how is the artist or writer to function (survive and produce) in the community, outside of institutions?

Arturo Romo-Santillanoinnovative writingLos Angeles literatureSesshu fosterurban literature

You, young artist, young writer. Go anywhere you like. But know that a community was there before you—this land was not a magically unpeopled wilderness to be colonized but a place of history, secrets, struggles, heroes and issues.  What made it a community was not magic, but labor. Maybe if your labor and your work relates to them, if your aesthetic process is open to that community, your work will not be superfluous. Your work might be useful. You may not have to suddenly flee, like a tourist from the off-season. As an artist or writer anywhere, you’ll need community to survive. Your community-building not only helps you survive, it helps you produce.

all you mfa candidates, all you college students, all you awp hangers-on, all you high school students wondering what to do (which is the same thing as how to live, how to make a life of your own, how to save your own life), all you secret poets looking for support, all you striving artists who need a job, what about you? 

  1. most will sooner or later find themselves outside institutionalization.
  2. dreams tell us that the life of the mind goes on regardless. regardless of institutions or individuals, the life of the mind is a collective dreaming. the dream goes on whether anyone is making movies and documenting it, holding conferences and seminars about it or not. the mind goes on.
  3. the institutional imagination, with its schedules and regulations, with its tests and prerequisites, will be insufficient on the outside, in a broader world of completely indifferent and more democratic sidewalks, offices, transactions, atmospheres. it’s true that sometimes high school or college provides the only encouragement working class students receive for creative thinking. and unlike academia which scaffolds individual efforts and conceives of art and writing as individualistic practices, the broader world is indifferent. institutions fetishize rational discourse, operating on the level of rationalization, as if sitting around a conference table in negotiation is going to be a major life skill for you. perhaps not! an institutionalized aesthetic production process you may have formulated in academia may not work for you outside. 
  4. you must get outside, and feel all right, producing some creativity that can stand the daylight (and the smog). 
  5. you may perhaps object that “the community” lacks community; in fact, there seem to be people there who are actively hostile, perhaps violent, toward ‘art,’ ‘dreams,’ ‘poetry,’ etc. you may object, that unlike in academia or other institutions, there were rules for discourse and behavior and you didn’t feel exposed to hostility. but make no mistake, millions of people that the media and Hollywood depict as nobodies and extras in the background (people of color) or zombies or killers (working class people) they are dreaming, too— some are having visions; all of us out here live inside civilization’s weird mythologies.
  6. for all its talk (all of its attention to crossing T’s and dotting i’s), in academia and institutionalized civil forums, little dreaming occurs there. they emphasize rationalizations; their discussions take place inside bureaucratic mythologies. the creative thinking found there may be mostly recycled early 20th century concepts. 
  7. in the community (that lacks community), indeed they are dreaming. some feel hostile. there may be violence. many have been defeated; they feel they have been defeated. that doesn’t stop their dreaming, mythologizing, their visions. all of which helps you to figure out how to survive as an artist, writer, dreamer, mythologist, person of vision. stay alive. don’t get hurt. make a living. commitment to the community— that you make— while you are doing it, while you are producing, how to survive? 

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