I’m very careful about what I believe. I used to tell anyone who’d listen to my rantings that I believed nothing and they should too, but then I learned about Godel’s Theorem and was forced by the demands of logic to admit that there were things I believed without question. There are things which I’m sure are true, which I’m one hundred percent certain exist, in spite of the complete absence of any verifiable proof of their truth or existence. These days, I’m not ashamed to admit that I believe in the power and necessity of Art, with a capital ‘A’. There are some, even some educators, who strongly disagree. Maybe even the President of the United States of America.
Yes folks, the President has spoken on the subject and has been quoted — “folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.” President Barack Obama later apologized for the remark, defending the intent and characterizing the remark as an unintentional and minor gaffe. He was simply, he later explained, trying to encourage students who might have been discouraged by the intellectual mountain they thought they would have to climb if they entered a four-year college program (Okay, it’s not my job to defend Obama so you can look this little firestorm up for yourself and form your own conclusions). My point is that Art, and an education that includes it, has often been characterized as worthless. And not just by the President.
“Follow the money,” said Deep Throat to Woodward and Bernstein. They did and it worked; following the money trail led them to the trove of information that broke the Watergate scandal and ended Richard Nixon’s public political career. Money is central to our culture and there is a strong tendency to measure everything is terms of money. When value is measured in dollars the intangibles lose significance. But as every prostitute knows, while some things simply cannot be bought or sold, you can’t live without money. Artists are no exception to this rule; readers of this blog might remember that I have been explicit about my financial hopes. (Reminder — I write books that I intend to sell, for cash.) In fact, Art can be worth millions on the market but is that how we want to value it?
I think of what I do as Art. You can quibble over words and engage in extended philosophical discussions on subjects like ‘Art and Artifice’ but in the end, it’s the intention that defines the thing (yes, the President has a point). Any attempt to communicate objectively, or metaphorically, is Art. Sincerity, not money, is the issue. There’s Art and there’s Pornography. Richard Adams in Watership Down (check out Gringa of the Barrios for a reading) provides a sharp evaluation of the difference; in the art of the doomed warren we find the Art of Folly.
I think that every human being should produce at least one work of Art in its life. It could be a poem, a novel, a painting, a sculpture, or a song. Anything. Just communicate. And don’t worry about the money. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t get paid for what you do but the value of what you do cannot be measured by how much you are paid for it. A real estate agent once told me that the price of a thing was whatever some person was willing to pay for it. That’s how money works.
But be careful to avoid the silver snare. Be aware of what your Art is communicating. Do good work.
PS: If you haven’t yet, read Watership Down. If you have already, read it again.