Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Artists in the trees

It doesn’t pay to be an artist these days. I mean, it doesn’t pay—at least, generally not much. Kristen and Dave will tell you that. They were last weekend’s guests at Fern Forest Treehouse. Kristen is a video film editor in Boston currently working on a documentary film about how child well being is molded by the policies and practices that shape their environments. Dave is a musician who works at an insurance agency, his hours often melting into the evening.
Painting by artist Rory Jackson (http://roryjacksonart.com)
            More and more it’s becoming obvious that we’re living in a visual culture—much you see on social media are pictures or videos, and even texters are expected to send photos to illustrate their texts. Kristen believes pictures should tell stories. You won’t see her photographing her brother standing in front of Lincoln Memorial. She’d rather capture a broken salt shaker on the table of a Boston restaurant. She didn’t mean to break it, but stuff happens. There’s all sorts of resonance to spilled salt—embarrassment, a mess someone will have to clean up, possibly being billed for the broken shaker, and bad luck if you don’t toss a pinch over your shoulder. There’s a sad sense of spilled salt—the waste, a salty taste, tears, the vast and detached ocean. And there’s a story to be told.
            Kristen began working in film editing as an unpaid intern three and a half years ago. She’s still struggling her way up the ladder, but she’s lucky to be able to work at something she has a passion for. The unfortunate side effect to her work is that when she joined the firm, her employer told her that she would never be able to sit back and enjoy a film again—she’d always be looking for the cuts. She confirms that his prediction has come true.
            I had a similar experience when I joined a local book group. I read the books like a writer, finding themes, symbolism, repeated images and triangulation in characters and events. Other members of the group complained that our meetings felt more like a class than a social gathering. “Can’t you just read for enjoyment?” one group member asked.
No. I read critically. I can’t read any other way. So I bowed out of the group but continued to read the books. Now the group has decided they want me back because since I left their discussions have fizzled. At the next meeting, I’ll try to keep my analysis from brimming over.
There’s always a catch to making and interpreting art.
Dave is in a three-piece band. The drummer was trained in Ghana and plays both rock as well as traditional African drums. The lead guitarist has a taste for Middle Eastern music. Dave plays bass and prefers rock music. The flavor of each musician is different but somehow the music comes together. “It’s a cross between jazz and rock,” he says. “Sort of new age-y.”
The beauty, as one might say, is in the ear of the beholder.
Dave and his band have played lots of gigs around New England, but a night in a hotel costs them the evening’s earnings. So when on tour they try to stay with family, friends, and friends of friends.
“Everyone is nice,” he says. “They won’t take any money and even feed us.”
Art for room and board? I suppose that’s worth something.
Our Lincoln house is decorated with paintings and lithographs by artists we know. When we have a little extra money, we support them by purchasing artwork. H has made frames for local painter Rory Jackson, and Rory has repaid him with a few paintings, one of which hangs in the Treehouse. Maybe art is better bartered.
Who can really place a value on art? It should at least be worth the cost of an artist’s rent and grocery bill. But in my opinion, art—whether it be visual, auditory or literary—is worth a whale of a lot more. Our very souls depend on it.

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