What Matters

So here is a thing. Rich sent me a note last night, which got me to thinking about some stuff.

From Rich:
Betsy asked, "How important is it, or was it ever, to you to have someone? Anyone? Listen to what you recorded? Was it usually to please yourself, and that was enough, or was it incomplete until it had been received by another?"

I replied, "Depending on the song, it mattered if either Dan or Ty heard it. It's part of a continuing non-verbal dialogue I've been having with them for 15-20 years. Occasionally there is another party (non-Ty, non-Dan) who needs to receive the song. But the larger world? No, it didn't/doesn't matter. Mostly, they're for me to enjoy making and listening to."

Just to catch everybody up, Rich is a Berkeley, California recording artist and art collaborator of mine who, may I mention, is probably the most technically talented musician and recordist of the whole bunch of us. And probably his greatest genius is that he debuts his work infrequently, almost occasionally. You just have to wait for it but it's always worth that wait. Rich is perhaps one of my three closest friends as well. He's family.

Anyway, I totally know what he's talking about. It's not like The Creative Process at the micro-craft level (me, Rich, BDW, BN, etc.) is driven by, or that specific works are intended for the masses; a larger world. Not by a long shot. When someone I don't know references my work it's just shocking. Even more shocking is seeing your work (a CD or book) in someone's home all mingling with the other CDs and books on shelves and stuff; that's almost paralyzing. Having someone you don't know send you a link to your work at some internet site you've never heard of is blindingly incomprehensible. When people offer to give me money for my work, I become completely retarded.

And let me just say how fortunate I feel to be on somebody's "mattered" list. How bad ass is that? One could only hope to be on "mattered" lists but I hadn't even pondered that notion until this very moment.

It really is interesting how, when you are making something, no matter how driven you are at the moment, how focused you are on a particular nuance, or how outside standard deviations of your previous comfort or style you are, that there are always certain personal expectations and quality thresholds of a certain few—the "mattereds"—that must be met or no progress is made.

I know I filter and intend delivery to a very short "mattered" list:
In straight photography, I tend to think of how Christine, Lily, or Cassady would react. They pretty much serve as my art school jury. Their interactions vary from immediately reactive to analytical beyond what you even realized about your own work (you learn stuff). It's not like I'm thinking about how something might be received while I'm making it, but there is a nagging presence. I feel that any of the three of 'em could out-shoot me on any given day and know so much more of the mechanics of photography so I just try to shoot things they would either miss or that falls outside of their personal styles. It's like always playing the big game on the road, as the visitor, and in a foreign country.

In music/sound/audio concept art, it's just Rich and Big Dave Wave who both cognitively challenge my concepts and my executions. Fuckers are always pacing my brain when I'm just trying to make something work. Often the Rich/Dave standard is impossibly high if not simply unattainable. These two know, have heard, and have made far too much for you to feel you are springing anything new on them. You can just hope that they miss your numerous technical glitches and shortcomings and give you some credit for trying something, if not new, something difficult.

In visual concept art (including video) I guess it's still Big Dave Wave and Rich. Flip-flop the order of technical expertise and experience and you have an equally demanding and savvy panel of experts to please. In this category the best I could every hope for is silence. I figure I live to fight another day when I hear nothing about what I'll call a retarded visual style. I feel personally punished here the most because I will only do things a certain way. It's as if I know what I kind of want to do.

I do not know if the concept of creative filter is the same as Betsy's question of importance of delivery to specified audience or not, but I do think there is a very distinct interaction, if not overlap, between getting output to specified targets and considering that specified target audience during the creative process. But, again, there is always a presence of that audience in your being. It becomes a matter of how you feed those beasts. If you cannot satisfy yourself, at least you can try to sate your demons.

And I guess I really only expect these filters and presences to be my total audience. I am always surprised to get feedback from someone other than a half-dozen people. It totally freaks me out too. It's as freaky as it is disappointing when a particular expected target misses something so fucking obviously targeted to them for their tacit approval. Art is a bitch in this way.

But this isn't what drives me. What drives me to push my own boundaries of style, technique, and production is that I am cognizant that I am going to run out of ideas at any moment and be completely washed. Forever. I totally sacrifice quality for quantity because when I'm washed up I can always go back and fix some stuff, I suppose. But I really don't know shit, do I? Creativity is a bitch in this way.

So looping back to Betsy's inquiry, is art incomplete until it is utilized by a target/audience? I don't know. But even with my filters and my demons I'm only trying to do the only think I really know to do whether I'm doing it well or not. I cannot ever say I am satisfied with any product. To do it to please myself would be far too narcissistically masturbatory. I am sometimes relieved that I have finished something that I allow myself about four seconds of peace. But then I have to move on to what's next. But to do it for an audience? I don't think I could work if that was the pre-condition.

Now to Rich's point of non-verbal dialog over years. Absolutely. This is how I've grown to communicate with those closest to me. This is the language of middlespaces. And while I do technically enjoy making things, I rarely allow myself the space to enjoy listening to or otherwise interact with my products. Those gifts are for my future; when I can no longer create. Because that day will come, I fear.

Lewis Hyde, I believe, would agree.