Category Archives: art

The responsibility of the artist

While the treason of the artist is to elevate pain from a commonplace part of our lives into something that seems unique and therefore exalted, the responsibility of the artist is to create a common culture for the people of the time. The true artist sidesteps out the shackles of propaganda and rhetoric and presents material in such a way as it can become a basis, or common touchstone, of conversation and deeper inspection.

The artist, by dealing in color or other forms, can grasp what the most slippery of our genetic makeup have coated in ooze, and can cast a light on topics that would otherwise fall into the abyss of obfuscation.

Artists complain, maybe not overtly all the time. Their clay is that very item we would accuse them of treason for examining, compulsively rolling it over and over in their fingers. Dostoevsky, Dickens, and Dolatov all shone an unforgiving light onto their surroundings, contrasted what was actually happening with what “should” have been, lamented that the enormous potential they saw in the world would never be reached, but instead was cruelly and forever snatched away.

This occurred to me as I thumbed through a book I should not have purchased, a book about the thousand places I should visit before I die. I happened to land on the chapter entitled Aleppo, and I wondered what was it that I should see there? And was it still there to be seen? Or, was it gone forever, so that my eyes would never gaze upon this great treasure? It was the Aleppo Souq, a market located in the heart of the ancient part of the city. The Al-Madina Souq has been a World Heritage Site since 1986 and yes, much of it has been destroyed. When? Four years ago.

No one I know mourned its loss. No one I know knew anything about it. In our great collective ignorance, the Al-Madina Souq will not be missed.

And so the answer is no, I will never see it. I will never wander through the caverns and smell the spices and feel the silk. Something so special as to be a World Heritage Site has been destroyed by people I don’t know, fighting a war I don’t understand, in a country I have never been, and the unknowns continue on and on and on.

And even though I grew up during the Cold War with nuclear annihilation an imminent threat that I was taught to protect myself from by falling to the floor and covering my head with my hands, it was not until recently that I even came close to grasping the reality of that threat. It was not until a few days ago that it struck me that between the U.S. and Russia, there are 14,000 nuclear warheads and that these are even more powerful that the bombs my country dropped to end World War II. And I am suddenly sickened and ill from the thought. And these ballistic missiles have a reach of over 3,000 miles and can arrive at their destinations in 30 minutes—faster than a plane can fly. Three thousand miles is further than the trip I took across the U.S. when I was 25. Three thousand miles in thirty minutes to kill people I don’t know and have nothing against, most of whom I would probably enjoy meeting, many of whom are funny and charming and smart.

And we could potentially go through this little exercise of package delivery 14,000 times.

I do not hate the people of Russia. Quite the contrary. They are wonderful people. And I would say that they do not hate Americans. And yet, the propaganda machine is currently spinning and spinning trying to make two strangers hate each other.

Trying to make us want to kill each other. Teasing us and goading us like abused dogs that will be set to fighting while onlookers make bets on who will win. Why not let the masters fight and let the dogs run free?

The great American comedian, George Carlin, may he rest in peace, said that Americans are idiots. He said that all you had to do was look at this beautiful country we live in and see what we’ve done to it, how we’ve turned into one big shopping mall, to know that it was true. And I think of the place near my home that is called Swan Island, and how no swan is there, quite the contrary.

Carlin, in a burst of machismo, said he wasn’t emotionally attached. He had decided to be a spectator—only, to watch the big freak show go by, and to point and jeer. He said we Americans have the biggest and the best freak show on Earth.

Entrepreneurs and scientists will take you to Mars, but artists, our place is on Earth. We need to comment in the ways that come best to us, whether it is to point and jeer, or write, or sing, or paint, or sculpt, or make videos, or take pictures, or to fill coffee creamer cups with random hues of paint. We need to perform like it’s our swan song, because this time, sooner than we all surmise, it surely is.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

By Elizabeth Gilbert, @ 2015; Audiobook read by the author,

I’ll just cut to the chase. I loved this book. I can think of four people I want to buy it for, and I want to re-listen to is as soon as possible. Yes, it was that good.

That said. I’m totally freaked out,and I’m sitting here at 1 a.m. on a worknight eating cheese and drinking a leftover green drink made of spinach, kale, and other assorted goodies.

I loved the idea of living the creative life and of the blurring of the sacred and profane and of the trickster and of embracing curiosity when inspiration flags. I love it all. And I love that living the creative life is enough and the goal, not recognition or publication or any other of the other ego-gratifying things we tend to aspire to. I love the idea that this is all about feeding the soul. Yes. Yes. Yes.

That said. I’m totally thinking about eating more cheese. Totally. What’s wrong with me?

The election? The violence? The media? The news in general? My husband’s brain? Or his doctor, who I really like, but who is starting to seem like any other doctor. He actually asked me if I read. Really? Or is it the recent development that my therapist is leaving for Thailand and Vietnam to pursue “my dream” of travel and teaching ESL? While she tells me that I’m not stuck and that I have choices.

I’m sitting here literally cringing. Awake. Unable to think or to sleep. I’m supposed to see a lawyer tomorrow about advanced directives.

My husband seems to be doing better in some ways. He’s controlling his anger. He doesn’t seem as violent. I think this is because he’s started taking pottery classes. His doctor thinks it’s because he’s started taking Alka Calm. Regardless, I welcome the change. He’s still in his own world. He’s sweeter, but still distant. He wants to buy buy buy, and has no realization of what things cost or of trade offs. And I’m feeling so unequipped to deal with any of it. My life has turned on its head.

But speaking of creativity. Music has exploded for me. I just sit down at the keyboard and play, almost without thinking. My thinking is directional and spatial, but nonspecific. I don’t think in terms of notes and now, not even in terms of chords. However to expand on my creativity, I bring my focus back to chords and how I might alter them slightly. Rhythm isn’t my strong suit at the moment. And everything I play sounds classical. Ideally, I’d like it to sound Cuban. Planning to work on that.

Elizabeth Gilbert says that her way of coaxing creativity applies to everything, not just writing, but even scientific discovery. And I’ve been having these crazy ideas that match her description of inspiration, but around neuroscience, and I think wow, is this idea asking me to bring it into the world? Me? I’m not a scientist. But then I think I’m not doing science, merely reviewing literature and noticing patterns, which then lead me to questions. And then I think I know people who could help me if I need it. I know chemists and physicians and microbiologists. I have a collection of friends who speak languages that span the entire globe. There’s a rag tag team there waiting to be created and interrogated. If only I didn’t want to run away so very badly. Bali sounds nice this time of life.

Gilbert says that when an idea confronts you, you can say yes or no. She proposes that ideas roam the earth looking for humans to bring them out of the ether. It’s magical thinking. And while my sense of logic dismisses magical thinking, I also wonder if it’s merely the terminology that is throwing me and it’s simply a mystery we don’t understand. Why not embrace it?

Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert. Thank you for such an excellent book and for bringing this great idea into the world. Thank you. And now I will have to go and think about all this for a while and perhaps I’ll start drawing brains and tau proteins and tangles and microtubules and such. And maybe it won’t come to anything, but the act of doing it will be interesting, and diverting, and maybe I won’t have to move to Bali, or maybe, just maybe, I’ll set forth a plan to do just that.

Comment on the Treason of the Artist

The Treason of the Artist was probably one of my best posts. The neurons were firing that day.

And it’s funny. You can sound pretty darn good talking about something you don’t agree with.

I don’t think artists commit treason.

The reason artists focus on the bad, painful stuff is because artists are either trying to help us solve problems or deal with our pain.

Artists tell the “story” of the saber toothed tiger hunt to educate, to warn, and to entertain. This is what Garg did, and it didn’t go so well for him.

Or artists imagine how things could have gone better, and they tell that story. Artists are solution engineers.

If I hear of your troubles, I can draw from that when I face a similar experience. That’s what storytelling is all about. I think.

So the artist focuses on what’s bad rather than on what’s good. If there is no problem to solve, what’s there to talk about?

That’s just bragging, isn’t it?