As my brother Kan likes to say, good art comes from mundane daily practice. This is an unequivocal fact. Kan is quite the artist, and most people only get the opportunity to see his final products, but there is a perk to being his brother. I got to see the practice that went into those pieces. Before any of those pieces came to be, I got to see the pile of papers on his desk on which he practiced, letter by letter and font by font, over and over and over and over again. Also, he uses the word “mundane” somewhat liberally here, because the acts of practice and continual improvement are actually far from mundane, in fact they are the most significant sources of joy for an artist. In a society so focused on results, many people misunderstand this point. They think that acting is about landing a role in a major film, painting is about having your work featured in a famous gallery, writing is about winning the Nobel prize in literature, and music is about playing to an audience at iconic venues. Of course, they are all wrong. Art is simply about showing up on a daily basis, and relentlessly pursuing to better ourselves. Everything else is just fluff.
There’s something so satisfying about practicing and getting better. Performing can be fun too, but not as much. Don’t tell anyone, but I actually don’t even like performing all that much. I do it anyway because my performances seem to give joy to some people, and I’m always happy to contribute joy to others, but after every performance I can’t help but think, “whew it’s over, now I can go home and do what I actually love, which is to practice.” As Karl Paulnack urges, we musicians must take our practice very seriously just as doctors would take their education seriously. If you’re a doctor, someday, someone will be brought into an emergency at 2AM, and it will be up to your knowledge and skill to save that person’s life. Well, if you’re a musician, it’s just as likely that some day a broken soul might walk into your concert at 8PM, and whether they go home whole again will be based purely on how well you do your craft.
Anyone who has recently pursued any form of art knows all this. However, recently, I have had several conversations with others that led me to wonder how many people have forgotten about the joy of creating art, and tragically settle for a never-ending spiral of consumption. Just consider that a friend of mine took one look at my apartment, which consists of just the bare necessities, and asked me, “Are you happy? I could not live like you, I need to enjoy life.” Societal influence is strong on this one. So many people have been led to believe that somehow there is a correlation between spending money and enjoying one’s life, and such a belief just turns people into slaves of money.
It would be one thing if people’s decision to stop creating art is a conscious one, but that is far from it. We are all born artists, and cultural influences suck the inner artists out of us. So much of this has to do with the society’s love of money. It isn’t out of randomness that I blog a lot about personal finance, although there don’t seem to be too many other pianists who blog more about finance than pianism. But I do it consciously because if you don’t control your money, your money will control you. And when it does, it makes it that much harder to have the mental energy to create good art.
I love this commencement speech by Neil Gaiman.
Creating your best art is your purpose in life. Are you getting farther from it? Then something about your life ought to change.