Art Matters

In a recent Facebook post, I was saying that the arts are in a real state of decline and how, at first, I was incredibly hesitant to say anything about it.

The reason for the hesitation being, I assumed that I was probably just guilty of doing that old codger thing of “Why, back in my day…” followed by how everything was better, back then.

But I just realized one of the ways that I know for certain how different it is, now.

In 2008, I was consciously aware that sometimes people lose their homes and their jobs. But I had never actually met anyone who had been foreclosed on, not that I knew about it for certain.

Suddenly, I met at least eight people in the space of a year who were currently experiencing it. I knew then that the housing bubble was real and not some artificial, fear buzz in the media.

The lack of art today is the opposite. I used to encounter art and artists, without even trying. Now, I have to look for it and even then, I’m hard pressed to find it.

I can point out several good artisans (sculptors, painters, photographers, musicians, etc) on Pinterest and Instagram and Facebook. But those are (almost) all people that I’ve never met, who are spread out all over the country, the globe.

I used to personally know more talented artists, in a three state radius than I am now even aware of in the country. That’s disturbing.

Ask yourself how much of where your dollar goes is to things you can own, gadgets and gizmos and things, versus how much goes toward experiences that nurture the spirit, the emotions, the intellect.

Of course, there’s an overlap in things like books, movies, albums, etc. But the point is obvious, we’re being herded like sheep toward being a purely consumer culture.

We’ve always known that this is a real, potential threat. However, now, people are biting into the bait, hook, line and sinker, more than ever.

The next shiny, flashy, sparkly thing that pops up and asks you for money or your attention (should take about 15 seconds or less) ask yourself if giving it your time or attention will actually enrich your life, in the slightest.

If the answer is no, then ask yourself if you’re not buying into larger power plays, directing you into the corral, fattening you for the slaughter.

That probably sounds like paranoid ranting to many. But if I am wrong, then that little thought experiment shouldn’t cost you anything but a few moments of questioning and just like a crossword puzzle, should actually make you smarter.

But if I am correct, then it’s your opportunity to wake up from the matrix, so to speak.

Control your destiny.

Or someone else will.

Lead or follow, either is fine. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lead, nor with being more comfortable following.

But ask yourself who you follow and why. Are you only following because that’s where you were pointed? Is it solely based on who is generating the most noise or who has the most money, the most friends?

If so, you may want to look into how those things typically pan out in the end, historically. The ability to draw a crowd is not enough reason to put your energy into something or someone.

McDonalds is technically food but that doesn’t mean that it’s nourishment. Make sure that there’s some vitamins and minerals in that meal or else you’re going to starve. Likewise, make sure that you’re getting your daily allotment of emotional, spiritual, intellectual vitamins and minerals.

Suggestions

An actual spiritual practice (not just following someone who has one)

Read the classics of literature, poetry, plays, nonfiction, etc. Don’t just read the new stuff that pops up.

Get away from devices for a while, every day.

Attend a class on how to understand music, art, poetry, etc. Any local college should have a class you can audit.

Watch documentaries about artists, poets, painters, musicians, writers and about history in general.

Pull out your old sketchbook and draw something, so you can really appreciate the next good drawing you see.

Write your own poetry, so you remember how difficult it actually is. That way, you appreciate good poetry when you read it, hear it. Don’t just wait for something to grab you. You grab it.

The next time you are near a musical instrument, attempt to play it, regardless of what instrument it is. Get someone who knows that instrument to show you one or two things about it. Then, you will really appreciate the next time you hear someone playing that instrument and doing it well.

Go out of your way to interact with artists of various mediums and to take interest in their work. If you don’t like it, don’t stop there. Ask yourself why you don’t like it. Is it because this is more impressionist or surrealist?

Is that more bebop and you prefer cool jazz or swing? Is this one more film noir and you prefer something else? Learn the lingo of the art form. Ask questions.

Journal your thoughts. It does make a difference. Record yourself speaking and listen back to it. How much of what you say is superficial or negative?

Put a blank calendar on the wall and give yourself a smily face for each day that you expose your mind to a work of classic literature or film or some sort of artwork. That takes anywhere between a couple of minutes (to look at a famous painting) and a couple of hours (to watch a classic movie). If you’re going to read a book, read for 15 minutes or fifteen pages, whichever comes first. Hell… five minutes or five pages.


It’s not a business with me. … I’m not a professional of poetry; I’m a farmer of poetry.

—Jack Gilbert, poet (18 Feb 1925-2012)


Some things need not produce huge profits to be immensely valuable.

Jim Morrison once said that after some type of disaster, like a nuclear war for example, if anyone survived, the only things that would live on would be scraps of songs and poetry.

Because of modern luxuries, people forget just how important music and poetry are to them. But try driving back and forth to work every day with no music. [Some people never listen to music but I’m not talking about them, because that’s just flippin’ weird 😒]

For most of us, we’ll start listening to music… in our heads. Or we’ll sing whatever we remember. People used to recite poetry to each other, as well. It was a skill, like being able to tell good jokes at a party.

But now, people don’t even know what good poetry is, much less how to read, write or memorize it. The subject is still taught in college and sometimes in highschool but not as a separate class, anymore, it gets lumped in with English or literature classes.

Everyone loved the movie Dead Poets Society but the lesson of the film seems to have waned a fair amount. That’s a pity.

“The Dead Poets were a society dedicated to sucking the marrow out of life. Spirits soared, women swooned and gods were created. Not a bad way to spend an evening, eh?”

For well over a year, I held poetry readings out of my home in Wilmington, NC. That was the early nineteen nineties. Contrary to what people would probably assume these days, they were anything but stuffy, dull affairs.

It was always well attended, I don’t recall there ever being less than five people, often as many as a dozen and sometimes more. It was half party, yes, but everyone came to read and/or listen. No one talked while someone was reading.

While people would get drunk or stoned, it never devolved into a regular party. Full respect was given to each reader.

Writers showed up eager to test their latest works on an audience. Everyone kept pulling out something to read until everyone was at last either too tired or too high to continue. And everyone actually paid attention.

We also supported the local open mics and the library poetry readings. It’s what we did and we took active roles in actually doing it, not just talking about it.

We held an impromptu poetry reading once, right on the steps of the Federal Building at around midnight. It actually drew a crowd of over two, three dozen, attentive people.

Imagine, yours truly, standing up on the concrete structure to the right, just above that silver car on the right… a little bit high and drinky, mind you… but seriously reciting “somewhere in wilmington” to a crowd.

Now, people would likely walk right on by and not even think about it.

Sad.

Why, back in my day… well, it was fucking great. It was a hell of a lot better than now and I took my sweet time before expressing that sentiment.

Artists were doing better before and that’s in spite of the extended reach we have, due to the internet.

And it’s too bad that people don’t really understand what they’re missing. People rule out poetry, because they read one or two poems by some idiot and they assumed that THAT was poetry. It isn’t. That, was bad poetry.

There’s good poetry, too. And there are lots of different types of poetry. E.E. Cummings is not the same as Emily Dickinson. Nor is Walt Whitman or Allen Ginsburg or Shakespeare. You might adore one and hate another.

Bouguereau is not the same as Jackson Pollock. Learn the difference.

People hear one kind of jazz and assume that that’s all there is. No. There are dozens of different types of jazz,quite different from each other. There is bebop, swing, cool, smooth, big band, blues, free form, just to name a few.

But it takes sustained attention to appreciate art. And the status quo are breeding mental goldfish.


Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.

—Aristotle


The powers that be want you… nay, they need you to be reactive in your thinking. They need you to be all or nothing, black or white, no shades of gray. It’s good or it’s bad. That’s how you control people’s impulses. That’s how you control their actions and attitudes.

But the person who cannot be bought or swayed with fame, sex, payouts, etc, that person is truly dangerous.

The one who is willing to burn down everything and start over, rather than bow to established modes of thinking, that person is capable of anything.

Be dangerous.

Art is what inspires a society. Nothing happens that is of any real merit or importance, unless people are inspired to do something great.

Music, literature, poetry, visual arts, film, dance, these things inspire us to keep living and to do better.

It’s fuel for the soul and unless you refuel the machine, the machine stops.

Educate yourself about what is important. Or someone else will indoctrinate you about what’s important.

3 thoughts on “Art Matters

  1. James Cavallo says:

    Eloquent as always, My Friend…. Just as that night on those steps. What a night!!! I carried a poem you wrote me for years in my wallet. I have always loved you brother…

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