Artist Ears

“I think I just might be an artist,” I whispered to my sister as we drove down to Denny’s — the same Denny’s we went to after my parents died — to be with the other odds and ends who were having Christmas dinner there.

“I think you might just be one too,” she told me.   She knows that every time she talks about her art studio and her job at a big retailer, I am always, always, always affirming of her art.

“You cannot be an artist and a concierge at the same time,” I offered.   Serving others and serving your art come from different places.   One is designed to soothe, the other to stimulate, but they both demand that you be paying attention.   I may have done concierge/caretaking as an art form, informed by my training, but it was definitely decorative art, art for hire, art that served the tastes of others, and not personally expressive art.

Mozart In The Jungle (MITS), the new series from Amazon is very much about the intersection of art and commerce as seen in a major New York Symphony Orchestra.

It reminds me that art is always, always, always about conflict, about responding to the multitude of pressures on artists.   Because of the need for an audience, every art form is collaborative in some sense, and while the bigger the collaborations are (and a major symphony has major collaborations in real time) the bigger the conflict, even the smallest and quietest art always comes out of struggle.

Art is about precision.  In MITS, that precision is about sound, about creating it and, of course, about hearing it.   You cannot do one without the other, and the better you get at either skill, the better you get at the other, to the limits of your instrument.

Art demands a sensitivity to something or other, whatever your medium is.  For me, my sensitivity is to strong thought and delicate poetry, identifying connections by modelling systems and honouring emotion by hearing the nuance in poetry,   I “see” the world in a unique way by having dismantled the filters most people use to keep themselves safe, disciplining myself to discriminate more effectively.

Art is, in the end, in the way that you shape yourself as an artist, the places where you peel yourself away to get at the sensitive and get at the childlike, playful creativity, and the places where you layer yourself up, adding layers of technique and nuance to master crafting the new.   This, of course, is the challenge of observer and participant, of beginner and expert, of wild and tamed that is the core conflict of any artist.   How are you both exquisitely raw and sublimely cooked at the same time?

The enemy of art, of course, is the mediocre.   Good enough rarely is, because once you settle too much, you stop growing.  No one can grow in every direction at once, of course, so we have to pick our battles, but without those battles, without engaging in some kind of conflict, we do not develop.   If you cannot kill your darlings, you can never move beyond them.

It is the call to create art that is the heart of my journey.   It is easy to find someone to help you smooth out, set goals, fit in, but finding some who can help you become strong and bold entering the darkness of art, well, that is tough duty.   I may have talked about transgender emergence as art in 1995, but that doesn’t mean that anyone else got the joke, even if the seeds of my struggle are there for all to see.

The legendary Justin Vivian Bond sat for an big interview with Jarret Earnest to talk about their artistic life. It uncovers a rich vein of truth, talking about the hard choices involved in making queer art. V took a much different path than I did, working in performance, shaped by a live audience as I went all dusty and theological, but I love reading about the meta bits of their development, the sources, origins, thoughts and techniques which guided their sublime and queer expression.   It takes us a while to find our own voice.

(As an aside, I particularly resonate like the discussion of the old bat Kiki as a youthful expression, echoing the the lines of a song from the finale Carnegie Hall performance, "we were young and sure to have our way," a song I made them play at an eighth grade dance.  Having your own way is different as you mature, because you understand the context is just not going to change. As you get older, know that when you are driven to your knees, you might not get up again.)

I know that my creative experience, my art, both connects and separates me from other people.   When we talk, I take them though artistic flights, allowing them to see their own life in a new way, but I also ask them to come with me, which is neither easy or comfortable for them.   Their precision and passion, their own creativity and sensitivity, are placed in different areas.

Contrary to general belief,
an artist is never ahead of his time
but most people are far behind theirs.
— Edgard Varese, in NY Herald Tribune

I think that I might be an artist.