How I started a revolution by knitting-Or Alienated a Lot of Awesome People by Trying
Exhausted from days of work, band practice and very little sleep, I slumped disconsolately over my jam jar of warm beer, almost too weary to defend myself. “Where to begin?” I thought. With a lecture on the more subtle art forms of tact and sensitivity? Or the news that in three weeks my mother will no longer be employed leaving the entire family (including two siblings with chronic debilitating illness) at the risk of being uninsured? Perhaps heart-rending weeping over how much I hate myself every day that I fail to write?
Fighting back tears, I motioned weakly to the slop-stained trash compactor adjacent the moldy sink. “It takes a real artist to hand scoop all the garbage out of there when the bag is torn and everyone else ignores it like it’s not their problem.”
It’s ironic that what finally compels me to sit down and write is my absolute disdain for artists right now. So much so that I think this blog might detour into a manifesto like series of essays on the topic. My detractor makes a lot of neat art. I guess. To her credit, she helped found and runs an art gallery/craft collective out here in the east bay that hosts lots of free shows and workshops. Troubling however is her conviction in having found the true “right way to live” and her often course myopia in defending these sketchy ideals. Oh, and one more little thing…she is also financially poised to not have to work. I bet that’s nice. In fact I know it is, I’ve been there myself. I got a lot of writing done.
I am currently in the middle of Ellie Wiesel’s newest novel, a meandering web of elegant racontuering, “The Time of the Uprooted.” It’s a fitting read for someone who still lives out of a backpack and finds herself from time to time (like last night) roomless and hunkered in her trusty sleeping bag on the living room sofa. On my way home from work this evening I came across a particularly moving passage in which a character is brought back from the brink of suicide by a visit from a friend. A powerful conversation with his rabbi ensues. Rebbe Zusya says:
Don’t you understand that each life is sacred and irreplaceable? That a single life, any life, yours as well as mine, is worth more than all that has been written about Life. (italics mine, but note the capital ‘L’).
I suppose I’ll open it up to my wise and beautiful readership because after a quarter of a century, years of education, and life far from, at and over the edge, I still don’t understand who merits the title of ’Artist.’ More urgently, when it comes to creating viable, idealistic spaces for alternative communal living, how critical is this nebulous honor? I means, from time to time, (to make like teenagers do) can’t I just fucking live?
If I have one wish for my socio-cultural-economic cohorts it would be for everyone to start taking very honest stock of how and why we create and what it means to create in the ways that we do. Whereas I might have once believed art to be a life-or-death necessity, the grand explicator of truths wholly pure and divine, I have come now to regard it mostly as play. Art is something we do to build community, to feel good about ourselves and validated among our peers, to engage in so we sublimate our violent tendencies and stay out of trouble. Art is something we do to create a richer, more nuanced, ultimately more interesting world. And these are good things. But art is not the only means to these ends. In fact, at times (like when it’s wielded as some socially Darwinian caste system club), I would argue it is absolutely counter-productive.
The fact of the matter is, I’ve been inspired by artists and I’ve also been bored out of my skull by artists. At the risk of re-inventing the wheel here, I have to sound the reminder that flinging paint on a canvas is a priori proof of neither intelligence nor depth of character. I barely lasted one semester in art school I found this anti-axiom so disheartening.
Of all the artists I know, those I really care about, certainly the only ones with whom I’d want to live, also happen to be fantastic people. I try to be a generous, responsible, fun and supportive housemate. I have even been known to book shows, play music, write poetry and sew quilts. I assumed most people would be judging me more on the former set but I guess to some people that’s not enough. Was it the eternally quotable Mark Twain who said something like “when I was younger I admired people who were clever, now that I’m older I admire people who are kind.”
Maybe this is a sign that I should move into a studio apartment, get a cat and a television and give up on this charade once and for all. Yep, tonight, thanks to my awesome artists’ collective I can finally say I’m going to bed inspired.