Monday, January 16, 2012

If an artist makes no art, is he still an artist?

I won't be able to see another San Francisco sunrise on this trip. It's about five in the morning and there's just enough light from the hotel lobby for me to see my breath vaporize, but not much else. I'm in three layers of clothes, and the icy concrete bench beneath me refuses adjust its temperature to the heat of my body.

Being born and raised on Oahu, I'm not comfortable in the cold. Yet my present discomfort is muted by hope ... hope for light and warmth. I don't recall ever yearning for the sun the way I do now. My body tenses with longing as though I await a lost lover, and my heart quickens with anticipation. Why have I never experienced a sunrise like this back home?

I guess you can never really hope to be warm if you're not out in the cold.

Years ago, I named my record label Esperanza, which means Hope. Over time I've found that I'm most creative when I'm hopeful. But what I'm only now beginning to realize -- as I look back on what I've experienced and what I've created as a result -- is that hope has been most abundant in times of discomfort.

Today it feels like my life is fragmented. I've spent the last few months studying for my contractor's license exam and, since passing, I've labored to convince myself that this is who I am now. And in the process, I fear I’ve forgotten that I’m an artist. Maybe it's because I don't feel like one ... and that's probably because it's been so long since I've made anything that I feel resembles art.

If an "artist" produces no art, can we still call him an artist?

Especially in today's hipsternate universe where anyone wearing a scarf and Toms gets to claim artist status ... shouldn't actual art be the ID card?

But what is art? What's the difference between art and say, a hobby? True art, I believe, must have a beneficiary outside its author. Specific or anonymous, it doesn't really matter, just as long as the person who created it intends for someone other than himself to enjoy it. A chef in a fine restaurant does not intend to be served his own entree. He knows the dish is not for him, although it probably says a lot about him, and it may have been a great joy for him to create. The chef understands that what he creates is for the guest.

People make model cars for themselves. That's a hobby. If you make music for yourself, it's a hobby. But if your craft is intended to contribute to the wellbeing of others, then you are truly an artist. Artists connect with people. They give.

My classical vocal coach put it to me this way, and I'll never forget: "When you sing, it's not about you. It's not for you. Get it out of your head that you are singing for you. You're singing for the listener. When the listener understands that you sing for him or her, that you understand him, or that you love her, then you have made a connection."

Here comes the sun, and I feel as though it rises for me.