The value of working a retail job at some point in your life as an artist is valuable. The insight into commerce, the feeling of working in service to others—even if only as a raw exchange of goods and services for money, and a camaraderie with people in the same position alongside you are all vital to reaching a deeper understanding of humans in contemporary society. If your art isn’t touching other people in some way, if it’s too . . . deep? It won’t have the power to find and keep an audience or fanbase.
I’ve watched dozens of people I knew over the years find some measure of success with their work, and I’ve come to know a smidgen of it myself. What I’ve noticed about my day jobs, in interacting with customers and clients, is that the amount of care I take with all of them—in craft, in concern that the thing they’re buying is what they want, in appreciation of patronage of all kinds—reflects in a lot of ways in my work.
I’m not sure you can not give a shit at your job and turn contempt around in your art. Probably some geniuses can, but very few of us indeed are those.
I can’t add much to this title, except that I was thinking about all the mess of social media most of us wade through from time-to-time—or even most of the day, for some—and how to deal with it as it washes over us. Dan Hon laid out some decent philosophical razors in this Medium piece. I like him.
I’ve been cautious about navel-gazing, here, in that my initial thoughts about what I’m doing and trying to say with the blog were geared toward more universal truths—read “Truths™—and trying to be helpful to other artists. But there’s also a hell of a lot of spaghetti-throwing at the wall to see what sticks and what just makes a soggy mess on the floor.
But I’m moving hundreds of miles away soon. It’s stressful. I’m anxious. In addition to rediscovering how to do the New Age recentering-on-one’s-breath thing, I chose the books I’m reading, the music I listen to, and the videos I watch with a little more care to their humor and their (for lack of a better word) light. Here are a few:
And by “dead,” I’m being flippant. Obviously there’s a vibrant jazz scene worldwide, if it isn’t a prominent form at the moment. And maybe it never will be.
When I was phoneless the last couple days, I listened to the local jazz station, the eminent KKJZ. An ethereal, assured voice sang a Jobim standard called “Meditation,” and that confident singer was Fay Claassen, a Dutch musician. Her interpretation was a languid study in wistful longing, and on the musicianship side, I was captivated by the way she closed the song with a series of beautiful, cascading “to me”s. It’s haunting and affecting. Check it out if you didn’t already play the link above.
But choosing to play—or even listen to—this less popular music is instructive to other types of art, especially work that relies on any kind of spontaneity or iteration or abstraction. Jazz is a form of constant invention, where improvisation around a theme or scheme is essential to it. And musicians who study and perform it don’t care that it isn’t the hot thing of the moment. They revel in its free expression and demand for skill.
Writers and painters can find allegories in their own work from this.
Here’s why you, artist person, should expend the effort to avoid checking social media when the urge strikes you. And I’m not excluding myself from this advice, I’m writing to me, first, and hoping it’ll be useful to you as well.
I’m one of those hopeful New Year’s resolutionists. Nothing crazy, nothing that’s part of a never ending list that gets tacked onto every January because the last one didn’t get fully resolved, just one or two things I think I can make happen in my life the next twelve months. I make the plan, and immediately nod and think, “That’s something done, then.”
Naturally, habits are hard to build as well as to break. The two things this year were to read more books—physical, unwieldy, pretentious dead tree editions—and to consume less social media. The former tends to fall prey to my failure at the latter.
But I’ve been able, just the last month or so, to push back successfully against the craving to check Twitter or news feeds (I never took the News app off my iPad and I should have) and get some crispy, potentially-finger-lacerating pages turned.
It sometimes takes a Herculean effort.
But as I have, I’m rewarded with joys like returning to the feeling of being lost in both work and books. Snippets of both just don’t cut it. Anxiety stirred up by news I can do nothing about in the moment overshadows other things.
I do agree we should stay informed. I disagree if that’s presented as a daily or possibly weekly necessity. You have art to make and fuel to consume in order to make it. That takes time, and it requires connection to your soul, however you interpret it.
When you live in New York or any big city, it is easy to fail at growing up. The city is designed to keep you in a state of perpetual adolescence. You never need to learn to drive if you don’t want to. And even if you do drive you can go back to that bar you went to when you were twenty-one, and it will still be there, and it will still be called Molly’s, and the older waitress there will still remember you and let you sit where you want. And feel be years later, when she is no longer there, when there is just a picture of her above the bar on a place of sad honor, and you know what that means and you don’t want to think about it, guess what: you do not have to. Because no one is driving home, and you’re back again, listening to “Fairytale of New York,” which is still on every jukebox, falling into the same conversations you had with the same friends in the ’90s: about how the internet is going to change culture, and what you are going to do when you grow up.
A recent episode of Note to Self (I highly recommend subscribing) was a repeat, but also a really, really good one. It’s an overview of the ways social media companies are driven to manipulate us, honing algorithms that ever more selectively push our buttons.
Our psyches are exploitable, and even with no malice intended, we’re taken advantage of without even knowing it. It’s more important to take time out for perspective, for reflection, for people face-to-face and hand-to-hand.