Songs for the Struggling Artist


The Chain of Inspiration
November 5, 2013, 12:13 am
Filed under: art | Tags: , , ,

While at the beach this summer, I looked up to see a man and a handful of kids sculpting in the sand. It was much more than a sand castle made out of buckets. It was a sand sculpture of a dog, resting its head on its paws. It was extraordinary.
It seemed to me that the man was an artist, very likely a sculptor, and he was generously sharing his skills with his nieces and nephews. As I watched them work, I was touched by the opportunity to watch creation in action. I thought it might be fun to try to make a sand sculpture like this. “Maybe tomorrow,” I thought.
The next day, as I walked along the shore, I saw a dozen sand sculptures all being worked on by different families. The original sculptor was nowhere in sight but the inspiration he’d triggered had set off a wave of sand art. There was a mermaid, a man being eaten by a shark, a turtle, a space shuttle, a dolphin, and a great many fancy sand castles.
I was moved by the contagion of this one artist’s idea. He gave the gift of his skill and imagination, first to his family and then to the community as a whole. And I doubt the rest of the beach had any idea where the spark for sand sculptures had come from. The work reproduced itself without any credit to the instigation of the movement.
This all made me think about how art often works this way – that we make something for our own enjoyment and that pleasure spreads out into communities, disconnected from the initial artist. It made me think about how important it is to support that first artist. He may not be the one to get the credit in the end but it was his skill and training and expertise that raised the bar for everyone around him. As a culture we need to figure out how to support more of those first artists.
It is not direct, this support. It couldn’t be. You couldn’t write a grant and say “We propose to create a piece of art that will inspire others to create, such that there will be a small movement of sand sculptures on this small stretch of beach.” You’d never get funding for it. Nor would you fund an artist just to make a sculpture in the sand.
You could, however, fund an artist to have enough money to be able to go to the beach sometime and to have enough money to live and therefore a kind of generosity of spirit and skill to share his work for fun.
I think supporting the arts means supporting artists without attachment to what they create. It’s not funding individual shows and community projects. It’s providing artists enough to live and to set inspirations on fire.

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