Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dentistry vs. Magic Beans



The sad thing about an artist's life is that it is dependent on their effort. And this is only partially true, which makes the affair that much more depressing.

Let's pull back for a moment.

All of life's endeavors are at least somewhat dependent on a person's effort. You don't become a professional without practice and study. You don't raise a well-behaved child through hope and good intention minus cultivation (but even then, oy—but I'll get to that).

But I would suggest there is something different about the concrete world of cultivation: It is a one to one, linear progression. Want to be a dentist? Go to school, graduate, buy brick and mortar building, hire dental assistant, get chairs for waiting room. Done. If you weren't good enough you wouldn't have graduated. If you are personally self-destructive (alcoholic, lazy, etc) you will most likely implode. Want to be a farmer? Find or otherwise acquire a large tract of land, get up early everyday and put things in the ground, tend to them as they emerge, then cut them down when they look tasty. Simple.

The only complicating factors in the concrete realm are the soul-crushing forces of an unpredictable world. Drought, cancer, drunk drivers, fickle market forces, greed, frailty, general bad luck, mendacity, relational strife, blown transmission, etc. These, and some other things, are why I said that our outcomes are only partially dependent on our effort. One or many of these items can get in the way of a thriving dental practice.

Now solemnly we come to the artist. An artist doesn't cultivate the land—his job is to make the magic beans grow. There is no schematic for a great piece of art. Of course some think there is—these people are called hacks. Please don't think I am disparaging hacks—hacks can make a very decent living. Creativity is not linear. It is monstrously dependent on people's taste, opinion, prejudices, etc. People aren't allowed to tell a dentist they did a bad job if it's not true—no one will listen. The artist has no such protection, even from himself. The artistic world can be monstrously unfair. Often you have to "catch a break." Which is to say your talent alone will not get you there, you need a twist of luck to put you over the top.

There is no linear pay off in site: All you have to do is write a quality novel. Quality novelists start at $110,000 a year, plus benefits. All you have to do is draw portraits with a pinch of your own flair and personality mixed in: 16,000 people a year will purchase them over the next few decades.

Which brings us full circle: An artist has to give and give and give—and maybe they will see a return. This return may or may not have any relation to their talent. Monstrously unfair.

And if you're an artist with a bent towards laziness and despair, such as I am, well, heaven help you. The only way you will succeed in your creative efforts is if you try and try and try—and then you need some luck thrown in, over and above protection from the soul-crushing forces enumerated above.

I have stated the artist's plight in much more dire and depressing terms than reality would actually reflect—but I'm wallowing. It is one of the indispensable skills every despairing artist needs. It is one of our distinctives, as creative types. I don't like to brag, but I think we are simply better at wallowing than accountants, attorneys, electricians and grocery store clerks.

Thank you for letting me wallow all over you.

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