Category Archives: artist statement

Getting Serious

The writing of my “Artist’s Statement” and manifesto is not entirely unrelated to the last six or so years of my life being innundated with change. I won’t go into too many details, but moving to Texas, getting married, having two kids, and taking on a pile of responsibility at The Day Job have taken up significant mental space. Being who I am, my reaction to massive amounts of change is to try and take a quick inventory of things that are important. In other words, what can I throw overboard to make sure that what I’m doing that is important gets its due? Writing helps that along.

I’ve been keeping a rather extensive daily journal for years. Now and again I will leaf through an older volume, wince a little, and try to pick out themes. I’ve done those sorts of meta-reviews for a long time. To make that simpler, I now keep a pocket notebook with the title “Daily Accounts.” This is a nod to the agricultural notebook in which the information finds a home. It’s also a way to remind myself that this is a book that tracks details; just a few bullet points per day. Looking back over my pile of them I can track my reading habits, when I’m doing good studio work, the ordering of instrument supplies, and other details that would otherwise slip through the cracks. I know what I was working on and when. I can also weight the relative importance over a period of time and note patterns. A great pattern to note is that I do absolutely nothing of any worth between June and August since my move to Texas. I can correlate that with the average ambient temperature and humidity and figure that, perhaps, temperatures in the 100+F range are not conducive to my work. Or moving.

During one of my little sessions with my notebooks, it occurred to me that I really needed to take stock of where I stand with my creative work. At the end of last year I had about four musical projects in various states of incompletion. Nothing was moving. My sketches were getting sparse and I needed to reset a few things. Digging through older journals, I saw that my focus had shifted heavily over the past few years. My experimentation with electronic/computer music was all but gone from my regular routine. I wasn’t working on chamber music anymore. In fact, if it didn’t involve an acoustic guitar, I wasn’t doing it. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, I simply hadn’t realized that my scope had narrowed itself so dramatically.

I sat down and made a list. I wrote down all of the pieces I would like to write. Then I reviewed the list and determined which ones I wanted to write that night. That was enlightening. It’s like making a list of movies on the Netflix queue. All of the cool art films get put on there when making the list but the only thing that actually gets watchedn on a quiet Friday night is the complete Kids In The Hall collection. Our better angels make those lists and then bug out when it’s time to produce. At least mine do. I started to give some real thought about what I want on my Done pile when I’m really done. Getting there won’t be easy.

Writing out what’s important to me as an artist and defining my direction is really important right now. I am finally starting to understand the laser-like focus that is required of someone who leads a double life. There are more than a few sacrifices and to make good decisions there have to be good guidelines. There has to be a plan.

My statement is my plan.

The exercise of writing it is more important than the final document. I see that now very clearly. And every weekend I get out of bed before the kids are stirring and I sit down and write more. The more I write, the more I really understand what I’m doing is carefully examining what stays on the boat. Knowing what has to stay makes tossing the other stuff easier.

Artist’s Identity

More from my meanderings on and artists statement or manifesto. The identity of the artist in his head is so important. How do we think of ourselves in such a way as to facilitate The Work? Good question. From my recent scribblings:

How can the artist reconcile qualitative things via quantitative means? How can a rational person add up the number of long hours spent doing one thing, compare it to the relatively few hours spent doing another, and in the calculation prove that his identity lies with the latter? The best way to do it is to ignore it. The focus must remain on quality and not quantity when time is the issue. And if identity is tied to The Work then that should be enough.

There will be many days, however, when that calculation wins and we are left questioning our identity. The pressure of the outside world is strong and in this culture the desire to categorize people without more than a cursory glance at a few key attributes is overpowering. The fight on the outside is always won by The Work. The internal struggle is so much more insidious. What Steven Pressfield refers to as Resistance (with a capital R) in The War of Art is always present and trying to derail The Work. One of its most powerful tools is self-doubt. If we doubt ourselves, we will doubt that doing The Work is important. Once that seed is planted, we are left with pushing ourselves to do what needs to be done. The difficulty of this internal battle cannot be underestimated. Our most powerful tool is permission.

Every day I grant myself the permission to think deeply about my art. I do some piece of The Work every day whether it’s a sketch or a simple review of past pieces. I require myself to write about something having to do with my work every day and post something to my blog once a week. Regardless of how I feel, I show up for my studio time. I read about my art. I do research. I make absolutely sure that The Work is more than just something that I do for fun or relaxation. It’s not a purely recreational activity, though it may rejuvenate me. The Work is required. Every day. So while we grant ourselves permission and we bake that into almost every facet of our lives, we also need devotion to The Work to carry us through and maintain the personal identity of the artist.

Artists Are Different – Mostly

On a recent episode of the Back to Work podcast (you are listening to that one, right?) there was a heated discussion around how many jobs a person can have and really enjoy any level of success or have a decent quality of life. As someone who believes strongly in what I do at both The Day Job and in The Work I thought it was interesting that there was such a strong opinion that either you’re all in or not in. I can’t be the only artist who sees that as really, really weird. How does one go all in on being a sculptor? Or a poet?

At first, I was a little bummed out my the podcast because it seemed to neutralize some of my ideas around my manifesto. But after a week or so of simmering, I think that it strengthens several points. One of them is simply that art is different from business. There are so many brilliant people trying to add entrepreneurs into the same pile with artists that I think I’d lost the distinction myself. There are many similarities, but the fundamental differences cannot be ignored.

An artist is in a lifelong marathon. The Work is a collection that begins the first time we try our hand and ends when we’re planted in the ground. Success is measured in our own minds based on metrics that are not easily explained. History gets to judge our output against all that it remembers, but success is not a moment – it’s not nearly that simple.

Can you work a day job and start a new business? Sure. People do it all the time. But that’s not my question. My question is how the artist can maintain The Work along side The Day Job and still be taken seriously in both places.

I’m not sure of the answer, but I’m actively working on framing the question.

What’s the Problem?

Because communication is no longer a problem in our culture, that is to say, access to a large audience no longer requires a large capital investment, there is a belief that any individual should be able to pursue their passion without compromise. This is false.

Life is a web of compromises. Dropping everything to pursue my dream of writing art music would mean sacrificing things that are just as important to me, if not more so, than The Work. That is, if I wanted to pursue my dream in its purest from.

My dream is to spend hours creating beautiful canvases of sound that follow organic forms. I want to explore the limits of technology and music. I imagine trying to capture the sound of Love or Death or Joy. The means exist. If only I could translate that passion and its product into food and shelter. Then I could live the life that is so obviously within my reach, right? And with blogs and the Internet, that’s a breeze, right? Problem solved!

And that’s the source of my frustration. Not every artist has work that can be monetized. And not everyone wants to monetize her work. Does that mean that The Work isn’t important? Does that mean that the artist is a failure? Does that mean that this individual will not contribute to the canon or to the cultural consciousness? Clearly not.

I have been reading a lot lately about creativity and how it fits into the world today. From writing a memoir with no intention of publishing it to finding ways of sneaking in bits and pieces of what we consider to be our calling into our daily lives it seems to me that there has been a demonization of The Day Job in the life of a creative person. As a result, I started writing something down the other day and it won’t stop pouring out. I struck a nerve and it turns out that my relationship to my creative work and what I do for a living is important enough to me to take the time to explain it.

There is a lot of ranting to come. My inner monologue is pretty high pitched right now and the six people who read this blog will be subjected to my manifesto soon enough! But for now, this is a public declaration for accountability purposes. Getting this thing down is important to me and maybe it will be to you.

In the mean time, I am back in the studio tonight and recording more tunes for an upcoming collaboration. Stay tuned!


Every artist has to make tough decisions throughout the course of his career. The world isn’t what it was even fifty years ago and though the opportunities are more plentiful than ever, the restrictions we take on for a multitude of reasons remain. One of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make was about The Day Job.

It’s such a cliche now. With the death of the system of patronage that Mozart lived with through the bohemian ideal and up to the artist as a Jack Keroac style wanderer there has been a thread that is tacitly accepted: the artist will take as given that his living will come from something other than his creative work.

In the 20th century, the academy took on the arts. An artist who wanted to eat was well advised to take up teaching. The success of this, with a good deal of time in the rear-view mirror, has been limited. Not all great artists are great teachers. And not all great teachers are great artists. If the aim of a university is to educate, then it might not be served by hiring a great artist who is a poor teacher. But if the aim is something deeper, such as the prestige that comes with housing a great artist and supporting the furthering of the work and research, well, that’s an entirely different story.

The time that I was making my decision about how I would feed and clothe myself was the dot com boom. I have a knack for coding and can translate from nerd to normal and back again. These are skills that were and still are in demand. Teaching was something that I truly enjoyed, but the politics surrounding something that I loved so dearly put me off. I decided to live a more explicitly dual life. I mean that in the sense that someone who is a professor and an artist is living a dual life but it doesn’t look like it. Teaching painting and painting are two different things. Someone who spends ten hours a day teaching studio classes probably isn’t making much headway with her own work. Very few people identify that split, so let’s be clear: teaching music isn’t composing in the same way that writing software isn’t composing. But at the end of the day, one of them pays better.

I enjoy software development. It tickles a part of my brain that needs attention. I really do love the challenges that come part and parcel with the industry. It’s fun, but it’s not music. It’s not love. It’s work. And it’s work in the same way that recording commercials was work and writing music for videos was work. It does pay. And it does further my goals of creating music. But why not something else? Why not suffer for my art? I mean, where’s that Byronic ideal?

I have a family.

My wife and children are my entire world. I have no idea how I lived without them and I can’t imagine doing anything that would get in the way of them having everything that they need to be happy and healthy. Are there days when I would rather be composing than sitting at work? Sure. But there are no days that I don’t want my kids to eat. There is never a time that I don’t want to have a roof over their heads. And I never want them to worry about the basics.

So how does that work? How do I satisfy the drive that I have to do something that I honestly believe I was put on the earth to do? One hour at a time.

8 PM to 9 PM is my time. I hide in my studio and record, arrange, and compose. Do I wish I had 5 or 6 hours? Of course! But there is a world of difference in the way I look at the world when I acknowledge what I have versus what I want. So I bust my butt to do as much as I can with that hour. I think about that hour in my spare cycles. On my commute. At lunch. I prepare for it so that when I get there I am all business. I set goals. I concentrate. I focus. I get things done! Amazing things can happen in sixty minutes. And instead of lamenting it as ONLY an hour I turn it around to having a WHOLE hour! The difference is staggering. For example, I wrote two songs tonight in less than an hour.

We live in a time when people are fractured. Our lives are compartmentalized and yet there is a continuity in who and what we want to be. Listening to my gut, keeping my mind on what I need, and accepting the fact that there will always be work has created a place for my music and dreams in my very real life.