I'm reading a biography about Barbra Streisand. I haven't gotten very far yet, but in the beginning the author talks about Ms. Streisand and her motivation. It wasn't fame, nor was it money. Barbra was motivated by quality. What she wanted was that her work be great. Not passable. Not good. But great.
In addition to being a Streisand fan, I'm also a follower of Stephen King. In reading King's nonfiction works, when he talks about writing, I find the same attitude: SK advises writers not to write for cash or accolades. Write, he says, because you must. Write for your art. Make your art great. If the money follows that's okay. But for the love of God, don't write because you feel warm and fuzzy when someone tells you you're a star. Let the work speak, and do all you can to make your work the best it can possibly be.
Have we lost this sensibility? Have we lost the motivation to strive for greatness, even if it means we make no money from our efforts? So many people these days seem to do something not because it's the right thing to do, or the best that we can do. Rather, people aspire to getting awards, or to getting manic applause from fans who may or may not be worthy judges. People make their so-called art and push forward for a paycheck, not because in their heart of hearts they feel they've done their best. As Streisand's biographer says, we now see celebrity born from drunken wealthy housewives, not from those who actually exert effort that has value. Money and fame have become our gods. Paying lower taxes and sticking a few extra pennies in the bank means more than something that inspires, especially when the inspirational "art" is difficult to attain and ultimately without financial value.
Indeed: what is the definition of art? Writing, painting, architecture, craft. Are these things art in 2013? Or is art now defined as the art of the political deal, the art of making a buck that we can later spend on a flat screen TV, or on a new and depreciating car? I took a fine art class years ago at NYU and was surprised to learn that most of the artists who are now considered masters died long before their work was ever appreciated. Their goal wasn't to make a million dollars and move to an oceanside condo. It was to make something spectacular, and hope that someday someone somehow might gaze at their masterpiece and gain from it.
How to we begin to re-teach this to the young, that their creative or community endeavors have value even if their bank account numbers don't rise? How do we teach them that art is in the effort and not in the reward?
I began this blog two years ago next month. I have made exactly zero dollars from this effort. The Squeaky Pen has not added to my net worth, has not added to the tax base, has not changed the economy by a single nickel. Yet I'd like to think that my words have touched some of my readers and have made them think about something in a way they hadn't before. Maybe some of you...and maybe not even very many...have returned to this blog to see what else I have to say on any given Tuesday. Maybe some of you have laughed, and maybe a few have cried. I'm hoping, if nothing else, that I've made some readers think. That is art in its purest form. Has my art been great like that of the great Barbra Streisand? Probably not (okay, certainly not). Still, it was my way to reach out and see how, in some little way, I could change my piece of the world by putting words and thoughts and ideas in your head that weren't there before.
So I guess I've answered my own question: this is how we re-teach the young. By example. We show them that even when we don't make a bloody cent the effort to be great, even if we aren't, is the most worthwhile effort of all.