Saturday, October 23, 2010

Productivity, Creativity, Fear

I was talking late at night with one of my musician friends in Chicago, after a late night video mixing and editing session, in the recording studio. We were editing the music video for a track by Bad Wiring called "Black Frog Soup." While the rest of the gang was working on a section of the video, I made some photos around the studio of what I called, after the idea came together, The Dead Band. The guitar shots ended up in the video.

We were talking as dawn was approaching, while closing down the studio for the night, after everyone else had gone home to bed. Talking personally. Most of that is no one's business. Talking also about the fears and worries that living the artist's life brings us. Always unsure if we'd ever break even or thrive financially. Always dependent on the fickleness of the market for our talents. Our health, our livelihoods. Our families, our relationships. It's not the most stable life, financially.

But what we kept coming back to again and again, the truth that makes it all worthwhile is that, no matter what, no matter how scared you get about life, about people, and everything else, we still make music. No matter what. It's part of life, it's part of what keeps us sane, it's what keeps us going, keeps giving us reasons to put up with everything else, keeps making it all worthwhile. And it is worthwhile.

We agreed that in fact as artists and musicians we're ridiculously, fantastically productive. We never stop. I had spontaneously made photos earlier that night, that we used. (Yes, a good single malt Scotch was involved, at some point. It was that kind of video project.) No matter what else is going wrong, we keep making art. I've got art coming out of my arse. We all do.

Productivity is not our problem.

Our biggest problem, as always, is doing what we do and getting paid for doing it. Finding the audience. Finding the people who want what we do. Finding the clients. Funding the ongoing work.

Productivity is not a problem. We're always productive. None of us, in our circle of artist and musician friends, ever have writer's block. We just don't experience that. There's always some kind of art to be made. And if one project gets stuck, there are always more to work on. You just shift gears, or do some crop rotation.

Creativity is not our problem. As a group, and as individuals, we're always coming up with lots of ideas, some no one else has ever thought of before.

So what's the problem?

Well, there isn't one, not really. Except making a life worth living, which is everyone's problem. Nonetheless, talking about productivity, and the need to just keep going even when the chips are down—this was a mutual pep talk, to be honest—got me thinking about what does stop people in their tracks.

Almost every time, it's fear. Fear, and nothing else.

There's a masterful book about artmaking, written by artists David Bayles and Ted Orland, titled Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. Every creative ought to own this book, and reread it every few years. The advice therein does help one stay on track.

Here's a few relevant quotes from the book:



The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential.

To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process.

Those who would make art might begin by reflecting on the fate of those who preceded them: most who began, quit. To survive as an artist requires confronting these troubles. Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue - or more precisely, have learned how to not quit.

What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears continue; those who don’t, quit.

Art is made by ordinary people. Creatures having only virtues can hardly be imagined making art. It's difficult to picture the Virgin Mary painting landscapes. Or Batman throwing pots. The flawless creature wouldn't need to make art.

What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece.




So being an artist means: Keep making art. Keep on going. Keep producing.

So what we were talking about, in the studio, late at night, after everyone else had gone to bed, was survival, continuance, productivity. My friend turned reminded me that we are both very productive, always have been, and will continue to be so. I've been thinking about that.

Last night I got home after jamming for a couple of hours with another musician, one who I'd just met. It was good, but because of my chronic illness I got home very tired. When I run out of energy, I hit that wall hard, and I just have to stop. So I spent the rest of the evening just relaxing.

And before I went to bed, I went over to my new piano for awhile, and played Erik Satie's "Premiére Gymnopédie" from memory. A favorite piece I've played many times over the years. I stumbled a few times. I need to get out the score and refresh my memory.

Yet I sat there at the piano, marveling: I have a piano! I can sit down and play, or compose, any time I want to, even the middle of the night.

Tonight, a thunderstorm has swept through, soaking the land. A few dramatic claps of thunder and flashes of lightning. It looks like it will rain all night. The sound of the rain on the porch roof, on the chimney cap, is soothing. It's from my childhood in the tropics, I suppose: I always find rain on the roof soothing. It's a favorite sound to fall asleep too. I've even been known to sleep on the porch on rainy nights, just to listen to it.

So tonight I will before bedtime sit down to play some more. Some quiet lullabies, some music to soothe the savage breast.

No fear. No end to creativity. Endlessly productive. Just keep going. Everything else can fall apart. And probably will. And for now I have a piano, I have music, I have to make, I have another several months of photos to sort through, and we all keep going forward.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Elisabeth said...

I visited Crop Rotation, Art. Thanks for this elaborate 'treatise' on creativity. I'm thrilled with Pearl Buck's quote, Please can you tell me from where did you pluck it?

You amaze me Art, your many skills and talents. No wonder you are endlessly productive and if you follow Pearl Buck's thoughts, no wonder you are in pain.
You are clearly one of the deeply sensitive souls.

5:24 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I think the Pearl Buck quote might be from My Several Worlds, but I'm not certain; it's one of those quotes I find here and there in books and online. I'm sorry to not more helpful. I find Buck's essays and nonfiction to be at least as good as the fiction for she was best known. It's a great quote, ennit?

I wish I could disagree that pain and sensitivity go hand in hand. Experience trumps what I want to believe, though. The point of life, since life is full of pain, might be about transforming and transmuting life into something better. Spinning pain into gold. Of course, that's something an artist would say. LOL

11:17 AM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

There’s a lot of truth in what Orland says. The first two and the last quote in particular resonate with me. And I’m pleased you have a piano – and a little jealous if I’m being honest but I don’t have time for one; it would be a distraction, a pleasant distraction, but that’s not the direction I’ve chosen and I’m content to listen to the stuff rather than try and make my own, for now at least. When I had the keyboard before I did play music by other people, it wasn’t all composing, but as soon as I had it I couldn’t see the point in not composing. I mean, you don’t simply use a pen or a keyboard to copy out other people’s poems.

2:35 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Yeah, I feel the same way about composing in relation to playing other peoples' music. I will get around to writing soon. I've tried out a few improvisatory ideas on the piano, just to get my feel. It's taking awhile to become used to having it around, I'm a little surprised to say.

On the other hand, the past few nights, before going to bed, I played through some Satie, some Hovhaness, a little Debussy, a little Joplin. All favorite pieces I used to play before, with no pressure to do anything but enjoy hearing them again. Old friends.

I'm sort of warming up, I think. Getting used to having the piano. Getting my fingers back in shape for playing. That sort of thing. I never did like to practice scales or whatever; it was always more interesting to play pieces than exercises.

10:53 AM  

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