Songs for the Struggling Artist


Do People Really Have an Aversion to Creativity?

The science in it seems sketchy and it’s not clear which people this may be true for – but the New York Times put out this article about how there’s a Creativity Problem and it feels true to me. Obviously, my feelings are not good science but if what this article posits is correct, a lot of people have a subconscious aversion to, or are pretty ambivalent about, creativity. They’ll say they like it, that they want it, that creativity is valuable to them. Then underneath, their subconscious seems to reflect the opposite experience. All the questions about methodology and sample sizes aside, if this is true, it does explain a few things. It explains why people’s stated values are so different than their actual values. It explains why people can say they support the arts while cutting all the arts programs. It explains why here in the States, we have no arts funding to speak of – because even though people say they like creative people and things, they don’t actually.

One of the theories that got floated in the article was that most people really prefer the status quo and art is disruptive. That is, it’s especially disruptive if it is innovative or creative. That is, if it’s more than just decorative, it’s probably shaking things up. Maybe that’s why people associated creativity with a word like vomit. Vomit is also very disruptive. Maybe people’s subconsciouses were going super deep when they went this way. It’s not that they don’t LIKE art, they’re just making word association visceral metaphors. (Says the artist who likes to make metaphors.)

The article suggested that even when companies declared that they valued creativity in their staff, in truth, they tended to revert to the status quo when hiring because middle managers don’t like novelty. This is not a surprise to me. I know ARTS middle managers who don’t like novelty or innovation and they’re theoretically IN creative fields. I guess we live in a world of middle managers, even in the arts.

This difference in people’s stated values feels true to me because while some people are charmed by my creative life choices when they meet me at parties, there is often a kind of underlying hostility about it that I’ve never been able to understand. I thought it was a kind of jealousy, like, everyone really wants to be as creative as they were when they were children and so it gets expressed as resentment to adults – but it may be this disgust, I suppose, this association with vomit or other negative words. It may be a subconscious resistance to status quo disruptors.

I’ve seen people get really mean in on-line discussions of artist housing that I’ve seen. They call us freeloaders who should get no special treatment and tell artists to get “real jobs.” There are some people who’d just rather we didn’t create. I guess there are more of those than I realized. That’s kind of a bummer.

I suppose I understand. Maybe my subconscious hates my creativity, too! (I doubt it. I’m a pretty clear outlier in these things.) Creativity is messy. You can theoretically want your kids to be creative, for example, but then, not let them paint without the smock and the drop-cloth and the mop at hand and really it would be easier to just not get into this painting activity. Let’s just watch a video!

You can think music is pretty cool but oh, those drums are so noisy and please stop playing that harmonica and why are we hearing that same phrase over and over?

Art makes a mess. Sometimes you can dress it up and put it on a stage with an orchestra and invite people in fur coats to come and see – but even the most refined work is messy at some point. It is inconvenient. It can bring something back up that you were hoping to never see again.

But, of course, people expressing a kind of ambivalence about creativity as a concept, as a preference doesn’t mean they don’t actually like art, or don’t engage with disruptive work or don’t respond to creativity in performance. They might love it when they see it. Actually. No ambivalence.

I suspect that folks might like art, actually – but just don’t really trust us artists. That’s okay. I really don’t trust middle managers. The feeling is mutual.

What a mess. Maybe better to just sit quietly in a corner running numbers all day. Don’t paint. You might mix up your colors or something.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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This Reboot Sucks
February 13, 2022, 11:15 pm
Filed under: American, art, economics, pandemic, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I guess I never imagined a dystopia would be so dull. Dystopian novels are full of marauding bands and dramatic battles. This is like sitting in the waiting room of a corporate marketing agency, waiting to join a focus group you really don’t want to join but are hoping they’re going to pay you enough to make the trip worthwhile. Just sitting here. Waiting for someone boring to call your name. In a mask.

When the pandemic hit NYC in March of 2020 – and all of the performing arts shut down, when nearly everyone I know here lost work, when everyone fled to the country or back to their parents’ houses in other states, I imagined this decimated arts landscape might be radically reconfigured when we got back to it. I thought we might experience the good parts of the post-pandemic life, like in the novel, Station Eleven, with fewer horse drawn carts. I thought – oh – maybe the city will return to its kind of dirty, gritty, scrappy, sort of affordable form like in the 80s. Sure, there might be a parallel crime surge or something – but I did start imagining a future like in After Hours or Madonna’s life in Desperately Seeking Susan – but in theatre, of course. Downtown would rise again. We’d put on wild buffoon shows or cartoon craziness like we used to. It wouldn’t cost a year’s tuition to just put on a little something, so we’d get out there and make some old fashioned passionate cheap art.

It’s not like that. I mean, the pandemic is, for sure, not over – but even from here I can tell we’re not going back to a more artist friendly time. We’re already leaning harder into all the things that sucked before. Some shows came back but only the giant machine sort of shows can afford to run in this environment. So mostly that’s all there is. When and if I did get back in the game of producing shows, I would now have far fewer venues to choose from and the spaces for rehearsal would also be much diminished. Will they be cheaper to rent? I doubt it. Every single one of these places has had to endure total shut downs for nearly two years, without any significant support from government. They couldn’t possibly be cutting prices in that kind of environment.

It feels like everything that sucked about the performing arts world has not only remained – but gotten much worse.

And it’s not just theatre, of course. The wealth gap has widened enormously, not just because the poor have gotten poorer but because billionaires have gotten 62% richer. And we get a new billionaire every day. This was a problem before but now it is much much worse. I’m guessing this is true for most things.

Are the arts elitist and only for the most privileged to find success in? Now more than ever. Were there few opportunities to pry open the closed doors before? There were very few before and now those are even fewer. Was it hard for artists to make a living before? Yes! And now it’s ten times as hard! And might you need a day job, my sweet artists? Well – Teaching Artist jobs are almost non-existent. Food service is a highly risky dangerous environment. Many of the fantastic, affordable restaurants frequented by nice people have closed because it’s mostly assholes out there at the tables now. Your favorite little home away from home is probably gone but that asshole factory is doing great! Offices don’t tend to hire temps to work from home. I would imagine that dog walkers have lost business because their clients are home and happy to walk their pets themselves.

Our current mayor ran on beating back the crime wave he felt was happening and I guess others agreed with him because he won. Maybe this is naïve – but I wouldn’t mind this city getting some of its old school crime back. Everyone just seems too comfortable to me. I saw a guy put his computer in the back of his car, leave the hatchback OPEN and then walk way to get something in his apartment. He left a COMPUTER ON the STREET in New York City and you know what? It was fine! Nobody stole it. I was tempted to – just to prove a point, just because – you SHOULDN’T leave your shit out if you don’t want someone to take it. We apparently now live in a city where people don’t know that anymore and I don’t mean to be a cranky “back in my day” kind of person but I don’t really like this version of New York.

Because all this “safety” is of course, an illusion. And the people in need have been pushed by this city’s fucked up economics farther and farther to the margins of the place in more ways than one. The more divided our classes become, the more likely it becomes that actual violence will break out. The fact that someone could leave a computer on the street here without consequences suggests to me that we have too uniform a population where I live. No one would steal that computer because we all have our own at home, which is nice for us but terrible for those who can no longer afford to live here and who certainly don’t have a computer at home.

Is there more crime? Maybe? A little. I mean – the drugstore locked up the toothpaste (and the soap and the deodorant) the porch pirates are active and my local gourmet corner store now has a security guard peering over folks’ shoulders at all times – but these are all signs of economic strife, more than anything. People are mostly stealing hygienic items and food. Maybe if folks could get a little economic relief out there, those things would even out. But what do I know? I’m just an artist who hasn’t set foot in the place of my primary art in almost two years.

Back when I had a band – and this was 20 years ago so take this with a grain of salt – we sometimes rehearsed at one of our band members’ studio apartment in the East Village. We couldn’t imagine how he managed to afford to live there because the rents were so high. (I tremble to imagine what they are now.) But on the street were also the Hell’s Angels’ headquarters, numerous old school grandmas and grandpas and families that had grown up there. Our bandmate was the anomaly on that street. The street’s culture was old and established. I haven’t been on that particular street in a while but I know, as a whole, the atmosphere of the place has changed dramatically. A young person from elsewhere is the norm there now, not the families or the Hell’s Angels. Now the norm is for people with money to burn, now the culture is for the new arrivals, most of whom wouldn’t think twice about leaving their computer on the street. All I’m saying is, I’d trade the safety of that computer for a richer culture and more affordable living for everyone.

Could we have both? I don’t know. I guess that would be nice?

I guess I was hopeful for a minute that the crisis would lead to a beautiful rebirth and now I’m looking at a world that is putting itself back together with all its worst features. Not a horse drawn performance stage in sight.

No, this is totally fine. Just leave your computer anywhere. No one will take it. Perfectly safe apparently.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me make something of this super bizarre moment?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



The Arts Save the Children

We had a hopeful politician come to our door, campaigning, and so we asked her about what she’d do for the arts. She said she understood the value of the arts, that they kept kids out of trouble, the way sports had for her as a kid so she supports them. It’s a sweet story, really.

I enjoyed that story and I like this politician a lot but I hate this reasoning. First, supporting arts programs for kids is not supporting the Arts. It’s great and I spent many years in those trenches but Arts Education is not the entirely of The Arts. This is a common conflation, though – and artists do it as much as anyone, usually when they’re trying to raise money for an arts program.

The other part of it I hate is the way it sets up art as just a method of keeping kids busy. It’s like an after-school job or a club or something. This framing also tends to travel hand in hand with setting art up as a savior for troubled children. I’m particularly sensitive to this one because I used to believe it. I used to be in classrooms trying to SAVE THE CHILDREN with Shakespeare or music or whatever. In some cases, the people who sent me into these classrooms also wanted me to SAVE THE CHILDREN with my theatrical magic.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

I’m not saying it’s not possible for a child to discover an art and find their way to a new future that might be seen as saving them. That sort of thing DOES happen. I have seen it happen myself. But it does not happen often. And it can’t be planned for.

But it’s also not unique to the Arts. Anything could save a wayward child. It could be sports. It could be cooking. It could be knitting. It could be watching Wheel of Fortune. Basically, anything that lights a person up and gets them going can “save” a person. The arts are perhaps more likely than Wheel of Fortune to engage a child but it’s all really up to chance.

Why should we support the arts if not to save wayward children? What are they good for besides keeping kids out of trouble?

The arts are good for our souls, okay? Maybe we’re not supposed to use words like that when it comes to finding funds and government support – but that is fundamentally what is at stake. When the going gets tough, people turn to the arts. During this last year of trauma and lockdown – when so much became inaccessible – many people turned to music, turned to stories in multiple formats. It’s not a hug from your mom but it’ll do you good.

A culture is judged by its arts and a culture that doesn’t support its artists is going to lose them. They’ll emigrate or cease to be artists or their wells will dry up and the faucet that pours out stories and meaning might not deliver like it needs to at some point.

What do we need to say to our politicians so they understand? How do we help them see artists as more than an after-school program? For years, our arts leaders have been attempting to make the economic argument about how much the arts contribute to the economy and if, after this year of artistic devastation and all the economic devastation that surrounds that, they still don’t get it, I don’t know that they ever will. I think we have to just talk about the source. That arts are good for our culture, our souls and our social identity. The politician who came to our door was elected while the more Arts forward candidate lost – so now the task becomes how to help her do more than just say she supports the arts. Now we have to help her learn how to actually support them.

The Arts can do a lot but I don’t think they’ll save these boys from those bees!

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help actually support the arts?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

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In Praise of Not Knowing

This whole Shakespeare controversy may be silly but it’s gotten me thinking a lot. My initial post on the “translations” looked at the news through my experience as a Shakespeare educator. My second one didn’t really have to do with Shakespeare so much as the power of money in the arts in America. All of which has led me here.

The more I think about it, the more this project seems to be about a discomfort with not understanding, with not knowing every word of Shakespeare. It is a discomfort with ambiguity and mystery. While this particular project might stem from one businessman’s need to understand everything, I think people around the world are struggling with a similar need to have all questions answered.

We live in a world now wherein most of the answers to our questions are a moment away. As comedian Pete Holmes has said, having the internet at our fingertips means that “the time between knowing and not knowing is so brief that knowing feels exactly like not knowing.” (Watch this whole bit if you can. It pretty much sums up this entire blog post.)

Why do camels spit?  Where did Yoko Ono go to college? What answers are people searching for? I can know as fast as I can type (or speak to Siri/Google.) We don’t need to wonder, to try and resolve it on our own, we just look – and we know. Which is magnificent. I love knowing things.

However – there are fewer and fewer opportunities to really sit inside not knowing. Most film and TV is pretty straightforward. So is contemporary theatre generally. You don’t leave Mamma Mia or The Gin Game with a lot of questions. And even if the work is a little more abstract, like The Bald Soprano, you will likely still understand every word of a play performed in your native tongue. Shakespeare’s language requires a kind of surrender to not understanding everything. It is a chance to exercise the quiet muscle of taking words in without boxing them up in relentless meaning. It’s also an opportunity to not know, then find some answers and then discover how much there still is to discover.

This, I think, is one of the functions of art in general. To help us accept and appreciate what we can’t understand. Because as much as it feels like we now know everything (as long as we have access to the internet,) we cannot possibly grasp all the mysteries. I may feel I know my best friends but there are depths, dark corners and bright lights in them that I will never see, never know. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship can attest that no matter how well you know someone, there is still an ocean of things about them outside of your knowledge. You can’t Google a soul.

In years previous, you might have gone to a certain kind of college to get access to knowing things. A professor had the information and then relayed it to you. This style of learning runs counter to a style of learning wherein the information isn’t the goal. It is, rather, the skill of learning, of engaging, of building a self or developing a soul. In other words, grappling with the mysteries. Arts and humanities are the technology for this. And making peace with ambiguity is one of the tools. A concerto doesn’t mean something. A dance isn’t necessarily “trying to say” anything. A painting doesn’t have to represent something. Sometimes that’s hard for people.

Sometimes it’s hard for me, I’m not going to lie. I am a meaning maker. I try to make meaning out of just about anything. But stretching my ability to sit in not knowing what something means is very good for me.

And of course, Shakespeare is made of words and those words do mean things. But some of those words can have two or three or sometimes even four meanings. How can we make peace with a quadruple entendre if we’re uncomfortable with ambiguity?

We’re at this funny moment culturally. On one hand, we are understanding more and more, only seconds away from knowing things we didn’t know before – and on the other hand understanding less – about what we’re supposed to do with all this knowledge. And all the institutions that would help us deal with that question are under threat. The Education Minister of Japan wants to cut all humanities programs in higher education there. Arts programs are on the chopping block all over the world. The Arts Council of England has been painfully defunded by the current government. Here, in America, we’re giving our playwrights words to translate instead of asking them to help us reconcile the mysteries of the current moment.

Not knowing things is very important. But I want to be clear that I’m not asking for ignorance. There are things to know, yes, lots of things, and there are things to Not Know. Real education teaches how to know the difference and make peace with the unknowable. Exceptional art helps us sit in the mystery.

Belinda He, choreographer, in the mystery

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