Music is the only art form that only exists in time. A painting is static. A photograph is static. A statue is static. Sure, theatre, cinema, dance — these all exist in time, too. But if I showed you a frame from a film that showed an imposing figure in a black helmet and cape, wielding a glowing sword, you could probably name that film. If I showed you a picture of people on a stage dressed as flamboyant cats, you could probably name the Broadway show. If I showed you the right picture, you might even be able to name the dance number. But there is no such equivalent in music. A photograph of an orchestra playing tells you nothing of the sound they are weaving. Music cannot exist in snapshot form; it is necessarily alive in time, just as we are. When we write or record or perform a song, we are birthing a living thing; participating with God in ex nihlo creation. This, I believe, is the reason musicians find the work of making music so intoxicating.
And terrifying. Because who am I to follow in the footsteps of the thousands or millions who have gone before me in my chosen craft? What drop do I have that will add meaningfully to the bucket?
It's funny, but when you think about it, none of us would waste anyone's time with our art if we didn't believe — at least a little bit — that we actually do have something to contribute. Our reason might just be It makes me happy, or Aunt Cindy will appreciate it, or I just want to try it out, but we dare to believe there will be purpose behind it.
Given enough time, however, or enough failure, or even enough success, a perennial doubt inevitably creeps in: My work is shit. It's been done before. It's been done better. Who do I think I am, wasting my time — wasting anyone's time! — with my insignificant pursuits? To quote T.S. Elliot: Do I dare disturb the universe?
Consider this tiny work by Emily Dickinson, whose struggle with self-doubt so plagued her creativity, all but a handful of her works published after her death:
Fame is a bee.
It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah, too, it has a wing.
What a great little poem! Only four lines. Only eighteen words. But if that were Ms. Dickinson's only literary contribution, the world would still be better off because of her. It's a fantastically simple yet effective metaphor, working on level after level after level. She could have let the fleeting image die after it entered her mind. Thank God she put pen to paper.
The good news about ourselves, I believe, is that our initial suspicions were correct: We have each lived a unique story; we have each glimpsed God at work in his garden; we each have a unique artistic voice that no one else has or ever will.
We each have something to say.
Now, that's not to say there isn't room for self-editing. We all create crap every now and then. But when we edit with strokes that are broad and aggressive, they're coming from a place of shame and doubt. We're punishing ourselves for daring to speak.
When I started the COALROOM in 2008, I wanted it to somehow be about more than just me writing and recording my music. As its purpose comes into focus, it's becoming clear that I want the COALROOM to be about encouraging, cultivating, and protecting artistic voices plagued by doubt and fear. This work began some years ago for me (and continues to this day), as I continue to fight for my artistic voice to be as strong as it once was, and as strong as I'd like it to be.
In this new year, I begin this blog to share the creative journey I'm on. I hope (and expect) that others will see themselves in the fears and doubts I've experienced, and feel encouraged to turn toward their art in a fresh way in 2016.
Let's work together to make 2016 a year full of honest, authentic art, infuzed with the perspective only we can give it. Let's boldly live into the divine image in each of us that yearns to create something new.
Let's find our voices together.