by John Smith
It’s a frightening time to be an artist. On one hand we have technological capabilities undreamed of thirty years ago. On the other, our lives are so full of distractions it’s a wonder anyone can do anything. Worst of all, it’s impossible to get anyone’s attention these days, not without a million dollar advertising blitz. Open up the paper and there are thousands of bands, art exhibits, films, dance performances, a tsunami of artists.
Welcome to the Post-Modern world.
One of the characteristics of Post-Modernism is that all art will be mashed together. The Mona Lisa and Venus DeMilo are Photoshopped into a ’58 Chevy Belair. They’re driving across the surface of the moon while listening to a hybrid of Flatt and Scruggs, Grandmaster Flash, and an Indonesian Monkey Chant.
You get the idea.
In Post-Modernism no one piece of art is more important than any other. Pure genres are dead. Long live the mash-up.
In the midst of this apocalyptic scenario, the conversation around our house lately has been ‘Why do art at all?’
Here’s what we came up with:
1.) DOING SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN DOING NOTHING.
Sure, doing nothing has its place, say on a Zen retreat. Generally though, doing nothing is boring. Nature abhors a vacuum, and our own natures abhor it most of all. Time is not constant. The observer influences the result. (Sorry for the oversimplification of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.) When you’re truly engaged, time flies by. There aren’t enough hours in a day. Compare that to its opposite, say the last period of the day before school gets out. We crave engagement, and engagement sets us free.
2.) ART FEEDS THE MIND BODY & SPIRIT
Ask anyone with a career in the arts and they’ll tell you they have never stopped striving. That’s because no matter what your chosen medium is, there’s always more to learn. Michaelangelo and Leonardo, two of the greatest artists in human history never reached a point where they felt they’d arrived. The great cellist Pablo Casals was still perfecting his technique at age ninety.
That means there’s a lifetime of things to work on, a lifetime of food for the human spirit.
3.) ART IS FUN
Even if no one ever hears your song or watches your movie or offers you three million dollars for your finger painting, the act of creation FEELS GOOD. It’s like meditation and sports all rolled into one. I’m no scientist but I’m sure there are measurable effects when a person is creating, changes in heart rate and respiration, different parts of the brain lighting up.
4.) THE SWEET MIDDLE
Now we come to my personal favorite, what I call The Sweet Middle. Imagine a hamburger, not a cardboard one made by a King or a Jack or a Clown. A real honest-to-God American hamburger.
What’s the best part?
It’s not around the edges of the bun. It’s the middle. Think about it. That’s where the rare meat is, where it’s mixing with the condiments, becoming more than the sum of its parts.
The same is true with making art.
The best part isn’t the beginning of a project, though the initial idea may be exciting. (Some people never get past the idea.) It’s not when it’s finished. A lot of artists I know lose interest in their creations once they’re complete. They’re already on to the next thing.
The best part of a project is when it’s up and running but it isn’t finished yet. It exists, but still contains possibility. In other words, it’s still in motion.
That’s the best part of the creative process, the Sweet Middle. After lots of soul searching we realized that’s a good enough reason to keep making stuff, even in our crazy Post-Modern world.