artistic unknowns by Chris Matarazzo

Why unknown artists keep creating

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Part of the description of this column includes the idea that it is geared toward the everyday artist — the artists who keep on doing their thing regardless of relative anonymity. I’m one of them. We walk this world from top to bottom and we keep at it even though nothing seems to be coming of it, especially financially. Still, there must be a reward of some kind, or we would just give up.

I just finalized my new CD, Hats and Rabbits. If you read this column regularly, you probably have gathered that I’m not above promoting it from time to time. After all, my marketing resources are exceedingly limited. (You can now get it on iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby, by the way. I promise: it’s at least woth $9.99. ) But let’s face it: I’m not going to make a lot of money. I’m lucky if I break even with the cost of recording it.

So what’s the point? Why bother with the late, late nights alone in my little studio over three years — above and beyond a full time job — that it took to write and record the music on the album? Why do you, a writer, write millions of words without a book deal? And you, out in the midwest, sitting on your porch — why do you keep writing poetry? Why does that old guy in Seattle keep making sculptures with a blow torch in his garage, even if the things are bound to stay there collecting dust even after he is dead?

We tend to equate every success in modern culture with monetary reward, but, somehow, we nobodies keep making art, even without cash rewards. I have a few ideas why, as you might have guessed.

Tonight, I got a phone call. A friend from work just had to call because he had been listening to my CD all weekend. He gave me a full review, complete with recommendations, God bless him. I had given him a copy, for free, because I knew he would pay me the best currency an artist could ask for: he would listen. I was not disappointed. He really listened and he made some excellent observations.

We all know we can get our moms and dads to check out our work, and that they will love it. (Let’s face it, they got excited when we pooped in the bowl for the first time.) But I think all artists crave serious, unbiased attention. At least for me, it isn’t so much praise I seek — it is to be taken seriously by people I respect, even if they don’t love my work. It so happened that my friend liked Hats and Rabbits a lot — he, a real fan of music and of music reviews — gave it an “A”. The reason that matters to me is that I know, as he made perfectly clear, that he would not have hesitated to have given it a “C-” had he felt that way about it. That’s the real deal.

We know all about artist and audience. What’s the point of creating without an audience? If mine is a small one, so what? (A small audience, that is. Shows you how important context is.) As long as it is a genuinely interested audience, the numbers at the gate don’t much matter. I think, for most of us creative types, a tiny, genuine audience is enough to keep us going even in light of a distinct lack of paparazzi, Grammys and limo-rides.

In the end, though, I think we keep creating because, like everyone else, we need to understand ourselves. It’s therapy. The good news is, the things we create are like flashlights in dark places.

My wife was recently poking fun at me because I had been listening to my new songs a lot. But I don’t think that’s vanity. When I listen to my music, I really get a better sense of who I am. Isn’t that why people go to therapy — to learn about themselves with the help of a second party? What artists create acts as the therapist, showing us little truths within.

So much subconscious stuff goes into the creation of art that I don’t think we can help giving away secrets. While athletes might evaluate themselves, professionally, based on wins and losses, I think artists tend to look back on what the curtains we opened revealed about the real us.

Art is the mirror of truth for those who create with sincerity (there it is again). There’s no shying away from the image that a painting, a song, a story, a poem or a dance reveals about the person who created it. To know one’s self better . . .  is there a better reward? In doing so, we can be so much more valuable to those around us. That’s way bigger than art.

Maybe the ridiculously successful artists who die in misery or who drug themselves to death are the ones who, whether because of pretense or because of too many people gathered around all of the time, never got a good look into that mirror — who got praised and even loved for being someone they never really understood. Maybe we nobodies have an easier cance at the real rewards than our heros did.

Not that I would turn up my nose at a ton of cash.

Chris Matarazzo’s ARTISTIC UNKNOWNS appears every Tuesday.

Chris Matarazzo is a writer, composer, musician and teacher of literature and writing on the college and high school levels. His music can be heard on his recent release, Hats and Rabbits, which is currently available. Chris is also the composer of the score to the off-beat independent film Surrender Dorothy and he performs in the Philadelphia area with the King Richard Band. He's also a relatively prolific novelist, even if no one seems to care yet. His blog, also called Hats and Rabbits, is nice, too, if you get a chance...
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