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David Ramirez and Art as Relationship

November 24, 2015


The dream of every artist is to accomplish both truth and bacon. But what happens when truth doesn’t bring home bacon?

David Ramirez’s new album Fables starts off like an extension on his hit sob “Stick around,” and that’s just fine by me. The song on this album that sticks out most is New Way of Living, in which David laments briefly about the old artist’s dilemma: Why make art? 

“Sell everything that you love to do
If it doesn’t sell then
learn how to love something new
Blue collar artist, white collar entitlement
I’m standing somewhere in the middle
I get the feeling I’m about to slip

Maybe it’s time to move on
Maybe it’s time for a change
A new way of living
A new way to bring home the bacon”

Art speaks to us about reality in a way that still, in a world dominated by science, speaks as powerfully as facts. The painter sets up an easel and paints with a child-like joy in communicating something true. But that’s a challenge. Selfish ends like money, fame, or self-satisfaction creep in and seem to put the artist in a conflict of interest. The painter devotes his life to developing the skill of creating truth out of beauty. But the painter also needs to eat.

The painter’s brush hesitates. Should he paint the world compellingly as he sees it, even if it fails to accomplish any other end? If not, he’s forced to acknowledge and paint for a paying observer. But that starting point seems too limiting. And if he paints the world as true as he can, some people just won’t get it. They’ll reject him. So again he wonders, should he make art for art’s sake, or should he make art for food?

I don’t consider myself an artist, yet. But I have poured hours into making things in the past secretly hoping that people would validate it by buying it. So David’s line that hits hardest is this one:

“There’s a plumber down in Arkansas
The best writer I ever met
When I ask where to find his CD
He just laughed and lit a cigarette”

The lonely artist is a common depiction in movies and music. And it makes sense if we start with the premise that the best art is art liberated from any economy of a future observer. That a lonely artist, detached from the expectations of another person, makes the best art.

But this raises bigger questions, if not a challenge: Is it possible to make art in complete isolation, without assuming a future viewer of the thing made? Why make art in the first place? Can something be made for its own sake?

If the answer is yes, it seems that something made for its own sake would have the greatest potential for truth and beauty. The only “other” involved in this dynamic is the artist who, loving beauty and truth, creates the thing, the art, for its own sake. For the sake of this thing being beautiful. In a way, the artist loves the art he creates into existence. And now it seems there always exists an other in art. At the very least the other becomes the artist, who observes his art after he creates it.

And this is where things really come full circle.

The Catechism wisely notes in paragraph 356: “Of all visible creatures only man is ‘able to know and love his creator’. He is ‘the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake’, and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life.”

This paragraph quotes Gaudium et Spes, which explains man’s likeness with God: “This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

Also interesting to note is David Ramirez’s history of loneliness and his journey out of it. From the bio page of his website:

“I’ve learned a lot from being alone and isolated, says Ramirez, who until recently toured completely by himself, without a band, manager or anyone else for company. Yes, it’s romantic in a way. But it has also been kind of rough on my head and my heart. After a while it made it difficult to connect with people on a personal level when I got home. In hindsight, I can see that it’s been kind of detrimental. You know, when you travel around alone for months at a time, the world revolves around you. There’s no one else in the equation. Everything was just about me. It’s a selfish way of living. And I’m ready to move on from that.”

In a way, all hope is lost. We cannot make art in isolation. The artist cannot run from relationship, even in the isolation of his own art studio. Even God Himself, in making us for our own sake, revels in us. We are the art created to be in relationship to the artist. And this mark, the mark of self-gift and relationship, is so firmly pressed on us that we cannot escape it by living alone or creating alone. It hurts.

Because, at the end of the day, who are we really making art for?