When Ralph Waldo Emerson was in his mid-thirties, he started a series of biography lectures where he began to examine the lives of others with increased interest and scrutiny. In Emerson: The Mind on Fire, the author Robert D. Richardson writes that in Michelangelo Emerson
saw “the perfect image of the artist,” one who was born to see and express the beauty of the world… He loved the disinterestedness and spirit of the deal Michelangelo offered the Pope for his work rebuilding St. Peter’s in Rome: “no fee and no interference.” Emerson emphasized the sculptor’s interest in ideal beauty, how “he sought through the eye to reach the soul,” but he knew that the test of the artist and writer alike is not in intent but in execution.
For the longest time, this is how I’ve tried to work on my craft, by trying to express and execute “what the mind has conceived” and without outside interference. “Happy is he,” writes Emerson,
who looks only into his work to know if it will succeed, never into the times or the public opinion; and who writes from the love of imparting certain thoughts and not from the necessity of sale—who always writes to the unknown friend.
How creative can you really be if you need to please an enormous mass-market audience? When you go down that path, you need to stick close to all the familiar formulas—and that’s exactly what you see in much of our culture nowadays.
Earlier in the article he wrote that “only 19% [of survey respondents] made more than $50,000. In other words, their arts degree was more likely to put them below the poverty line than in the middle class.”
What really struck me was that “only 10% devoted 40 hours per week or more to their art.” I’m surprised at both how high I think 10% is and how much 40 hours a week spent on working on one’s art is, too. Both of my reactions tell me how unbelievably sad and disappointed I am at how the modern world works.
Just yesterday I started to wake up at 4am in order to fit an extra hour of writing time into my day. And even then, I’m maybe working 15-20 hours a week on my art. I would do whatever it takes to double this workload if at all possible, but I need to go to work in order to to pay my bills and buy food to eat. And Ted Gioia understands this, too:
So my advice to students interested in the arts is based on my own practice: namely, that they should pursue their craft but also develop at least one money-earning skill before they reach the age of 30. It doesn’t need to be an elite career, merely something that will pay the bills in a pinch.
I wish I could be like Michelangelo and tell the Pope not to pay me as long he doesn’t interfere with my art, but I can’t. I wish I could look upon my “work to know if it will succeed,” to be one “who writes from the love of imparting certain thoughts and not from the necessity of sale,” but I can’t. This is the 21st century, and the best I can do is to wake up hours before the sun rises so I can fit a bit more time in my day to work on my art, and to go to bed when the sun is still shining brightly in the sky so I can wake up early and with enough energy to be able to work on my craft to the best of my ability.
I wish things were different, but I have to admit, I love what I’m doing, and that’s the point of art, isn’t it? To feel the joy of simply being alive to experience this? This world, this universe, this moment?
Our days are spent trying to “get through” tasks, in order to get them “out of the way,” with the result that we live mentally in the future, waiting for when we’ll finally get around to what really matters—and worrying, in the meantime, that we don’t measure up, that we might lack the drive or stamina to keep pace with the speed at which life now seems to move.
I point this section out because I’ve battled with that feeling, too, that feeling of trying to “get through” my tasks like they’re some obstacle to overcome before I can get my prize. What’s that prize? In the end, I guess, the prize is death.
But before then, I want to enjoy my life, the two thousand weeks or so I have left (I hope). Earlier in the introduction, Oliver writes that:
The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.
Cormac McCarthy is publishing two linked novels this fall: The Passenger on October 25 and Stella Maris on November 22. (Or you can wait until December 6 to get your boxed set.)
I’ve read every McCarthy novel, and I’ve been waiting years for something new to read from him. He’s the type of writer I wish I was, and I always look to him for inspiration and guidance. I. Am. Excited.
Fair and open platforms are critical to the future of the creator economy. Epic and Bandcamp share a mission of building the most artist friendly platform that enables creators to keep the majority of their hard-earned money. Bandcamp will play an important role in Epic’s vision to build out a creator marketplace ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more.
We’re three weeks into the new year, and I needed to write this reminder to myself:
I have to take things one thing at a time. I can’t overload my days with tasks and projects in an effort to “maximize” my time as “efficiently” as possible. I’m not a robot. I have and will continue to burn out if I keep trying to accomplish everything.
Go slow. Go with the flow. Breathe. Pay attention and be mindful to the world in front of me. This is all we get. This is all we have. Enjoy it and don’t try to speed through everything. I won’t read every book or listen to every piece of music or watch every movie and TV show. It’s okay. Enjoy what I have. Savor it. Because one day this will all end and on that day, how will you have felt about how you lived your life?
No one is protecting us and keeping us warm. And yet we keep hoping mother bird will arrive.
We could do ourselves the ultimate favor and finally get out of that nest. That this takes courage is obvious. That we could use some helpful hints is also clear. We may doubt that we’re up to being a warrior-in-training. But we can ask ourselves this question: “Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?”
These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
I went ahead and download about half a dozen books from their site and loaded them on my phone, and I’m very eager to get started on them. But not yet because I feel awful today. This booster shot has messed me up today.
I’ve just come home from getting my third Pfizer shot of the year, six months after my second dose and three months after contracting the virus myself. Setting up the appointment and getting the shot was mind-boggling easy—the way it should be, though, I’m sure it was easy because demand is so low. But I don’t want to think about it like that. Like Ed Yong wrote yesterday:
Instead of asking “What’s my risk?,” I’ve tried to ask “What’s my contribution to everyone’s risk?”… I’ve tried to put we over me.
The infectious nature of a virus means that a tiny bad decision can cause exponential harm, but also that a tiny wise decision can do exponential good.
If you haven’t already, get vaccinated. This isn’t about you; it’s about us, so let’s all do our part.