Artistic Suicide

As a younger person, say in my junior high years, I became obsessed with classical music.

In particular, I had a Beethoven tape that I listened to over and over again. It was essentially a "greatest hits" and ended with the last movement of the 9th symphony, the big choral "ode to joy" which is now used to sell toilet bowl cleaner on television, which is, in turn, the main reason I don't own a television anymore.

This blossomed out into a genuine interest in music, and I started to compose little pieces and read books and take out many, many tapes from the library. I was certain I wanted to be a composer and through my genius would surely be the next Beethoven!

There's really nothing wrong with all that, in fact I would say it's probably a pretty normal or healthy adolescence.

Pitfalls For the Artist

You know, there are lately two words for me for which I cringe a bit when I hear them. One is "artist" and nevermind the other one for now.

It's my belief that when you attend a classical music concert, about 1/2 of the audience genuinely loves the music, and about 1/2 mostly loves the idea of the music. Of course I count myself in the first half, and yes, the self-parody of calling the second half "pretentious" is not lost on me. But there you have it.

There is a certain cultural association these days with "art" which seems to fall about halfway between vitamins and math. That is, it's something supposedly "good" for us but which we have to suffer through without understanding.

Pitfall #1: Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously, Bro

So here is what I think is the first pitfall that leads to artistic suicide: being an artist.

Why be an artist, when you can be an artisan?

An artisan is somebody who makes things, could be a loaf of bread, could be paintings, but the word itself emphasises the simple act of making stuff. And of course the best advice to an aspiring artisan is surely "make stuff".

If you see yourself as an artist, you may have already committed artistic suicide, because you suppose that what you're doing is already important.

And you will never really be happy unless what you make is seen as important by other people. So you're bound to develop all kinds of emotional insecurities which will make your life unbearable.

Of course the problem with the word "artisan" is that it's at least as pretentious as "artist" so this particular post is already doubly-cringeworthy for me.

But anyways, the point is that you can find some happiness in the act of making things for other people, and if you don't expect to be elevated to the status of demigod for your insights into the human condition, your own human condition will probably be somewhat healthier.

Pitfall #2: Emulators

A stop sign

Usually if you are in the habit of creating let's say music, you'll also listen to a lot of music and be inpsired by it. You will think to yourself, "wow! one day I will compose a rap as great as 'summertime'."

But here, here you must STOP!

You will NOT create a rap as great as 'summertime'.

Becuase you are NOT the rapper who created 'summertime'!

The instant you start to become inspired by another person's music, and it inspires you to create, it has also slipped some poison into your life: in your bolt of inspiration, you are also inspired to emulate them.

It's self-destructive to think in those terms, striving to be another human being. And it's a path that is doomed to failure.

Instead, you should take a slightly different attitude: steal it.

If you hear or see something you like, don't trouble yourself with attaining it yourself-- just steal it, man. That's really the only sane response.

I don't know how you'll steal it, maybe you'll steal a game mechanic from SMB3, or a trick of orchestration from Beethoven, or a particular turn of phrase from your favorite author, whatever.

I'm not saying photocopy something and just put your name on it, but don't be afraid to be somewhat shameless when you take something. Above all, be honest about what you're doing: "I like this tune, I'm using it."

When you do this, and are quite honest with yourself about what you're doing, you will find that you take it quite easily and bend it to your own purposes. Suddenly, you'll find you have something rather original, without really intending it.

When you emulate, the thing you are inspired by becomes your final destination.

But when you steal, the thing you've stolen will be your starting point.

That's All I Know

That's really all I've got, today. There are other pitfalls to be sure, like for instance:

  • Don't gaze too long at anything you make
  • Don't think too hard
  • Don't force it; try to work on what you feel like working on
  • Try to mostly be inspired by real life, not other art
  • Don't waste your life pursuing art, your life should always come first
  • Stay away from manifestos
  • Don't be afraid to make little things first
  • Fine a single flaw in something you are making, and decide that it will be finished without that flaw being fixed (this helps you avoid perfectionism.)



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