This blog came across my inbox recently from my friend, Richard J. Dobson, aka Don Ricardo and I felt his words were worth sharing.
“It’s an old habit, this saving of clippings. I cut out a page of excerpts from commencement addresses that included this from Jessye Norman, opera singer, to graduates at Oberlin College, Ohio: “You see art brings us together as a family because it is an individual expression of universal human experience. It comes from that part of us that is without fear, prejudice, malice or any of the other things that we create in order to separate ourselves one form the other. Art makes each of us whole by insisting that we use all of our senses, our heads and our hearts, that we express with our bodies, our voices, our hands, as well as with our minds.”
I often find myself thinking about art and what it means, what it can do. What is an artist, anyway? For me at this point it’s a person who over a lifetime accumulates a body of creative work. Along the way he or she must gain enough support from the larger community to keep on creating. Success, while helpful, may not be required. Too much of it, and you’re prima donna bound, and risk trading your voice for that of a public persona.
People who write about art and artists look to trace influences. They want to know who it was that helped mold the artist, and thereby suggest a link to some known figure or movement. But when you’re young and starting a career, your greatest influence might be your old roommate, or an English professor who liked your early stories. Or a guitar picker only a handful of people ever heard of, like the reclusive country-bluesman John Grimaudo down in Rockport, Texas. Or Jack Saunders in Florida churning out a lifetime in prose he never sold; or Jason Eklund, street singer-roofer living out of his car and printing his hand-written manuscripts at the copy shop. These people, and others I could name, have probably influenced me as much as any better known artist.
Considering the economics, I’m still amazed that anyone would choose a life making music or writing books or painting. The answer to that one, of course, is the life chooses you. This opens up other questions about success, and what that might be. Artists are forgotten like everybody else. Only a tiny handful are remembered. Success might be nothing more than survival. I might have given a different answer thirty years ago. Now I would say honoring your vision and your muse, carrying on, and doing your work. That’s your joy, and that might be what success really means. The hobbyists, the people who never had a vision, or didn’t really want it bad enough, tend to winnow out. What you’re left with is artists. Shorn of all the romance and bullshit, just people going about their work”.