Entitlement or Gratitude?

Does art owe anything to the artist? This is a question that has plagued humanity for eons and one that has been on my mind a great deal lately. It seems to me that people have been so thoroughly indoctrinated to accept talent as a marketable commodity that we’ve forgotten its basic purpose: to be expressed. Can I sing? I’ll make a gold record (and get rich). Can I dance? I’ll be a big star on Broadway (and get rich). Can I write? I’ll write a best-seller (and get rich). Can I act? I’ll go to Hollywood (and get rich). Can I paint? And so on...

I’m not saying that wanting to make a living from our talents is a bad thing. We as a society need people who introduce us to new ideas through their talents, but I don’t think that every.single.person who has talent is meant to be "rich and famous”. Actually, that’s so obvious, it’s asinine. And I certainly don’t think that every person who has talent has the right to expect fame and fortune, as if it is a reward for simply having talent. That’s a narcissistic sense of entitlement that perverts the purpose of art.

Personally, I’m loathe to talk about what art’s true purpose is because, really, I don’t know. The Great Minds throughout history have tossed that one around and I don’t presume to know what they never really figured out either. I do have my ideas about talent though. Having talent is like being given a big birthday cake that’s meant to be shared at our party. Too many people, instead of sharing their cake, sell it to their guests slice-by-slice for monetary gain as well as for praise for having been given the cake in the first place. They didn't bake it, or decorate it, or even bring it. It was a gift that they want to sell rather than share.

A few years ago I was a moderator on a certain forum and I was astounded by how many people (mostly young people) believe that those who get famous are innately superior. They seemed to think that fame is a reward for being a better person than anyone else, for being more evolved, or morally superior. Well, having met a great many famous people I can tell you that just isn’t so, but I'm not naming names.

In ancient Rome everyone wanted to eventually end up being a god (the Catholic Church took their process of creating saints from that which the Romans used to create gods). Some attained godhood during their lifetime, some posthumously, and some never did. Some did so due to good works, helping the poor and by being loved and respected by the people. Others, no matter how many bribes they offered, or who they slept with, or murdered, never made it.

Because I believe the United States is a modern Rome, I believe that our celebrities are our modern gods. Some people make it and some don’t. Some make it during their lifetime and some not until after they are dead. The one thing all these people have in common, from ancient Rome to the modern world, is a craving for immortality, of not being forgotten, and people will use whatever talent they have to attaint it: strategy, eloquence, deceit, money, sex, art, you name it.

The point is to express ourselves through our talents. Why? To express ourselves. That’s not as circular as it sounds. When I was studying with Maestro Salazar—a seasoned professional and a renowned musical force in southern California and points around the globe—he once told me that he admired amateurs more than he did professionals. He then explained to me the true definition of the word amateur (I remember that he pronounced it correctly: ah-mah-toor, not am-uh-choor): one who does for the love of the doing.

“In other words, an artist,” he said. “Not one who does it to make money, regardless of how much they love the doing. Being ‘amateur’ has somehow picked up the connotation of being second-rate, but that’s just not what it means in Latin. Being an amateur means the artist does what he does simply for the love of it. Ama: love. Teur: of.”

This has always stuck with me and has soaked into my very being as an artist. It has taken years to finally permeate my consciousness. But then, maybe it’s still doing its work and I haven’t fully grasped it after all.

As much as I’d like to have my books published, that isn’t why I write. I write because I enjoy writing. Usually. The past few months have been kind of a drudgery, but in the end, even that’s enjoyable in its own way. And as much as I’d like to make my living by writing, if some shadowy figure from the future appeared and told me it was never going to happen, I’d still write.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that art owes me nothing. I had nothing to do with it coming to me, so how can it? It runs in my gene pool, that’s all. To expect laurels to be thrown at my head for that is ridiculous and to demand fame and fortune for it is ungrateful. And gratitude seems to be the lesson of the moment at this point in my life.