Letter to Mattijn re: Art, Money & Morality
An interesting question I have to ask you Mattijn. Are you AGAINST making money? I will tell you my feeling and I know it is not “healthy,” but it is the way I am and I believe you will perhaps identify with me on this. For me, I can only make money and feel good about it if I am doing something I believe can make the world a better place.
Money as exchange for spirit bothers me greatly because it makes the world less, not more insofar as the terms of exchange are not in accordance with the lessons I was taught as a child such as: a) do what you love b) it is better to give than receive c) do unto others as you would have them do unto you d) love thyself e) try your hardest; and so on…
However, I also do not like to give and not receive, which is what has been a common occurrence for me in my life and it can make one angry and bitter, something I have had to fight against, believe me, for most of my life.
Do you see how people become paralyzed? They neither create for fear of being taken advantage of, nor do they make money because they are morally opposed to the terms of the exchange. Such people are in metaphorical “purgatory,” trapped in the rut of inaction, what Hegel termed the “dead end of possibility.” To act or not act is to fail, but in no action remains at least the proverbial pipe dream.
Do you know that line “I could have been a contender?” from “On the Waterfront”? These are the words of such a person, a person who didn’t try. But for people like me and you, Mattijn — and tell me if I am wrong — it is, or can be far, far worse. We live in a form of hell — because we see the light so many others do not and have no choice but to follow it — like Robert Johnson to the devil, and it is lonely, very very lonely. I know all about it. It is a place no one can lead you, so few will follow, but there is rarely a dearth of those who will readily attack.
You need only read my song lyrics to know me and the truth of what I say, just as I need only see your work to know, not you, but your shape and your outline. The point is, Mattijn, don’t think I buy your apathy. I know better. If I did not you would not be willing to work with me. In any case art IS action, so don’t sell yourself short!
That said, the choice to “drop out,” or give up is quite rational actually, especially for the most talented amongst us. Those who try to give voice to the values we are taught as children such as the golden rule or it is better to give than receive are called irresponsible or selfish or pretentious or delusional for believing in their own creative talents or intelligence. And because creative work is not valued by most people unless others attach value, monetary value, to it, you may hear something like….
“If you’re so good, then why are you broke?”
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you understand my pride that I have never to this point made money from my writing? My spirit is never on discount and anyone who bases the value of what I do on anything other than authenticity, craft, originality, poetic sensibilty, conceptual or spiritual value is a fool in my eyes.
edited from a March, 2006 letter to Mattijn Franssen and published by permission
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