A Call to the Sleeping Artist
There is something ominous about a blank journal lying open on our lap, or a silent guitar resting in its stand. There is something incredibly daunting about a piano sitting in the corner of the room, its keys resting in single file, stoic and unmoving, showing no desire at all to yield to our fingertips. There is something about their stillness that peers back into the dark recesses of our minds and asks, Is there anything back there? Is there anyone home behind those eyes, or did you just leave the light on so the passersby might be duped?
Art lives and dies on the dubious emptiness of silent instruments and blank canvases. Some of us are inspired by these questions and see the blank sheet and the unplucked strings as a frontier to be explored, and we embark into the unknown and leave excited footprints across our medium of choice. Most of us, though, see a wasteland, and cowering before our silent media, we respond with our own silence. Our instruments become little more than decorations in our bedrooms, our blank sheets now fodder for grocery lists. We throw our efforts into more profitable pursuits. We change our majors from music, writing, and studio art to something more employable. We dawn stiff clothes and sit down at jobs that we thought we’d never want. We sojourn on to productive adulthood as the creator in us retreats into some forgotten corner of our mind and falls into a deep, deep slumber.
If the world had any idea how many artists it loses in a day, the mourning would never cease. But it spins on, ignorant. Instead, we are largely rewarded by putting our creativity to bed. The demands of our job or our family are louder than the dirge of the artist within us. We receive a steady paycheck and full medical, we get married and have children, and comfort– stable comfort– for ourselves and those who depend on us, becomes the most prized commodity.
It would be a difficult task to find a lie more deadly to the sleeping artist than that which claims this shift into a more stable adulthood is the enemy of our creativity. The key to waking up the creator hibernating inside our skull is not to ditch our responsibilities, or to tune them out, or even to put them on hold. These things are now part of the lens through which we see the world and project our findings. To treat these new aspects of our lives as distractions would be to tie a hand behind the back of our inner artists, or to pluck out one of their eyes.
You see, you did no disservice to your creativity by switching your major, or by looking for careers in a more predictable field. Your status as a creator suffers no inherent hit from you wanting to find a more steady way to pay the bills. You don’t need to make a living playing music or painting murals to remain an artist. You need only to keep on creating.
But what an easy idea to charge you with: keep creating. Simple. To put it into practice, though, means to confront the question that caused us to go into hiding in the first place. Is there anything back there? To keep creating, we must sit back down in front of that blank journal, that dusty piano, that stoic easel. We must stare that emptiness in the face. We must listen to the silence that fills the room, and if one line is all that we can muster, we must savor it. When we shake our inner artists from their stupor, we can’t expect them to take off sprinting. We must let them first stretch their legs and give them grace if their first few steps are meek and shaky.
At this point I could feed you some line about how even Beethoven wrote his symphonies one note at a time, and I would be right, but I fear you would miss the point. I don’t want us to continue creating so that we might acquire the fame of Beethoven, because statistics assure us we probably won’t. I implore us to soldier on through the frontier of artistry simply because this world needs it. It cannot survive if we just continue to punch our time cards in and out and leave art to the professionals. It aches for us to make a sound. The compulsion to create and share art should be cultivated by all, regardless of our status or profession or major. Even if we never sell an album, our communities need our music. If we never sell a single mural, the people we work with need our paintings. If we’re never accepted by a publisher, the people we live with need our poetry. Our world needs us to press on, to push through as many atrocious rough drafts as we need while we refine our craft. Do not be hushed by the questioning silence of blank journals or white canvases or quiet instruments. Answer. Word by word, stroke by stroke, note by note, answer.