Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Landscape

So I have this friend.

We graduated high school together. She went on to marry this cat who was a few years ahead of us in school. A guy who, as it turned out, went on to become a phenomenal photographer.

I followed my friend through Facebook (like how 'ya do) as she and her photographer husband moved to New York City and started down their own road of artistic endeavor. Eventually, life led them both back here to Colorado where they set up a gallery in Denver to display & sell his astounding landscape pictures.


These two were on my mind today after a rehearsal when the subject of a blog post detailing the changing nature of the music industry came up. There was a lot of frustrated venting and analysis of just why it is that people in our culture think it perfectly acceptable to illegally download music, listen to it via a streaming service that pays the artists next-to-nothing, or just allow the standard for artistic excellence to be lowered to the insufferable degree that it has been over the past 15 or so years.

Anyway, the proprietors of the Balyeat Gallery in Denver came into the conversation because we had taken the opportunity to visit the gallery a few months ago and had been blown away by what we had seen. Now, I've taken a handful of pretty cool Instagram pictures in my time, so believe me when I tell you that the art that this guy creates is absolutely mesmerizing. Everything from the colors to the contrast to the locations to how the pictures get prepared to be displayed on the wall - something technical that I don't quite remember that basically allows for each picture to play with the light that's shone on it and "change"... astounding, to say the least - everything is top-notch. No corners have been cut. No tricks are being played. No hackery is being employed here. Just a pure love of taking photos of nature and a desire to do it for the rest of his life.

Just art. Pure, undeniable, beautiful art.


Now, contrast that with all of the rubbish that gets promoted and pushed on the public as "art" these days. There are so many deliberate pretenders, so many successful hacks, and so many people willing to spend money to support it all. There is such a disdain for beauty in so many people's lives: exchanging 'artist' for 'celebrity', reading nothing beyond what is written at a 12-year-old level, and knowing next to nothing about true art while refusing to learn anything about it (much less set foot inside a museum to take some of it in). Sometimes it seems as if we as a generation have decided to inoculate ourselves to even the concept or the idea of artistic excellence, let alone its actual substance.

All of this, of course, has resulted in not just a toxic environment for artistic expression to thrive (consider last year's Grammy Awards, for instance), but an even harder road for the real artists to navigate. Let's be honest: being an artist has never made for a usual or conventional type of life. It's a hard thing (and always has been) to develop a voice for yourself within your chosen discipline, find an appropriate outlet for it, and then somehow manage to be successful enough to make a living out of it.

Add to this all of the seemingly endless amounts of contrary messages floating around in the culture: "Live your dreams!" (but not if it takes too long). "You can be whatever you want to be!" (as long as it's not that). "There's nothing you can't do if you just put your mind to it and believe!" (but what you do better include 401k, health coverage, and a healthy retirement plan).

But, my goal here is not to whine or complain. My goal is to communicate to whoever might be reading this that there is hope for our artistic hearts despite the unending obstacles that seem to find their way between us and our dreams. The Balyeat Gallery, with its collection of magnificent photographs, is evidence of the fact that people are still out there doing it. They're going for it, taking the risk, and putting things on the line in order to take a shot at living their dream. And their one example stands for more than all that the garbage excuses for "music" and "literature" could ever hope to. As long as there happen to be artists so in love with what they do that they're willing to try their hand at it in spite of the fact that there is so much opposition, then there's hope.

The landscape seems pretty dire for real artists these days. The road is certainly not an easy one. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth it. And, perhaps, if we're lucky, the dire landscapes will serve to make the art even more beautiful when viewed in contrast to them. After all, food never tastes as good as it does when you're starving.

So, here's hoping. Keep your heads up out there.

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