Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Going There

(Ok, this is about writing and art, not OWS. But I think it's relevant and you might enjoy reading it and it's just been gathering dust on my hard drive for months at this point. And I wanted to share my brilliance because I have an unimaginably large but delicate ego that needs constant feeding. So anyway:)

So, I asked myself this evening, “Self, why are you doing this? Why are you getting so worked up about Art and its workings and how to work it?”

It’s not that I talk to myself out of misplaced megalomania. I know exactly where my megalomania is, thank you. (Right here, next to me, purring…)

No, I like to think that it focuses me, this whole talking to myself thing. I am a captive audience, and sometimes it is useful having an audience when facing the daunting monolith of Art. And this whole writing-publishing-making-selling/out Art-Thing is really complicated for me, especially as I haven’t been able to define art, let alone why I did it and why I want to keep doing it and what makes it work (for me).

Why am I trying to make Art?

Is it the human animal’s selfish, terrified response to its own cold mortality and the desire to somehow live forever in song or story or graffiti? (“Look on my artistic works, ye literati, and despair!”)

Is it the need to share a fragment of what is going on in one’s own head with someone else? To communicate something more than the distant location of ripening fruit, to manage interpersonal power imbalances and spread cultural survival memes using symbols that are inherently both priceless and have no specified value?  (“I’ll show you my epiphany if you show me yours.”)

Do I want validation from my betters, do I want eyeballs from my peers, do I want money from, well, everyone? Especially Hollywood? (“Fame and fortune, fortune and fame!”)

Flail. Tremble. Retreat. Remember. Repeat.

Back in my first year at college when I lived a rich and quirky virtual life on Lambda Moo (which was sort of a free, text-based Second Life), I think my favorite hobby was collecting souls. I was neither an agent for Heaven nor Hell, and I never bought anything. But if someone was willing to give me their electric soul, I would care for it respectfully. I added their user name to my list with the same sense of sacred trust that the wrinkled but purposeful museum curator has when he dusts the exhibit cases in the older rooms with the dark wood paneling and hand-lettered notes. 

In the here and now, I love it when people trust me with their imagination and time; I think it is probably the closest reality equivalent to a swappable soul. Both situations give me the same good feeling of being part of a community that respects and encourages my cleverness, anyway. 

For all that starving artists are caricatured as living lives of lonely isolation, it seems to me that the most interesting art comes from communities: Warhol wasn’t painting in a vacuum, the Inklings nurtured the creators of both Middle Earth and Narnia, the Algonquin Round Table is as fabled as King Arthur’s. 

I’ve been part of many online communities, and the hosts are often asked how they did it by people who would like to copy their success in a repeatable, lucrative way. I think the Why is just as interesting as the How. Why are people drawn to like-minded souls, and why do we invest our time and eyeballs and even money to participate in healthy, happy communities of invisible friends?

I don’t know. Maybe we are all lonely artists, starving for something more than ripe fruit. I don’t know what the big Want is or where it came from. But the little wants are easier to confront, somehow, after I acknowledge I write in the shadow of the big one.

Why do I want an audience? Why not make Art just for myself and not worry about the ways and means of publication?

I know my creative impulse is not satisfied by writing my words and putting them away in a drawer. I honor Emily Dickinson, even though no one knew about her poetry until she was dead. Her words are not less without her. 

But with her living presence, might they have been more? She gave the future everything but herself.

For myself, I want to imagine a thousand futures and worlds and ever-afters. I want to get swept up into the hero’s epic journey. But I don’t want to be lonely; I want to go with friends. 

I want to make Art in front of others because if you trust me with a piece of your mind, then we will both go there and back again. We will live-- for a brief but shining moment—forever. 


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