Witt Stewart is a longtime member of the music business and has worked with some of the best in the business such at Patty Griffin, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker and Carol King. We became friends through the Nashville community and he invited me to be a part of his blog. I posted what I wrote on the blog below but you can also check out the full post HERE .
OK! Here we go!
Art to me is like an endless sandy beach; and for the artists who roam it, there’s room enough for everyone to walk around and make marks, mold, build, shape and display what they create with the sand… none of it wrong, none of it right. Then what is made is to be shared, affected by and be a part of the elements around it, such as the ocean waves, or a footprint, or a drawing from the person next to you, or a crab sifting for minerals to eat. The sandy endless floor is ever changing for infinite creation, and for this I am thankful, for that is the beauty and freedom of art.
I have also found that it is true what they say… the music business is a flawed concept. Business and art don’t go together. Business is structure and art is free flowing. They are opposing forces like two positive magnets being pushed towards each other. The business’s desire is to take the creations the artists have made and try to solidify it like concrete. It will throw water on a castle because it has decided it wants to pack it down and make it more solid. It will stand around a structure guarding it with all its might, or draw lines in the sand not meant to be crossed in efforts to leave the creation unaffected by the inevitable ever changing movement around it.
For a time, this can make the business and artist a lot of money and what we call success, making a career for the business and artist possible. The business claims to all around that the art’s special characteristics are more valuable than the others so the world should cash in to see it. All the while, the art created (AKA music in this case), enjoys the experience of being made into a castle just as much as it enjoys it being torn down. The nature of this world does not follow the law of permanence and so, despite all the business’s efforts, eventually the art is changed and affected one way or another and is made into something different.
The beauty and heartbreak in this experience of the rise and fall is why we are all here. Because of this dynamic between business, art and artist, I find very often that artists (including myself) become influenced by the business’s desire for structure and want it for themselves; forgetting the value in the nature of their ever changing world. So they draw lines in the sand and mark off territories for their art. Because making rules and creating boundaries feels safe and/or gives some sort of guide to help them on a guideless journey.
I actually very often see that the feeling of safety it brings can allow artists to create from a purely inspired and fearless place. Which is when, I believe, we are who we are created to be. So, in that sense it can be very helpful, but this not as good as it gets. Eventually the art will become limited by the lines around it and again change shows up. On the flip side, I see these claimed lines slow down the artistic process as well. The business and artists alike will stand by their lines and claim their reasoning for them.
The big one that’s been going around in Nashville for the past 5+ years is, “solo female artists don’t work in country music”. But really the comments are endless:
– “labels are only signing 18 year olds”
– “audiences aren’t smart enough for your songs”
– “this song is or isn’t a hit”
– “pop country is the only thing that’s making money”
– “no one is cutting whiskey songs anymore”
– “you can’t be successful making country music without a record deal or country radio behind you”
– “singer/songwriter artists are a thing of the past”
and countless more, one conflicting the comment before it. And none of these lines are wrong… but none of these lines are right either.
The comments are merely an expression of folks finding their own way through the conflicting territories of the world that is art vs business. And what can slow us down or get some of us stuck in this process is when someone expects his or her lines to be a boundary for someone else. Or when you believe someone else’s line for yourself. This can be especially challenging for an artist when a line doesn’t fit a factual part of who the artist is; like being a female with children, being gay, having a certain body type or size, having skin that’s too dark or being from the wrong state.
All of the sudden a dented line made in shapeable ground that can shift with the wind is given the power to stunt our creativity, maybe for an hour or a lifetime, because “so and so” made that line and he or she has been doing this for 25 years or has all the money or decision making power in this town or yada, yada, yada…. Oh the art we could all make and the power it would have if we all just created regardless of lines.
I feel the pressure to be boxed in by the comments/lines around me all the time. Some of them I fit into and some of them I don’t. I’ve also boxed myself in, making countless lines in the sand for myself that eventually get in my way. I recently removed a line I had for years that I swore I would never cross because not only did I recognize it was a fear driven creation, but I watched so many others just pass right through it bravely and continue to create. And I thought, why couldn’t I do that?
Thus, I say all of this to share my current goal I’ve set for myself in my life and art. I want to, as much as I can, be rid of my need for preservation and fearlessly create and share my gifts. Connecting with the world knowing lines are a temporary false sense of safety; the boundaries are endless and there are no limits. When I am my true self, to myself, my heart says to me:
“Just make art
Build your life where you can pay your bills and mold the personal life you want (regardless of it or because of it) so you don’t resent it.
And then let it bring you what you’ve asked for.”
In desiring all this for myself, I also send out this hope for every person on this earth. And then, my heart is full… Hannah Blaylock