I am strongly of the opinion that nothing but superlative excellence in art can excuse a man or woman for being an artist at all. It is not a light thing in a world of drudgery for any citizen to say, “I am not going to do what you others must: I am going to do what I like.” I think we are entitled to reply, “Then we shall expect you to do it devilish well, my friend, if we are not to treat you as a rogue and a vagabond.”
—George Bernard Shaw, The Nation, 22 June 1918
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Those of us who attempt to enter artistic fields professionally will sooner or later be forced to defend our choice. At an age where all questions about careers and goals sound like power plays or veiled criticism, we are asked to justify ourselves to Philistine relatives and authorities far more often than our colleagues in the sciences, in skilled trades, or in business. Tactically, the best response is to deflect and change the subject. But no matter how deftly we avoid answering the question “What’s the use of that?”, it hangs in the air, ringing in our ears, forcing us to do soul-searching that no one else is ever made to do.
We will leave aside questions of the practicality of entering, e.g., the music business. One certainly hopes that all music students have some kind of plan as to how they intend to make a living. But so much depends on individual cases—where you live, how competitive things are there, how good you are, etc.—that no really general answer to these objections is possible. I propose to answer the objection that is always implied but rarely given voice, namely: just who do you think you are, spending your life on something useless in this world of drudgery? Read the rest of this entry »