Thursday, April 16, 2009

Art and work

[image: Who is the artist? Answer tomorrow]

I am thinking about art and work today, because I just read an article in yesterday's New York Times about a talented teenage violinist who works as a waitress in a Sonic Drive-in to support herself, and will be going to nursing school, not Juilliard. The story captured my attention because she lives in nearbye Newark. The slant of the story is that this is a tragedy, and I won't be surprised if it turns up some philanthropist who wants to help the young woman pursue her talent.

But I think she might still argue for nursing school. She knows that, in the words of the song, "ain't no money in poetry" or in music. In Newark, Ohio, voters defeat the school levy, and the music program is the first to be cut. There go the jobs of people who majored in music. This girl from a broken family sees that reality, and wants to be able to earn her way in life.

Work. It's something you do because it needs to be done, not because it is fascinating and fulfilling. The stories we have about the Buddha, charmingly accumulated in Thich Nhat Hanh's biography, Old Path, White Clouds, tell us that his work - teaching - was a royal pain. His own cousin (relatives!) tried to break up the community, then tried to murder him. It drove the frustrated Buddha into the jungle to commune with the elephant. Having taught, I can relate to that.

If nobody would do it for fun, the saying goes, "That's why they call it work." This is not true for creative work, I think; a lot of us do it willingly for enjoyment. I can attest to the fact that when you set out to gain something external from your talent, what you do is changed - it becomes work. Putting together a collection of poems to submit for a grant moves you farther and farther from your intimate creative impulse, toward putting yourself in the mind of the judges, who become "consumers" of what is now, alas, a product. Every so often a really talented novelist or poet kills him/herself under the strain of trying to produce something. David Foster Wallace is a recent case.

It might be better after all to earn money some other way, achieve in some worldly precinct, if achieve you must, and play the violin for pleasure in a bluegrass band or an amateur string quartet. It seems to me that an ideal economy would let us earn a living wage by working half-time at something useful, accounting, waitressing, changing babies, and half-time giving ourselves to a creative endeavor, gardening or calligraphy or restoring classic cars.

This morning I watched a video of the Kings Firecrackers, an astonishing performance by a team of girls with jump ropes. It is acrobatics and choreography and, I suppose, sport and art. These talented fourth through eighth grade girls get to do this disciplined performance art for a short time, and then outgrow it and move on. There are so many paths from there; it seems like a Zen blessing of sorts, enjoying your talent fully, moving on in ninth grade to whatever life holds for you now.

No comments:

Post a Comment