The struggle for six hours daily to make fingers move at lightning speed, and in the balance of the day to re-shape one’s mind into a vast reservoir of history, style and technique, impress the right teachers and build the pedigrees that could make all the difference in earning potential – this felt, to my 17-year-old mind, like a serious distortion of what I knew and loved about music. Six hours of practise daily – good exercise, but no balance with laughter. There was nothing playful about it.
I never found a mentor there, or perhaps I wasn’t open to the possibility after receiving a damningly dismissive letter from my Conservatory teacher just months before. The world of music study felt cold and hard.
So I put my cello away for a decade and pursued fine art – York University in the ’80’s, Sheridan College in the ’90’s, many joint and solo exhibitions since. With apologies, because I’m just beginning the process of overhauling this old website, here’s some of my work @ www.crowsink.ca.
At the time I believed that music and art were two different things. Silly me. Eventually I figured it out, got my cello & vocal chops back and have included music and performance in every art show I’ve done since.
Here we come to my point – ANY artistic discipline is equal parts cold, hard and terrifying, and deeply, soul-quenchingly rewarding. There’s no way around it, if you’re serious about the job of being an artist. We serve our communities by tackling the toughest questions and finding (hopefully pro-active) means and ways to offer solutions, generate discussion, make precise, accessible statements that have universal resonance. It’s an incredibly difficult job to do well.
Ask any serious artist about obstacles – constant lack of time or money is the obvious one, though I’m frankly sick of the the ‘starving artist’ stereotype – so often this comes from an overblown sense of entitlement. In some few cases artist poverty happens for legitimate reasons rooted in abuse and mental illness, but such is the case in any profession. Being a professional artist in this culture includes the hard work of attending to self-promotion, maintaining multiple streams of income, and making sure you respect yourself enough to cover your needs.
A conductor friend of mine once told me that he spends only 3% of his time on his craft. The remaining 97% he spends building and maintaining the continued possibility for good work. Most young artists don’t understand this – it’s where we mostly fail.
However, I find that the difficulty of mastering those things pales when I’m finally alone in a studio, developing a piece, a show, a concept, and building the images that will describe what I’m trying to communicate. It takes a strong stomach to face down the inner demons who will tell you: Nobody will get it. This is weak. This has no relevance whatsoever to what’s happening out there. You can’t see. You can’t draw. This work has no function, no meaning. You’d be better off mowing the lawn.
The enemy lines.
I have been at it long enough to know that if I don’t feed them, the demons will fade away. If they’re stubborn, I pick up my cello and dissolve them with music.
Happy art-making, everyone. Stick it out, and make it good.