There are two kinds of people who go to the dentist’s office – or the doctor’s office, or wait at the garage for the car to be fixed.
The first kind want to read any contemporary magazine that might be in the rack or on the table, “contemporary” being anything published in the last five years.
The second kind picks up any professional journal that might be in the same rack or on the same table.
I’m part of the second group.
I’m naturally curious, but it’s more than that. Inspiration for me is much more likely to come when I’m reading about some small advance in dentistry or medicine or mechanics than reading about the latest Hollywood scandal or a weeks-old news item or what the rich and famous anywhere are doing. Unless they want to buy my art, I don’t care.
Perhaps it’s easier to see why reading those off-beat journals might be useful for a writer than it is to see why it matters to an artist.
You’ve already guessed that I’m here to tell you why.
I get e-mailings every day announcing retreats and workshops and classes for artists. I get e-mailings every day announcing lectures and gallery openings as well. I’m happy to get them, but I’m also aware that there’s a danger in all this for the artist.
We all have the same amount of time in our days. How we spend it matters. We also all need to refresh our skills or learn new ones from time to time and workshops or classes are great for that. But more than anything else, we need to stop looking at the same four metaphorical walls – the “art” walls – we too often build for ourselves and get out to see the world.
Years ago I found myself bored at an event with architects when I realized they talked about nothing but architecture. A little later, I realized that when you get people of any profession – actors, carpenters, travel agents, financial planners – together, the conversation will be pretty boring.
More than boring. Limited. Boring and limited are terminal diseases for an artist.
On my planet, I want spend the main part of my work time creating art. With the time that’s left, I want to spend a little of it keeping up with new ideas and techniques and talking with other artists, but I want to spend the larger part of it out in the world where inspiration waits .
I want to talk to people who have nothing to do with art, but who can educate me about what they do in the world. I’m more likely to visit places that do not offer lectures on art history or tour a museum. I’d much rather sit in a bar and have a drink with a guy who could fix my car or tell me how to grow great roses. I want life.
Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtuskenko wrote a poem about ordinary people and their ordinary lives and included these words:
In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight.
It goes with him.
It is from these people and all else out in the world that we artists can draw inspiration no matter what kind of art we do. For my money, I’m going to find much more of it out in the world than I can listening to a dozen other artists discussing the travails of being an artist.
About the same as listening to a dozen actors talk about the hard life of acting or who got the lead in the latest play.
Shop talk is good – up to a point and I have artist friends with whom I enjoy it now and then. But not when it overtakes our creative lives and turns into shop talk talk talk talk talk.