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Odin Roark

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Discipline of the artist
By Odin Roark
Last edited: Sunday, April 12, 2015
Posted: Sunday, April 12, 2015

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An article from the esteemed Eric Maisel, whose life as a counselor and therapist for artists, as well as writing numerous books, shares a lifetime of study and evaluation of the artist in society. Below are a few paragraphs I've held close for many years.

From “Creativity for Life” by Eric Maisel, PhD

There are cynical artists who withhold the truth from their art n order to gain an audience and to make money, just as there are cynical clergy who preach while neither loving nor believing, and these cynical artists are often among the most successful, since they are very attuned to the kinds of lies audiences love. But I am guessing—and hoping—that you prefer to live seriously.

Other artist will tell only a fraction of what they know to be true or will alter or subvert the truth, because of self-censorship, a long to be popular, or a desire not to offend. As the French writer Jean Cocteau put it, “After you have written a thing and you reread it, there is always the temptation to remove its poison, to blunt its sting.” Elmore Leonard, the popular mystery writer, said, “I leave out the parts that people skip.” Both of these practices are manifestations of the impulse to have and keep an audience, an impulse every salesperson understands.

But, as visual artist Les Levine put it, “Artists are going to die like anyone else - -to they want to leave behind a lot of work they don’t believe in.” Every artist internally debates this issue. Should she sing a jingle or a hymn? Should she sing in harmony or protest injustice? Should he tell the dark truth about the alcoholism in his family or entertain his fans with his command of language?

As Martha Rosler, a visual artist, explained, “The main effort of most of mass media is to get you to succumb to magic and lost your critical ability. I want the work to be more of an irritant.” If truth is an irritant, however, how is the truth-telling artist to survive? You may never frame the question to yourself in so many words, but you must nevertheless address it your whole career.

The artist who most keenly feels the need to tell the truth will make the fewest concessions, will resist falsification the most, and may, like a scorned prophet, find herself vilified and misunderstood. The artist who is more accommodating, however, who more willingly embraces the commercial and the false, may himself be embraced but may wonder if he is squandering his precious time on earth.


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Reviewed by Jansen Estrup 4/14/2015
Artists (writers, poets, musicians, dancers, painters, photographers - graphic artists - activists?), and other truth tellers always exist on the fringes of society. They will speak their visions even on sidewalks or garrets or gardens or caves. It is the rare one who finds a patron or devoted following, and often gets too much acclaim in a 'choose up sides' culture. Paraphrasing Chris Hedges, "I don't fight Fascists (write) because I will win, I fight them because they are fascists" (I am a writer) ... Thanks for the perspective, and for making your own mean streets so vivid.
Reviewed by Ronald Hull 4/13/2015
Some very wise lessons learned. I have often wondered about pop culture and why so many flock to inane artistry that teaches no lessons and is generally a cheap ripoff of the latest fad. Promotion is the notion. I guess that's why we authors are so encouraged to push our works so they can become "best sellers," whether or not they really are entitled to the accolade, "best."

Fortunately, I don't have to rely on my writing for an income. And I don't have to listen to critics like my family who may feel that I write too openly in the face of potential criticism. If only one of my works stands the test of time, I will be pleased.

I noted a few typos in the quotation. You might want to check again and correct them.

Reviewed by J. Quantaman 4/12/2015
Thanks for the reminder. It's always best without question for authors to remain true to themselves and to strive toward truth. Likewise authors should write as clearly as possible for both the quick witted and slower witted.

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