Pain Longs To Become Beauty
A way through the grief of uncertainty
[coordinates: at the kitchen table : 85F/30C, partly cloudy with a moderate breeze in Oaxaca]
Artists are the canary in the coal mine. If that rings as true that artists are the cultural sensitives of this and perhaps all times, then keep reading even if you don’t consider yourself an artist.
Indeed, can society be healthy if the artists themselves are not?
This is an essay about uncertainty about what’s about to happen.
My whole Facebook feed is littered with people pissed off about this AI art explosion/implosion that's happening right now. There are a lot of people who are claiming that this will break artists and therefore art. I am very sympathetic to this view.
However, we’ve fallen off this technological precipice over and over throughout history. I will tell you this before you read the whole thing – there are no neat and tidy bows in this essay. This is a big box of nuance with no conclusions. This essay might make you queasy.
However, sticking your head in the sand forever is more dangerous in the long run.
Artists harvest uncertainty and make art from that discomfort. It’s just a skillset to learn. It’s just a muscle to develop. I believe in you that you can do this.
Art is dead. Long live art.
Art has died many times with every technological advance. Things change in art as technology changes. We've somehow forgotten that art and science are inextricably linked. Not only are they now, they always have been. Artists are magicians. And by that I mean, artists use all of the available technology that serves their desire to express themselves.
The very first thing that we do with new technologies is to figure out how to make or deliver art with it. When electricity arrived, one of the first things we did was make lightbulbs and then cameras. Thomas Edison himself founded one of the first movie studios. When the internet arrived, Netflix put movies on the internet. Their IPO in 2002 was one of the earliest for an internet company.
That’s what we came to the planet to do. Artists are the people who take on that banner as an identity. Every human soul does such but artists do so in a way that uses technology. That is what makes artists artists. That is what makes the very best of them magicians, for what they do seems impossible.
When you look at a piece of art, the worst criticism one can levy is: “my five year old could have done that.” What does that say? It says there's no mastery there. It says this does not to me appear to be magic, even a child could do it. For even a child has a voice. But an artist, a magician, has a toolbox that they master.
This conversation that is, as it is currently being had, is wholly insufficient. It does not teach us how to metabolize as a culture these moments of great transformation. It pits two opposite poles and draws no connection between them. It treats this conversation as a competition for territory. It's not. This is just what's happening right now.
But that makes what's happening no less important to mark, ceremonialize, and observe.
Notice the shift. Notice who's hurting right now. Notice that the people who are hurting right now are often the ones who are hurting. That is important. But so many of the people who are carrying that banner are… they’re underneath the grief of it without naming the grief of it.
Many people, myself included, make the claim that well, the cat’s out of the bag and there's no going back. All of those artists' styles have been scraped. What's been scraped up into the bucket is already in the bucket. There is no un-scraping. What's been done is done.
Where I differ is that I don’t believe it can't be undone. Perhaps even the undoing of it would lead to a more just world. I don’t buy the technological manifest destiny any more than I bought the American manifest destiny that wiped out the indigenous tribal ancestors.
Paradoxically though, I legitimately am so excited to see what humanity does with new tools for expression. I'm very excited to see these tools of expression being handed to people who never considered themselves artists or magicians before and now they find themselves in the light.
My business partner has long wanted to be an artist and yet nothing he ever picked up matched his hand. He's gotten great joy out of using MidJourney, he made some things that honestly surprised me. I got to see the kernel of his creativity which has always been there but was always invisible to me because he did not yet have a toolkit.
Magicians are the tool users
and tool customizers.
The best magicians are tool makers
or even better
they collaborate with the tool makers.
Let us not forget this.
And yet I bitch.
My grumpy, somewhat superficial side bitched about this the other day: if this is the biggest fish you have to fry, you better get a bigger fish. If you want to be a real artist, get to be the best in the world at using the existing tech in a way no one else does. If you want to be a real magician, start making or modifying whatever tool gives you the greatest joy.
I really don't see that we're going to un-bucket what's been bucketed or unscrape anything. I don't think that these tools are going away, no matter how much we might wish. This disenfranchisement due to technological advances has happened countless times before and not just to artists.
The elevator operators all lost their jobs, eventually. Lo, in 2023 we don't grieve the loss of the human that used to accompany us up and down in a metal box. Now it seems unthinkable to us that (most likely) a man would open the door and close it for us.
Perhaps they chat with us about our day and notice if that cold had been lingering on too long. I bet there were people who cried when their elevator man was fired. I don't know what became of those people. There were human lives that suffered a loss.
Here's what I came to say about all of this.
Our culture forgets to grieve most of our losses, even the big ones, and we don't know how to collectively grieve.
I just lost my mama. Only a handful of people met me with sufficient skills to offer support in a way that I actually felt held. Very rare humans we are, who know how to meet another human in a time of real need, especially a time of the loss of a mama.
Is the loss of a livelihood bigger or smaller than the loss of a mama? I don’t know, but I will say it's big. The threat of the devaluation of something you've spent your whole life doing is huge. If people can't meet me in an obvious, culturally significantly recognized loss like a parent we certainly are failing artists now culturally.
In our lives, we have many, many unrecognized losses. Disenfranchised grief is what Brene Brown calls this. She has a beautiful book, Atlas of the Heart, which I highly recommend you pick up to understand more deeply. The essence of it is this – the things that we lose that society doesn't recognize hurt in a strange, bitter way. Examples are a miscarriage, the loss of a step-parent, or the death of an ex-partner. These are things we have Hallmark greeting cards for.
The loss of a livelihood is a disenfranchised grief.
How many artists are being held in a sufficiently skillful way? What will they do? Will they get a corporate job? Will they see if there are any openings at MidJourney? I have no idea what the answer to this question is but I do know that until we make the grief of this transition a headline issue, we will not be able to pass this sufficiently through our collective body, through our culture.
The nourishment of grief
We will not be able to be nourished by this transition. There is nourishment in it. Being nourished by grief is one of the hardest lessons I've ever encountered, and yet, it's the very core of art. The heart and soul of art is the understanding that between beauty and pain, there is an inescapable linkage.
There's always art to be made. There will always as long as the human race persists be art to make – good art. By that I mean art that does not tell people what to think but makes them think. Good art invites the viewer into a conversation with the work.
I am long done with people telling me how to think or what to think about, but I am more renewed in my commitment than I have ever been to making art that I am proud of, and that hopefully makes other people think. The artists who use these tools and others after this are no more dead than art has ever been, or will ever be.
For this, I have hope.
I wish I had a neater, tidier bow, a neater, tidier place to end the story. But no one knows what's about to happen next. GPT-4 released what… yesterday? Many of us have the sense that the amusement park has already slidden off the landslide, and that’s actually good news.
If you are one of these brave souls, I bid you welcome! We really do got this.
(There’s more to come in the next missives about repatterning the anxious feeling of uncertainty as the excited possibility of creation.)
We all have a creation to create.
I’m going to open up only one space in a few months for a lucky someone to go on a year-long transformation which will include two in-person retreats. I work with clients all over the globe.
My current client is three months into his consciousness remodel and has discovered his extra-sensory capabilities. During a medicine journey together, he was able to look through my eyes back at himself. No, this German secret service agent isn’t making it up… He really can merge his consciousness with another being.
He has superpowers I’d never even heard of in movies or books.
If you’re curious to find yours, schedule a 60-min call with me. Then email me a good shipping address, and I’ll ship you the book that you’ll need to start the journey. (No, I will not tell you what the book is now.)
Saludos from Oaxaca,
Cris and Team Dragon
Errata: From last week’s essay about Tesla not finishing his greatest contribution to humanity, the Wardenclyffe tower was in upstate NY and another in Colorado which J.P. Morgan financed. I got them conflated. So many towers!
If anyone would be excited to read my essays pre-release and fact-check them please make yourself known. <3