Thursday, January 19, 2012
The Devil's in the Details
The first thing to accept is that it's not likely any artistic person can really do anything completely novel anymore. I can't remember the last time I encountered an artist who really reinvented my perception of an element of craft or genre. This sounds grim, but it's really more an admittance of reality. Think about it and you might see my point here. We're centuries into what we think of as art, music, literature, and everything else contributing to our cultural awareness. Many people probably fail to even start an artistic work because they're intimidated by the entire scope of what they've previously encountered. If you think that every time you create something you're going to produce a timeless piece wherein great relevance for many exists, you're bound for self defeat. If you begin to acknowledge the inevitability of getting lost in the shuffle, your mind starts seeing some value in thinking on a smaller scale. It's the creative equivalent of learning to crawl before walking.
The notion of scaling my thinking down a bit then led to an idea that many of the artists I've been influenced by are very much adding their own two cents to pre-existing forms or themes. Part of why the works of Cormac McCarthy have been speaking to me so much recently is probably due to the fact that in my college days I enjoyed the work of William Faulkner. McCarthy is adding his own stamp to stories of both Appalacia and the American Southwest, but he's also a writer with a clear understanding of Faulkner's contributions to literature. Similarly is Tom Waits, who has spent a career adding his own mark to everything from jazz/standards to beat poetry, noise rock to blues. Nobody ever sounds quite like Waits but he clearly creates his songs within acknowledged frameworks. How he goes about crafting those songs is how his own personality gets injected into the cultural conversation.
In our present day, everything we partake of in art has been filtered down through centuries of influence, and admitting that in some small way makes things easier for us to begin to see our own contributions to fruition. When we claim the reality that we won't be able to create anything truly new or original, we can then see how and why we've been influenced by certain artists. Then we can start to see little angles where we might be able to inject our own specific voice.
In lieu of resolutions, I'm hoping that in my own creative endeavors I'll maintain this sense of understanding about the simple act of getting out of my own way and creating.