Friday, August 15, 2008

A Career of Work or Art?

This picture is of Rudy and Gabe. Check out more photos at Pamela Follett photography.

In a recent discussion with JB came up the topic if we had only spent more time at our art than at our business life would we be further along with our art?

What struck me mostly about the conversation was that we were both fairly serious about the topic, for each of us individually from the vantage of our own experience and perspective. We did not so much argue to convince each other as to compare notes. It is a question that I have to admit, has plagued me for many decades.

At a time in my life when I wanted nothing more than to write I made a deliberate choice NOT to go to college in order to study literature or creative writing. The sentiment then was, and continues to be, that a writer gains most from engagement with life and that the learning to write part comes of the persistence of desire to write.

I have always felt that what I really need to know in life is out and about to be shared by people that we meet, encounter, eat with, live and work with, if only we remember to pay attention. Which brings up that for me writing, art is mainly about paying attention, to be as fully conscious in life as we are able.

Too many years back a Snap-On tool salesman that we were building a fireplace for told me that when we need to know something we will figure out a way to know it. To me this is education by enlightenment, to seek the light of understanding and clarity. I want to know, therefore I will know.

Then another friend of mine, Jeff, who had gone on to college on to an MFA and eventually gained a position to teach art at a college, in a manner to recycle what they had learned, along their path told me that if I had gone to college I would be, as they said, 10 years further along in my writing. That was interesting, it caused me to stumble along for a while trying to parse it out. Ten years ahead of what?

They pointed at a particular Yale Younger Poet that was popular that year. “See, like her.” I followed Sylvia’s career that flamed down to Nicaragua or wherever the theme drove her passion then within like three years she vanished. I have never heard nor seen of her since. Ten years ahead of total obscurity? I am already quite comfortable in obscurity and see no reason for the expense of special training.

“Everyone puts their history into their work.” Erik Spiekermann, type designer quoted from the movie Helvetica.

This quote brings in a fold to my logic and I trust that you will make the leap to follow me. JB and I also share in that in our lives we do business, each to our own and at times we do business together, and for the most part what a majority of our network of friends and associates see us as is ‘in business’ and not necessarily first as artists and second as carpenters or stonemasons. Granted there are a few friends that know us only as artists and that we do ‘other stuff’ but for the most part people know us for our business.

When we are at a party, a social gathering, we do not say, “I am a painter.” Or “I am a poet.” In my case I fumble out, “I fix old buildings.” For the most part I cannot explain what I do in one or two sentences and I tend to give up quickly. Follow me and you will see what I do. If you cannot see it then I cannot particularly help you to see it.

The other night a charming young lady told me that I come across as lame, as if I had just fallen off a truck.

Regardless, there are folks who will come to a party and when you first up ask them what do they DO… they will tell you that they are a singer, or an actress, or a sculptor, whatever and when you hang with them long enough you find out what they do is laundry, or carpentry to ‘fill in’ until the big break, or their family owns a chain of cardboard box factories in Minnesota. I have always found this phenomena in part a ‘wanna be’ and I am delighted most when the person who introduces themselves as an auto mechanic when one day you discover, best if by accident, that they are making these fantastic off-the-wall sculptures out of dead bumpers in the alley behind the station. At heart I am an iconoclast.

So it comes to this, that though I share and admire the desire to be further along in our art, I do not quite understand what it means to be further along in life, short of acceleration along the route toward eventual termination and that it is the totality of our life experience that when we sit down to write, or paint or make a little movie, informs our craft, leastways if we are awake, paying attention, and conscious of our being alive.

So I cannot at heart separate out the hours, days, and months of busting stone with a sledge hammer as being some ‘other’ diversionary route to getting to here, where I am as I write this. I was very happy busting stone and it was in the moment of each strike of the sledge that I was conscious. As with some folks that like to freshen up their golf swing, I enjoy the occasion to go out and refresh my stone busting, if only for the reminiscence of ‘in the day’.

Shyness aside even the question as to what mask, poet or stonemason or foolish clown, that we will wear becomes folded into the work.

1 comment:

  1. >>when you first up ask them what do they DO<<

    I'll often ask people "what is your real work in this world." That seems to get them to think more about it than "what do you do."
    What I want to know what activity it is that their heart drives them to do. What activity connects them with the world, the earth, as so connects them with the moon, the sun and the rest of the universe.
    Sometimes it is what they do to earn a living, a job; sometimes it has nothing to do with their job. When I know these things I feel like I know the person, and what it is that they truly do.

    John Leeke

    by hammer and hand great works to stand

    by mind and heart we share the art