Thursday, June 20, 2013

Album Lockdown - Day 10 (One for the artists.)

Alright, readers. Today's post comes from a book I've been reading during my downtime out here in the City of Angels. It's called Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, and, as you probably already surmised, it's a historical account of the events surrounding Michelangelo's painting of the Sistine Chapel. (It's a magnificent read if you're at all interested in the history of art or the Renaissance; buyer beware, though, it might be a little dry if you're not already curious about those topics.)

Anyhoo, what I thought I'd pass along to you all today is something that jumped out to me as I reflected on the story in relation to what we're attempting to achieve here in LA with the recording of this album. Namely, that artistic and creative ventures are hard, and we should never be discouraged by the fact that they are so.

It seems like most people tend to think of historical figures like Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Beethoven, and Mozart as effortless geniuses - cats that just sat around until incredible masterpieces simply manifested themselves from the tips of their fingers. We don't stop to think about the amount of work that actually went into what the great artists in history managed to create. Malcolm Gladwell even wrote a book about this kind of thing called Outliers, which served to illustrate the fact that most people do two things: 1) they believe that artistic and creative talent is so naturally occurring that the creative process can barely be classified as work, and, consequently, 2) they do not understand just how much effort, time, energy, blood, sweat, & tears actually go into the creative process. We marvel at the great paintings, architecture, and symphonies, but many of us tend to believe that the people that created them were somehow more special than normal folks and therefore, not subject to the same pressures, frustrations, distractions, boredom, drudgery, and lack of inspiration with which everyone else is forced to deal.

Now, before I go any further, don't misunderstand: I am not equating the recording of our album to anything Michelangelo did. If I ever did do something that audacious & dumb, even I would stop reading this blog.

Sometimes you just feel like this.
But, that being said, it should be both interesting and, for the artists out there, encouraging, to note that even the greatest creative minds in history banged their heads against many of the same brick walls with which we emerging artists find ourselves contending. Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling reveals all kinds of interesting tidbits that accompanied the painting of the Sistine Chapel: family members of Michelangelo that kept hitting him up for work, competition with other artists, and struggles to procure the right pigments, colors, & other equipment needed to do the work, as well as the amazing constraints the art of fresco itself put on the painter (I won't go into it here, but, put simply: you're workin' on a quickly ticking clock).

There was even another artist who tried to convince the Pope that Michelangelo wasn't the right guy for the job and didn't have the talent to deliver on it. That's kind of hard to imagine these days, isn't it? It's sort of like when you hear that Paramount Pictures didn't want Al Pacino cast as Michael Corleone in The Godfather - you just shake your head and wonder, "What were they thinking?!?"

Perhaps the most poignant lesson from the book so far has been the resistance a young Michelangelo received from his father regarding his artistic pursuits. Apparently, artistic vocations were considered at the time to be low-class because they demanded that work be done with your hands, and Michelangelo's father attempted to force him to become something a little more conventional, respectable, and successful. Again, pretty hard to imagine these days, considering Michelangelo's name lives on throughout most of the civilized world while no one remembers his father.

The lesson, though, is really simple: as an artist, the hard stuff you're going to have to go through is completely normal. All of the frustration, resistance, and opposition is, and probably always be, part of the deal, whether it comes from within our own hearts & minds or from external sources. The need to be compensated (Michelangelo only painted the Sistine Chapel because he got paid) and the pressure applied by others (he didn't even want to take the job but was essentially forced to by a Pope who had originally hired him for a different project that he was much more interested in creating) are very real and, again, just part and parcel of a life in the arts.

Hang in there. Persevere and endure. Practice, rehearse, study, and learn your craft - chip away at the stone a little bit every day. Work hard and declare war on laziness & procrastination. Chase after your dreams, but realize there will be downs along with the ups - valleys to travel through before you get to the mountaintops.

So, the next time you hear a great piece of music or lay your eyes on an astounding work of art, be sure to think about all of the negative and resistive forces that aligned against the person or people who created it. Your appreciation will no doubt deepen and hopefully, maybe, you'll find at least a little bit on inspiration in the fact that you're not the only person who has to struggle to put something beautiful into the world.

We're sorta all in it together.

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