Bad At Making Art?

Without any encouragement to balance out the negative, many upcoming artists struggle to see their own worth.

Joseph Rivas, Columnist

As an artist, it both astonishes and upsets me when people tell others that they’re bad at making art. First of all, you can’t be bad at art, no matter what definition of art you subscribe to. The fact of the matter is that art is an expression of any form and, regardless of conventions, art will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Late last year I decided to extend my artistic sensibilities to an audio format by starting a band. I felt like it was going nowhere and really, I was going nowhere. This was all caused by my pursual what I had conceived of as conventional music.

After this revelation I began anew. I gave my band a new name and, starting fresh, I wrote, recorded, and distributed an album (locally and for free) within three hours of the decision. I felt so fulfilled.

But along with the album, I included an email address so anyone who listened could contact me for whatever reason they wanted. My distribution of the album was interesting, to say the least, I made 11 cassette tapes and left them at a music store and public library and just hoped that people would pick it up and actually have a cassette player and give it a listen. And I was completely shocked to hear that in two weeks time four of my cassettes found their way from Phoenix to Seattle.

I received an email from a Seattle-based independent record store, asking me how I’d like my music to be distributed by giving me the option of keeping it free or allowing them to sell it, as well as asking me how I’d like the money spent on it to get to me. In the end I decided to allow them to sell it for $5 and let them keep all the profits, the manager also included a short paragraph telling me how much he liked it and how surprised he was to find out it made its way from Arizona to Seattle. This event changed how I viewed music as well as changing my overall attitude on art in general.

However, this one event is an outlier in terms of how people react and feel about my music. Most of the time, I’m laughed at or told that I “can’t play” or that I should “just stop,” and that’s upsetting to me. I’m concerned for how their interjections might affect others. I’d like to think I’ve developed thick skin for this kind of situation, but I know a lot of really great artists that have not. Someone yelling vitriol and garbage could break their spirit and they might stop doing what they love because of it. The fact that many artists, including myself, are regularly marginalized simply because the art or music they make isn’t “normal” or “beautiful” is really poisonous to not only the artist but art in general. Prominent and popular artists have lead to a great stagnation in terms of art advancing and reinventing itself, and it’s also lead to an oversaturation of artists chasing work that is similar to other artists’ work hoping to get similar recognition. Really, that’s not only sad and completely unsustainable.

Last week I went to a impromptu punk show under a bridge in downtown Phoenix where I discovered a band that is now my absolute favorite. They have no actual recorded songs and only a guitar with only one string. The band N.P.R. (stands for “Never Pay Rent”) are extremely unique and unlike anything I’ve ever heard for one simple reason. What they lack in conventional musical talent they make up for in pure unadulterated passion and it kills me to know that they’ll be lost to time and that nobody will ever hear them unless they were there. There were some that walked out on the show and missed out on the rawness of the lead singer. He practically spilled his guts with all of his emotional pain in a deluge of emotion and fury. It was beautiful to see and enlightening to hear.

Bands like N.P.R. will never change the world at large but I can say with certainty that they changed mine.

I urge every single person who reads this to set aside your unearned judgement towards what is and isn’t good and discover that the conventional notion of talent is just that. Where there are conventions, there are those who break them and do something that’s as extraordinary as it is revolutionary. If you don’t like my (or any other artists) art or music that’s alright, but I do ask that you give respect where respect is due.