I get wary when artists start talking about themselves as “special people.” You know, the kind with sensitive constitutions, consumed with Serious Life Questions, floating a few feet over the earth, their toes grazing the scalps of normal men and women.
There was one adjunct professor at Columbia, from whom I learned nothing, who’d get all starry-eyed and dreamy-voiced when she talked to our class about Being an Artist. One of her hands would touch the scarf knotted at her throat while the other would play with her hair. I swear that every time she spoke to us, she imagined herself being interviewed by Vanity Fair.
On our last day of class this past spring, she asked us about our writerly aspirations. As per usual, I broke the five-minute silence.
“I’d like to make a living doing what I love,” I offered.
She looked offended. “Don’t you want to explore the human condition? Don’t you want to make a statement with your art?”
“Of course I do…” I began.
She slit her eyes. “Is it really all about money?”
“That’s not what I meant-”
“I would think that an artist-”
“Look,” I said, “I’ve worked a string of shitty, dead-end jobs my whole life, while working on my ‘art.’ It would be nice to pay the rent with writing for a change.” I looked around at my classmates for moral support. Unfortunately they had all given up on the class midway through the semester, and were simply occupying their chairs. My voice got a little tight. “As long as we’re dreaming big.”
She rolled her eyes, glanced down at her watch, and with that my final class at Columbia came to an end.
Afterwards, in the hall, a girl from class pulled me aside. “Of course we all agreed with you,” she said. “Besides, that woman comes from money.”
“She does?” I said.
“Totally. God, that patrician accent! Old money, honey. Plenty of free time to weigh the human condition.”
But then, the opposite argument, that artists are just like everyone else, seems a little false as well. Yesterday I read a profile on Doonsebury creator, Garry Trudeau, in which he muses over his former life as a graphic designer:
‘I had more flow as a designer,’ Trudeau explains. ‘I could just drop down into the zone and stay there for hours. With cartooning, I’m constantly coming up for air, procrastinating, looking for reasons not to be doing it. I spend all day granting myself special dispensation, with “creative process” as my cover story. Carpenters and deli countermen can’t do that, so I think they may feel better about themselves at the end of the day.’
Frankly I found some comfort imagining Trudeau procrastinating before every deadline. If someone so successful still goes through that on a weekly basis, then I’m not alone, pacing my bedroom floor, standing in blank silence at the window.
I confess: I’m not writing the book.
That’s hardly new.
What’s new is that I’ve spent the past four months on a diligent mission to find out why. Over time, chasing down false leads, engaged in a meticulous process of elimination, I finally identified the culprit.
I blame you, the American people. And it’s time you took responsibility for the pain you’re causing me. Nothing in your culture feeds my artistic process. Nothing!
Your television shows murder my imagination. Fuck your “Heroes,” your “Grey’s Anatomy,” your “Law and Order” marathons! Outside of a dream sequence or two on “The Soprano’s,” everything on television thwacks the fragile voice of imagination that whispers words to me, that supplies me with a lovely turn of phrase, a stunning metaphor, a book-length theme.
Damn you, for making me justify Project Runway with But it’s really creative!
Playstation 3, Tomb Raider, Warcraft: all just slow death!
Fuck your hybrid Hondas, your knitting circles, your YouTube! Fuck your animated donkeys that talk like Eddie Murphy! Fuck Anderson Cooper’s tears!
And you gay boys, with your trance music, decline bench presses, and bareback porn; leave me in peace!
Big Muscle Bear contributes nothing to Art!
The Da Vince Code is not literature!
Stop making me worry; Jennifer Aniston is going to be fine!
Please, turn off your computers. Kill your televisions. Buy a book. Talk to me about character development, narrative arcs, and postmodern structure. Tiptoe around me as I engage in my “creative process.” Hold my calls. Fix my coffee. Do my laundry. I’ve got a Master’s degree to finish.