Songs for the Struggling Artist


I’m Not a Productive Member of Society and I Have No Worth
November 11, 2018, 10:52 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Now – before you leap to my defense against myself, you should know that I know this is a lie. I’m being deliberately provocative here. On good days, I see myself as incredibly productive and worth a whole lot. But there are days when I feel the capitalist values beating against me a little more strongly than others.

Capitalism says that the way for me to be a productive member of society is to make a lot of money, a lot of capital – which I should then spend. Or, if I don’t create capital, I should be productive by providing my labor to someone who IS doing some capital generating. I don’t do any of this and am therefore an unproductive member of society. When productivity means money, which it usually does, I am very clearly not productive.

But – there are those who define productivity in the sense of producing stuff. In this sense, I am in a very productive stage of life. I may not be contributing capital but I have, this last year or so, put forth into the world five albums worth of music, several plays, two podcasts, a novel and a multitude of blog posts. By sheer volume of creation and production, I’m one of the most productive members of society I know. But not one of those things earns me a salary or makes a profit. So I‘m not worth anything.

If you measure by money and not ideas, I am worthless. This is why I don’t measure by money. I have zero net worth. By your usual American standards, I am not a valuable member of society. Neither is any other struggling artist.

But I hope you realize how ridiculous this is. Do we only value a work of art when it makes money for someone? There are some for whom that is true. I happen to think art is worth something separate from how much money it can bring in. If you’ve gotten this far with me, I’m guessing you think so too.

It’s not just art that’s worth more than money, either. Raising one’s own children might get you a tax credit but it’s not money in the bank. In order to get that tax credit, you have to make some money elsewhere. The multitude of caretaking jobs that are unpaid or underpaid are overwhelming. Can we call someone who cares for their sick or elderly family member unproductive? Worthless? When we value “productivity” and “net worth” above all else, that’s what we do.

Then, too, when we extend this idea out to its natural conclusion in the other direction, we’re looking at many many “productive” people who are actually quite destructive to the society, culture and/or the planet. Guys selling sub prime mortgages were extremely productive if we define productivity financially. They made SO MUCH money. And they destroyed, not only many people’s lives but also the world’s economy, which led to destroying even more people’s lives. Someone happily at home taking care of their children isn’t looking so bad now, is it?

I’m not trying to take down capitalism. (Couldn’t if I tried.) But I came up with this title (and therefore this whole piece) on a day when I was feeling a sense of shame about my life and how I’ve chosen to live it. On a better day, I recognize what a load of crock it is that we define productivity and worth financially. I’d love to see some way to embrace some of the other measures of productivity in development. If we had a Universal Basic Income, for example, and we weren’t so worried about finding the money for essentials, we might discover a world of possibility for things created outside the realm of the financial demands. Scientific discoveries could expand tremendously if they weren’t tied to a need to make money for the companies that fund them.

In other words, if we worried less about being financially productive members of society, we might be able to be actually more productive. We could make more things. Discover things. Create things. Contribute love and service. Make an exciting, artistic, scientific, thrilling world full of art and love. Not just money.

I have seen many an artist twist themselves into knots trying to demonstrate the more socially acceptable forms of productivity while their artistic productivity languishes. I’m not talking about the day jobs we do to survive. I’m talking about busy work. I’m talking about feeling like I should be writing emails instead of writing a song. I’m talking about feeling like I’ll be a better person if I just do more tasks that might, one day, relate to money or a job.

For my own creative practice, I have seen that the less I worry about my productivity in a capitalist sense, the more productive productive I can be. In other words, when I can joke about not being a productive member of society and having no worth, when I can embrace a sort of anti-productivity stance and start to scale my worth differently, if only in my own mind, I find that I can actually access creativity in a fuller, more whole-hearted way, which births many creative children that would not have otherwise been born. That’s the kind of productivity I actually value. That is worth a great deal to me.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help increase my worth?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

Advertisements


Tortoising and Hare-ing

The afternoon that the lullaby came to me, I was in the middle of working on a big long term project. Or rather, I was preparing to continue the work on a big long term project. But the lullaby called itself into existence and before the day was over. I had not only written a song but recorded it, too.

Most things I do are not like this. Most things are bigger, more unwieldy, the sorts of projects that can take years. But occasionally a shorter lightening rod piece will flash through.

When I got the burst of lullaby inspiration, I thought, “Oh, I’m a hare! And my artist friend laboring over an epic work is a tortoise! Artists come in different speeds!” But I very quickly realized that this was wrong. I have at least one project that I’ve been working on for a decade and a half. So, I’m definitely not typically super fast. What I realized, though, is that an artist isn’t either a tortoise or a hare. They’re both. Sometimes we’re the tortoise, inching along, headlights only illuminating a few feet ahead and sometimes we’re the hare, dashing ahead to a finish line in an instant. Sometimes we’re both – we send one slow project along the track and then send another to quickly dash ahead. (I also recognize that, in the fable, the hare loses but I’m sure there are races that hare could win.)

I suspect a rich artistic life has a bit of both styles in it. In the midst of working through a novel, for example, it is a gift to see an entire creative process come together in an afternoon. Most artists I know have those big pieces that they chip away at slowly, like marble carved into shape one knock of the chisel at a time, so to take a break and to do a quick sketch can be very refreshing. Simultaneously, if you’re in a space of making a series of short term projects that you can finish in a day, maybe adding a more ambitious project with multiple steps and even an invisible deadline will give you a good shift in perspective.

It’s not that some artists are tortoises and some are hares. It’s that some projects are short races and some are long. Some ideas are hares on a quick track and others are tortoises on a marathon, slowly plodding forward to an epic finish. We are not tortoises or hares, we are either tortoising or hare-ing. The trick is knowing which is which.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help support both my tortoise and my hare projects

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



No One’s Asking for Your Art

Probably, there is no one who can’t wait to read your next play. Probably, no one is itching to read your novel. No one is clamoring for your new album or begging for your next dance piece. Probably you have some loved ones who are very supportive and tell you how excited they are to read your latest writing but 9 out of 10 people really don’t care and even the most supportive person you have on your side won’t see or read EVERYTHING. Your friends might feel obligated to go see your show or listen to your album but they probably won’t come every single time or listen more than a few times. Probably when you tell them about your latest creative venture, they’ll tell you they’re excited about it but they probably won’t come. (Life happens. To everyone. Everyone can’t see everything.) I’m not saying your people are not glad that you make art but the odds are they’re not clamoring for your latest thing. Especially if you make a lot of things.

This is why you have to untie yourself from your potential audience. If you have the instinct to create, you have to do it for yourself first because no one wants whatever you have in mind more than you.

I think this is true even if you’re a popular artist who people want to hear from. Let’s look at J.K. Rowling. Her fans wanted Harry Potter, now and forever. No one wanted her to write a book about a small-time English Village council election. No one was asking for that. But she wrote it anyway. If Rowling was completely tied to what people wanted from her, she’d have been writing only Harry Potter for the rest of her life. But no, not only did she write a novel about an election, she also went and wrote a whole crime series under a pseudonym. I bet you no one was asking for her to do that when she started.

If you’re not J.K. Rowling, your audience might not want anything at all from you. The most likely response you will get to your art is indifference. And you cannot let this stop you. Just because no one particularly wants you to do it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

If you’re called to create, you have to do it. For you. No one else. Or maybe one other person. It could even be an imaginary person. I have one dedicated fan of the podcast. I record it for him. And even he doesn’t listen to every single one. A more logical person might leave such an enterprise aside. But I don’t make a podcast for logical reasons – I make it for artistic ones. My reasoning mind understands that not every artistic expression is for every one. And that as long as I feel inclined to create, that’s how long I should do it.

No one wants it. But if you DON’T express that unique sparkling thing in your soul, it will fester. Or at the very least, wink out of existence.

If you need people to want your work, you might just want to go ahead and work in advertising. You can go be “a creative” in marketing or some form of industry. They’re going to want your words, your ideas, your drawings, etc. They’ll give you assignments, structures and feedback. They’ll ask you for all you have. They will read everything you write for them. They will listen to all you record. They will look at all that you draw. And you will get payment, one way or another.

But if you feel called to be an artist, you’ll need to be prepared to go where no one is calling to you, where there is no encouragement but your own creative spark. The practice of a life in the arts is learning how to nurture your own spark, how to stoke your own creative fire and encourage it to blaze so it becomes harder and harder to ignore. Learn how to be your own match, your own oxygen, your own kindling, your own log and you have a practice for life.

Help me feed my fire,

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



If we knew what we were doing…

“If we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be called research.”

I walked past the NYU Environmental Fluid Dynamics Lab and saw this quote in their window. It is (probably mis-)attributed to Albert Einstein but the sentiment is useful regardless of who came up with it.

This idea is particularly meaningful to me now as I’m currently raising funds for the Research and Development of my show. We don’t know what we’re doing. Or rather, it feels like I don’t know what I’m doing. I recognize that it is a little disingenuous for me to say that we do not know what we’re doing because we know many things. We come to the table with a world of skill and experience and desire and curiosity and trainings and aesthetic preferences and all sorts of juicy stuff. But even with all that behind us, it can feel disorienting to not know the answers or even the questions sometimes. But sitting in the feeling of not knowing what we’re doing is the way to something potent – through research, through discovery.

So much theatre (maybe even so much art?) is full of assuredness or even bluster. It knows what it’s doing. It has a plan and it will execute that plan to the letter. There are systems in place to execute the stuff that everyone knows how to do. It works very hard to be seen as confident and knowledgeable at every turn. This is why so much theatre fails to move me, I suspect. It’s too certain, too sure of itself, too smooth.

Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to Not Know but it so helpful to remember that not knowing what you’re doing is how you discover something new. Einstein (maybe) said it.

20160930_153022

You can help my company research

by contributing to our Indiegogo campaign.

 

You can help my individual research

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read it on Soundcloud, click here.

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



Ideas and Glitter and Places to Put Them
June 10, 2016, 12:16 am
Filed under: art, Creative Process | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Over the years I’ve been a part of various schemes that are meant to help artists. Most of the schemes in NYC are schemes to improve our business skills, to make us bigger and more solid institutions. These make me nuts for reasons I have discussed many times before but recently, I’ve been involved in schemes that are meant to help give me ideas and inspirations. These make me nuts in a very different way.

I have so many ideas, folks. I have ideas for breakfast, ideas for lunch, ideas for afternoon tea, dinner and midnight snack. I am rolling in ideas. And I am grateful for that abundance of ideas. I feel I can never have too many – so I am always happy to be a part of something meant to increase my inspiration. But ideas are never my problem.

It’s like ideas are glitter. Glitter is wonderful. It makes everything it touches sparkle. Every time someone gives me more glitter, I’m going to be happy to receive it.

The thing I haven’t had is a place to PUT all this glitter. It’s pouring out of drawers, stuffed into socks, pooling in corners. When there’s no space to put my glitter or a container to store it, it can start to feel like a burden to keep receiving it. Someone gives me a handful of glitter and I’m like, “Oooooh! Glitter! Thank you!” And then I look around…Where is this going to go?

I suspect my fellow American Artists are also not short on ideas and inspiration. We’ve all seen shows and been lit up and gone home thinking, “I can’t wait to try something like that,” and then we realize that we have neither the time, the space nor the context to try that idea out. We don’t have R & D grants as some of our European colleagues do – everything we do is meant to be a product with a target audience and numbers to match. There’s not much space for glitter in the models we have. But glitter is often what we love, what we respond to. I will never refuse an idea – would never refuse a handful of glitter – but like glitter, ideas can find their way into inconvenient places and start to clog up the works if you never get an opportunity to use them or express them.

I don’t want to seem ungrateful for any program or scheme designed to give me glitter but these programs should know that giving me more glitter is not the way to increase the quality of American Theatre. I imagine that if you are not an artist, that ideas seem to be the currency for us – that increasing them would be the way to build up the bank of art. But we’ve got this covered. I’ve got so much glitter, so many ideas. I understand the possibilities. I have an aesthetic education gathered from glittery artists from around the world. I don’t need more glitter. I just need a place to play with it.

Luckily, I was recently given a space with no real strings and so I chose to use it to create my own R &D experience and am therefore incredibly grateful to be able to pull out boxes and boxes of glitter I’ve had sitting around for years. And I get more glitter every day, just because I have a place to play.

Glitter_close_up

You can give me space for glitter by becoming my patron on Patreon.
kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message

Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

*

This blog is also a Podcast. If you’d like to listen to me read it to you and here additional commentary, click here.

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.  https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Wanted: Partner in Crime

In recent months I’ve been feeling pretty blocked creatively. This is new for me. I’ve never really had trouble generating projects or completing them. If there’s one thing I thought I’d always have, it’s my creative flow. But lately, instead of the river of creativity, I’ve been seeing little faucet drips. Drip! (idea – oops, there it goes, down the drain!)
I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then I saw my Rubenfeld Synergist (my version of therapy. Check it out. It’s awesome stuff. Rubenfeld Synergy) and discovered a fundamental truth about myself that ought to have been obvious.
I’m a collaborative artist. (duh.) I thrive when ideas are bouncing back and forth. But with most of my chief collaborators scattered like dandelion seeds across the world, I’ve been attempting this new thing of creating all on my own. And that just don’t work!
I also realized that my best friends are my best collaborators and vice versa. There are people who work best with strangers and never get close to the people they work with. I am not one of those people. I am happiest with blurry lines in love and art. I love when they feed each other.
For a while now, I’ve been exploring the more “professional” world – which can mean doing things more impersonally – and I just don’t dig it. I started my company with my friends. I started my band with my friends. And the people that became friends through working together remained so and returned to work and be friends together again.
I want my art to feel like one of those conversations that seems like it could go on all night and all my night conversations to lead to art.
That’s a tall order, of course.
So meanwhile, I’m just looking for someone to get into artistic trouble with me. Someone who wants to knock over the bank of creativity with me and see what spills out.

This song was the first I ever wrote all by myself and a kind of mourning for the collaboration that began my songwriting life. It eerily feels pretty appropriate for these days, too. Earthbound




%d bloggers like this: