Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for? - Alice Walker
My parents are one of a hundred thousand, thousand other parents who have ever lived to see their child turn from a perfectly good life as a socially acceptable citizen into **shudder** an artist. Or worse, an apparently struggling artist. For my folks, coming to America was a way they could ensure that their children wouldn't suffer the hardships of war, poverty, and limited education. My brother and I were to be shining examples of success in America. Only trouble was we both believed in freedom so much, neither of us chose to become one of, as one FilAm put it, the Holy Trinity of Occupations: Engineer, Lawyer, Physician.
We've both struggled with the question of "what is art" and "how do we make a living in art." Sometimes we've gotten lucky and found venues for our work. Most of the time, we keep doing our best to give expression to what's inside aching to be something. Anything - a story, a song, a sketch, a performance. And along the way, it's easy to look back and wonder - did I make a bad decision to not try for that Ace-in-the-Hole job? Does this choice make me a bad person?
I guess that's why I keep looking for people who are creatives, ones who take what's inside themselves and make something truly unique, artful, heart-filled.
Steve Martin was one of those guys I wanted to be like as a kid. Funny, irreverent, fantastic juggler, comic with perfect timing, and oh yah, he was killer on the banjo. I'd never heard a banjo before hearing him on the record my cousin brought over to play on my folks console player. The banjo didn't sound like a guitar, didn't sound like much of anything I'd heard before, except maybe the bailalaika from the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack. Part strum, part twang, I was mesmerized by the intricate sound. You just don't get that from playing scales on a piano, let me tell you.
So somewhere after the release of King Tut, Martin turned from stage sensation to actor and along with leaving the stage, I thought the banjo music had ended. I was delighted to read recently that in fact, Martin had kept up his banjo playing and recently released his first CD of original songs.
He's been called a renaissance man for doing so many varied things with his career. He notes "Well, in a strange way, I don't have a job, so I have a lot of time on my hands. When I do work, it might be very concentrated, and it might be months where you're not really doing anything except maybe playing the banjo or writing something. You know, there's a lot of time in the day if you're not working 9 to 5."
The life of the artist isn't plotted out carefully, predictably, at least at the pace we associate with other occupations. It wends and winds and wanders, and as along as we keep letting the art teach us what to do, then we'll keep on making art and connections with people who feel the same way.