The Artwork of Michael Divine

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The Commoditization of the Creative Act

July 3rd, 2016

Sunset over the Tasman Sea

Businesses run on products: product conception, product development, product sales, product redevelopment, and so on. Information products. Plastic tchotchke products. Useless and useful products. Products products products. If we aren’t buying a product then we’re producing a product or selling a product or discarding a product in order to replace it eventually with another (theoretically) superior product.

We keep producing these products for two reasons: to make money for the creator/sales person (and all of the attendant jobs that they create) and to satisfy a utilitarian need that some aspect of our human existence has necessitated. Sometimes that aspect is basic: a shirt to shield us from the sun or warm us in the cold, shoes to protect our feet, a roof over our heads, and so on. Other times – and this is often the case – the desire goes much deeper. We buy products to satisfy a desire to be attractive or feel beautiful (based on the current cultural paradigm of beauty), or to reflect some part of our perceived identity, and, very importantly, the desire to be loved by others.  In the end, it seems difficult to decipher the difference between ‘basic need’ and ‘desire’.

Photo of the Moment

Artwork, at its purist, at its most whole, is born from the desire – an inner urge – to simply create. It is born from a desire of self-expression. We want to bring something new into the world. That urge drives us forwards – compelling us to always do more – because that which we have already made is never fully satisfying.

From this act of expression arises a piece of work which can drive into the deepest parts of our humanness. The more we make our work from the desire to make a product, the more we lose the initial inspiration that drives it. So we have to let go of the need to show people up or prove ourselves or tout our skills or impress our friends or loved ones. If we can let go of the desire to make a new product, to fill up the shelves of our proverbial store… If we surrender instead to that creative flow and just drown ourselves in the act then the work which arises from that pool is a thing of authentic expression. It may be nightmarish. It may be the heavens unfolding. It is the all and everything. It is always at least some point in between. It is, at that point, merely an act of creation, and, at that I think, an act of love.

Art in and of itself is not a product. It can become a product and go on products. It can be housed with products and ultimately, it does become a commodity. But its own blossoming into the world and subsequent creation is the art, the vision. When we sit down to do our art, it is best to lose the idea of that creation being a means to an end. It is not the basic utilitarian urge driving it. It may put food on our tables and clothes upon our backs but it is not and should not and CANNOT be done as a thing merely to make money. Thinking ‘how much am I going to make from this piece? Is it enough?’ limits the expression. Then we are putting it in a box with a set of conditions and value structures that our brain constantly folds into it with every brushstroke or thread we weave. We forever limit ourselves in our act – wondering if we put ‘enough’ in for the value it is supposed to have.

True art making is an unconditional act. You may be making a painting, a drawing, a jacket, a dress, a book… Whatever your art is that you choose: you know that when you are in it, you have surrendered to the act itself and therefor want to make it the best it can be.

The Incessant Need to Create

No, really, isn’t that NEAT! :)

And yet, as an artist, there is no real end product because the minute we finish one thing – hopefully to the very best of our ability in that moment – we move onto the next. All art making is the detritus being HUMAN. Art is the expression of living. Of breathing. Of seeing. Of one’s own personal vision. Art speaks to and from this act in some way (and this is ultimately why art can be valued so highly but we’ll get into that another time…). Ultimately, though, the end product is the Self Which Has Created The Work. That is Art as Path.

One, for lack of a better word, curse in that is that we artists often do just enough to create a space for ourselves to make our art and hope that everything else will fall into place, just as it does in our work. This is why it can be difficult sometimes on our own to also be marketers and promoters and sales people and so on. The business of art can fill up the schedule. We start commoditizing our act. It can feel constricting and limiting.

In a world that is constantly pushing consumption with a thousand and ten flashing ads, how do you stand out anymore? How do you even share your creation?

So we go back to square one: art as an act of love. So first and foremost: always just concentrate on making great art. It takes time, but it will shine through. The first painting, the first bit of writing, the first moment… May slip under most radars. But then there is the second, the third, and so on. You are playing a symphony all on your own. It takes time for others to pick up on that tune. Each piece is a note of a song you will play your entire life. And it takes some patience on your own part to learn to dance with all the moving parts.

Or maybe we are a band - with just 6 moving parts playing to audiences of tens of thousands.

Or maybe we’re just playing in a band all our own to an audience of thousands.

We are playing a symphony all our own so it’s best to learn to play all the instruments to some degree. You are the conductor moving this musical piece of your life forwards. Think of your art as the lead violin or the grand piano – it is the instrument that sings – the one that all of the other instruments are framing. Perhaps the webmaster hat is the oboe and the accountant is the kettle drum and the archivist is the cello and so on. These other hats, these other modes aren’t in opposition to your art, they are also creative acts and they support that lead. This is learning to play your art and wear all of those hats as a symphony united, rather than as separate components. In the symphony, they all support each other.

This still brings us back to the actual creation of the thing while living in a commoditization-happy world and how we can best foster that so the authentic voice shines through. I have sat with business leaders and motivational speakers and all sorts of people. They tell me the steps I can take to build my email list and get more Facebook followers and create affiliate programs and so on. All of those steps continue to define me as a product, a commodity, with an ideal, a soundbite, a public image, easily consumable and digestible for this fast paced world we are told we live in.

And, sometimes, all of those steps look to me like they lead away from the raw unfolding vision. It’s like piloting our ship through a narrow rapids, making sure our delicate boat makes it through uncompromised.

I consider this painting on my easel. It is a painting commissioned by someone. Certainly there is a desire for the client to be pleased with it. Of course I want that! But I can’t let that be a driving force: ‘gosh, I hope this reflects the value we have ascribed to it!’ And so on. There are all sorts of thoughts that arise: how many hours am I putting into this? Is it enough? Am I working hard enough?’ All the stories and the product outcome and the chatter and nonsense. All the self-image and ego and drama and dreams and clutter of am i good enough? is it enough? – detritus of a consumer culture that echoes through my psyche from countless ads, commercials, social norms, and societal structures and, who knows, is maybe just part of the human experience which I am working through in my own way.

Cat drawing

My cat is part of the symphony, too.

I return again and again to the driving force, that driving urge. It is that reason I or you or someone else is hired. It’s that thing that people want. When we become formulaic, when we create work merely for profit, I think we lose that. It’s important to remember: we can talk all about it, we can display it all we want, but in those moments in our studio, the swirling pool of creativity is what we have to surrender to again and again and, hopefully, with practice, we draw something forth that is inspiring again and again.

Would we make and give away our work for nothing? For no return? There are projects I engage in like that – where the cycle of returns has a different value structure. But in the end I do have bills to pay and rent and phone and all the other trappings of modern life – not to mention personal goals. Our time is of value and we’ve spent hours practicing and practicing what we do. And, in the end, we have a thousand other creations to make. So we create value systems and exchanges in order to support growth: in ourselves, in others, in the world.

Because of exchanges like that, people say that it’s money that makes the world go wrong. I think that’s incorrect. I imagine that it is love that makes our world go round. Without love – this lifelong connection and devotion to the authenticity of our work – we are useless empty shells, just consuming, never-endingly consuming. We are mere product creators, at that point, lining the shelves. Without love feeding this urge to create, I could never bring this painting on my easel to the place I want it to go – or the place I was hired to make it go, and I say this even for the darker pieces I’ve made. Even if this emotion of ‘love’ is in our imagination – even if it is merely a story we’ve conjured up to make life feel more meaningful, then it is, to me, the most worthwhile driving force I’ve found:  this love of creation, a desire to bring it into the world and create from this place. The sensation of dancing with the creative act – this sensation that, when followed, seems to conjure up, for me, my most ideal self. When I turn away from the canvas, it is what drives me to be more compassionate, to make smarter decisions, to care for others, and to give of myself. It is having that entire symphony playing all together in harmony. The tedium doesn’t feel so tedious. The side projects feel more inspired. The work – all of it – in my eyes, shines.

Photo of the Moment

There can only be the awareness of the present moment when making a piece of art and, to find that core passionate creative force – whatever color or shape it may be – to create from that place in the making of our art – whether it be painting or writing or baking bread or driving a truck or helping others in whatever our paths may be – and whether our work be light or dark, sweet or otherwise – it enables us to create something that ultimately feels like a worthwhile pursuit. I imagine that a thing made from a place of loving-kindness is ultimately more nourishing, more valuable, more beautiful than it would be otherwise. It may take a while for the world to catch up to you. You may sit in silence, alone and wondering if there’s anyone out there and I assure you, there is. But to play that note, that instrument, that symphony will, ultimately, allow you the happiest most fulfilling life you can imagine.

Were that the place from which all things were made from, I imagine we would have a happier and healthier planet.

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