“Creative Altruism”: The Missing Link

I was just on the phone with a friend. The conversation seemed to hover around the merits of letting ourselves have our moments of glory, our “day under the sun,” versus being more concerned with doing our part to somehow raise the quality of the lives of others. My friend suddenly recalled an incredible quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism, or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

I was thrown for a loop, for it immediately occurred to me that much of my life up until now had not been on the side of creative altruism. As we talked, I slowly realized: isn’t that the whole essence of this thing called the Impresario?

I’ve been writing about the Impresario now every day for about a month, and for some reason I never really delved into the most important aspect. The Impresario seeks out collaborators for his vision, not out of some sense of self-importance, but because he knows that it’s not about him. The Impresario is nothing more than an Altruist.

The great thing about “creative altruism” is that any field can be a vessel for it. Even a job. My job, for example, as an Entertainer, could be performed in such a way as to make every member of my audience feel special. Already, I am practicing “creative altruism.”

Creative Altruism must be the missing link from any activity that does not feel imbued with significance. If we are feeling lost or misguided in our lives, it must be because we are concentrating too much on serving ourselves and not enough on serving others. If we are disillusioned or full of malaise, it must be because we have forgotten how to make someone else feel driven or motivated.

The concept that “it’s not all about you” may seem like a rebuke from our childhood days, but it is actually a philosophy encompassing a way of life. It’s the secret of what Karl Jung calls “integration,” and integration is exactly what the Impresario wants to do – to become a member of society whose contributions improve society, and the world, at an exponential rate.

King quoted by Johnny Fritts.

Does The Impresario Need An Audience?

Everyone likes an audience. Well, every Impresario, anyway. Audiences grant legitimacy, validation, and the feeling that our message is landing somewhere, that our voice is being heard, that our performance is being witnessed. Perhaps more than this, an audience could at least partially be made up of more hungry people – people the Impresario can connect to one another, and maybe even encourage to become Impresarios themselves.

This is all in an idea world. But is an audience alwaynecessary?

What if an audience isn’t available? Is it possible for an Impresario to be an Impresario? Can he still be the connector, the collaborator, the seducer, when there is no audience – when it’s just him and the Muse?

To recap, an Impresario “seduces” by knowing how to engage with people socially, and from there, build a playing ground where relationships are formed and Art – or some shared Cause or Vision – is experienced. The key here is that relationships are at the forefront. This can happen anywhere, in any context, as long as people share common ideas or visions – from, say, an art exhibit, to a group lobbying for the preservation of an endangered species of plant.

But if the Impresario is on his own, without the company of other people who can share the Vision, he can still “seduce.” Only this time, he must “seduce” himself. Just because there is no audience, no other visionaries, does not mean the Impresario can’t still fill all of those roles he would fill if those others were around. He still has a relationship with himself to maintain.

I stumbled across this idea by accident today. It hadn’t occurred to me that the Impresario could still be an Impresario with no one else around. But now that I think about it, those quiet moments could be the most crucial of all.

The Impresario as Seducer

Seduction is a field where most of us tread lightly. We look askance and shrug our shoulders, we don’t venture into that forest, because, well, we are afraid. We have a vague idea of seduction being some kind of manipulation, something that is ethically wrong.

Seduction is not ethically wrong. In fact, if you are friends with somebody, anybody, it is because you and that person seduced each other, and still are.

When a musician puts on a concert for an audience, if it is a successful concert, he is seducing them. If a marketer succeeds in selling something – he seduced the buyer. If two strangers start to engage each other in conversation, you guessed it: seduction.

We are being seduced constantly, by friends, family, influences, and interests. Seduction is so common that it abounds everywhere without us even being aware of it.

So what does being an Impresario have to do with Seduction? Everything. An Impresario’s most important tool is Seduction. He uses it not to manipulate, but to facilitate a space: a space where other people can interact and share what matters to them. An Impresario knows how to do this because he thoroughly understands how to make people comfortable. He’s been in the social trenches – he knows how to introduce himself to strangers, and to introduce a stranger to another stranger. He is a connector. He is a Seducer.

It’s unfortunate that the word “Seduction” has been handed such a negative reputation. There is nothing in it that implies control, or acting against the will of another. Quite the opposite, actually. True seduction works through both parties. A piece of music, a work of art, even a conversation, is most enjoyed when the musician, the artist, or the converser allows him or herself to be swept up into an energy, a feeling, that is bigger than them. It has nothing to do with control – it’s more of a Surrender.

How To Engage

A couple of blog posts ago, I defined the Impresario as someone who engages with life. It can really be anyone, regardless of whether that person identifies with herself as an “Artist” or not. If she is truly engaging, she is an Impresario.

OK, what does it mean to “engage with life”?

Everyone is at whatever stage they’re at. Built into our human neurology is a drive to become better – to get from where we’re at to another, higher level. I touched a bit on this on the last post with the idea of evolution.

I suppose to “engage with life” would mean to consciously be doing the actions needed to get to this next level of consciousness. This could be interpreted in a variety of different ways, but I think generally could boil down to the following:

1) Noticing.

2) Acting.

3) Sharing.

The Impresario knows where she’s at. She knows where she’s ahead of the game, and which areas could stand a little more attention. She then decides to Act – to design her life in such a way that allows for her personal and creative growth, whatever that looks like to her. Finally, she shares this with the outside world.

It’s this last bit that I am most interested in, because it’s how an Impresario shares her work that truly defines her. The true Impresario takes advantage of every outlet possible, from physical venues to social media networks. This means that there are now hundreds, or thousands, of ways to Share.

It makes sense to the Impresario that to have the greatest effect on the world, she should reach as many people as possible. And all Impresarios want to have a big effect on the world. We’ve all heard pocketbook sayings like “A journey starts with a single step,” or “Change yourself, change your world”. But these sentiments aren’t enough anymore. Not for the Impresario.

The Impresario of course wants to change herself. She wants to change the world. But, above all, she wants to share this change with others. She wants to give, she wants to inspire, she wants to tell her story. And when she does this, when she engages with the people in her world, that’s when she can truly change everything.


“Dirty Laundry” Or Scented Sheets?: A Personal Life in the Artist’s World

In a conversation with a Duke University PhD student a few days ago, I brought up the question of the importance of a Personal Life in the Artist’s world. I was espousing that nowadays, the Artist is in need of not only a Personal Life, but a venue in which to connect with other Artists, and thus expand his or her Personal Life. I argued that such connection would have to be intimate; that is, close, vulnerable, and raw – in contrast to the more commonly accepted, traditional method of presenting the art for an audience of strangers.

The bright lady sitting across from me (a biomedical engineer) used a word which I really liked: “pockets.” She at first argued against my position, saying that an Artist doesn’t really need such a thing. She cited herself as an example, saying that she attended dance classes and taught yoga, so she already had her “social needs” filled through these “pockets.” She was also able, when engaging in them, to get her head out of the lab for a little while, a necessary way to refresh and reset. In addition, she didn’t view herself as an “Artist” in the traditional sense, because her mission is to solve a problem, to find a cure for a disease, and to do so in the most effective way possible. So she excluded herself from someone who creates something that can be interpreted subjectively, and for the purpose of relating purely on the basis of emotionality.

A bit heady I know, especially for afternoon coffee. Of course, I had a rebuttal. First off, I began, Artists have Personal Lives, which factor into the Art, to some degree. Also, it’s important to note that if your personal life is working out fine, you can disregard all of this. But for those of us who feel something lacking in that particular “pocket,” we must now choose to view the creating and presentation of Art in a different way. To me, it makes sense to now seek to, above all, make a true connection with someone who is involved in your Art process. This could be another Artist, or it could be a person viewing the Art – a fan or audience member. Really, it could be anyone. But it’s simply not enough anymore to simply present the Art, here it is, hope you enjoyed it, thanks for coming out.

To address the point about biomedical engineers, people who don’t see themselves as relying on subjectivity and emotion in their process but more on accuracy and pragmatism: I really didn’t see the two as being so different. True, Artists can afford to think more about their relationships, because so much of that “stuff” goes into their particular form of emoting (painting, writing, songwriting, and the rest). But engineers, doctors, activists, people who are out to solve a specific problem in the world, are involved in their own sort of creative process too. It may be better performed without personal “baggage” or “dirty laundry,” but it’s not like these activities function best by ignoring the experience of being human. In fact, one could argue, that being a biomedical engineer is no less fueled by a sense of the human spirit than being a musician is. Even when the biomedical engineer goes into the lab and asks her partner about his kids, and how his week is going, she is engaging on some level in an awareness of the value of social rapport. This is another way of saying, she is connecting, on a personal level, with someone who is involved in her process.

This is key when talking about the differences between the Artist and the Impresario. Both the Artist and the Impresario have “pockets” – but the Impresario truly recognizes the importance of those “pockets” not just for reasons of balancing his focus with other interests, but for the interpersonal value which they bring, which the Impresario simply cannot do without.

Thoughts? Reactions? Send them to me at piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!


The Woodchuck Game

In my last post, The Other Fifteen, I promised I would go into some examples in my own life where experiencing Resistance pointed to the thing I most needed to do. In War Of Art, Stephen Pressfield writes:

Resistance will unfailingly point to true north – meaning that call or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or purpose we must follow before all others.

This took a while to sink in, and, truth be told, it’s still sinking in. But it’s one of the most profound truths I’ve ever come across. How has it showed up in my own life? Well, usually, the thing I most need to do is the thing I am not doing. Example: I wake up. I know I need to learn a new song today, but I could really use some coffee. Starbucks has that new Coconut Milk Mocha Macchiato which I can’t seem to start my days without. On my way to Starbucks, I realize I need to slip by the bank to deposit a check. Once that is done, and I’m back at the house, I think, oh, I haven’t even eaten breakfast yet. So I make myself a good, hearty one: three scrambled eggs with feta cheese, grape tomatoes, kale, mushrooms, cayenne pepper, and garlic. That was good! Ok, now for that song. But wait a second. How long’s it been since I’ve been to the gym? Last week?! Better get it out of the way now. So I hop on over to the gym. You can see where this is going. The song gets pushed to the back burner (I’ll get to it right after this) and half the time, doesn’t get learned at all, at least, not until I make a valiant effort to sit down and ignore everything else.

For another example, I’ll use a blurb from one of my personal musings:

…[A] visit to the vice-ridden Hog Wild Saloon one night in Kingsport, Tennessee while on a cross-country trek to a gig in Richmond, Virginia … really drove it all home for me. I was standing there, agape at the small-town Tennessee girls who in truth, had they been transplanted to any run-of-the-mill nightclub in any major city, would not have appeared half as appealing, when it struck me that I was experiencing more resistance in dancing with these girls than I was with my own music.

At that point in time, I was finding it easy to sit down and practice, or write, on a daily basis. But the hard thing – the “true north” – was going up to some strange girls and dancing with them. So, at that time, that was the thing I most needed to do.

Resistance doesn’t always point to the same “call or action” all of the time. This, I believe, is a common mistake most Artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, or craftsmen – generally, anybody who takes what they do seriously – make. We think that Resistance is only trying to stop us from doing our Art. But this is not true. Resistance can, and does, show up in each and every corner, from our diets to our personal lives. Usually, when we are doing well in one area, Resistance sneaks up on us and takes hold of another one behind our backs. Ever played that kid’s game where the woodchucks are popping up, and  you have to keep punching them back down? It’s kind of like that.

So, this is a main difference – probably the difference – between the Artist and the Impresario. The Artist can afford to let other areas of his life go by the wayside, while he concentrates on his art, immersed in it, obsessed with it – think Van Gogh or Mozart. The Impresario can’t. His life is a constant balancing act, made up of all these “pockets”, of which his Art, while extremely important, is only one. The Impresario is always bouncing from one to the other in an elegant dance, because he knows that each area feeds into every other.

In the next blog, I’ll talk more about the differences between the traditional artist, and the new, more powerful Impresario – and I’ll take a closer look at some of what these “pockets” may be.

Any insights? Send them to piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com, and thanks for reading.

Boredom (Or Binging On Breaking Bad)

Here it is, Day 2. Well, guess I’m doing okay so far!

In the Tim Ferriss – Seth Godin I was listening to the other day, Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite contemporary fiction authors, gets brought up. Turns out Gaiman is respected by both Ferriss and Godin – no surprise to me, considering how good he is at what he does. Godin brings up an interesting fact about Gaiman:

Neil famously had said that the way he writes a book is he makes himself extremely bored. And, if he’s bored enough, a book’s gonna come out, because he needs to entertain himself!

This is brought up in the context of what Godin calls “conservation of Fear” and the “cognitive load.” Basically, he’s talking about why he doesn’t use Twitter because, although it would offer some extra hits of engagement with his readers, it would take up mental energy that would be better spent writing his blog. If this were to happen, he wouldn’t be abled to get bored enough to do what really matters to him!

I wanted to bring this up because yesterday, I was feeling quite bored. But instead of catching myself, I started binge-watching the show Breaking Bad. This is something I occasionally do when I am feeling Resistance and don’t want to own up to it. Today, I am getting back on track, but I still feel a pang of regret for having wasted my time and mental energy.

Being an impresario requires a lot of self-awareness, yes. But more than that, it requires the courage to Act. The hardest thing for me to do last night was pick up the pen and write, or sit down at my piano and start to play, and I failed the test (and now I am punishing myself by posting a public confession for all to see). The good news is that these occasions are actually our friends, because they show us when it’s time to Act, when it’s time to get down to business – to “get better at the things we want to get better at”, as Godin puts it.

This, for me, anyway, an Impresario in the embryonic stages, may be the first step. The step is two-fold: recognizing my Resistance (when I’m bored, can’t sleep, etc.), and taking a definite Action to overcome it. Although I love Breaking Bad, I’ve seen it before (well, except the final season, which I am not-so-secretly itching to get my hands on), and know for sure that it’s not exactly going to help me become a better Impresario.

The Impresario’s time is precious and he must be very wise with it. Neil Gaiman allows himself to get bored because he knows that he will sit down at his word processor and start writing.

What “techniques” do you use to get your own creative juices flowing? I’d like to hear about them. Just send me an email: piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com. And thanks for reading.

Oh, and here’s the episode of the podcast I’ve been citing in this post and also the previous one.

Daily Blogging: Dream or Discipline?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “impresario,” and what that means in today’s culture of web 2.0, social media, and hyper-connectivity. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, an “impresario” originally meant, simply, someone who organizes, and sometimes funds, operas. The guy who really took that term and brought it back into popular consciousness is Seth Godin, known widely as the most popular marketing guru, well, of this century (so far). Mr. Godin is one of my favorite authors and fountains of wisdom, and I derive a lot of my attitudes and ideologies from him. (His book Tribes is a must read.)

In any event, I was driving along, really feeling quite bored, as I tend to do on long drives, and decided to search for “seth godin impresarios” on YouTube. The first result that came up was an episode of Tim Ferriss’ podcast, where he interviews Mr. Godin. Of course, I ate it up. I am sure that a series of re-listens will be in order for this one, but the biggest thing I got out of it was actually Seth’s dedication to daily blogging, and his view that anyone with a blog should be similarly dedicated. Seth’s words:

Everyone should blog, even if it’s not under their own name, every single day. If you are in public, making predictions and noticing things, your life gets better, because you find a discipline that can’t help but benefit you.

This got my wheels going a bit – huh? Every single day? C’mon, Seth, do you actually see that as attainable? I mean, obviously, it’s attainable for you, but what about the rest of us? But then I realized: Wait a second! What if, just what if, I were to actually start blogging every day?

The power of this question was, and is, seductive to me. I love to write, and I love to blog. I believe in blogging because it provides a forum where someone who’s “making predictions and noticing things” can bring his ideas into consciousness – without having to publish an entire book. Of course, we can still write books, but why hold off?

Things like “Thirty Day Challenges” rarely work for me. One of the ironic dilemmas I face as someone who really believes in the act of blogging is that I may not always be in line, twenty-four hours later, with the values, or the desires, or the convictions, I put my forth in any given blog post. This being the case, I will simply ask the question,

“Boy, how cool would it be if I were to write a blog post every day?”

Why would I write a blog post every day? How would such a practice serve me? More importantly, how would it serve you, the reader? These are all questions worth asking. After all, doing anything every day is a Big Life Decision – actually, it’s a decision that has to be made repeatedly, every twenty-four hours. In Stephen Pressfield’s War of Art, he unceasingly drives home the conviction that the true artist, or, “professional,” shows up “seven days a week.” This is the central tenet of Seth Godin’s Impresario. Godin talks about the Impresario as being the next, higher level from the Entrepreneur because the Impresario really is an Artist at heart – somebody who’s not afraid to put himself and his ideas out there, day after day.

Probably the biggest reason I’m inspired to start blogging daily is because I have so many ideas about this Impresario and what he or she could mean for the world. For me personally, Artistry extends so far beyond just the Art, and this has becoming increasingly obvious to me in recent years. Blogging daily would, for me, be a way to consolidate my ideas, in a much more organized, trackable, chronological way. It would allow me to explore even further the implications of the Impresario, and to allow such explorations to be made public, so readers like you could follow the trajectory and offer outside experience. And it would, hopefully, offer value to the growing litany of resources and conversations about the Impresario.

The subject of Impresarios is so breathtakingly huge and has so many implications in virtually every area of modern life, that I feel a responsibility to explore it in some capacity. Blogging about it every day could be just one way to start to explore this New World. But do I have it in me to be a Daily Blogger? I guess we’ll see tomorrow.

If any of my emotionally-charged musings provoke a desire to interact with me, the best way to do that is to send an email to piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!