Art in Perspective

Charles Bukowski tells it like it is.

I came across this email I had written to my friend, Richard Wicka, after being told about Greg Sterlace’s quitting his cable access talk show (to which after a long absence he has since returned):

Richard (and Greg),
I have been mulling this one around for a few weeks now and wanted to add my reflections. Some months ago, fellow Buffalo expatriate Chris Foreman, sent me an email telling me to keep churning (creatively). He went on to state that this was the stage in our lives where we struggle the most to remain creative (that is, mid-late 30’s, staring at the likelihood of marriage and/or children). This was in response to a previous email where I stated that how colossally unmotivated I have been artistically in the last year or so. And I don’t yet have a wife or children. (Though that looks very likely in the next year.) So I don’t expect my motivation or time management will skew any more toward free time in the near future.
I don’t know if even part of what Greg is experiencing is similar to mine. But I am beginning to feel like “what’s the point?” when it comes to many creative endeavors. Don’t get me wrong: I love to create art for art’s sake, MUCH more than doing it for money (I avoid freelance work like the plague now). But let’s be honest, how many artists create art in a void? That is, though there are many who lie and say they don’t give a rat’s ass about other’s opinions, the fact is that artists create for the enjoyment or sorrow or hatred of others. I WANT people to watch my videos. I WANT people to listen to my music. Most of all, good or bad, I WANT their opinions. I remember the worst part of late Friday nights in the early weeks of My City Underground was checking my show’s voicemail and finding NOT ONE message. Even the spiteful ones were welcome.
So what’s my point? NO ONE CARES. The time, energy, and commitment it takes is more than I (personally) am willing to expend. In this hyper-saturated media culture of ADD denizens we live in (myself included), you are lucky to get anyone’s attention, even for a few seconds. (In my case, add to that the hyper-materialistic, fast-paced plasticity of California and, well, you get the picture…”If it’s not making you money, what’s the point?”)
Add to that the fact that we are all getting closer to mortality, we may be facing a life of solitude in old age, we have no retirement plan, (probably) no savings…Well, Greg, I can’t blame you. When I attempted the brief reprise of MCU in 2003 (6 whopping episodes), from the start, the fire was long gone. I HAD to stop. I felt too old and foolish. I felt looks of disdain (real or imagined) boring holes in my back. When contemplating this whole conundrum, my thoughts often wander to Gwen. She was the first of “our crew”, if you will, to take on the responsibility of a family. I wonder how she manages. How does she balance creative time and family, especially in these all-important toddler years? To reference an old adage, it does in fact appear that none of us is going to write the proverbial next great American novel. So now what? Maybe this is the point where we stand at a threshold, do we continue to on the ultimately lonely road of self-gratification? Or is it that time to commit to something (which may or may not include another person/people) greater than ourselves?
My good friend Tom McDade said to me a while back that he for one was tired of waking up day after day deciding what he was going to do with himself. He looked forward to having something greater than himself to think about in the morning (i.e. a family).
I’m blabbering…
One of my favorite books of all time is John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces”. Sadly, Toole killed himself at a very young age of 32 before the manuscript was found in a drawer by his mother. This won’t be the first time I’ve asked this philosophical question: Is an unrecognized genius who is “discovered” posthumously a success? Personally, I’d rather enjoy the fruits of my labor in this life. (The problem is that our modern world is one big orchard of low-hanging fruit!)Richard’s response to the above was this poem by Charles Bukowski (whose works I have yet to read):

So you want to be an artist?

if it doesn’t come
bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.

unless it comes
unasked
out of your heart
and your mind
and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.

if you’re doing it
for money or fame,
don’t do it.

if you’re doing it
because you want women
in your bed,
don’t do it.

if it’s hard work
just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.

if you’re trying to imitate
somebody else,
forget about it.

if you have to wait
for it to roar out of you,
then wait patiently.

if it never does
roar out of you,
do something else

if you crave the approval
of your wife
or your girlfriend
or your boyfriend
or your parents
or anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many artists,
don’t be like so many
thousands of people
who call themselves artists,
don’t be dull and boring and pretentious,
don’t be consumed with self love.
the libraries and museums of the world
have yawned themselves to sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.

unless it comes out of your soul
like a rocket,
unless being still
would drive you to madness
or suicide
or murder,
don’t do it.

unless the sun inside you
is burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by itself
and it will keep on doing it
until you die
or it dies
in you.


Bravo, Ricardo. This gives me a new perspective on my creative endeavors. What little time I DO devote to frivolous, creative projects these days, I savor it much more now.