Something occurred to me, today. It was in relation to music. I had the thought that knowing how to make music is so much more satisfying than being a fan of music. I’ve been a big fan of music all my life. I love music. There are so many talented people making music and I, for one, could watch anybody do anything, with excellence, all day long.
When I first started making my own music, it was frustrating. It seemed like everybody could make better music than I could. Worse than that, it felt like I could never reach the standard of music production of the music I liked to listen to most. However, the longer I worked at it, the better I got. Now, I am at a stage where I really like the music I make. It turns out the way I intend it to be. It’s exactly like the kind of music I would ideally love to listen to.
There is an existential joy in imagining music the way you would ideally want it to be and then being able to produce that in a tangible form that you can share. It’s so much more satisfying than listening to the best music, made by others. There is no nagging feeling that you wished the music was just slightly different, as often happens to me, when I listen to other people’s music. My own music is exactly the music I want to hear.
It might seem to be like an ego out of control, but I find myself looking at paintings with an eye for what I would have done differently, in that painting. Even when looking at masterpieces by acknowledged masters, I find myself wanting to change a colour, here or there, or move the odd brush stroke. Knowing how to paint gives you a different appreciation of your favourite paintings. Being able to paint more or less exactly what you envisage (I’m still in the “struggle” phase, on this) must be such a liberating feeling.
Consuming art as an appreciative audience member can be very satisfying, no doubt about it. However, having the ability to produce your own art, to a standard that meets with your own approval, is even more satisfying.
It has been said (and you only have to observe for yourself) that the music and art businesses are particularly nasty. They are populated with all manner of parasitic, predatory users and abusers, who don’t appreciate or produce any art or music of their own, but who are exploiters that are in the game solely to exploit the people that do. All they want is the money. This always makes me an uneasy spectator of commercial art. I always wonder who is getting manipulated and cheated, and in what ways. Is it the artist, the fans or both? I feel for them. For every musician I hear or artist I see, I wonder what price they are ultimately being asked to pay, to put their art in front of us all, for the larger profit of people that had almost nothing to do with its conception or making. The enjoyment of commercial art, therefore, is a little tainted, for me. It also needs to be said that these businesses promote and push a world view that I don’t agree with and don’t like.
When you make your own music or paintings, you don’t have to consume the agendas of the promoters and sponsors, as embodied in the images, lyrics, style, and public exploits of the so-called stars. When you make your own, there is no distasteful and wasteful celebrity culture to have to stomach. You are not subjected to any mind manipulation (to live a certain way, value certain things and buy the products incidentally being pushed at you). There is no narrative of the loss of youthful innocence and the humiliation and degradation of the fallen, as there is in popular culture (unless that happens to be what the message of your art is – mine isn’t). You are free from Autotune, if that is what you want and you don’t have to tolerate the whining sound, malign, cynical influence or unwelcome omnipresence of Simon Cowell. These things are entirely absent from your own art, if you choose them to be. (There is also something intensely satisfying about instructing your word processor’s spelling checker to “Ignore all”, in response to “Cowell” coming up as an unknown word.)
As a producer, rather than mere consumer, of art you don’t have to subject yourself to the constant, ambient “gaslighting”, used by the pop culture and contemporary art Svengalis to convince you, over a long period of time and through slow, imperceptible increments, that your values, world view, morals, ethics and perceptions are wrong, naive, out of date and no longer the norm. There is no pressure to conform to the cool kids. Indeed, the very concept evaporates entirely. You can be as cool as you want, in your own musical or artistic world of coolness, if you choose, but you very quickly realise that “cool” isn’t even a thing, in reality and that it certainly has no value to you, only to those that want to sell you something or “remind” (i.e. convince) you of how inferior a creature you are, compared to a God-like Svengali.
If you had previously aspired to coolness, you realise, with a sudden shock, that you have been utterly brainwashed, for profit. You were gaslighted into thinking it was a worthy ideal, when in fact it is a harmful and useless ghost. You no longer feel the urge to have that next piercing or tattoo, to stay up all night taking class-A drugs, to wear ridiculous designer clothes in absurd ways or to buy over-priced and inferior-sounding headphones, because of their brand cachet. You step away from the botox and cosmetic surgery ads. You’re free from all that peripheral nonsense that attached itself, like some malevolent, contagious leach, to the music or art that you love.
More than that, you realise that you are enough. When the stream of messages aimed at you, telling you that you are worthless and unworthy stops, you suddenly don’t feel so small or alone. You feel included and special. Suddenly, you find a place where you really belong and it was right here, all the time.
Not everyone is a maker, but everyone has the potential to be one. The journey toward making things that you love can be long and frustrating, but no less interesting and satisfying, along the way. If you reach the point where your own art pleases you, then you really can see from the summit that the products that were perennially pushed at you were no better, sometimes worse and always bundled with baggage that you don’t want or need. I encourage everyone to have a go at being a maker.
There’s a lot to be said for folk art and folk music, not as stylistic genres, but meaning that it was music and art made by real, ordinary people for their own and each other’s entertainment and edification. Today, that standard can be as high as you wish, since the means to make it so are within the reach of millions of people. Too little of the art presented by big business, on the other hand, is edifying in any way at all. It’s all rather degrading, in the main.
I think art that we make ourselves has more value than is widely acknowledged. And that’s how the Svengalis want it to be.