The Artistic Life
© 2017 Jef Knight
It’s been said that art is not a ‘thing’ it’s a way of life. Art is just the end result of that.
Some might ask at this juncture: “what way of life will lead to art?” but I think that this question is backwards and won’t lead to an artistic life. The real question, in my mind, is; “How can I enjoy the life I have so much that it produces art?”
But are there things, one might naturally ask, that are common to the lifestyle of other artists?
Well, yes and no. Living someone else’s life will not guarantee artistic results and may actually make you neurotic, as the quest no longer becomes the art but now becomes the emulation. What someone drinks, or doesn’t, how someone sleeps or doesn’t, foods, personal habits and routines are all just individual idiosyncrasies that we all have, the artist as well as the layman, and are not in and of themselves the kindling for the fire. However there are some things that most artists have in common, courage, a visionary imagination and more than anything, a desire for self-expression through creativity.
Creativity, if it’s to be an authentic representation of your innermost being, must be examined by separating it out into its constituent components. At its root is the word “create”. To be creative is to be creating. Previous to that there must necessarily be Imagination, something you can imagine that you can create and previous to that must first come Inspiration.
Inspiration – Imagination – Creativity.
You might see a lovely glass object in a store window and it touches something in you that sparks your imagination. Maybe it’s creating another, more evolved, glass object that you imagine or perhaps something in a different medium, even music. From there you feel the spark that the glass object triggered in your heart, in your mind, and you let that spark become what it will, become something more personal and connected to your own, unique inner world.
This is the inspirational thing that sets the wheels is motion. From there you can take your inspiration in whatever direction you choose, to achieve your strongly held imaginative object, an object that inspires you to take initiative in moving your inner life into the outer world in the form of a created thing be it a painting, a video or a song.
In the bigger picture I think there’s more to it than that, which goes even deeper.
Rosemond Harding in his book “An Anatomy of Inspiration” said, “Originality depends on new and striking combinations of ideas. It is obvious therefore that the more a man knows the greater scope he has for arriving at striking combinations. And not only the more he knows about his own subject but the more he knows beyond it of other subjects. It is a fact that has not yet been sufficiently stressed that those persons who have risen to eminence in arts, letters or sciences have frequently possessed considerable knowledge of subjects outside their own sphere of activity.”
I have always termed this stage, “Loading”; the more you know, do, experience, learn the more informed your mind is and the more intellectual art supplies you have at your disposal with which to generate and develop your inspirations into quality imagination-objects that drive your creative expression.
Another aspect of inspired imagination is the notion that when you decide you wish to create something the initial journey is one of discovery. A true artist is, by nature, a discoverer, an explorer, an adventurer that is cutting a new path or breaking a new trail into unknown territory in hopes to find an imaginative gem of great value. That value is often not monetary, but is always the seed, the soul, of the artistic idea. It’s the reason why the artist is determined to create.
Part of this process involves a tenatious, methodical and analytical approach. An observation that always struck me was how others would treat their music in an “approximate” way, touching the subject of the song in a gentle, not-that-accurate way and how those others who lived the artistic life made music that was purposeful, verdant, thoughtful and, more importantly, reproducible for future enjoyment.
Having the tools to propel ideas in fruitful directions is essential. If you want to discover something new you must be prepared for the adventure. Like trying to capture an elusive animal, you’re going to need a plan, and a cage.
This is the qualitative difference between the one-off meanderings that define the hobbyist and the adventurous yet deliberate improvisations into new musical discoveries of the artist-as-musician. When combined with the tools with which to capture and reproduce new musical discoveries the art of the musician takes on a whole new direction.
But to think like this, to do this as part of the artistic lifestyle means that one must, as the late, great William James put it, “choose purpose over profit.” This is the most difficult thing for any artist to do, but it’s the very thing that defines art and the artistic life more than any other quality.
When you place the need for artistic expression over the need for money, that’s art. I’ve always said that it’s more important to write and record an album of music than it is to sell it, the noble drive to create things being more important than the banal drive to sell things. If you can accomplish both, kudos. But if you create and are satisfied with your work, that’s the heart and soul of the artist and the artistic life.
The reason I believe that this is true is that deep, unabashed self-expression is rare, valuable and life enhancing regardless of the financial outcome, whereas having sales as your stated end goal will, by the very nature of the marketplace, force you to either redefine your art as craft or to retool your art to conform to the fickle whims of the marketplace. Either way it stops being fully artistic self-expression and becomes the manufacture of mundane artifacts that in the marketplace must compete with low-wage craft from third-world counties and the voluminous kitsch clogging up the discount bin at Wallmart.
But it has a more sinister underlying quality: trying to please everyone, all the time. The true artistic lifestyle, as has been stated time and again by artists, authors and musicians, is one of doing what one believes in and not merely performing, like a trained monkey, for the generic passers-by of the world.
Art is not there to please people, it exists solely for the edification of the artist and those people who can relate to whatever statement the artist is making. For this reason, true art attracts it’s own following. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If the beholder fails to appreciate it, then so be it; move along – nothing for you here. Once one begins to realize that, indeed, water does find it’s own level, that birds of a feather really do flock together, then and only then will the imaginationist begin the journey to becoming the artist, for he now realizes that art finds its own audience, no matter how broad or limited that audience is. Therefore, more correctly, the audience is attracted to art it finds appealing and no one else will, or even should, care, including the artist. The art might be absolute crap to others, but to a certain group of people, your fans, it’s a thing of beauty and magic. Which is why the artist doesn’t fret that they have only a few fans. Better 10 true followers than a thousand mere well-wishers.
If you, as an artist, can find your soul and display it, warts and all, to the world it will only come from the belief that the life you live, your artistic lifestyle, is the incubator from which the art is born. From there you, your lifestyle, your art will attract those who feel the same thing, hold the same values and aesthetics and will, as a natural consequence, call for more creative output from you because you’ve touched them in a way that makes them feel like they are both special, unique and individual, and at the same time connected and in touch with the art and, by extension, the artist. They, in some measure, will see themselves in the art and become one with it at some subconscious level where it becomes a reflection of themselves and their deepest inner fantasies regarding who they believe themselves to be.
In the end, the art, the artist and the lifestyle all become one seamless, overarching work of art that unfolds to reveal that the artist ‘is’ the art.
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