I’m thinking of three things. Here’s the first one: I remember a conversation some years ago with Scott Bronson. Having danced around as sort of an art-hobbyist for years, I was contemplating what I described in conversation with Scott as a kind of mystical leap into greater loyalty to artful pursuits – a new covenant to follow the muse. My tone was getting pretty lofty, and I was getting kind of worked up. Scott listened patiently, and then brought me back down to earth by saying something like, “Relax, Sam. It’s not like we’re talking about curing cancer.” The comment was made more potent, perhaps, by the fact that Scott was, at that time, battling cancer. Anyway, that’s the first thing.
Here’s the second thing: There’s a tale that gets told about Tricia Storey (it’s a true one), who was working on an album that was important to her – an album with which she hoped to serve the Lord. If you know Tricia and her work, you know about the sensitivity, talent, and craft that would have been brought to bear on such a project. Anyway, albums are often hell to make, and in the middle of this one, Tricia turned to the Lord himself. Her question for the Lord was “what about the album?” Tricia describes the Lord’s answer: “What album?” Incidentally, I should probably point out that the Lord cared enough for Tricia and her music to provide her with a salaried, benefitted position as the regular jukebox at Sundance’s tree room; emphasis on salaried, emphasis on benefitted. Talk about that among most musicians I know, and their eyes pop.
Here’s the third thing: Brian Kershisnik speaks sometimes of a kind of personal mythology that includes discussions between the Lord and his counselors in the pre-earth life. In one version of Brian’s mythology, a motion comes to the cosmic table that art be part be included in the human experience. The motion passes – but only barely. In another version of Brian’s mythology, the motion fails – but art somehow leaks in spite of the failed motion.
The three things I’m thinking about are all things that serve to sort of knock art back into perspective when I need it (I often need it). Don’t misunderstand: I’m not down on the importance of artful endeavor. And heaven knows Scott’s not, nor is Tricia. Nor, certainly, Brian. I’m a believer. We’re all believers. But to be straight about it, there’s something about characterizing art as the finest-thing-to-which-humans-can-be-true that kind of gives me the willies. (Perhaps it’s merely the blessed decade-and-a-half I spent working for CES; home, unfortunately, to a degree of “one true employment” thinking). Would it be strange to say that the three things I’m thinking about (and things like them) have provided me with more capacity for confidence, dedication, pleasure, and craftsmanship than any affirmations of art’s preeminence on earth and in heaven? It certainly feels that way. When I remember that I’m not curing cancer, and that the Lord likes my faithfulness better than he likes my art; when I imagine that my work as an artist is, in the heavens, not so much celebrated as tolerated, it somehow leaves me more inclined to be thankful and careful, and less likely to be arrogant and indulgent. And heaven knows I need that.