A full decade ago I packed up my 1995 Honda Civic and drove out to Los Angeles. My head was full of Manifest Destiny in the Pursuit of Happyness. I practiced my Oscar acceptance speech to kill time on the road. I was 22 years old.
Since that time I’ve starred in a regional car commercial wearing only underwear, told jokes into a microphone while standing up, embraced a self-involved and destructive life in the name of poetry, learned to play guitar chords, served tables with efficiency and silent loathing, laid down sexy voiceover tracks, balanced eight Starbucks coffees in two trays, made plenty of mitsakes, gained and lost friends, traveled, loved, and have grown to be what people call a man.
This is not the life I had anticipated for myself. What I imagined was more sanitary. My expected trajectory was more J curve than the meandering scatterplot I’m living. Five years ago, at the age of 27, I was supposed to direct my first feature film because that’s when Quentin Tarantino said all great directors make their first feature film.
Instead I have emerged from this decade more humble and human. There are many lessons that living in Los Angeles has taught me, but what I’d like to explore is the root of why I moved out here in the first place: creative artistic expression.
Almost anyone who moves to this town does so to find a job doing what they love, be it acting, writing, directing, editing, dancing, singing, and the rest of the -ings. However, as soon as money is introduced into the artistic endeavor, it shifts from an expression to a commodity. This is not wrong, but it is corrupting. What was once a thing-in-itself becomes a thing-for-the-other, where the value of an artistic expression is extracted from the act and given to the product of the act. Therefore, the artist must find value in what follows the act. Will this sell? Can I make money from this? The time spent on an artistic act must be monetized, otherwise it is seen as a waste of time.
Again, I am not against the selling of an artistic skill. I work in a creative industry where I am paid to do a job. I have personal projects that I would like to bring me financial gain. Yet, I will reiterate that money in the creative artistic endeavor is corruptive. What I mean by this is that the concern of money can end a creative act before it has even begun. It is a travesty to think that there is a wealth of unpainted portraits, unwritten stanzas, and unsung lyrics because of the fear they would not sell. If the viability of selling an artistic product is the first concern, it will invariably stunt the creative process—even to barrenness. When art falls prey to capitalism, banality and insipidness are sure to follow. Money does not motivate the soul.
There is no lack of content. What is missing is expression. We are the eyes on the street, the hands on the wheel, and the ears to the wind. The world around you is passing through consciousness and begs to hear its echo. If you have an impression, it calls for expression. Thus an artist brings the world back into the world through a dialogue with itself. Unfortunately, we have placed too much focus on the product of the creative artistic act and lose the value of the act itself. Not every writer must be read, but she must write or risk getting clogged up with words. The musician who does not play will be dammed by notes. Art is born from sensitivity to reality. An artist who denies expression to his impressions denies the world and buries their talent. A world where artists do not express is a world less real.
So thus we can see that an artist’s goal is not the product, but the act.
Make something without the intent to sell. Create a piece that is for itself. Work out your own vision of reality because reality calls for it, not because you want to be known. And perhaps in this beautiful form of rebellion, the artists will quietly make the world a better place.