Slavery. Sweatshops. Refugees. Poverty. Hunger. Disease. Debt. Access to education.
I relate to Brad’s post very much… thank you!
For me the worst part of the “job” is not the work itself (it’s stable, I’m fairly good at it, though stagnating), but the isolation I feel from coworkers who are for the most part nice, caring, ethical people who genuinely love their jobs, who spend extra time trying to learn technical skills, who care for their families, who love traveling, and who have absolutely zero interest in anything that relates to my “dream”.
It’s not that I feel rejected (I don’t – they always try to include me) – it’s just that there’s no relation. Blank stares, dead silence. Let’s move on and discuss Grammys or whatever.
There’s no understanding of what it means to be haunted by inner visions, visions that by their own force compel themselves to actualize, visions that can only be actualized in one’s own work because it’s the only thought form capable of it.
More than time, we need community, a deep, in-person community, which also requires time.
Not a community of people with identical visions, but a community of artists across the disciplines – perhaps vaguely situated in the same historical milieu – who can nurture one another. New York in the 70’s, can this ever happen again?
That’s why “follow your dream” still rings true, or at least more true than attempts to will or think the process more rationally.
Meister Eckhart: Whoever seeks or aims at something is seeking and aiming at nothing, and he who prays for something will get nothing.
There is something involuntary, inaccessible, and indeed mystical at the core of the vision – only by emptying one’s mind of grand designs and schemes, by consigning them to the cloud of forgetting one could perhaps be able to see it. While visions and actualizations may be profane, they still contain some of the structure of negative theology. A purely intellectual grasp (and note the violence in the word “grasp”) is never enough.
Reason will try to construct a path by casting the dream as a “goal”, reinforcing divisions between subject (the “I”) and object (the “goal”). The path may consist of nice, logical statements with truth values, but what these statements perform (re-entrenching the divisions) is carefully swept under the rug. And so we submit to these divisions, never getting anywhere.
But is there anywhere to go? The real journey to our visions is pathless, it is a matter of learning not only to see but to actualize, what is nearest in ourselves.
Thus it is not reason that compels one to actualize a vision, nor narcissistic desire (to be seen as a “great artist”), but love. A love that we cannot help but follow.
Ok… A woman born in the USA to a poor family, low access to education, has to work two unstable jobs just to barely get by.
Or a child in a Chinese factory city … or being born into war … or coming from generations of poverty …
There’s a lot of research into generational poverty, lack of education, and all sorts of things that lead people to the life they have. Most of which isn’t about their choices, but constrains their choices to a small set of things…
I teach at a pretty exclusive private school and it’s a tricky thing trying to cultivate their empathy for others without shaming them for the opportunities they have been fortunate enough to gain access to. It drives me crazy when we have kids who were born on third base and think they hit a triple.
I would argue the very notion that we are exclusively a result of the choices we have made is a privileged position and is deeply troubling to me.
Great thread; thanks @papernoise for opening the subject.
Here’s where I start from: privilege and art have been intertwined almost since the inception of art. Artmaking arose concurrent with our ability to shelter and feed ourselves became more efficient, so, unquestionably in my mind, art is dependent upon spare time. Spare time (read: time which one has control over how it is spent) became more unequally distributed as cultures and civilizations became more stratified, with more spare time among the privileged few and less among those who labor for the privileged. Although the disparity between those with spare time and those without grew, the distribution of creative propensity didn’t change, so those with spare time could sponsor those without it and allow non- or under-privileged creatives to do their thing. Thus (in the broadest strokes) arose our feudal system of sponsoring artists, a system which engenders an otherwise superfluous competition and which exists one way or another today. In other words, given the necessity of spare time to developing an artistic discipline and practice, we can’t separate privilege from making art.
However, as I have learned as a psychologist in a community mental health center, privilege in itself isn’t evil; it’s what we do with it that matters most. As others have said above more succinctly, making art doesn’t have to be harmful – indeed, I believe that art at its best is healing – for the artist and for the experiencers of art. And I don’t mean necessarily any kind of woo-woo-magical, dramatic, pseudo-satori, either. I mean, for example, the murals all over Baltimore (where I live) that express shared meaning for communities or add beauty to ghettoized neighborhoods. I mean the satisfaction the artist takes from channeling whatever it was that moved them to make a thing into that thing in reality, and how, that artist, now feeling clearer in themselves is perhaps more able to connect with the people around them, even in ways as simple as smiling at the person checking out their groceries, or laughing with the stranger that they do a little unintended dodge-walk-dance with on the street. These little differences add up and, cumulatively across people and time, make a community a good place to live or not.
So, I think it is our privilege to use our privilege for our common good. Since that manifests in more ways than we can name, I think all we can do is bend our efforts to doing our best with what we have and what we know and to keep in mind that we are inescapably part of a greater fabric of humanity.
I find this a massively interesting thread. I think that the idea of happiness & fulfilment in one’s life can mean so many things to so many different people & there will invariably be trade-offs & compromises that have to be made, whatever path you go down.
For me, I’ve realised quite some time ago that music will never be a “career” choice. Whilst I make music on more days than those where I don’t, it’s not how I make my living at all. On paper, my job could appear hugely unfulfilling / unambitious: I work in Quality Assurance for a call centre. This involves spending my working day with headphones on listening to telemarketers & making sure that they’re not using unethical sales practises & that they’re providing a clear explanation of the service they’re selling. Whilst this was never “the dream”, I choose to focus on the stuff that makes me happy about my working life. I work with some really nice people, I make enough to pay the bills & have managed to pick up the studio equipment that I own along the way without accumulating debt. The icing on the cake is that I have flexible hours (e.g. as long as I put in a full “working week”, I can do my job when I want). This basically allows me to:
a). Never work a weekend, or have to worry about missing a show that I want to go to because of work commitments.
b), Finish my work early afternoon (I wake up & get started early), so that I can have at least a couple of hours daily making music before my wife gets home & still be present in our marriage & hang out with her most evenings.
Art has never felt like a financial concern to me at all. If I’m making what I want & not having to compromise my vision of what I want to make, this makes me content. Having worked in the creative industries before doing what I do now, I am a much more centred & less judgemental being when I compartmentalise my life in the way that I have.
I’m also painfully aware of the disparity between the life that I was born into & how a lot of other people in the world have things. As a younger man, I spent a few years working in the charity sector in a reception centre for young refugees & I think that the experience of hearing about some of those kid’s lives woke me up at a time in my life that I really needed that!
Life is incredibly difficult and brutal, we all have a role in this, also in repairing the world.
Here i will not speculate on the reasons or pathways – but simply point out that even people whom I love the most, the people who exploded all the categories and made it possible for me to do music again (not this or that “genre”) – I’m thinking explicitly Arthur Russell and Julius Eastman… suffered greatly and as a direct result of just being fully themselves, in a world that did not accept them and was not ready for them. Both died before their work had any kind of real reception (and there’s still much work to do in terms of the public at large understanding who they really were).
So, nothing sacred without sacrifice. As much as each generation tries to get beyond this, it resurfaces, it’s the tragic refrain of history.
We have no standing to compel someone to follow the sacrificial path, or indeed criticize them for just being happy, being great mothers, great husbands, playing in cover bands. It is enough, one hopes, that they are ethical and kind. But for those of us so compelled by our inner visions, we have no choice but to follow the way of sacrifice. However painful is that path, it is even more painful to deny it.
But in coming together, in building real, physical, multi-disciplinary communities, we can at least do something to mitigate risks for ourselves and also create the conditions of possibility for future generations to find their voice. These communities need not only those traditionally called “artists” but facilitators, no less artists in their own right, those whose creative expression is in how they connect people, ideas and opportunities.
“Following your dream” means you are chasing some ill-defined desire. You don’t REALLY know what it is…but you’ll know it when you get there, surely…?
A better life is to live with intent, to set goals and YES 100% pursue your passions. If you work a day job and make music at night or the weekends, you are in good company. There’s no shame in that (Morton Feldman, Poulenc, and Vivaldi will sympathize).
Pretty much sums it up for me. Well said!
As a person who may have overcome some hardships early in life, but subsequently found my way to a rather privileged existence, I am increasingly feeling compelled to find a way to aid those less fortunate than myself in pursuing their goals.
@jasonw22 I was in the process of typing something similar… great minds!
Beyond this though, I think it’s important to differentiate the function of art for an individual (for me: mental health and well-being come to mind) and art as it relates to society. Art, especially since the dawn of Creative Class-ism, has truly gutted low income communities and will continue to as class divides become more stark. I’ve met so many Artists who buy up warehouse spaces, vacant homes, etc. etc. and turn them into Art spaces with these idealistic motivations; bringing art to the community!, starting a dialogue around xyz issue!, spread political consciousness! These artists are often left leaning, well-intentioned people, but don’t understand their production of art is an assault on the livelihoods of less privileged, often minority, almost always low-income folks.
This isn’t to say one can’t enjoy turning some knobs and flipping some switches in their room without displacing their poor neighbor… I’m speaking on this at a higher level.
Also, I think this thread is quite off-base… why are we talking about improving the lives of the privileged? Is it simply because that is the title to which most, if not all, of us belong?
In “Think on These Things,” Krishnamurti says something like "If you have the time and the ability to educate yourself and better society, do it, because there are many people who do not have the time or opportunity or energy to do so."
Also, whenever I think about this stuff, I admit that I’m no good to anyone else unless I take care of myself. I have the privilege to be able to do that, and I can only hope that in doing so —by sharing my energy, time, and resources when I can, and maintaining good boundaries and an inner awareness of myself — I can benefit the lives of others.
Here’s a couple more quotes from Krishnamurti:
“But you see, most of us are concerned with revolt within the prison; we want better food, a little more light, a larger window so that we can see a little more of the sky. We are concerned with whether the outcaste should enter the temple or not; we want to break down this particular caste, and in the very breaking down of one caste we create another, a “superior” caste; so we remain prisoners, and there is no freedom in prison. Freedom lies outside the walls, outside the pattern of society; but to be free of that pattern you have to understand the whole content of it, which is to understand your own mind. It is the mind that has created the present civilization, this tradition-bound culture or society and, without understanding your own mind, merely to revolt as a communist, a socialist, this or that, has very little meaning. That is why it is very important to have self-knowledge, to be aware of all your activities, your thoughts and feelings; and this is education, is it not? Because when you are fully aware of yourself your mind becomes very sensitive, very alert.”
“So, it is a basic function of education to help you to find out what you really love to do, so that you can give your whole mind and heart to it, because that creates human dignity, that sweeps away mediocrity, the petty bourgeois mentality. That is why it is very important to have the right teachers, the right atmosphere, so that you will grow up with the love which expresses itself in what you are doing. Without this love your examinations, your knowledge, your capacities, your position and possessions are just ashes, they have no meaning; without this love your actions are going to bring more wars, more hatred, more mischief and destruction. All this may mean nothing to you, because outwardly you are still very young, but I hope it will mean something to your teachers—and also to you, somewhere inside.”
― Jiddu Krishnamurti, Think on These Things
It’s my opinion that bettering all lives (including those who are privileged) in real ways (education, empathy) might lead them to use their resources to help aid others and build stronger communities.
(EDIT: White middle-class male US Citizen here, def coming from a place of privilege.)
Privileged? I don’t know.
Yuval Noah Harari on Sapiens, about the luxury trap:
How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.
One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.
I totally understand what you’re saying! They are both very loaded words somehow…“goals” sounds like something your boss sets for you to meet at the end of the quarter But “dreams” implies a sense of self-validation, perhaps?
Its interesting because I know people like this - and in some ways, maybe I’m one myself (as I begin shopping for $$$ speakers). But at some point, you give in to luxuries because they may be all you have. I read something a while ago that was a response to criticism a woman openly received for buying a pack of cigarettes even though she owned no car, worked two jobs, received government assistance and was a single parent. Her response was along the lines of, “this is one of very few luxuries I allow myself, even though I know its destructive and addictive.” At some point, your brain tells you that the $20 bottle of wine (which would be expensive for me), when compared to your $2500 mortgage and two car payments, doesn’t make your financial situation any worse and at least gives you an hour or two of some sort of relief.
Anyway, that was off point. I think privileged is being in the position to have that choice in the first place. How many Americans never make it to the “College Graduates” phase of that statement? (And yes, I realize that’s not the most appropriate bar to set for everyone)
This is excellent and crystallizes a lot of my thoughts around why I should really be more intentional and set nominal goals for myself.
Is it possible to speak of a poiesis, a bringing-forth, a revealing? A truth upon which one can only reflect after it has been made, after it’s been born into the world?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poiesis (interesting to read beyond the definition)
For me the essence of freedom is being able to follow this truth, being able to act according to its realization, not so much as rational “choice”, but as something already destined.
Poiesis also has a good connotation: one can’t generalize a poem, one can only repeat (recite) it, or recirculate it in a new poem. It “is” only after it has been made. For this “dream” doesn’t quite work, but it is closer than “goals”!
“Goals” call me into the presence of an alien mechanism, of optimization, of “maximizing my potential” (in the way we “maximize profits”) … of a purely abstract production alienated from any particular bringing-forth. It’s more than just distancing oneself from what one brings forth – it’s a kind of ventriloquism: the mechanism overtakes me, speaks through me. I become a revenant, a corpse. It’s been speaking through us for centuries now. It’s the same logic that compels the large-scale destruction of forests for the abstract production of “timber”… NOT that a craftsperson fells an individual tree to bring forth a cabinet poietically, but a purely abstract mechanism for which poiesis is infinitely deferred. That to me is the determinism that we, privileged or not must overcome.
I find the incentive for creating art and artistic expression is too often bound to a economic structures which whether you like or not is deeply rooted in the notion of hasty productivity/economic growth - “development”/consumtion which in itself is very hard to escape, it’s ingrained into us - as we’re products of this society. Günter Eich once said something that resonates with me in my relation to making art: Be uncomfortable; be sand, not oil, to the machinery of the world.
Also, stumbled upon this post regarding being stuck in the hamster-wheel of 9 to 5 where the writer proposes a kind of oppressive pre-designed model, not much for conspiracy theories but there’s some interesting thoughts nonetheless:
The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce. I’ve only been back at work for a few days, but already I’m noticing that the more wholesome activities are quickly dropping out of my life: walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing. The one conspicuous similarity between these activities is that they cost little or no money, but they take time.
Man, this hits me hard as I’m going through a rough stretch at work and there’s a cloud hanging over the entire school it feels like. Ugh.
20 characters of resist
I heard an NPR story about these 62 individuals who own nearly half the world’s wealth. This number of people has steadily decreased. Looks like we’re heading toward an Overlord scenario. My bet is Jeff Bezos IV.
Privilege in this context is multifaceted and not only about economic means, although that is certainly a part of it.
This is what people mean by intersectional - your race, religion, gender, family, economic means, geography, and more all impact your opportunities in life and the way you’re treated by our systems and society.
Based on what you’re describing you are coming from what would be described as an underprivileged economic position, but being white you have a privileged racial position. Meaning that in situation of equal economic standing, you have some benefits over non-white people (or other things).
Privilege doesn’t mean the elimination of hardships or individual capacity to succeed or fail given your abilities (or despite them).
The intent isn’t guilt or competition. Instead it’s to recognize the complexity of our relationships to each other and to the systems of our countries and cultures. Then to use that information to be compassionate for perspectives that we haven’t ourselves experienced.
The other thing to note is that a lot of these things are discussed as systemic issues more than individual ones. We need to be compassionate for the individual because of how the systems treat them (legal, economic, education, employment, etc), but a lot of the change we want needs to happen at the systemic level.
It’s also all degrees. Yes, those 62 ultra-rich people have insane power and privilege, but that doesn’t negate the degrees to which people experience different treatment on a daily basis. And it doesn’t wash my hands of it because I’m not a billionaire.
I heartily disagree. Most of the systemic changes in history have come from the ground up, not the top down. These are the people we will need to challenge in order to change things that currently benefit them.
And on a smaller scale we see this all the time at different levels. They are a high level stand in for what is a daily struggle for a lot of people. In order to get true equal opportunity some people who currently have more opportunity need to make space for new people, and that is most of us in different ways.
(Edit: Just to add that I am constantly thrilled that we can have this sort of civil and deep conversation about these important topics on a music forum. )