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The Continuum of the Arts: Physicality and Economics (Part I)

February 5, 2009

This is a post I’ve been dreaming up for months and months, maybe a year. Surrounded by books, music equipment, paints, papers, my own apartment, my shared space, is a kind of synergy of the arts. Not all of them, but the ones we lay claim to. Mark and me.

I often think about the cost of producing art. Much like the cost of different sports. I heard as a kid that Basketball was the most ubiquitous street sport in America because it was so cheap. You don’t need a helmet, knee pads, a glove, grass. You just need concrete, and a hoop, or what began as a suspended basket with the bottom cut out. I think of writing this way. The poor man’s sport. Even though its done largely through the medium of computers now, writing is low tech in the sense that it takes minimal initial investment by the artist. Pen and paper is virtually free in developed country. Use yesterday’s paper. Swipe a pen from any of the hundreds of places that might ask for your identification, your John Hancock, archaic in itself. We don’t have to press and drain paper individually, we just find it. . . everywhere: a napkin, a receipt. Soon enough, paper money. Poof. We have the tools of our trade.

Next we have the visual fine arts. That same pencil and paper can be a sketch. Give me ten dollars and I have a tube of cheap acrylic, a color: Titanium White, Chromium Oxide Green, Cerulean Blue, Turner’s Yellow. I have the right chemicals. The proper alchemy for a painting, a physical release. Here, unlike in the art of writing, there is an immense physical release to the act of painting or drawing. It can be refined, hurried or steadied, whipped or smooth, frigid or manic. The movement of brush, or pen, or pencil or stub of charcoal on paper, or canvas creates vibrations, sensations running through the arm, along the brain. For me, the creation of visual art is not cerebral. It is expansive, escapist. I simply move, as in dance, and try not to concentrate on whether or not what I am making is beautiful. It is not this process for every one, certainly not for the serious artist, who must approach his canvas with study, with discipline, the way I plod my pen across a page, so many lines per day, so many words, so many minutes spent, doubled, cradling pen to paper, forcing out what does not want to come if necessary. So that, in the end, when the brilliance strikes, I move with clipped fluidity, I retain an editorial eye, detached from my own emotional exsanguination. I can live through to the other side. Make it palatable. Continue to the next frenzy.

Lastly (in my limited accounting), there is music. From the millenia-old practice of crafting instruments, an art unto itself (curious: the artist stretches his own canvas (but doesn’t weave it), but the musician rarely sculpts and carves his own instruments.) Tunes them, yes. Hopefully. But makes them? Unthinkable. How many fewer guitars, basses, electro-harps, keyboards, microKorgs, and synthesizers would we own if we had to MAKE them ourselves. Here is what I mean by high-tech. Music is EXPENSIVE, which is nearly synonymous with HIGH-TECH, meaning technologically dependent. Meaning you can’t craft and record a song without technological intervention to a degree untouched by the arts of writing, drawing and painting. (I’m unsure of where sculpture fits in. . .)

And, yet, music is the most widely digested of the “arts.” It is the folksiest, in our time. We receive written news and medium often as Media, verbally. Visual art becomes videography, or poorer, photography. Not to say that the old ways are dying out. They are morphing, something of which we should not be afraid. In fact, my point in all of this may be that the resurgence particularly of the written/spoken word form seems to be reaching an apex. The worlds of music and poesis collide at the helm of hip-hop, rap, and spoken word poetry. . .


In a high-tech world, can the low-tech arts keep pace?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Garrett Macfalda permalink
    February 5, 2009 11:19 am

    Very interesting post. I plan to be an exception to the rule on music, though- I’m going to luthiery school this year and will open up a handcraft guitar shop afterwards. But I’m not much the musician- it’s the fine carpentry that appeals to me, much the way you write of painting. Wresting something beautiful and functional out of wood to me is nearly spiritual. One has to account for the living nature of fine wood in a craft piece, as the wood will swell and warp and rebel against your ministrations if you’re not careful. I guess my exception proves your point then- for me it’s the craft and not the use. In any case, fine post here.

  2. A-man-duh permalink
    February 5, 2009 1:25 pm


    interesting…especially the bit about basketball. I wonder where you would place photography on this continuum? You mention it briefly but recently it seems like your main passion. Also, what about the dissemination of art? I think that while the written word is the cheapest to create, it’s among the most painstaking and expensive to spread to an audience, not to mention the most time consuming for audience consumption…
    lots to consider….thanks a lot whitney 🙂 Like i wasn’t busy already hahaha

    keep going with this though…

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