The Artist’s Journey, #9
Continuing our serialization of The Artist’s Journey. If you’re just plugging into the series for the first time, click on the following links to access any of the first eight parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8.
38. AN ARTIST IS IN TOUCH WITH HER TIME
By “time,” I mean era or generation. Picasso’s Cubism and Hemingway’s equally multi-planed prose both evolved out of the mass-mechanical, herky-jerky style and rhythm of the era before and after World War I (a period that also produced the machine gun and the self-amortizing mortgage.) So did Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Robert Johnson’s Love In Vain and, a little later, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn.
All were responses to the times these artists lived in.
If we want to get mysto on this subject (and I always do) we could say that the souls of these writers, painters, and musicians chose the epoch they wished to be born into, for reasons that the artists themselves possibly never knew or even inquired about.
Even artists whose works seem to be out of their own time—flashing backward, Gore Vidal with Burr or Lincoln or, forward, anything by Philip K. Dick—are, if you look closely enough, burrowed deeply into the zeitgeist, only from a different temporal angle.
The artist in her journey speaks to and of her time.
39. THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY AND THE HERO’S JOURNEY, PART THREE
We said that the artist has a subject, a voice, a point of view, a medium of expression, and a style.
But where do these come from?
How do we find our own?
In my experience the process is neither rational nor logical. It can’t be commanded. It can’t be rushed. It is not subject to the will or the ego.
We are born, I believe, with everything we are seeking—a subject, a voice, a point of view, a medium of expression, and a style.
But these reside in an area of the psyche outside the range of conventional consciousness.
The artist’s journey is like the hero’s journey in that you and I, the artist-in-embryo, must leave our zone of comfort (the conscious mind) and cross to alien shores (the unconscious) to find and acquire our golden fleece (the knowledge of, and access to, our gift.)
The process, like the hero’s journey, involves time.
It involves suffering.
It involves folly.
Its crisis takes the form of an All Is Lost moment.
Once you have given up the ghost [wrote Henry Miller], everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos.
The ghost that we give up is the ego. The illusion of control.
The “everything” that follows is our artist’s power—our subject, our voice, our point of view, our medium of expression, and our style.
B O O K F O U R
A B O D Y O F W O R K
40. A BODY OF WORK
This is my twentieth book.
Looking back, here’s the Big Takeaway:
I never had any idea, before I wrote a book, that I was going to write it. Or, perhaps more accurately, that I was going to write that specific book. The book always came out of nowhere and always took me by surprise.
Let me express this a different way.
No matter what a writer or artist may tell you, they have no clue what they’re doing before they do it—and, for the most part, while they’re doing it.
Or another way:
Everything we produce as artists comes from a source beyond our conscious awareness.
Jackson Browne once said that he writes to find out what he thinks. (Wait, it was Joan Didion who said that … no, Stephen King said it too.)
I do the same, and you do too, whether you realize it or not.
The key pronoun here is you.
Who is this “you?”
The second and third theses of this book are:
1. “You,” meaning the writer of your books, is not you. Not the “you” you think of as yourself.
2. This “second you” is smarter than you are. A lot smarter.
41. WHERE DO BOOKS/SONGS/MOVIES COME FROM?
My long-held belief is that an artist’s identity is revealed by the work she or he produces.
Writers write to discover themselves. (Again, whether they realize it or not.)
But who is this self they seek to discover?
It is none other than that “second you”—that wiser “you,” that true, pure, waterproof, self-propelled, self-contained “you.”
Every work we produce as artists comes from this second “you.”
This “you” is the real you.