The Artist’s Dilemma

To make a dent, leave a mark, not be forgotten; to convert stored imagery into art forms whether of music, dance, poetry, prose or painting. Is that what drives the artist?

I once pursued the good life by which everyone is measured and scored as “successful” – business degrees, secure job, wife, two children, a house in the suburbs, the annual overseas vacation, gifts at Christmas and birthdays, the Cadillac, money in the bank. Good, boring middle•class life that keeps western societies grounded and stable. I even moved countries to where life was more ordered and predictable. But is anything ever stable or predictable – duh!

Then one day the red light went on. I realized that I had hit fifty; the years in my life were lessening. I had to leave a mark. I had to translate everything that I had learned and experienced for my progeny and for the greater world. And I had so much to say. I wanted them not to repeat the many mistakes I had made. Therefore, I had to change my routine, give up all the lazy comforts I had gotten used to. I had to starve, feel loss, feel diminished and rejected, I had to experience life in all its sordidness, because rich experiences lay down below, not at the golf club, or at the five•star resort.

It’s a passing phase, I said, after having entered my new diminished, marginalized status. A phase in your journey of life and if you don’t have these valleys, your life would have straight•lined – you would have ended up like the walking dead! I thought delusional self•talk would help…

The Buddha said, “Seek the ‘middle way,’ ” everything in moderation. Now, even though I have not yet hit rock bottom, I have looked down into the economic abyss during this recession and I don’t like what I see. I would like to shop back at the Bay; not at Holt Renfrew, not at Walmart, but somewhere in between. And that should still afford me the ability to record my life’s experiences and this new revelation of the middle way for posterity, shouldn’t it? But I will have to give up my artistic freedom by working a day job again in order to do that. That wouldn’t be giving up much, would it? Delusional self•talk, again, mark you!

When I phoned my son, who at twenty•two is pursuing the artist’s calling, starving, dodging debt, selling his possessions so that he can work less and concentrate on creating the next biggest thing in rap music, I wanted to scream at him – “I’ve been there! You have to take the middle way.”

And he replied, “Middle•of•the•road be damned. It is mediocre. If you gotta go, you’ve gotta go in a blaze of glory. People line up on bridges for those unknown soldiers who die for their bravery in Afghanistan. Who is going to line up for your funeral, Dad? And what are they gonna say? That he pursued ‘safe?’ Thanks, but no thanks!”

I have to say, he’s made me feel like a traitor to the artist’s dream. Perhaps, I’ll end up a middle• of•the•road artist – a mediocre one. After all, if I chicken out at this test of economic vs. artistic nerves, I would have chosen my level of fame, wouldn’t I?

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