Advice for Musicians: Make Art for Art’s Sake

[David MacPherson is the author of a soon-to-be published book on the history of Toronto’s legendary Horseshoe Tavern, a project that saw him interview a great many musicians. Those conversations got him thinking about the nature–and the purpose–of making art. – AC]
“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
– Andy Warhol
St. Louis based Americana artist Beth Bombara saw this Warhol quote posted on the green room wall before a recent show. It struck a chord. When he said these words, the famed pop artist was describing the age-old adage: “art for art’s sake.” While this is a timeless theory — first espoused by the French in the 19th century — it’s a concept still relevant today. It’s also one that most artists in their hearts try to follow, but it’s always a struggle to find a balance between making art at all costs versus making a living and paying for all the costs.
When I think of the rough road many musicians follow, I always return to these lines from the song “Carry Me Down,” by a songwriter friend of mine  (Shannon Lyon):
“Most of my friends have moved along/Dollar bills replaced their songs.”
 
Almost every songwriter I’ve interviewed lately has confessed to this struggle. The self-doubt, the grappling with what success means, and the endless wonder of whether they can go on and just make art for art’s sake while still having enough dollars to pay the bills. Take Lindi Ortega. She’s thought about throwing in the towel countless times. Recently, the songwriter came to the conclusion that she just wants to make great art. Getting there though was a soul-searching, mentally exhausting journey that almost led her out of the music industry. Here’s what she said: “If I end up being poor and broke at the end of it all and don’t have a retirement fund, I can rest knowing that I tried my best to make great art.”
Here’s hoping more artists stay true to their calling and don’t move along — sacrificing the songs yet unborn for another career path. I, for one, believe in art for art’s sake.
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David’s  The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History  will be published by Dundurn Press on September 23, You can follow David on Twitter. He’d like that. @mcphersoncomm.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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