When I was 9, my grandmother asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I told her, “I want savings bonds, because I’m going to be a starving artist when I grow up and I’m going to need them.”
Ana and I have been trying to sort out the business side of being performing artists lately. Emails, phone calls, trying to find a producer, how the hell social media works. We looked at each other this week and realized: we haven’t written a song in two months.
The creative juices have not dried up. We’re just too tired to write. That’s a sad place to be.
We’ve been wrestling lately about whether we are artists or activists. It’s an important question. And the answer is one that we are both in sync on:
We’re artists, not activists.
We are Creators first. Performers first. Poets, first. Storytellers, first. That is how we’re wired. What we live to be able to do. It just so happens that both of our stories include incidences of abuse. And we’re healing. And writing about it.
I’m thinking about Mako Fujimura, the NYC based contemporary artist who has created a body of work in response to 9\11, just trying to make sense of what happened.
Collection of Howard and Roberta Ahmanson
Fire and Rose are One
Mineral Pigments on Kumohada 89×66″
“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets (Little Gidding)
I think this first Aurora Crossing album may be like that: trying to make sense of our stories as they are, UP UNTIL NOW. But 9\11 is not the sum total of Mako’s work. Sexual abuse isn’t the only thing we write about, either. It’s not even the ONLY thing on the album (Oh, God, who would buy it?!) There are songs about…well, you’ll just have to help fund it, if you want to hear it. Sneak preview of our unfinished demos here. Kickstarter to come soon. Wink Wink. =)
I don’t want to only and ever write and sing about sexual abuse, even though it has shaped our stories irrevocably and the redemption of it figures largely in our art right now. But we get to live forward, too. I hope if you like this first album, you’ll come with us through it to the next one. (Note: I didn’t say “getting over it.”)
Rainer Maria Rilke, nach einer Zeichnung von Emil Orlik (1917)
I’ve been thinking about the poet Rainer Maria Rilke over the past couple days. I discovered a new musician friend of mine has a love for Rilke, and I started getting excited. What would it be like to create a concept album around his poetry? F*cking gorgeous, to say the least. For the first time in months I’m excited about something. That’s the artist in me: the delicious look of a blank piece of paper, or an idea taking shape that I can only scratch out in BRIGHT, BOLD colored markers on the butcher paper on the walls of my Creative Space.
Art vs. Activism
So then the question remains…Why am I drawn to activism? Why do I seek an audience that can personally relate to what I’m singing about? I’m wondering aloud right now if, in part, it’s because it validates my story. People may like our music if they can relate to the cause. And if they like what I’ve been pouring my very lifeblood into, it means my life–my story–wasn’t wasted. It has meaning. The seduction of activism, for me, is that it offers to close the risk gap between rejection and acceptance, because I’m fighting for a cause and not just “making things.”
Everyone in his or her right mind can agree that abuse is wrong. It’s easier to ask people to support a cause than support our art. “Look at me! I’m doing good in the world! I’m using art to raise awareness!” (Read: It feels so f*cking vulnerable to pour out my story out and hold nothing back and stand completely naked before you… and, having given my all, ask if you liked the offering enough to support the art itself.)
That’s what it means to be a commercial artist: RISK PEOPLE NOT CARING.
And you wonder why many of us turn back, get day jobs, fail, or get stuck re-creating the same kind of work that brought us any amount of commercial success. You wonder why so many of us teeter on the edge of insanity, having crazy relationships, or abuse alcohol. To live in this kind of nakedness, day after day, for the sheer love of something… to continue to venture to the edge of chaos and come back with something novel that may or may not be liked… to live with personal integrity that creating is what we are made to do: that takes a courage I can’t comprehend.
Hug an artist today. She probably needs it. (Ask first, of course—good boundaries, people).
So, as terrifying as it is to admit: We are artists, not activists.
As much as I long for God to move through my life to bring hope, healing and freedom to others, the most important thing to me is creating beauty. I enjoy experimenting with sounds melding into words strung together with light. Sounds that have yet to be heard… and will never be heard, unless I make them. That is why Ana & I want to get up in the morning. To create.
28-year-old Beethoven wrote a similar sentiment to his brother in a letter explaining why he decided not to commit suicide, after 6 torturous years ending in complete deafness. In spite of agonizing despair, shame, and social isolation, he decided to live because he wasn’t finished creating.
“But what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone standing next to me heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life – it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me….Recommend virtue to your children; it alone, not money, can make them happy. I speak from experience; this was what upheld me in time of misery. Thanks to it and to my art, I did not end my life by suicide…With joy I hasten towards death. – If it comes before I have had the chance to develop all my artistic capacities, it will still be coming too soon despite my harsh fate, and I should probably wish it later.” ~Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament
Can you imagine no 9th Symphony? Beethoven wrote that symphony more than 20 years after this letter–20 years of silence and creating. So here’s a shameless plug for art patronage: the best is yet to come, friends. Please stay tuned for updates as we finish picking a producer and get into the studio to make this album. If we want to see artists grow, we must support them.
Hug an artist today. And give them a wad of cash so they can eat tomorrow.