While a young advertising copywriter in San Antonio, I met a talented illustrator named George Hughey. George’s business card read, Ars gratia pecuniae—Latin meaning art for money’s sake. George was an artist but practical. I empathized. Virtually every advertising “creative” wants to be a great novelist, poet, screenwriter, painter or sculptor. Most find solace being artisans rather than artists. The latter tend frequently to go hungry.
Getting paid for art is challenging. Years ago, I had a literary agent in New York. He sent back words of praise from editors but no book contracts. We parted ways. I focused on my growing freelance copywriting business to provide for Carolyn and the kids. It hurt.
Six years ago, I started writing novels again. I work with a great fiction teacher, Tom Parker. I’m good! But I can’t get an agent. Still, I write. I’ll probably publish my geopolitical satire set in the Persian Gulf, Slick!, this fall. A companion piece awaits revision. And I’m completing the first draft of yet another novel.
Why do people pursue art with such passion? Calvin Coolidge, our thirtieth president (1923-29), famously stated, “The business of America is business.” Hah! My wife is an actor (they don’t say actress anymore). She has four more performances left in “Collected Stories.” My oldest son, Seth has composed beats and works for Cakewalk, a music software company. That’s art-related business. My middle son, Yosi, plays drums and fiddle for New Orleans-based Hurray for the Riff Raff. They just won the Big Easy award for best country-folk band. And my youngest, Aaron, dances with the Alwyn Nikolais Dance Theater after four years with ODC/Dance in San Francisco.
The Mishnah (Pirke Avot 3:17) informs us, Ein kemach ein Torah. Without bread (literally flour) there is no Torah. One must meet practical needs in order to study. The early sages had day jobs. But it also states, Ein Torah ein kemach. We require spiritual sustenance to reap the practical rewards of life.
“I like creating something physical out of nothing,” says my friend Jim Shay, a terrific painter. “I could not stop making art.” When the art market went south (it’s picking up), Jim saw the opportunity to paint anything he liked although “I’ve never felt constrained to paint a certain way.” Notes another friend and fabulous painter, Tom Gehrig, “Art gives me a perspective on my experience in the world. My work is about celebrating the mysteries and not knowing why. In a technological society where everything is instantaneous, art forces people to slow down and see the world through someone else’s eyes and imagination.”
We’ve heard much debate about government support for the arts over recent years. I find no fault with discussing the matter. But I can’t help believing that a nation so fixated on the accumulation of wealth that it ignores artistic vision risks imploding.
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