Art For Art’s Sake?

Last fall, my wife and I drove up to Peekskill to see some folk music in a guitar store.  The main reason that we went was that our friend Judy Kass was performing with her new trio, Us!.  There were three acts, Jeremy Aaron, a young, but very accomplished, fiddler, guitarist, singer and songwriter (and, reportedly) tap dancer, the Karen Hudson River Trio, featuring Hudson on guitar and vocals, Jim Petrie on guitar and vocals and Suzanne Davenport on violin and vocals.  Hudson has been compared by others, accurately, to Rosanne Cash and Linda Ronstadt, and her music is both dark and funny.  Finally, we heard Us!, featuring Judy, Amy Soucy and Glen Roethel, all singing and playing guitars.  They were a very new group, and performed originals, covers and one co-written song, and they sounded great (and I’m not just saying that because Judy knows where I live).  The show was sponsored by Tribes Hill, a nonprofit that supports musicians in the Hudson Valley and connects them to each other, to patrons and audiences.

So, we heard about two hours of excellent music from 7 musicians.  During the show, my mind began to wander a bit, and I started to think about the fact that they all came to Peekskill on a Sunday afternoon to perform before about 20 (at most) people, who maybe paid a suggested donation of $15 per person.  Which made me think about all of the people I know who pursue some sort of art, for little or even no money.

Last weekend, my wife and I drove down to the Philadelphia suburbs to see A House Divided, an original musical written (and directed) by my college friend, Mike Salmanson (with some collaborators).  Mike, who is an award-winning employment attorney in Philadelphia, had been working on this project for decades–long before Lin-Manuel Miranda had ever even picked up a book about Alexander Hamilton.  The show had been performed in a couple of staged readings, but this five performance run at his local community theater in Narberth was the first full production.  Mike has been working his ass off getting the production up and running, and admitted to me that he hasn’t been sleeping much, and that he’d been letting some work slide.

I have friends and acquaintances, mostly, but not exclusively, from college, who are pretty successful in their chosen artistic endeavors, mostly writers–people who have published books, write for major publications, have had (or might have) movie or TV adaptations of their works, win awards–and others who are professional musicians, actors, photographers, and film and theater producers–but I also know a bunch of people who play in bar bands, take pictures, paint, perform standup comedy, compose musicals (in addition to Mike!) and do other artistic things without expecting much, if any, compensation.  And that includes writing for blogs.  These people, for the most part, have full-time jobs in or out of their homes, and create on the side.

There’s probably a different combination of reasons why for each person.  Speaking just for myself, I’ve been a lawyer since 1986, and while that has at times required all sorts of creativity, I’ve always enjoyed writing.  When I got to college, I thought about taking some creative writing classes, but when I saw my freshman year roommate’s work, I convinced myself that I would be out of my league.  Turns out, I was comparing myself to an extraordinary writer, who is one of those people I referred to above who has made a good career as a reporter and author.  A regret, that is 40 years old, is that I allowed myself to be psyched out (but I’ve mostly gotten over it.  Mostly.)  Beyond the many briefs and other legal papers I’ve written, I’ve dabbled here and there with writing for my law school paper (and in my law review note), and a soccer league newsletter, not to mention silly poems and toasts at family events, but it wasn’t until about 12 years ago that I decided to take writing classes at the Sleepy Hollow Writer’s Center.  From the reactions of the teacher and my fellow students, I got the confidence that had eluded me in my teens, and I realized I could do this.  And more than that, I wanted to do this, and it made me happy.

And yet, after a few years of classes, I felt that I had gotten all I could from that program, and stopped writing for a while.  Nor did I have the confidence to put any of my work out to the public.  Until 2011, when I started music blogging.  These days, for the three blogs I contribute to, I write, on average, say, five or six pieces a month, while also continuing my day job. (And I’ll soon be contributing to the Capitol Theater’s blog–stay tuned for details!) I don’t make a penny from it (although I’ll be getting free tickets from the Cap), but it makes me happy, and stimulates a side of me that would otherwise be dormant.

There’s also another thing that separates the pros from the amateurs (or semi-pros) and that is the willingness to take the risk that your art will be able to support you.  Clearly, it is easier to take that leap when you are young and willing to work your way up the ladder (or flame out early enough that you can get on some other career track) than it would be to do it later in life (although that does happen).  I’ve been privileged to be allowed to see a fraction of the work that a friend is putting in writing a book, and it is remarkable.  Although no more so than the work that I do writing a brief or preparing for a case–because that’s how I get paid.  But for me, knowing that I can bang out a blog post and edit it quickly without knowing that my livelihood depends on it is liberating.  It allows me to get the pleasure and fulfillment of writing, without the pressure.

The video above, from which this post takes its title, is from 10cc, a band formed by boyhood friends Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley, and Lol Creme, who had made music together in various forms for a number of years before dubbing themselves 10cc in 1972.  The name was reportedly based on a measure of volume greater than the average amount of semen ejaculated by the average male.  What made 10cc interesting, other than their name, was that all of the members were multi-instrumentalists, and they broke down into two songwriting teams–a commercial one (Gouldman and Stewart) and a more experimental one (Godley and Creme).  Prior to joining 10cc, Gouldman had written songs such as “For Your Love” and “Heart Full of Soul,” which were hits for The Yardbirds, and “Bus Stop” which was a hit for The Hollies.

10cc had a few hits, including “I’m Not in Love” and “Art for Art’s Sake,” (not surprisingly written by the Gouldman/Stewart team), and four successful albums before the inevitable split.  Gouldman and Stewart continued on as 10cc, with some commercial success, including the songs “The Things We Do For Love” and “Dreadlock Holiday,” while Godley and Creme worked to perfect a guitar effect, the Gizmo or Gizmotron, which was featured in an sprawling, experimental album called Consequences whose progressive ambitions ran smack into the burgeoning punk movement.  They released a few more albums to greater critical success before becoming more well-known as video directors for artists such as The Police, George Harrison, Herbie Hancock, Culture Club, and Sting.



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