Being an Artist – by J.M. Richardson

We all know that Art is not truth.  Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.  The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.  ~Pablo Picasso

On June 29th, I interviewed J.M. Richardson, author of the book The Twenty Nine, and upcoming bookThe Apocalypse Mechanism:  out August 1st 2012 . You can read the interview here.  This week Joshua writes a guest post for Muse In The Valley.  A piece which conveys his views on “being an artist”.

  Please note that the quotes were added by me.  I thought they fit well with today’s post.  

Being an Artist 

In January, millions of people will again tune in to FOX to watch hundreds of thousands of America’s youth audition to become the next American Idol.  And what is their motivation?  It seems like a simple question with a simple answer.  First, I love that word…motivation.  It is human animal behavior at its most primitive.  It’s why we do anything.  Your routine decision to stop off for lunch at Subway is the manifestation of your hunger drive and your will to not starve to death.  Your motivation in doing some clothes shopping in the mall is, whether you like it or not, related to your need to make yourself attractive, mate, and further the species.  Perhaps for some of the young people amassing in the downtown convention center on audition day, the motivation to wait for hours in uncomfortable plastic seats and listen to the girl next to you demonstrate why she is going to win is quite simply to have a chance to be present in the same room with Randy Jackson and whatever fading pop or rock icon they will have sitting next to him in the judges’ chairs this season.  That kind of star worship is common, and in my humble opinion is a really good reason to audition.  But for many, there really is a belief that they have the talent and the potential to become a major recording star.  But why?  Again, what is the motivation?  Why does anyone aspire to be a singer or musician?  Is it stardom, and the inevitably accompanying fortune and fame?  This is where I see a problem.  This IS the motivation for far too many.  I don’t want to watch the formation of a star.  I want to see the birth of a promising new artist. 

In a world where popular music is ruled by flash and electronic voice alteration, there is little room for the true artist.  Are we losing a sense of importance of the Bob Dylans, Eddie Vedders, and John Lennons of the world?  Are we losing innovation and expression to singing game shows.  Of course, this post is not about American Idol, or really about music, specifically.  It’s about what it means to be an artist.  Being an artist means the same to every culture from the post-industrial world of the US to the rain forests of the Congo Basin.  An artist reflects, interprets, and spreads the culture of a time and place.  Bob Dylan sang of the injustice of locking up an innocent man based on the color of his skin.  Chaucer exposed the corruption and folly in medieval Catholic culture, and cavemen painted depictions of their struggles to survive upon caves near where they thrived.  Being an artist isn’t a race to seem the most flamboyant.  The purpose is not to amass huge amounts of wealth or snort mounds of blow off of a turntable in some pulsating Hollywood nightclub.  It is to entertain, inspire, and influence culture.  The dysfunction is more of a side-effect, or even influences an artist’s creativity.  But it should not be what drives the aspiration. 

“I’ve got my indignation but I’m pure in all my thoughts.” 
― Eddie Vedder

While artistry in music has been murdered at the hands of game shows, studio software, and marketing, as a writer, I see the same sort of thing happening in literature.  When I think of writing, I picture Hemingway pouring perspiration and depression onto the paper in some dingy Havana room. I see Steinbeck exposing the plight of migrant workers in California during the Depression.  I see Anne Rice drawing from her own personal darkness to show us the monstrosity in humankind.  I don’t think their intention was to live in fine mansions and drive Rolls Royce’s, even if that became a reality.  It think it was the same as any painter or musician—therapy.  But today, just as so many young people are waiting in line to sing for Stephen Tyler for a chance to get rich and buy five Escalades, there are thousands of people writing books with the sole intention of becoming the next J.K. Rowling.  If Sarah Palin can “write” a book, than so can everyone else, right?  Snookie has a bestselling book.  But that’s not reality, and their book deals do not reflect the true nature of the industry.  It is not necessarily something anyone can do.  I have to correct people all the time about my own lifestyle.  People frequently think that because I’ve had novels published, I’ve instantly hit the big time and that I’m a millionaire.  While I admit that I’d at least like to make this my sole career, it’s like hitting the lottery to some people.  That’s what they think happens when you write a book.  And I believe that there are mobs of people out there who have written books for that very reason.  That, and the ability to tell people that they are an author or a writer.  They care about the label, “writer”; the idea of it.  Maybe they think that a completed novel is right around the corner from a national book tour, movie deals, and the Bestseller list.  Ask any serious writer, and they will tell you that this image can’t be further from the truth, at least at first.   

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

I wish people wrote for the right reasons still.  It’s easy to publish a book today, and without agents and query letters.  Everyone wants to publish.  If you’re tone deaf and can only draw stick figures, it’s the natural, alternative way to become an “artist”.  But being a writer, in itself, doesn’t make you an artist, just as a love of singing or playing an instrument doesn’t make you an artist.  Being an artist is interpreting the world through your eyes, your voice, and your words.  It knows no rules of sentence structure and punctuation.  It has no guidelines in terms of what is aesthetically pleasing.  There are no specific chord progressions or sounds.  I do not write to make money.  I have a day job.  I do not write so that I can call myself an author.  In fact, I usually try not to bring it up to people.  I write therapeutically.  I write because I will self-destruct if I don’t.  I write to display my emotions.  I write so that I won’t have a conversation with only myself.  I write to share the things that I know.  I write so that others might also enjoy the things that I see in my own mind.  I write for the art of writing. 

J.M. Richardson is a native of southeast Louisiana where he studied education and social sciences, earning his degree from Louisiana State University.  He has been writing for leisure nearly all of his  life, wrote competitively in high school, and had intensive writing coursework in college.   He now resides in the Fort Worth, TX, area with his wife and two daughters where he teaches geography, history, and sociology.

Source:  Winter Goose Publishing


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  1. Great post and honest writing. So there are those in the tribe who want fast, instantaneous results, those who think money and fame are signs of success — let them. There are no guarantees in this life. Have fun with whatever it is that you call your craft. The naysayers are saying more about their inertia. It takes courage, commitment, and time to hone any craft. What I admire in this essay is J.M.’s dedication and it shows that he writes well and that it shows another thing: he knows that to be a writer requires reading others. I wish him all the best and more importantly, this essay makes me want to read more from him.

  2. Kim

    July 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    In the past, I let my father deter me from being an artist. I think his fears got in my way. He was a musician, and let his dreams go for family.

    Today, I write for myself. I take pictures for myself. Do I wish one day these things bring me some form of income? Yes, however, I wont let that stop me now from doing what I love. I wont let others stop me from being an artist.. because, I am !!

  3. Elaine Sangiolo

    July 26, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Love this post! Yes, literature should be art and writers or authors, whomever, should delve into a piece the way a sculptor or painter transfixes over their most immediate work as they fixate on the minutia of color and texture with all possible energy. Just my humble opinion.


  4. I cannot not write. Period. Whether I publish it or not, if I try to avoid creating something it makes me very cranky and unbearable to live with. It’s my fix, my drug, my NEED.

    Nice post.

  5. I write because I feel I must. I started when I was 12, think really bad poems, and then stopped for reasons I won’t get into here. Funnily enough, most people make a point to tell me I can’t survive as a writer, as opposed to the idea that I’ll be a millionaire.
    The fictional piece I’m currently working on is ultimately about embracing one’s gifts no matter how anyone else undervalues, or misunderstands it.

    • Jessica, I get that sometimes, too. You’re right. People either think I’m a millionaire or they want to remind me of how difficult it is to reach writing success. Most serious writers KNOW how difficult that is. We don’t need to be reminded. So why do people do that? Put you back in your place? Some people literally don’t want you getting too “uppity”. They think you’re going to get this sense of feeling like you’re better than them. But mostly, the reason is this. Everyone has dreams and aspirations, and most never realize them. So when you accomplish something big, some people just cannot be happy for you. And for some, they take the extra step to “bring you down to earth”. It’s nice to feel accomplished, and don’t let anyone take that from you.

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