“If you are yourself and you don’t become successful, the happiness that you get from creating something that is that truthful to yourself should be enough to propel you forward in life.”
– Justin Vernon
I’ve been listening to a lot of Bon Iver lately. I stumbled upon that quote in an interview with frontman Justin Vernon. Well, calling him the frontman is a bit of an understatement. He basically is Bon Iver.
I started listening to their stuff last December. As the cold weather returns I find myself going back to the record. Fittingly, the music goes well with the colder half of the year. The name is derived from the French phrase “bon hiver” which means “good winter.”
For Emma, Forever Ago is this really sad, wistful album. You can tell it’s about loss and past pain. It’s the best kind of guy-with-a-guitar singer-songwriter stuff. “For Emma” is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s wonderful.
Bon Iver, Bon Iver is absolutely beautiful music from start to finish. I don’t know why. I think it’s freeing for some reason. It isn’t trying to be anything other than beautiful: not cool, not hip, not ironic. There’s way too much sarcasm and vitriol in society and in my own heart. I think that’s why it’s freeing. The final track is lead by this old style keyboard that sounds almost cheesy at first. But then you realize from the tone that it’s utterly sincere like the rest of the album. And like everything else it’s gorgeous too.
So, yeah, that’s my love letter to Bon Iver. Great stuff.
As for the quote, I’m finding myself more and more drawn to that philosophy and I think it must be the philosophy of the true artist.
The very best art in the world, I think, was done by artists being true to themselves. They aren’t gunning for fame and fortune. They’re just expressing whatever is on their heart. If it takes off, great. If not a soul responds to it at least they have created a true expression – something they can be happy with having done.
Athletic people work out. Analytic people analyse. Creative people create. We have to. It’s just this odd itch we need to scratch every once in awhile or else be unfulfilled.
For the redeemed person who is also a creative type, I would modify the quote a bit. We need to not only be truthful to ourselves in our expression but also to God and his truth. His ultimate truth. And you can do both.
To make expression true to your person is to indelibly stamp the work with your form – the form of a uniquely created individual. To make an expression true to God’s ultimate truth is to make it universal and pleasing to him. One without the other is not as good. It may even be bad.
Recently I finished a collection of lyrics which I am considering posting here soon. It took me years of work to create something I was happy with as a whole, complete collection. But I believe that it meets the two criteria listed above. Regardless of whether anyone else feels that it is of quality, I am happy with it.
If you are a creative type I’d highly suggest following these criteria as guidelines. If it’s true to yourself and true to God’s truth, then don’t listen to the critics or people that don’t get what you’ve done. But do yourself a favor and identify some trusted people who will keep you honest. It would be a grave error to express yourself in the voice of another, but it would be perhaps a bigger mistake to believe that you are the only one that matters in your art.