academia. The foundations of harmony, melody and rhythm are there to be tested and often rejected. Disgruntlement is rife. Disciplines that once stole hearts have become fields of cynicism. A recent email told me that there was “nothing new to be written in music, so why bother?”
So why do we work? The spin tells me that it’s our human longing for immortality. It’s love that we require. And many artists wish to be loved immortally. Our quest for love has its vernacular in our quest for fame. Love is why we work and sing and write and dance and quilt and point cameras and make all the things that we do.
PS: “I saw you there one wonderful day
You took my heart and threw it away
That’s why I ask the Lord in Heaven above
What is this thing called Love?” (Cole Porter)
Esoterica: In the music department at S. University I attended the world premiere of “Spin Cycle” by Gerald Mub. Mub’s 20-minute piece consisted mostly of layered and long-held bass-fiddle bowings that lingered until their vibrations ran down to a murmur. Occasional high screeches from detuned violas and violins gave a Paleolithic counterpoint, like Tyrannosaurus Rex calling in the distance. A generous outbreak of applause greeted the final bars. Mub’s mother, who happened to be sitting next to me and with whom I struck up an acquaintance, told me that he had done better work in “Foundation.” I told her that I thought her son’s piece was “remarkable.”
Experience Life while painting
by Len Sodenkamp, Boise, ID, USA
Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Life was not meant to be difficult. Life is synonymous with love. One and the same. The Source is Love. We are here to experience Life/Love. It makes no difference that the landscape I painted today has been painted a hundred or thousand times before. It only matters that I experience Life painting it today.
Dreams of immortality gone
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic
If I ever had dreams of immortality, they are gone. Then went the dream of a comfortable retirement with orders to keep me working and buying groceries. Now I work like the heroin addict seeks the next fix. I am hooked and I must work. I do not kid myself that I am making art, though I have made good things. Now I just work to see what hands, eyes and materials produce.
By doing, we give love
by Kim Denise, Hilton, NY, USA
Spin it one more time, in a smaller circle. Perhaps we do it to get love. I know I get a warm, fuzzy feeling when someone is moved by my work but, more than that, we do it to give love. It’s love in a larger sense, rooted in that profound creative urge responsible for the propagation of species, and the propagation of the species attempts immortality for one’s genetic line, so we’ve done another round. What all the intellectuals and angst-ridden seekers forget is that the answer is very simple. We do this work because we can, and because we have to. It’s as essential to our collective survival as reproduction, and it comes from the same ancient place within. Why worry about it? Just get to work.
Creativity as mating ritual
by Deborah Darnell, New Haven, CT, USA
Further to your suggestion that love may be the drive behind our work, there is recent research that suggests the arts as we know them may have developed as a mating strategy. Citing Geoffrey Miller’s work The Mating Mind, Helen Fisher, in her recent book Why We Love (New York: Henry Holt and Company 2004) points out (pp. 122-3): “…our drive to create visual arts, stories, myths, comedies, and dramas, our taste for all kinds of sports, our curiosity… sense of humor…creativity… [etc.] are all far too ornate and metabolically expensive to have evolved solely to survive another day.” … “Those ancestors who could speak poetically, draw deftly, dance nimbly, or deliver fiery moral speeches were regarded as more attractive. These talented men and women produced more babies. And gradually these human capacities became inscribed in our genetic code. …our flowery poetic verse, our musical brilliance, and many of our other complex human talents probably evolved, at least in part, as men and women endlessly displayed their mating qualities.”
No option but to create
by Jackie Strickland, Brunswick, GA, USA
I paint and write because I have no other choice — than to be totally miserable if I don’t. My heart and soul cry out until my mind finally decides to go along. And, yes, I ‘love’ it, but sometimes, as with the people I love, I treat it badly, neglect it or apply stipulations to it. I don’t sell a lot and that makes me angry at society for not appreciating art more, and then I remember that I don’t have a lot of exposure, which is my own fault, but paint and write I must — no option.
Sharing what we love
by Stormy Bailey, Memphis, TN, USA
I think we paint because we do love. Whenever I see a rainbow, or a falling star, or any other rare and beautiful thing, I immediately want to share the vision or experience with the people nearest me, both in proximity and spirit. And this urge to share is not limited to the magnificent, but extends to the otherwise remarkable, even to the horrific. Painting is a way of communicating vision and experience so that it reaches beyond a single moment in time. So is photography, so is quilting, so is poetry. What fills our hearts and spills over must be shared.
Who cares if it’s been done?
by Linda Anderson Stewart, Twin Butte, AB, Canada
I am always puzzled by the thought that there is nothing new creatively so why bother doing anything at all — such a sad take that I think feeds a lot of lives. Do we stop breathing because it’s been done? As artists we have been given a great chance, if we choose to take it, to rise above all the muck of daily life and really enjoy the freedom that pure “work” affords us. It lifts the weight, shuts out the ugliness, shows us the joy. Who cares if it’s been done? If comparison / one-upmanship is the only goal, then the point has truly been missed.
‘It’s got to come out’
by Brian Jones, Cortaro, AZ, USA
I believe it was Georgia O’Keeffe’s husband and photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, who suggested that making art should be illegal — that way you would know who the real artists are. If artists could live without doing their thing, they should break their brushes, throw out their camera, destroy their manuscripts, and walk away. I paint because I must. It’s in me. As Jon Paris writes in one of his songs titled Boogie, a Jon’s mom says to his dad, “that boy ain’t no good, staying out all night,” etc. The dad responds, “that boy’s got to boogie, ’cause he’s got it in ‘im, and it’s got to come out.”
No licence required
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
I have a fair notion of why I work. My family existed well below the poverty level. Being a rather bright child, I did not want to spend my whole life in that situation. By age ten, I had regular employment. I guess that work simply became a habit. I also understood that doing well in school offered certain advantages. I volunteered for everything. By the time I was thirteen, I had discovered art. No age requirements, no license required.
Work is like going on vacation
by John Burk, Timonium, MD, USA
I agree that love is involved in art production — love of place (being a landscape painter), and/or love of color and light, and a good composition. Perhaps love for the appreciative viewer. But my gratification is more selfish. Time spent in a painting is very much like being ‘there’ again — like going on vacation at the end of a day. And when the painting is done, I have seen every detail and nuance so thoroughly, that a glance at the completed work is sufficient for a short visit. I love the act of producing art. And I love that others feel so much the same way.
Work for love? Humbug!
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada
People don’t work because of love. Most work to survive. The few of us who are in no danger of dying from hunger, also work to survive. You see, there are all those microscopic germs, worms and other funny creatures hanging around our bodies. They are waiting for us to stop working, so they can get to work. Artists like to think that they work for love because they get the high feeling from their work – alike love, but we too work to stay alive. Once we stop, the little guys start their party! I wonder if they also think they work for love?
Integrity above profit
by Craig Kittner, Paducah, KY, USA
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania I was taught to love and respect nature. Nature programs on television fascinated me. But all of them seemed to end with a report of how humanity was gradually destroying all the natural habitat. That made me angry and sad. Now we are faced with the very real threat of global warming. The majority of people simply don’t care. I embraced painting as the outlet of my creativity and the focus of my working life because it is a nonverbal form of communication that allows the love of all things natural and the rejection of all things crassly commercial to exist side by side in a subtle expression of beauty. Art is one of the very few professions that places integrity above profitability.
‘I think I do it for me’
by Jane Freeman, Bemidji, MN, USA
There are times when I do no art and during those times my eyes become more open to why I want to paint. I see things during those times that I somehow want to express or preserve. It is constantly an active conversation. How would I paint that or what color is that, Cerulean or Manganese Blue? When I am not painting, I see 60 things in a week I want to paint. I think I do it for me and I am happy if someone else likes what I do. My paintings are my camera on my world.
The experience of being alive
by Max Elliott, Banff, AB, Canada
I’d like to know why visual artists “work” and musicians “play.” Referring back to your recent mention of Joseph Campbell, whose recorded radio interviews I listen to often while in the studio, and whose books I have long enjoyed — most poignant to me is Campbell’s notion that what we are seeking in life is not meaning, but rather the experience of being alive. (Those of us who have had to occasionally work at other jobs to pay for the art habit may recognize a difference between feeling alive in our daily work and just working for a “reason”) The creative soul, Campbell feels, is on a quest, and the quest of each individual differs.
Simply for the joy of it
by Kittie Beletic, Califon, NJ, USA
It is so wonderful to work simply for the joy of it! Keeps you coming back every day. Even when the sales and the acclaim are not there, you have your experience of joy. Exploring the beauty of something that isn’t readily apparent to you can be an experience that is deepening. Take, for instance, the music of your teenagers (or if you don’t have any, just flip onto “their” radio stations). Or if you are a fine artist, learn more about a performance artist, better yet, allow a student to share his creative experience. You can be renewed in your own enthusiasm through the naive or cynical views of someone else. It’s sunny and crisp today in upstate New York. A good day to sweep out the cobwebs, enjoy the warmth of my coffee cup and the continuation of yesterday’s painting.
Rewards of an art teacher
by Pam Coffman, Oviedo, FL, USA
As a longtime studio art teacher, what really matters is finding some way to express the innate human urge to create. And yes, I do think that creativity is a basic human need that can be traced back to the earliest beginning of human activity. We can intellectualize, over think and materialize the process, but for me, at least, the creative process is the most authentic and satisfying when it comes from my heart and soul rather than my brain. As an art teacher, one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is when a student experiences this feeling — and you can see that “aha” look in their eyes.
Talent nothing without work
by Carolyn McDade, Kennesaw, GA, USA
What ever happened to working for the satisfaction of seeing oneself develop as an artist? For the pleasure of the brush on the canvas, the vibration of the music in the air, the sweet sound of the word: for the love of the craft. Yes, we have to eat, so we must sell, and that, of course, is an issue we must face. But did Van Gogh stop because he had difficulties? Did Beethoven stop composing because he was deaf? The love of the work itself — I believe that is what drives all artists on — the joy inherent in it. Being remembered immortally comes to no one. Who painted the caves of Lascaux? We only see the results… and canvas and paper won’t last that long, nor will memories. Fame can be short-lived. But the work is always there, waiting for us to start — with opportunities for problem-solving and learning — the challenge of each new piece of art. Complainers are looking for excuses not to work — it’s easier to drown oneself in excuses and get mired down — and yes, if we are truthful with ourselves few of us (including me) have not been there. But the challenge of life is to work through that, get up, dust off, and keep going — for the love of the work, for the love of life and all the gifts we have been given. Talent is nothing without work, and in the process is where we find real joy.
Yoga & Meditation
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2006.
That includes Steve Hovland of California, USA who wrote, “Artists should not try to be pure. They should get their hands and their souls a little dirty by plunging into the world full force.”
And also Suzanne Northcott who wrote, “Maybe love is what we feel when we realize that we are alive, so we make work because it is the most loving way we know to be alive!”
And also Antoinette Ledzian of Stonington, CT, USA who wrote, “Isn’t it interesting how the letters in boggled and blogged are the same? ‘I’m in tune with the right vibrations in the universe when I’m in the process of working.’ (Louise Nevelson)”
And also Nomi Whalen who wrote, “We all might not need or want ‘fame’ or ‘immortality.’ Maybe, we just celebrate each moment we hold a brush or create a new sound.”
And also Joanne Morgan who wrote, “As a professional writer that spends 12 – 15 hours per day with my hands draped over a keyboard I think this quote says it best. ‘I don’t like work — no man does — but I like what is in work: the chance to find yourself.’ (Joseph Conrad)”
And also Patricia Peterson of New York, NY, USA who wrote, “What a bore analyzing justification of inaction, when the point is to live as fully as possible at all times. One only need look at a baby to realize the world is filled with delightful moments of discovery when we keep looking for them.”
And also Mona Youssef of Ottawa, ON, Canada who wrote, “Do artists starve for the true love and only find it in painting, composing music or writing, etc.? I wonder if artists get their phenylethylamine increased by loving what they do!”
And also Dudley Parker of Eastleigh, UK who wrote, “We work because since the dawn of life there has been a need to hunt for food. The desire or need to work is built-in, programmed into our genes. There are lazy genes too, but in an earlier era the lazy ones starved.”
And also James Webb of West Chester, PA, USA who wrote, “The last thing I picture myself doing is living in a retirement community, reverse kindergarten, reminiscing about the past rather than taking on life as an adventure, discovering what’s around the next corner.”
And also John Fitzsimmons of Fayetteville, NY, USA who wrote, “I call a lot of academic art ‘reaching for esoterica.’ Is the new academic the old avant-garde? Has the avant-garde gotten so avant that it is la rear garde? Every time I dare to think this I see something that challenges that generalization.”
And also Kevin Weckbach of Denver, CO, USA who wrote, “Every day is a new day that has never existed; every minute is new. All flowers bloom each new Spring regardless of our opinions, but it too is new and not ever exactly the same. Original art that is created is like that flower, every Spring new and every time a little different.”