Psychopathy and Aesthetic Sensitivity

If artists hold out some hope of freeing the world from the deleterious effects of the presence of powerful psychopaths, especially the psychopaths in charge, are we sure that psychopaths aren’t among the artists?  Will it be possible for psychopathic artists, if they exist, to simply subvert the message of art and twist things around to keep the world utterly insane?

This is probably the final instalment in a series of blog posts I have done, examining the roles of artists and psychopaths in our world, suggesting that psychopaths are causing everybody else to act in psychopathic ways, artists included.  As a consequence of their disregard for the sanctity of life (and their inability to understand the value of life, except in monetary and material terms, only advantageous to themselves) and the now extreme means available to them to cause total extinction, they pose a threat to all of us that cannot be simply ignored or hidden from.  Left to their own devices, we are currently on a trajectory where they inevitably, eventually kill us all and everything alive.

Further posts have posited that artists have a crucial role to play in counteracting the actions of psychopaths and the non-psychopathic people that they have co-opted, through the simple expedient of making them so afraid, that they also act in violent ways.  We, as artists, are the creators.  What we create is what gets made.  We form and convey reality.  We are the creators of perceptions.  If we only create what the psychopathic manipulators want us to create, that’s where the trouble starts.  Further, if they convince us to destroy, rather than create, our powers to sustain and edify life are emasculated.

In previous posts, I’ve argued that non-psychopaths can be made to be perpetrators of violence and collaborators in enabling violence, just because they are frightened into it, ever since childhood.  I have also written about how artists can heal the effects of violence, if they choose to stop perpetuating the cycle of violence.  I pointed out how even innocuous sounding activities, carried out on behalf of organisations run by psychopaths for wholly maniacal purposes, can have the same effect as invisible violence, in terrorising us all into constantly doing as we’re told, to suit somebody else’s desires and needs and to suppress our own needs, desires and nature.

The psychopaths in charge ruthlessly use artists as tools, to do their manipulating for them.  We’ve been manipulated into it and told that it’s ok.  In light of the annihilation that the psychopaths in charge could quite easily and blithely unleash at any moment, it’s definitely not ok.  We’ve been duped.  It’s time we stopped playing along, hoping our contribution won’t make things very much worse.  Our art, if used to promote a destructive, life-averse agenda, definitely does make things very much worse.  We have a responsibility not to cause our own downfall, by complicity and complacency.

In short, I believe that working to reduce the impact of psychopaths is now something we don’t have the luxury of deferring, any longer.  Further, artists have the tools and skills to make emotionally affective messages that have the potential to alert the majority to the threat, without further terrorising them.  In fact, artists can act as Shaman, in that they can weave artistic magic to soothe the soul, provide truthful clarity and help a population of terrified, fearful people face down the lunatics that have lead the whole world to the brink of self-destructive disaster.

However, the whole project to save the world through art would fail, if psychopaths were simply able to pose as authentic artists and subvert the messages of artists that seek a less violent, more compassionate world, free from the manipulation, destruction and other undesirable effects of the agendas of the psychopaths in charge.  The psychopaths always have and will continue to try to use artists to convey their own twisted agenda, but artists don’t have to work for them.  Aware artists can simply not produce the messages they are manipulated into producing, on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  What will the psychopaths do, if their sheep dogs (artists) refuse to herd the sheeple, on command?

The danger is if the psychopaths can do the work of artists themselves, so that they push their own misinformation, distortions and lies, without needing to use the artists they have traditionally used to do their dirty work.  Sometimes artists have promoted the psychopathic agenda, without even being aware they are doing so, or being conscious of the consequences of what they are doing on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  It has to be recognised that not all artists are aware and awake either, such is the universality of the violence used from cradle to grave to hypnotise and terrorise all of us into doing what they wish us to do.

So, can the psychopaths become artists and take control of propagating their own propaganda?  Is a project to convince artists to work for higher, nobler ideals, instead of serving the pathocracy, doomed to failure and subversion?  Can artists really change the world and prevent the actions of the psychopaths in charge from destroying first our quality of life and subsequently life itself?

There are reasons to believe that psychopaths are lacking in the aesthetic sensitivity necessary to do so.  I came across this very interesting paper, which is worth a read:

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~jharold/Without%20Taste.pdf

The paper argues that psychopaths are incapable of producing art that will be emotionally affective and potent enough to fool anybody.  If their remaining choice, to get the rest of the world to go along with their plans and ideas, is to bypass artists that refuse to propagate their twisted world view, then they are not going to succeed in their psychological information wars on their own.  They can only do it by manipulating artists into doing so on their behalf and artists have the power, as a group, to simply not do so.  Psychopaths that attempt to produce art are instantly recognisable as imposters, when they try to make anything that has more than superficial, decorative, utilitarian value.  This is a hopeful sign. 

The psychopathic agenda can be stopped simply by artists refusing to deliver its messages.  Psychopaths that run the world cannot deliver their insane messages on their own behalf.  They lack the aesthetic sensibility necessary to do so convincingly. 

Better than that, artists can use their skills and talents to wake the world up from the hypnotic pseudo-reality that has been woven for centuries, on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  A different, better reality is possible and artists can describe it.

How can we be so sure that psychopaths can’t become manipulative artists?

First, let’s make some observations about a psychopath’s relationship to art and aesthetics. 

One thing we know is that psychopaths are, where fashion and trends are concerned, followers of the crowd.  They tend to be trend band-waggoners, rather than trend-setters.  Why?  The reason is that leading a trend would require an aesthetic sensibility which they don’t possess.  They might create fashion trends to make profit, but they don’t care which fashion it is.  It’s their preferred strategy to observe what is already making waves and to co-opt that trend as their own.

A corollary of this trend following is that psychopaths are typified by not knowing what they really like, where art and music are concerned.  Most emotionally affective experiences leave them cold and unaffected.  They exhibit no grand, passionate, emotional reaction to art.  They are unmoved by it, except to the extent that it can make them richer, more attractive or more powerful.  There is no difference to them between a piece of computer-generated pop music and an exquisitely sad piece of Tchaikovsky.  If they like literature, art or theatre at all, it is usually to be seen to be hip, relevant or wealthy, rather than for the qualities of the art itself.

The psychopath’s relationship to art can be summarised in a very simple phrase.  They tend to have bad taste.

However, the meaner, crueller, more merciless and competitive we become as a society, in line with the comfort zones of the psychopaths in charge, the more critical and judgemental we become of art and artists.  We also begin to treat art and artists as worthless and disposable.  This is simply a reflection that ripples throughout society, driven by the fear of stepping out of line, of the psychopaths in charge and their relationship to art and artists.  Because they believe in “dog-eat-dog” as an article of faith and are unmoved by art and artists, they intimidate the rest of us, subtly, into behaving as they do.

Psychopaths tend to have a very shallow understanding of art and lack any awareness of nuance, subtlety and ambiguity.  It doesn’t interest them.  This is why satire, particularly political satire, is such a powerful weapon against them.  They don’t get the joke, while the rest of us almost always do.  Comedians and satirists that use humour to deflate the power and plans of the psychopaths in charge are Shamanic, too.  They heal us through laughter.  Of course, when a psychopath fails to get the joke, they still laugh when other people do, mimicking, but not experiencing their joy, delight and mirth.  It may well be that he who laughs last might be a bit of a psychopath, in reality.

Because they, themselves, are unmoved by art and have a fundamentally narcissistic world-view, psychopaths have no idea why other people are emotionally moved by art.  To them, it is both mysterious and silly.  They conclude that expressing emotions in response to art is a weakness.  It makes them intensely uncomfortable to be in the presence of people who are all feeling something, in response to a work of art, which they are unable to feel.

Bookishness is also rarely a characteristic of the psychopath.  They are, generally speaking, not particularly well read, except when feigning simulated bookishness for some personal advantage peripheral to the literature itself.  When psychopaths do pretend to be bookish, they don’t fully comprehend the veiled and hidden meanings suggested in what they read.  They don’t read in any great depth.  They are unable to read between the lines or place themselves into the shoes of a story’s protagonist, through the power of their imagination.  If they can, they don’t feel what the protagonist feels, in response to the situations described.

As a group, psychopaths are not particularly humanist in their outlook.  Why would they be, if they see other humans as prey – disposable and unimportant?  In the psychopathic world view, all other humans are interchangeable units, whereas they alone are special and unique.  There is a peculiar contradiction in the value they place on themselves, versus the value they place on other people’s lives.  To each psychopath, somehow they were miraculously granted the sole monopoly on fabulousness and every other human was put on earth to serve their purposes.  This blatant contradiction does not trouble the psychopath in the least.

If a psychopath attempts to make art at all, it usually fails to connect with or reach other people, being sterile, banal and superficial in execution.  They will usually excel at copying, but struggle coming up with anything truly original.  As artists, they can reproduce artwork, but not create it from nothing at all.

Because their only interest in art is what it can do for them, they are not particularly concerned with the quality of their artistic output and have little interest in striving to improve.  After all, they think they’re brilliant already.  Why waste time and sweat on trying to make their art better, when they can flog their sub-standard work off to undiscriminating and unsuspecting buyers just the same.

Their written and spoken language and their communications are not particularly eloquent or stylish.  For the same reason they don’t strive to hone their other artistic skills, they will spend little time extending their vocabulary or learning how to turn a phrase in just the right way.  Most of their language use will be characterised by malapropisms, colloquialisms, words used incorrectly (carelessly choosing a word that has the opposite to the intended meaning, for example) and will be grammatically suspect, with little respect for correct punctuation.

To quote from the paper, “Without Taste”, cited above:

“Psychopaths want money, power, status, excitement and sex, but helping others, changing the world, saving their souls, preserving beautiful objects, solving scientific problems, etc. are of little concern to them; indeed, they may not even be intelligible to them as projects. Psychopaths have little understanding that others care about anything else than they, themselves, care about.”

If you don’t understand what life is, if you have an arid internal life and you have no interest in or ability to understand why life might be valued by other people, you tend not to be very protective of it.  In fact, you might be quite cavalier about death, even on a large scale.

As mentioned earlier, psychopaths lack the ability to imaginatively project themselves into a fictional world.  When they do, they learn nothing from the arc of the characters that most people would identify with.  Morality tales are lost on them.  Allegorical tales fail to hit their mark.

Comparing aesthetics and morals, as the paper I have cited does, the author concludes:

“Aesthetic engagement can actually educate and improve the same abilities we need in order to make sound moral decisions”

In other words, those of us that have an ability to become aesthetically engaged with art actually possess the means to make sound moral judgements.  Aesthetic sensitivity is an advantage, when it comes to learning about and making sound moral decisions.

There is an exception, for the psychopath, of course.  The paper states:

“When it comes to non-narrative, non-representational art, it is hard to see that empathy is necessary for [it’s] appreciation.”

Psychopaths have more ability to appreciate and create non-narrative, non-representational art, than they have for narrative, representational forms.  Is it any wonder that modern art, reflecting the tastes and preferences of the psychopaths in charge, has moved distinctly away from narrative forms of art and has become largely abstract, non-representational and non-narrative?  It’s the only art that requires little empathy to understand.  That’s not to condemn modern art as valueless or only for psychopaths, but it does provide a rationale for the radical shift so far away from narrative, representational forms.

That’s not to say psychopaths have no imagination.  They often have a vivid imagination, but are unmoved emotionally by what they imagine.  They make no sensory connection to what they imagine and to how they feel, in response to what they have imagined.  Fearful things can be imagined, but they cannot feel fear in response to the imagining.

Their lack of empathy, however, is not a sufficient explanation for their relationship to art.  Psychopaths have “a more pervasive deficit: an inability to take an interest in anything that does not serve, directly or indirectly, to gratify some desire.”

Psychopaths lack an ability to appreciate an artwork from any aspect other than how it pertains to them.  They can’t see an object “objectively”, or from other perspectives and have no ability to aesthetically distance themselves from the work and its meaning to only themselves.  They can’t sense what a piece of art might mean to others, or what its purpose might be, if they cannot find a way in which the art will be advantageous to them.  In short, they lack the ability to establish aesthetic distance from the work, in the words of the paper cited.

“Aesthetic distance does not require not caring about the object at all (for psychopaths would certainly be capable of that), but caring that extends beyond one’s immediate concerns.”

“Psychopaths have no real grasp of value, other than material or monetary value.”

Why does an inability to establish aesthetic distance and a lack of aesthetic sensibility matter?  It matters because aesthetic sense is closely correlated to moral and ethical values.  The paper says:

“Both moral and aesthetic value requires appropriate distance – an ability to step back from one’s own point of view and appreciate the world around us, without concern for whether we can benefit from it.”

To paraphrase, a psychopath lacking in aesthetic sensibility and the ability to create aesthetic distance between themselves and a work of art, by corollary, is unable to appreciate the world around us.  Without that appreciation, they do not value the world around us and will not feel compelled to prevent its destruction.  In fact, if they see temporary advantage in doing so, they will think nothing of destroying the world around them.  Having invented the means for rapid and comprehensive destruction of the world around them (nuclear weapons, global warming, environmental pollution, strip mining, fracking, water source contamination, tainting of the food supply), having an inability to appreciate the world around us is a very dangerous trait.  They could blow up the world and kill all life on it without feeling a pang of regret.  Therefore, they make very poor stewards of the planet, yet are in charge of it.

To summarise, psychopaths are dangerous to us all due to their lack of aesthetic sensitivity.  To take one more quotation from the paper I cited above:

“The abilities to participate fully in both moral life and in art are rooted in the same basic capacity, a capacity that psychopaths lack – to take an interest in what is not one’s own.”

So it’s pretty clear that psychopaths make very poor artists and very poor stewards of the planet, for the same reason.  They’re not interested in it, because it isn’t theirs. 

Unfortunately, this also necessarily implies that the reality we have created, its messages, our culture and the zeitgeist was all created by artists, not psychopaths, but at the behest of the psychopaths in charge.  I include inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and technologists under the rubric of artists.  We took their money to convey the manipulative ideas they wanted us to convey for them.  We caved in on our principles and ethics.  We did what we were told.  Many of us were too frightened to do otherwise, due to the level of subtle and not-so-subtle violence we feared would be levelled against us, if we refused (for example, not being able to pay the mortgage or rent). 

The world’s mainstream and social media is as unreliable a source of truth today as it is for one reason alone.  Artists corrupted it, on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  We collaborated, delivered and enabled their destructive, threatening agenda.  When wars are sold to the population, it is artists that are doing the selling (journalists, reporters, television producers, graphic artists, movie makers).  That’s an unpalatable truth that, as artists, we have to face.  If the world has been manipulated to the point of imminent extinction, through global warming, nuclear war or environmental destruction, we participated in getting us all to that point.  We did all the heavy lifting.

We made this mess.  The psychopaths in charge didn’t have the skills to pull it off.

In a world where the psychopaths are in charge, is it any wonder, though, that art is not highly valued and neither are artists.  Arts funding is given grudgingly and sparingly, if it is given at all.  Artists are poorly paid and their existence precarious.  Most of our world leaders cannot see the intrinsic value in art or its value to others.  They are utterly incapable of believing in the value of something (anything) that brings them no personal gain.  That’s why the money has not flowed to us as a group, except in as much as we were prepared to deliver psychopathic images and messages to further the goals of the psychopaths in charge.

To take just one positive away from this sorry analysis, it’s probable that no good artist is a psychopath.  If an artist is able to reach people, emotionally, with their work, at a deep level, there is a good chance that they lack psychopathy.

It’s high time we did some good, with our artistic talents.

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Corporate Influence is Violence in Disguise

We live in a more or less permanent reality distortion field, where the truth is hard to discern. 

Every day, we are subject to messages, via advertising, social media, the mainstream media and through government public relations that tell us “the way things are”.  In every case, the aim of all of this communications activity is so that people are manipulated to think and act in desired ways. 

Desired by whom?  In the main, we are subject to the instructions and wishes of corporations.  Corporations spend the most on advertising.  They lobby governments to adopt corporation-friendly policies.  Social media massages the content of our timelines so that we are sold what corporations want us to be sold.  The mainstream media agenda is also largely corporatist and pro-business.  We are, everywhere, saturated by corporate influence. 

Does it matter?  If it’s ambient, don’t we all simply learn to ignore it and carry on regardless?  To some extent we do tune these messages out, but if that leaves a vacuum of ideas, we’re more inclined to cherry-pick the corporate messages we find more palatable and to discard those that we don’t like so much, thinking this is the same as thinking for ourselves and being awake to the truth.  It is nothing of the sort.  All we are doing is filtering corporate influence.  We’re not acting independently of it.

I previously addressed the subject of why we are so violent, as a society and what artists can do about it, in a previous blog post:  “Art, Violence, Fear and Self Awareness” http://tropicaltheartist.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/art-violence-fear-and-self-awareness/

That blog post cited a very important paper http://dkeenan.com/RJB-WhyViolence.pdf.  It talked about the root causes of violence and how we are, as young children, all subjected to visible, invisible and utterly invisible violence, which in turn causes feelings of fear, powerlessness and terror and how those feelings, subsequently, beget a new generation of perpetrators of violence and collaborators upholding violence.  This blog post will address non-stop manipulation.  What are its effects and how does it relate to fear, terror and being afraid?  Finally, does corporate influence cause a violent society to perpetuate?  What can artists do about it?

In the paper “Why Violence”, an extensive list of examples of invisible violence was given.  The paper held that these were examples of the ways in which young children were terrorised into modifying their native, organic, human behaviours into behaviours deemed to be more docile, tractable and acceptable to adults.  It gave a long list of how children are manipulated and terrorised into being the people their parents want them to be, instead of themselves.  Below is a partial list of those methods of inflicting invisible terror, from parent to child (quoted from the paper):

  • Dysfunctionally/compulsively seek child’s attention and/or distract child from paying attention to itself (child will lose capacity to focus intently on itself)
  • Try to persuade child (child will be scared that it is not allowed to choose freely)
  • Complain about child (child will be caused fear, pain, anger and/or sadness as it tries to respond to your powerless and dysfunctional behaviour)
  • Demand child’s time to do tasks for you (child will not learn to manage its time in accordance with its own self-will, it will learn to resent helping others and it will learn to demand the time of others)
  • Cajole child into doing what you want it to do, for example, to eat what you want it to eat (child will become fearful that it is not allowed to act out its own Self-will)
  • Manipulate child into doing what you want out of fear of dealing openly and powerfully with conflict (child will learn to fear conflict too and will learn to manipulate others as a result)
  • Blame child (child will learn to avoid responsibility)
  • Condemn child (child will learn to condemn others)
  • Insult child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to insult others)
  • Deride child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to be derisive)
  • Mock child (child will be scared out of clearly explaining itself)
  • Goad child into behaving in a way that will allow you to justify to yourself getting angry with it (child will be caused enormous pain, anger and confusion as it grapples with this mindbender)
  • Be sarcastic with child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to be sarcastic with others)
  • Embarrass child (child will feel embarrassed at trying its best and will learn to embarrass others)
  • Humiliate child (child will feel humiliated at its ‘failure’ and will learn to humiliate others)
  • Shame child (child will feel ashamed and will learn to shame others)
  • Taunt child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to taunt others)
  • Tease child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to tease others, particularly younger children and pets)
  • Snub child (child will experience enormous fear, pain, anger and/or sadness, and develop a low sense of Self-worth)
  • ‘Shut out’ child unless it does what you want (child will be scared into suppressing awareness of its own Self-will and submitting to yours)
  • Give child unsolicited advice (child might learn to rely on others rather than work out what to do for itself)
  • ‘Motivate’ child to do what you want and pretend that child is doing what it wants (child’s natural capacity to listen to, and act on, its own Self-will is warped and, eventually, destroyed)
  • Guilt-trip child into doing what you want (child will learn to feel guilty for acting out its natural Self-will)
  • Moralise with child (child’s natural morality will become warped)
  • Judge child (child will lose faith in its own judgment, particularly about itSelf)
  • Deceive child (child will experience fear and pain, its awareness of which it will probably suppress, and will learn to deceive others)
  • Trick child in a nasty way (child will experience fear and pain, its awareness of which it will probably suppress, and will learn to trick others)

Substitute the parent / child relationship with advertiser / consumer, or government / electorate or mainstream media / audience, or social media proprietor / subscribers and something uncanny is revealed.  Does any of this resemble corporate messaging to the populace?

I think it does.  I think that you can read the efforts of advertisers to shame and humiliate a potential customer into buying their product as exactly analogous to a parent doing the same to a child, which is an act of invisible violence.  Social media and advertising will distract you.  Governments have deceived us.  Companies often trick us in nasty ways.  They do manipulate us into eating what they want us to eat and cajole us into acting the way they want us to.  The mainstream media does humiliate celebrities, through prurient reportage, that demeans us all.  In plain sight, we are having violence perpetrated upon us, by private corporate interests, pretty much constantly.  We are absorbing a tremendous amount of invisible violence on a daily basis.

Some people claim that:

There’s nothing intrinsically evil about the idea that large corporations might be trying to manipulate your experience and behaviour.  Everybody you interact with–including every one of your friends, family, and colleagues–is constantly trying to manipulate your behaviour in various ways.”

(http://www.talyarkoni.org/blog/2014/06/28/in-defense-of-facebook/ )

This, to me, is an ample demonstration of how invisible, all-pervasive and banal the violence has become.  We’ve so internalised it, that we’ve become collaborators in it.  We don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with being manipulated constantly, by private interests, for their own gain.  It’s as if we have surrendered dignity, self-determination and freedom, so that we can enjoy the abuse and think of it as entertainment (or worse, as truthful information).

The thesis of the paper “Why Violence?” is that whenever you, as a human organism, are coerced into behaving however somebody else wants, instead of according to your own will and needs, through the subtle intimidations of the techniques of invisible violence, we are sustaining damage to our psyches.  We’re becoming just that little bit more afraid of punishment for non compliance, just that fraction more terrorised and a tiny bit more afraid of standing up against the barrage of violence.  We acquiesce.  We roll over and comply, instead.  Some of us join the gang and become perpetrators of this kind of manipulation ourselves, while others aid, abet and enable the manipulation, as willing collaborators.  We are all poisoned and damaged by it, in one way or another.

The constant downpour of messages telling you to be fearful, ashamed, afraid, isolated, guilty, self-loathing and blameworthy for your own failures is what does the damage.  Corporate controlled advertising and government policy increasingly deliver precisely those sentiments.  When the powerful, revered and admired are constantly telling you that you are unworthy, unsuccessful, unwanted, unloved, unlovable, weak, powerless or inadequate, unless you do what corporations (or corporate influenced governments) wish you to do, it is little different from the scenario where a parent exerts psychological violence on a child to get them to behave in their desired way.  There is a power inequality and it is being used to bludgeon the less powerful into fearful submission.

What’s the result of this violent onslaught, without end?  Violence begets violence.  Fear instils fear.  We live lesser lives, because we are subject to the controlling and manipulating messages of corporations, the corporate media and institutions run by manipulators.  We’re conditioned to do the same to others, as if it were normal.

There are some commentators that reject the idea that corporations influence by fear.  They draw a distinction between fear and seduction, arguing that manipulation by flattering deception is not the same as manipulation by fear.  Here’s a typical position statement:

“Seduction, rather than fear and coercion are the currency, and as such, they are a lot more effective. (Yes, short of deep totalitarianism, legitimacy, consent and acquiescence are stronger models of control than fear and torture—there are things you cannot do well in a society defined by fear, and running a nicely-oiled capitalist market economy is one of them.” 

(https://medium.com/message/engineering-the-public-289c91390225)

Well, actually no.  I disagree.  I would argue that seduction and acquiescence are merely different flavours of invisible violence and that as a consequence, society is utterly defined by fear.  If it’s not fear of being detained, imprisoned, tortured and shot, it’s the fear of not fitting in with the crowd, of saying and doing the wrong things, of not being acceptable and of stepping out of line.  The evidence we have before us is that the nicely oiled capitalist market economy runs very nicely on this brand of fear, in fact (though that doesn’t justify it).

It follows that we’re violent because corporations and governments are constantly seeking to manipulate, straighten and correct us.  Do we truly need governing and influencing, in an incessant, belittling manner, when what we reap as a consequence is a violent society, full of psychologically broken, fearful and afraid people?

We engage in damaging the psyche of everybody, by creating insatiable desires for unnecessary purchases, which we can only fund through indebtedness (and the guilt, restriction of choice and obligations which that course of action entails).  We infect everybody with mindless emacity.  Buy this, don’t do that.  Shame is used as a tool.  Our vulnerability is exploited as a weakness, rather than celebrated and embraced as part of the shared human condition and experience that we all have in common.  Predators are constantly seeking to make the rest of the population into prey.

As artists, do we wish to support and prolong the violence disguised behind corporate influence?  Do we want to enable it, or subvert and disable it?  Is our art being used to bludgeon our fellow humans into some sort of submission to the will of corporations?  Isn’t that a big deal?

Artists have the power to create emotionally affective works.  It’s our stock in trade.  We therefore have the tools of influence in our skill set, which is why corporations seek us out.  As artists, will we produce works that illuminate, rather than manipulate?  Will we edify humanity, or vilify it?  Will our works inform, or deform?  Is our art in the service of education, or discombobulation?  Do we promote and uphold life, or peddle death?

Good-hearted people, many of them artists, try to simply earn a living through working in advertising, but most (if not all) are unaware of the wider consequences for society.  By feeding the perception manipulation beast, we enable it to prey on the minds of people who might not, under different circumstances, be made to feel so small, powerless, fearful and afraid.  In acting to conceal their terror, these people, in turn, make others feel small and afraid.  We unleash an unstoppable cascade of violence, on an unimaginable scale, like a hideous, doomsday, domino effect, simply by creating ads that seek to manipulate.

Is the ultimate purpose of life really as impoverished as to merely submit to constant manipulation?  Are we put here to manipulate or be manipulated?  Isn’t the desire to manipulate fundamentally psychopathic in its nature, stemming from the fear of not being in control in the first place?  Do we need the constant, stealthy, insidious nudges to shape our behaviour, through social media and its algorithms?  Why can’t we be left in peace? 

The wise among us know that we’re not left in peace because there is no money in it.  A population at peace with itself doesn’t need to consume, dominate or compete quite so avariciously or rapaciously as one in constant fear of falling behind or being sanctioned by the authorities.  Fear is good for profits.  This seems to be the only reason that can be given for why we can’t be left in peace and quite frankly, it’s not a good enough reason.  If we want a less violent, more peaceful world, then we’re going to have to rethink quite a lot of the things we accept today as “just how things are.”

Advertising is not fluffy, friendly and harmless.  Corporate influence is not anodyne or cost-free for society.  It inflicts invisible violence on all of us, all the time, in ways we’re sometimes not even aware of.  It’s relentless.  It insults us.  It demeans us.  It makes us fearful and afraid.  We are entitled to reject it.  We are entitled to live our lives, free from perpetual, concealed, insidious manipulation.

 

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The Zen of Mastery

Here are some ideas that will serve you well, as an artist (or any other sort of creator):

  1. Simplicity – If you over complicate what you’re trying to achieve or make, you will run a much higher risk of not achieving your goal. Keeping things simple is a very good way to continually make progress.  Of course, things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.
  2. Mastery – What makes more difference to getting results that you can be proud of is not buying more gear, or adopting the latest new thing, though that can be a good initial catalyst for creative exploration. What helps you become fluid with your creative tools is mastering them.  Learn them in depth.  Get familiar with them, so that whatever your creative impulses direct you to do can be realised without thinking about how to wrestle with your tools.  If your hands can simply do what your mind imagines, you’re in a good place.
  3. Depth – Shallow, superficial approaches and knowledge yield work that appears shallow and superficial. Study your creative field in depth.  Know the rules, know what your options are and then choose which ones to break, ignore and obey.  Going deep, in any field, adds to your mastery and permits simplification.  Being lost or ignorant is not a great way to proceed toward finished work of a high quality, unless you are in that initial, experimental, playful, exploratory phase.  Both are essential.  The more you know about how to make things, the better designer, creator and artist you’re going to be.
  4. Play – There is a lot to be said for just messing about and experiencing the joy of simply playing with your art and materials. Serendipitous discoveries are made that way.  Once you find some new gem, employing your mastery can help you polish it up for presentation.  There is no better way to learn something in depth than to simply play with it, learning the options by experiencing them in a practical, rather than wholly theoretical way.  What could be simpler?
  5. Continually Asking “Why?” – When you are attempting something new, taking on a new project, beginning a new art work, learning some new tool or simply making the next one in a series, always ask “why?” It’s a powerful question that triggers your curiosity and starts you thinking about alternative approaches.  “Why?” is the progenitor of innovation.  Challenge orthodox assumptions.  Try to figure out what else is possible.  Explore the space of equally valid outcomes.  The question, “Why?” very often leads to the thought, “What if…?”
  6. Ask Someone that Knows – The quickest and most effective way to learn anything can be to simply ask somebody that knows. A master is usually prepared to offer the fruits of their mastery.  Asking them “Why?” could be annoying to them, but usually if you ask enough people the same questions and ask them why things are done the way they are done, you get a wealth of different answers.  Nobody really knows everything, so in the panoply of answers you get, you will find something worthwhile, quite often.  The master will also have the opportunity to learn something more about his or her art by thinking about how to answer “Why?”  In understanding why, they can, in turn, deepen their mastery.

There is existential pleasure in mastery.  The making of things can have a peaceful, serene, Zen-like quality about it.  Enjoy.

 

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Taking It to the People

You’ve starved for long enough.  You’ve created a body of work.  Your paintings are there, you have thousands of words written, you’ve developed a new product, or your music is mixed and mastered.  What are you waiting for?

If you’re like most artists, you want to keep creating.  That’s the fun part.  You feel you aren’t finished yet and that your best work is still to come.  So how will you keep creating, if you are starving?

The answer is that you have to make your work available.  Somebody that wants to support your work has to be able to find it, know of its existence and see or hear samples of it, and then they have to be able to buy it.  In the frictionless world of the Internet, being “able to buy it” means that your audience has to be able to buy it easily.

Some artists think that taking their work to the people is incidental, but it’s as important as creating it in the first place.  This is the stage where you can go from starving to thriving, as an artist.  It’s real work and it’s worthwhile, important work.  Making your work available can change the lives of many people for the better.  Your audience is waiting.  Those that love your work have been waiting to be able to participate in your work and to experience your work for the longest time, too.  You need to satisfy them.

You might have a blind spot about making money from your work.  You might think that it could taint its purity.  You’re right.  It could.  The key to making your work available for money is in carefully choosing what you will and won’t exchange your art for money for.  What are the limits and constraints?  What are you comfortable with and what don’t you want your art to be used for?  You might not have full control over this, but you can exert considerable control, if you get organised about it.  It’s your intellectual property, after all.  How you license its use is up to you.  You present the agreements, terms and conditions attached to your art.  The buyers can take or leave it.

There is also the notion that the struggle fuels the art and that’s also true to some extent, but there is no sense in being destroyed by the struggle either.  You can blunt your artistic edge by becoming too comfortable, but thriving is very different to opulence and starving to death puts an abrupt end to your creativity, which is what it’s all about in the first place anyway, isn’t it?

So, give yourself permission to make some money from your artistic endeavours.  Do what you can to exchange your art for money in ways that are positive and not demeaning to your art, or which you feel overly compromise you as an artist.  Exercise stewardship over your intellectual property.  Decide how much comfort is permissible to you, before you lose your hunger.  Aim to earn more than you need to survive, but not so much that it stifles your creativity.

There is the fear that, in taking your art to the people, the trolls and the nasty haters will return vile insults and criticisms.  Sure, they might.  Those people are not your customers.  They are not the people you have brought your art to.  You are addressing the myriad surprising and unexpected people that will like what you do and want to support your work.  Those are the people that count.  The critics and haters are incidental noise and should be treated as such.  Bring your work to the people that want it and ignore those that don’t.

Above all, making your art available involves some self promotion, some social media marketing and some level of online commerce.  It’s not reprehensible to make it possible and easy for your audience to appreciate and support your work.  In fact, it’s perverse not to.  If you think that the promotion and marketing of your work is not a creative act, in itself, you’re not paying attention.  You can make the vehicle for your art into a work of art, too.

Sell your work with the same integrity that you put into making it.  Try to make your online presence or your other efforts to bring your art to the people as artistic and integral as you can.  Don’t be haphazard with it, or think that you can put in less effort to showcase work that you sweated to create.  If you have creative control over your showcase, then the act of bringing your work to the people can be as artistically authentic and a great experience for your customers, just like you want your art to be.  The showcase is your art, too.

I don’t recommend showcasing your work before it has found its voice.  That can only confuse.  However, once you have a body of work, whatever it is and you can identify the gems, then going forward with a means to make your work available and obtainable simply provides you with the wherewithal to continue to develop your art, extend your portfolio and grow your body of work.

What’s so bad about that?

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Here Is the Reason I Make Music

The reason I make music turns out to be deceptively simple.  I only just realised it.  It probably applies to all of my creative endeavours, if truth be told.

The thing about life is that you can fool yourself into thinking that well-rehearsed certainties are the safe way to do everything.  You can pretend to be an all seeing expert, with your course fully mapped out and claiming to have certainty about your destination and even about the journey you will have on the way to that place.  Unfortunately, it isn’t true and cannot be true.  Furthermore, it should not be true.

Evolution teaches us something important.  What nature does, in the main, is constantly try out new things – new adaptations.  Nature loves diversity.  Why?  Because in diversity is the possibility to see what survives and thrives, versus what clearly won’t flourish.  Nature has no pre-calculated plan about this.  It just tries things out, to see what happens.  All you can guarantee is that nature will change something and see how it goes.  It always does and always has.  The mechanisms of passing DNA from generation to generation guarantee it.  As a strategy, it has sustained life for millennia and continues to guard against annihilation.  It’s a successful way of going about things, given the evidence.

Human nature’s big idea seems to be uniformity.  We think that if we can regularise, normalise, average, lock down and control it, then it’s going to be a winning formula.  Nature laughs at this idea.  Nature knows that the context is always changing.  If you agree upon and enforce even a previously successful strategy as a universal standard, then going forward it almost certainly will fail and when it does, if you have wiped out all alternatives, you’re doomed.  Diversity of approach is a survival strategy and insurance against your current most successful recipe encountering conditions where it utterly fails.  This is why cloning didn’t appear in the real world as a widespread survival tactic.  It’s too fragile, when conditions change and what was once an advantage becomes a disadvantage.

How does this all apply to the world of intellectual ideas, careers, creativity and navigating one’s path through life and so on?  Well, it means that if you aren’t trying something new, you’re probably not giving yourself the opportunity to discover what works really well for you.  If you insist on following the orthodoxies, even if they are not favouring your survival, then you are giving up on one of the most potent tools available to humanity.  Trying something new is our salvation.

Which brings me to the reason I make music (and art):  I make music to see (and hear) what happens.  That’s all there is to it.

OK, so my music might turn out terrible, with no audience and no possibility of making a living at it, but it’s just as likely to cause other outcomes, some (or most) of which might not be foreseeable.  The point is that all art is, to some extent, a total experiment in existence.  You make it, you put it out there and you see what happens.  It could survive and thrive, or it could teach you other lessons and send you back to the studio to try again, with something slightly (or radically) different this time. 

Whatever happens, it’s preferable to stasis, even if that feels comfortable and it’s definitely preferable to an unsatisfactory situation, which is sucking all the life and energy out of you – an organism that is genetically programmed to survive and strive.

So there you have it.  That’s a reason enough to try something new in your life.  Just to see what happens.  Maybe nothing, maybe nothing good, but equally, maybe something fantastic will come of it.  You just never know.  You can’t pre-ordain the result, so quit worrying about that.  This is not a plan, it’s an experiment.  If you try something new and it doesn’t yield a positive result, try something else.  Forget about other people’s tried and tested routes to success.  They won’t work for you.  Your context is different.  You’re going to have to find your own route.  The first step, of course, is to take a step.  Standing still definitely won’t get you there.

You might have a goal in mind, but your experiments have a way of presenting you with other possible goals and destinations, some of which might be much better than the original goal you had in mind.  Are you flexible enough to adapt to going somewhere other than where you wanted to go in the first place?  Would you go there, if it could be shown to you that it’s a better destination?  We all think that money and a comfortable life are what we want, but sometimes what we need more than that is the feeling that we’re making a difference, doing something important, or at least trying things out, where they had never been done before.  Fulfilment is a funny thing, when it comes right down to it.

I encourage you to try new things.  Go outside of your comfort zone and experiment with new ways of doing, knowing, being, seeing and making.  It’s the only way anything can ever get better.

 

 Footnote:  Just as I went to load this piece into WordPress, I discovered that the New Post editing page had completely changed.  Talk about proving my point!  Unfortunately, one of the features I loved, which was choosing tags from the most popular tags in a tag cloud, no longer exists.  I can’t see which of my tags was the most popular anymore.  I wonder how that adaptation will pan out.

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The Future of Live Music

There are some demographic trends that are worth paying attention to, because they are likely to have an impact on the opportunities for musicians to play their music to live audiences.

The first trend is that young people are eschewing drugs and alcohol, in favour of healthy lifestyles, exercise and eating sensibly.  In the past, live venues such as pubs and clubs were predicated on the sale of alcohol and in the case of some clubs, on there being a lively drug culture.  Take those things away and suddenly pubs and clubs are not as viable as businesses, as they once were.  What’s the knock on effect for musicians?  Fewer places for live bands, singer songwriters and DJs to play live.

The second trend is that there is something of a summer festival bubble brewing.  In the US, there are now so many outdoor music festivals, charging such high prices, that there is a fear that saturation point has been reached.  There just aren’t the audience numbers to support so many festivals.  For live musicians, this is potentially very worrying.  The festival circuit, which is actually sustaining some musicians’ careers, at present, given the collapse in earnings from recorded music and streaming sales, may be on an inevitable shrinkage and consolidation collision course.  If the festival circuit collapses, then so, too, does one of the key revenue sources for musicians.

How are musicians going to find live places to play, if pubs, clubs and festivals all begin to vanish or hire less live music?  I think it’s time to get creative.  www.stageit.com is one possible answer, where live acts can sell tickets to a live stream of their show.  Mocktail clubs may be another, serving low or no alcohol drinks (although the younger generation is also more aware of the harm to health of sugar-based drinks).  Perhaps musicians need to organise their own outdoor events.  Shopping malls and precincts used to be a source for live bands to put on a public show, but with less disposable income and greater concentration of online shopping, there just isn’t the footfall there once was, even if you can get permission to play.  In Australia, you could put on a show on the beach, with sponsorship, but it was hard to charge for admission or to sell merchandise.  The shows were also staged in the blazing sun, so were physically harsh to play.  YouTube channels are another possibility, if you can attract an audience and survive on your cut of the advertising revenue generated.

It’s time for musicians in live bands and with live acts to start thinking creatively about how to put on a show.  Demographic trends are eliminating traditional live venues.  Where are the people you want to play for?  What do they do and where do they go?  How can you present something to them that won’t be a sheer nuisance and where you can monetise the show from the audience you attract?  What places would live music be relevant and welcomed within and how could you promote, market and earn from putting shows on there, in collaboration with the venue?  These are important questions to ask.

I doubt garden centres and art galleries will welcome the shattered silence.  There are few places to play that are not subject to noise pollution restrictions imposed by local councils.  Putting on a travelling show (a traditional tour) is becoming increasingly cost prohibitive, once transport, sustenance and accommodation costs are factored in, even as musical equipment is becoming more portable, smaller and lighter.  It’s hard to imagine where musicians will find a place to play, but find a place they must.

Of course, another side effect is that the type of music played will change.  When there are no arena sized venues or even small theatres, willing to host loud rock bands, and no clubs to hold all night, non-stop dancing, then playing loud rock or being a DJ that can create a three hour continuous set are no longer such highly valued skills.  Shows may have to scale down to make them viable for smaller audiences, with less gear and stage equipment.  Lower cost, smaller sized, portable, low power instruments and PA systems will be the norm.  Light shows will shrink.  Shows may well become quieter.  Live music’s actual musical styles may have to adapt to the audience numbers and venues available.  Bands with lots of band members may become extinct, for purely economic reasons.

I can foresee a time when even live music will rely heavily on banks of general purpose computers to generate sounds, simulate amplifiers and effects, sequence tracks that live players used to play and to control all aspects of the light show and video sequences.  Sounds reinforcement will either rely on the venue’s own PA system exclusively, or else bands will tour with compact, class D sound systems, no backline amplification at all and very lightweight, electric and electronic instruments, including the drums.  The setup and sound check time needs to be minimal, so they may begin to lean on digital room acoustics analysis and correction and soundfield optimisation processing.  No matter where they play, they can be sure that the sound will be approximately right, with no sound check time at all.  They may film the whole show with drone cameras, that are part of their live rig and under computer control and stream the show live to the Internet, or else sell recordings, as MP3 files, perhaps, to audience members as show-time exclusives.  I can’t see the days of bringing several large trucks worth of gear to a show being viable, in the future, except for the very upper tier acts.

Musicians live in interesting times.  Their incomes from recorded music have collapsed.  Their incomes from live performance could be next.  Where will people enjoy live music, in future?  It’s an interesting, unanswered question.

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Terrified of the Wrong Things

If you read my previous post, you will have seen that we are all, in one way or another, to a greater or lesser degree, afraid of something.  Our fears can terrorise us.  We can be frozen by fear, unable to act to do things that would actually help ourselves.  Very often, fear is what takes over, when rational thinking gives up.

How many times do we fear the wrong things?  For example, is it more terrifying to be unable to afford all the things you would like, to keep up appearances in life, than it is to never become the person you could have been?  Is failing more terrifying than living a life without ever trying?  Does your prestige matter, compared to saying and doing the right things?  Are you more afraid of the authorities and what they can do to you than living in a society governed by capricious tyrants?  The history of national security, since nuclear weapons were introduced, is anything but secure.  It turns out that when the crises arise, generals and politicians are more afraid of looking foolish than they are afraid of wiping out life on earth, or even in a few major cities.  Our security is given scant regard.  The collective calculus of terror is all wrong.  We worry about the small terrors and ignore the very serious threats.

Similarly, one fear can mask another.  The fear of the blank canvas or page can be more a fear of becoming something that nobody thinks you can successfully be.  It may be a fear of the disapproval of spending your time on something that is not considered to be a real job.  You might be afraid of the blank page because you’re really afraid of feeling your emotions, or writing something down that is either too revealing or would in some way cause retribution from others.  But what if making your art is really important?  What if the bigger fear ought to be that you’re not making your statement and suppressing your true self to remain acceptable to others?

There are grave consequences for us all because we succumb to the wrong fears.  We’re terrified of looking bad in a swimsuit, instead of worrying about taking steps to ensure our health will be sufficiently robust to live a long, full and fulfilling life.  We’d rather be in with the cool kids, than set the agenda and state a case that others can support.  We acquiesce when we should unite and confront.  We allow things to continue, out of control, toward extinction and oblivion, because we’re too scared to make a change in the world and in ourselves and too afraid that we will be found wanting, lacking the power to make any impact on the problem.  We wait for everybody else to solve the pressing issues, because we’re too afraid to believe that we have the power to do that for ourselves.

The calculus of terror is a strange thing.  There are things we should be genuinely wary about, but so many of our terrors are located toward the insignificant or trivial side of the scale.  While worrying about how our hair looks, or how to pack enough shoes for our holidays, we neglect the fact that we’re not living the fullest life we could be living, or making a contribution to the betterment of humanity as a whole.  While we concern ourselves with having the latest computer game or watching the latest movie, we allow war to continue and innocent children to suffer and perish.  While we worry about paying our bills, we forget that we’re paying for that with our health, our time on earth, our attention, our relationships, our community cohesiveness and our destinies.  The opportunity cost is huge, but seldom recognised.  We’re very often not paying attention to our inner callings, when we focus on making the rent or mortgage payment.

Society, as a whole, has it wrong.  Our laws and government do think it’s more important to prosecute for unpaid bills, rather than to give a person time to emerge as a more significant contributor to society or to become the best version of themselves that they can be.  Entrepreneurs are routinely shut down by banks, just before they succeed, to pay arbitrary charges and interest, or simply to make a profit for the bank.  It’s insane.  Why do banks do this?  They act this way because they fear the wrath of bosses or shareholders.  Why the rush to judgement of people on the cusp of creating something good for all of us?

We are set up institutionally to allow people who are most afraid of not doing what they’re told to forcibly ensure, through violence and coercion, that the rest of us are also terrified of not doing what we’re told, instead of being more afraid of not becoming what we ought to become.  Our laws are written in terms of punishment, violence, terror and fear.  It’s instilled in us.  Those stupid rules at school serve the same purpose.  Surely every teacher should be more afraid of creating compliant automatons, ill equipped for life in the post industrial world, than of not having a uniform dress code.

Nobody wants to be the first to offer assistance.  They might mess up or be sanctioned for doing so.  As a consequence, we walk past the homeless, who are often in dire need through no fault of their own.  Instead, we demonise them, as sub humans responsible for their own plight, because it assuages our own fears of falling to the same point, due to circumstances beyond our control.  If we believe the fiction that homeless people only have themselves to blame, it deludes us into believing we can prevent the same happening to us, by simply making better choices.  It doesn’t always work that way.

We fail to finish our music, our writing, or our paintings because we fear the reaction.  We think that the work will be judged to be not good enough and so, by inference, we’ll be judged as being not good enough.  We’re taught to believe that other people can succeed, but not us.  The fruits of success and fulfilment are always for other people.

I think it’s useful to take a thorough, dispassionate, honest inventory of the things that terrify us most and ask ourselves whether each fear is the worst thing that can happen to us.  Are we afraid of the smaller terrors, while being ignorant or insouciant about the significant issues?  Do we fear the thing we think we fear or something else entirely?  If the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, as the saying goes, then surely striving for a level of fearlessness is a worthwhile thing to do.

It may all go horribly wrong, but if you act positively, it also may go spectacularly right.  Even if it goes horribly wrong, can you survive it?  What other things could end your survival, which are not on your fear radar at all?  Should you accept war, poverty and starvation, when these could be ended at a stroke?  Why are you more afraid of making a stand against these things, than the things themselves?

Make your art, make your statement, take a stand and don’t be afraid of becoming the self that you were born to be.  Fight the lifetime of subtle neuro-linguistic programming that leaves us wearing a mask that we hide behind and acting powerless, when we have agency.  Face your fears, feel them, evaluate them, examine them and then realise that most of the terror is meted out by terrified people.  You don’t have to play along.  You don’t have to fear the fearful.  You can challenge them to confront their own fears, in turn, to change their own behaviour from compliance and complicity, to humanity and growth.  Above all, always choose the life affirming option over the one that leads to destruction or decay.

Use your art as your protective shield.

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