I got back from a 2 week vacation on Tuesday. I should have been jetlagged I’d been up for more than 24 hours, I’d arrived home, I should have felt like napping. But I happened to flick on the TV and was transfixed by a documentary that I think was on BBC 3. It was following Ray Davies the legendary singer songwriter of ‘The Kinks’. Go and watch it now whilst you can on BBC iplayer. I felt so completely energised watching it. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever considered myself a diehard fan of the Kinks but as the program went on going through his songs I realised how much they resonated with me and how much I loved them. But what really got me were his words toward the end in regards to being an artist:
“My songs will be here when I’m gone, in a sense they were here before I came. I just picked up the ideas and saw what thousands, millions of other people saw and it came out the way I interpreted it. I could be sitting here one hundred years ago or I could be sitting here in the future, but I don’t ever feel I existed. There’s a lot of me invested in it, but I absorbed everything from everywhere else.
As original as you try to be the ideas have always been there, the same as the city has always been there [in reference to London]. Songs can absorb into the folk culture but whether we know it or not we’re passing on music, we’re passing onto a common collective consciousness.”
What I feel is so poignant about his words are that of being a genuine artist. To truly recognise that you must take ego out the equation, it is not about you, it is about your ability to open yourself up. To channel that which is already around you and focus or interpret it in such a way that it reveals a new angle on the beauty of the world around us. This resonates with people.
“My friend, drop all your preconceived and fixed ideas and be neutral. Do you know why this cup is useful? Because it is empty”
Garr further on in the book writes:
“Indeed, if we approach life with a full cup, we cannot learn anything new. New skills, new approaches and different ways of thinking will be blocked. Wild ideas, crazy notions, and remarkable insights will have no space to enter a world of certainty, pride, over confidence, and commitment to the past and the known. Part of emptying our cup is a willingness to unlearn what we think we know to be the best or only way.”
All great artists seem to acknowledge that all they are is a conduit. Ideas and insights into our existence are already there in our collective consciousness and life around us, the artist just becomes the right person to find it. The artist recognises their peripheral part of the equation. He/she is transient and will turn to dust only their trail and imprint remain, they feel life make their impression, then leave. An artist is not a dream maker but an open vessel ready to receive and for others to drink from.
Of course the other side of it is immense hard work and focus. The most inspiring thing I’ve recently read regarding facing the resistance in your head and getting to work is in Steven Pressfield’s brilliant book ‘The War of Art’:
“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favour in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete”
So here I was watching this great documentary on Ray Davies with more and more respect and admiration growing for him. Everything that I had just read on holiday was being validated by what this well loved, respected and true artist was saying. And funnily enough what did his good friend Mick Avory the drummer in The Kinks have to say about him?
“I can’t see Ray ever giving up writing songs because it’s too much a part of him. I’d say Ray is the William Shakespeare of song writing, that’s the best way I can describe him. We might even have a Ray Davies Day but it won’t be a holiday it’ll be a day where you work harder [laughs]”.
Your ability to see beauty in the world seems directly proportional to your ability to strip away parts of yourself; Van Gogh maybe took it too far. Ray Davies talks a lot in the program about ‘absorbing’. He is right and in order to do this you need to empty your cup, talent then comes in your interpretation of what you receive and how hard you work in finding it.