Category Archives: manifesto

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.

Dreaming Big, Living Small

I’m still hacking away on my manifesto. The more I dig in, the more there is to say. Here’s a little more from my working copy. The more I post of it, the more likely I am to finish it.

The image that sprung to mind when I first started thinking about what it means to try and live parallel lives was of running a marathon while dragging a grand piano. It stuck with me and for whatever reason has become iconic for me. After all, who would do that? No one. Maybe. But even as we start off on the race with our many-toothed beast in tow, our idea of success clings to us and is just as unreasonable as the race we’ve undertaken. Our dreams are stubborn and do not readily accept change.

When we are starting on the path in whatever endeavor found us, it is hard to imagine what real success looks like. There are too many bloated and false ideas of what it means to do something great. We imagine crowded galleries, large checks, and much ink spilled over our greatness. And then, if we are lucky, we have our first real success and see what it really means.

The first time I nailed the difficult arpeggios in Villa-Lobos’ Etude No. 11 I was in a practice room all alone. I played it perfectly twice. Once in that practice room and once in my quarterly jury. A seed was planted there. An idea started to form. A definition of success was trying to make its way into my consciousness.

I’ve known painters who, upon the completion of a canvass, will step back and revel in the beauty of what they have done only to be seized with the sudden urge to hide it forever. That moment of perfection is so personal. The thought of miscommunication or criticism was just too much. That doesn’t mean that the work wasn’t shared, it means that what drove them to create was very private. Success is private.

This is the age of The Almighty Internet and as such we are hounded by the idea that everyone should see what we do. What if we turn that on its side and say that we have the ability to reach people who might care. That’s a very worthy goal. We should try to reach everyone who cares, but no more. Trying to make someone who doesn’t necessarily want or need our work take it is the evil side of sales. If we have relieved our work of the burden of keeping us fed then why add the pressure of being loved by everyone?

My dream is still to have 200 people who are interested in my work and follow it but my ultimate goal is to write something that someone would call their favorite. Just one person. One connection. That seems like a low bar until we try to clear it.