|Craig Bickhardt Blog
July 11, 2012The Imagined Life
The artistic life is a calling that is essential to sustaining us as a people. Without our mythology, we’d unravel. Our mythology shapes the religions and philosophies of the entire world and it was born in the bosom of the poets. We must have a vision of the creative life we seek. We must see ourselves in the context of the unbroken flow of creative lives since the dawn of civilization.
Whatever artistic discipline you pursue, you are the living mythology of humanity, but only if you place this high value on your efforts. The world is all about power and success, art is all about learning and teaching. The teaching must be shared. The learning must be sought. Both must be cherished by the artist.
Pure art is not just beauty plus effort. It is not just vision plus originality. It is a combination of all of these plus the recognition of the teaching-learning. There is purpose behind creativity. The unseen combines with the seen in the same way that the life force combines with the dust to make us human. Art must contain the life force that breathes animation into the work. The word “inspiration” means “to breathe in (or into)” something original.
Creativity is merely the fuel. It can be burned in the oven that fires any objective we choose. We can either be court jesters, who might get rich one day and ridiculed the next, or we can connect with our mythology and create art that moves people in profound ways. As we bridge the spirit world and the tangible one, we learn and teach in the process.
You might be looking for more practical advice on how to live creatively, but that is of minor concern compared to finding your motive as a true artist. The poet Gary Snyder writes about his early days in San Francisco when the Beats where as yet an unnamed movement. At that time most poets chose academic careers so they could live well and be part of “the system” while writing poetry from the comfort of a tenured paycheck near the warm fire of peer appreciation. Snyder says that for him and a few others, the system was dead. He opted out of the academic career and consciously chose a life of poverty and scrabbling for the sake of his art. He preferred to earn a living doing whatever labor was available so that he could dedicate his mind, heart and soul to the deeper process. He fed his imagination from Native American lore, studied the environment and practiced Zen in Japan. Snyder chose to connect with the mythology and be a learner-teacher of the ancient wisdom.
This doesn’t mean we must sacrifice creature comforts entirely. Success may come as a byproduct of the learning-teaching. But as artists we will earn respect not through how well we live but how well we learn and teach through our work. This is the reason humanity looks to us. There is a void, a hole in the fabric. Everyone is seeking an antidote for a toxic world. Our mythology connects us to our roots. Without roots we are a people out of place, adrift on a vast sea of uncertainty. Our creative life fulfills the needs of the dream-yearning.
Practical existence is a very dry affair compared with our ideals. We imagine ourselves in the perfect home. In our fantasy we spend our days in leisurely creative work that is accepted and sustains us with room to spare. It’s a dream we all share at some deeper level. The art that we make reflects this yearning for a better way of living, but few have the courage to go all the way. That’s the role of the artist. He or she will take us by the hand and either lead us to the imagined life or point out the mistakes we’ve made in our practical one. Either way, we are improved.
For many of us, the practical world is the “tomb of hope”. Creativity is the rebirth of hope. By allowing the imagination a little leeway, we become self-respecters of the ancient wisdom that is our collective birthright, our mythology. We learn and teach, for that is the true art in life.
March 10, 2012
As a first entry on this blog, I wanted to share a short excerpt from "The Song Emerging"...enjoy :
* * * *
One of the things I liked about Nashville was that it was a family town. Most of my songwriter and musician friends raised kids and enjoyed mixing work with domesticity, friendship and community life. Although the business strained some of the marriages and there were some that failed, I knew many happy families in the songwriting community, especially in the early days.
My wife and I raised our twins in Nashville. It was a challenge partly because my son was born with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and mild autism and we had no extended family around to help us. He’s a gift to us, and his triumphs are many. But during the years when we were very busy parents with a special needs child, I was sometimes envious of other songwriters who had healthy kids and grandparents in Tennessee to help them. The adults went on weekend trips without their kids, and life seemed somewhat idyllic for them in my imagination.
Our lives were completely different. Just going out for an evening required hiring a registered nurse who was familiar with how to treat the dangerous status seizures my son was prone to having on a regular basis. We spent many nights in emergency rooms and many hours during the day seeking solutions for various obstacles to his independence, fighting with medical insurance companies and just making sure he got the care and education he needed.
Our circumstances also required me to become more involved as a father. I often had to change my work habits and free myself from music industry obligations. My wife is a born caregiver with very generous motherly instincts. She loved raising a special needs child. But my career often vied with family for my attention and it wasn’t always easy for me to separate the two because they were so interdependent.
Ultimately I realized that I would, if the situation required it, sacrifice my career for the sake of my family. I began to turn down opportunities to travel with artists to co-write because I knew it would be difficult for my wife and kids. I sometimes cancelled important co-writing sessions because I’d been up all night due to an emergency. I even turned down a potential shot at a solo record deal with a major label.
By putting family first I found an unexpected happiness. My marriage grew deeper; our children are exceptionally close to both of their parents; and wonder of wonders, my songs improved. I believe the best songs are the product of compassion, and there is no greater teacher than the love of family.
If we have close family, if we are dedicated husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, then we are the most successful people. If we can write about these experiences honestly, it may be a deeper vein of ore. We aren’t necessarily denied the rewards of the creative life because of family. Family can enrich it.
The world is dismissive. Creativity isn’t valued in most places, certainly not in schools or the corporate work environment. It is even feared in some circumstances. We tell ourselves we can’t afford the luxury of creative time. Yet, today I’m surrounded by friends and family who help me guard my creative space, and in turn they have enjoyed the experiences my music has brought into their lives. I am a conduit for many who want to share some of the creative experience. They have each benefited in some small way from my “selfish” creative side, so it clearly isn’t as selfish as it appears to be. It all depends on my passion, what I bring to it, and what results from it in the lives of others.
We can take nothing for granted, but if our dealings are on the level of honesty and consideration, and if the time we with spend with people is shared completely, we will have no problem maintaining close relationships. We are protecting a source of contentment that we can bring to others as a byproduct of our creative life. If we sacrifice that contentment, ignore the creative calling, then we lose the ability to share the contentment, too. If we understand this, we’ll see there is some importance in making time for creativity while keeping the bonds with family and friends strong.
Craig's Other BlogsNinety Mile Wind