Monday, October 29, 2012

Art, Truth and David Sedaris

Charlie tells me that the more my art tells the truth, the more powerful it will be, no matter what my level of skill.

Telling the truth means to me being honest about the reality I experience and the visions I have—but the more truth I tell, the more vulnerable I become.

What if my philosophy doesn't conform to media established norms? Then, do I hide my truth behind glib facebook posts? What if my economic truth is considered pathological or politically incorrect on both sides of the debate? What if my religious truth would get me fired from my job or get my kids taken away? But as an artist, I have to speak truth, because truth feeds my art.

Then there's the most terrifying kind of truth to reveal: the personal realities, the truth of my friendships and kinships and who I really am inside. This turns the world of privacy inside out and leaves me vulnerable, not only to the world's condemnation, but to hurting the people whose reality intersects with mine. I will have outted them with my honesty, revealing the soft insides of themselves that they would choose to keep away from the public eye. And yet, this personal truth is what fires my art and raises it above the level of whatever money or celebrity it may generate.

I think of David Sedaris here and his book Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, from which I know more than I feel comfortable knowing about his siblings. Did they choose, I wonder, whether or not he would reveal them to me in their spiritual nakedness? If I was in Mr. Sedaris's family, I'd change my name and move to a small town west of the Rockies, just to resist this invasion of my private self. It may be the reader's discomfort with this intrusion on the secrets of the unwilling that makes his stories so compelling in the first place, but I don't like it. Even though I keep reading them, I feel like a voyeur or a thief.

Then again, what's so different about his dragging the Sedaris family skeletons across the New York Times bestseller lists and my dragging out that old story about my divorce?

Then again, I don't think it would be worth the pain I might cause—you'll notice that I didn't actually drag out that old story about my divorce here, although I was tempted to—but short of hurting someone else, what am I willing to risk for the sake of my art? I don't want to lay my foibles and eccentricities at the feet of the google mobs and potential bosses. Hell, no! But that's what I'm called to do with my art. Very slowly, I start to sign my work with my own name.

This compulsion to speak the truth in public comes over us artists because we know that truth is what empowers art. I suspect it is as old as the first artist who ever scratched the picture of a deer upon a rock. Charlie says:
Truth opens the spirit eyes of your art so that it looks back at the viewer and the viewer is changed.

And job hunt be damned . . .

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