“Artist Struggle with Integrity” Response

| April 21, 2014

Yesterday marked the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. This happened fifteen years ago on April 20, 1999. It marks (demarcates) a serious time stamp or period of social change happening in America. Unlike the Civil Rights, Suffrage, The Arab Spring, Gay Rights movements (social change) this period of social upheaval is not being led by a group/ organization with similar interests or person. This is a revolution being propelled by the unanswered questions out there floating over our heads; “Who am I?” “How Can I Understand Myself Better?” “Why Should I struggle with this Problem/ Question?” These life prompts are part of a significant inquiry that all people encounter in their lives, but few actually try to answer. The answer isn’t a product you can create or furnish, it is inherently built into the process we call Life. To confront these incredibly difficult questions, and to endure through the daily barrage of subsidiary questions takes strength and above all integrity.

What is integrity? Integrity as defined by Merriam Webster (noun): is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. It is the state of being whole and undivided. It is also the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction. Why is Integrity so important to the artistic journey? I agree with Foucault’s statement , “If it is not the critical work that thought brings to bear on itself? In what does it consist, if not in the endeavor to know how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, instead of legitimating what is already known?” It is about the wholeness that comes from the journey. As Greene would say the incompleteness of life, knowing that there isn’t only one legitimate way of doing anything. It is not the critical work that Foucault speaks of that leads ultimately to answer. It is the intent upon which you engaged in this critical work that really designates what the outcome will be. It is the integrity that we struggle with the most. The fractured nature of learning and traditions that keep us from coming to a fullness, a unified state.

The reading for this week, “The Artist Struggle for Integrity” by author and social commentator, James Baldwin speaks about the totality of our humanity (individual), humanness or humanism. He posits the strength, with out really completing his argument, of the artist’s journey to unification, understanding and the integrity it takes to pursue such a course of action everyday. It reminds me of the tune “Everyday I have the Blues” notably performed by Count Basie & Joe Williams
(URL: http://youtu.be/aNPHp0RBWYY)

Everyday, everyday I have the blues
Everyday, everyday I have the blues
Well, you see me worried, baby
Because it’s you I hate to lose

Nobody loves me, nobody seems to care
Nobody loves me, nobody seems to care
Speakin’ of bad luck and trouble
Well, you know, I’ve had my share

I’m gonna pack my suitcase
Move on down the line
Oh, I’m gonna pack my suitcase
Move on down the line
Well, there ain’t nobody worried
And there ain’t nobody cryin’

Seems to me everyday, everyday
Everyday I have the blues
Everyday, everyday, everyday
Everyday I have the blues
You see me worryin’, baby
‘Cause it’s you I hate to lose

Nobody loves me, nobody seems to care
Nobody loves me, nobody seems to care
Speakin’ of bad luck and trouble
Well, you know I I’ve had my share

Oh, packin’ my suitcase
Oh, movin’ down my, yeah
Well, there ain’t nobody worried
And there ain’t nobody cryin’

Seems to me everyday
I have blues, I have blues
Everyday, everyday
I have the blues, I have blues everyday
You see me worryin’, baby
‘Cause it’s you I hate to lose

Everyday, everyday, everyday
Everyday I have the blues
Everyday, blues

If the Blues represents “Struggle”, that Mr. Baldwin discusses throughout the reading, then this lyric, of that uniquely American folk tune represents the daily struggle that many human beings face in the action/journey to totality of their humanism. This wonderful piece of American aesthetic, finding beauty within this daily struggle, solidifies as Baldwin states, the ability and purpose of “Art is here to proves, and help one bear the fact that all safety is an illusion.” (p.42) If art was a functional magnet, like the charged properties of rocks and the poles of the earth, then it pulls in artist or those called to express through artistic means. It attracts through its persuasive power, and seductive charm. Art allows us the space and direction with which to explore the nature of ourselves. No other discipline, which all seek to bring something to completion, focuses on the self as part of the equation. It’s this search for beautiful consequences that lead people to engage in the arts.

Foucault states eloquently “….There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all.” This quote speaks to the heart of what I perceive as the main aim of all artistic endeavor, to know, create or produce something unique and expresses the inner most depths of our humanity. I recently took a two-day professional workshop class with noted critical theorist Stephen Brookfield. During the sessions he remarked that critical thinking was a survival skill, the most important of them all. He spoke of this reflection, psychoanalytical analysis, reasoning and problem-posing as the seeking of beautiful consequences. Never once did he mention standards or accountability, legitimacy nor authenticity in his unpacking of the topic. He spoke of unhinging our expectations and the previous understandings to make room for new possibilities. “The whole nature of life is so terrible that somebody’s right is always somebody else’s wrong.” (p.44) – Baldwin

The world is relentless, because it goes on without us daily. We trail behind in a constant jog, leading to a sprint toward catching up with the increasing momentum of existence. The sun doesn’t wait until man has decided or voted on the period with which the earth will rotate exposing more of its surface to the glow of the sun. It is relentlessly happening without our permission. The question, most prominent, is how will you deal with it? How will you answer the consistent call of life?

Schools indoctrinate, acculturate, and educate one in traditions, knowledge, data, and procedure of a certain kind. Artist, however, are steeped in and ultimately entrusted with another tradition(living) in which they are consistently placed in what Baldwin calls a “very rude positions” from which they must ask “hard questions.” The artist’s struggle does not differ from anyone else’s in particular. How he or she conceptualizes as well as reacts, unpacks and deals with it is the contrast that we are looking for. So, then what is the artist’s place in society? This question is pregnant with potential answers. In my view artist are chroniclers, rebels with or without a cause, unwitting anarchists, trouble shooters, problem-posers, lovers of life, disdainers of silence, inquisitors, pokers, prodders and most importantly as well as specifically applicable to this reading, seekers of beautiful consequences.

As an arts educator I seek to help my students, and by proxy society lumber toward whatever the totality of their humanism might be. I seek to help them (students) as well as myself deal with the incredible intricacies of the self, identity and understanding of our place in the experience. I hope to do this through conversations, readings, musical experiences, performing, musicking and much more. I see that through my time in this course, as well as in the world, post graduate school, that I must search for my own way to provoke the exploration of the self through artistic means. The traditions that we experience here in 5026 should only make us aware of the possibilities that exist, but should not become our own standard of exploration. I will submit challenges to my students through constantly presenting relevant issues in society for review through a variety of musical interactions. I believe in working in multimodalities that open up our students to the world of imagination and creativity that they have been shunned from engaging in for years. The questions that I will ask, these will most likely change over time, are; what do you feel, what does that look like, describe the sensation, what is at the heart of this, to name a few. I pray that they will hopefully face these questions and issues with me (now) or eventually.