artistic unknowns by Chris Matarazzoeducation

Sand and sense: On being an artistic diversion

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Have any of my currently unknown artistic brethren and sistren out there noticed what nifty little curiosities we seem, to our  acquaintances? I mean, if we won big fat awards or sold something for hard cash, we would be seriously interesting — legitimate, even. But until then, we are breathing diversions; we are, at best, refreshing company, because if we are, indeed, forced to cut the grass to make ends meet, we still refuse to stray far from playing in the backyard sandbox.  And, oh, the little castles we can make! Such delights! Such fun!

Once, at a very young age — I believe she was still in my mother’s womb, in the second trimester of pregnancy, but I may be exaggerating — my sister painted an outstanding piece. One of our great aunts looked at it, and instead of recognizing the astounding quality of the work, she remarked: “Isn’t that cute?” (She’s a professional illustrator now [my sister, not my great aunt, may she rest in peace].)

Cute. That’s the best the lady could do.

But, take heart. We encourage creativity in schools, here in the U.S. of A. Save our music programs! Save our art programs! Why? Kids get better math scores when they study an instrument; they learn to think creatively, which helps them later in life; not, however, because they might contribute some beauty or profundity to an ugly, mundane world. That’s silly . . .

 . . . unless you make a lot of money or win a big award. Because that means success. For instance, it is clear that everyone who has ever won a Grammy is a serious artist.

Anyway, we encourage our kids to be creative so that creative thinking will serve them well on standardized tests — which are F-ing stupid, across the board, says the writer/musician/vice-principal writer of this article — or in solving business-oriented problems when the stakes are real.

Thomas Gradgrind is alive and well — but he allows a creative period per week now, because statistics show creativity breeds augmented normalcy.

But stick with it — keep living the creative life, and you are certainly not despised; you might very well be adored, like a pet rodent. You are, as I said, a refreshing, slightly silly, getting-his-hair-rumpled-like-a-little-kid amusement for those serious adults who stand outside the sandbox with both dress-shoes firmly on the grass, smiling benignly down at you over their folded arms.

I was once playing a gig in a bar. I was in my late-twenties. A friend from high school walked up to the stage to say hello. I hadn’t seen him for years.  We exchanged a hearty hand-clasp. He said: “You still doing this nonsense?”

He was a cop in a tiny town, which meant that, mostly, his job amounted to writing tickets and chasing kids away from keggers in the woods. Do I respect the police? Of course I do. They keep us safe. They risk their lives, sometimes. But do the police respect me? Well, not this one. To him, my musical life was “nonsense.” My passion was “nonsense.” If having passions is nonsense, then people like this guy are certainly quite sensible.

Yet, there he was, my policeman friend, about twenty minutes later, dancing, sweating and giving me the thumbs-up over the shoulder of a grinding girl-pal (who was, if we are really going to analyze this, grinding to my beat and not to his).

I suppose my nonsense made more sense when he got drunk.

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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6 Responses to “Sand and sense: On being an artistic diversion”

  1. Cute article.

    I agree completely. Some of my happiest moments are when I hear my son practicing his upright bass for the school orchestra or the other boy scribbling notes for a story he’d like to write. Seeing the creative juices flowing strengthens my belief that they will better off in the long run.

  2. I’m thinking of creating an awards show: “The Cutesies.”

  3. Chris, a wonderful essay, and a really good topic. Thanks for the post … and for “still doing that nonsense!”

    I’m recalling a time when candidate Bill Clinton was on the campaign trail, seeking to become President, shaking hands, posing for photos, making speeches … and playing the saxaphone. It prompted derogatory criticism from some who questioned his talent, and the wisdon of displaying said talent in front of a national audience. Personally, I thought he sounded pretty good.

    IMHO, they just didn’t get it … they completely missed the fact that – no matter what turns your life might take – there was a joy to be had in artistic creation. I think positive views of his performance resonated with kids, like the high school bands who would surround him in later campaign stops, all smiles, asking if he’d brought his saxaphone along with him.

    And it resonated with their parents, too, who have papered their walls and their offices with youngsters’ creations, and happily spent hours in darkened auditoriums listening to their performances

  4. Thanks, Jeff — yes, indeed. People’s reactions to Clinton’s playing was certainly a knee-jerk implication that they saw music as a frivolity in which a dignified man should not engage. Great point and well said. (I thought he was pretty good, too.) Sports are okay, though. Ever notice no one puts down Obama for playing hoops?

  5. There will always be Aunts and cops who won’t understand. And we’ll always think their lives are boring. It’s like a yin/yang thing.

  6. Well, at least the aunts give you the occasional cookie.

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