Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five , 1926 . Left to right : Louis Armstrong at piano holding trumpet , Johnny St . Cyr with banjo , Johnny Dodds , Kid Ory , Lil Hardin Armstrong . American jazz band . Louis Armstrong , jazz trumpeter , singer , born 4 August 1901 , died 6 July 1971 . Hardin Armstrong , jazz pianist , composer , arranger , singer , born 3 February 1898 , died 27 August 1971 .  Jazz band . Editorial use only

The world is awash in ways to deliver content, but content worth delivering is still in short supply.  Now that everybody has a phone that can take a good picture there are still precious few photos that will make a viewer gasp in wonder. Now that recording music or video is within the reach of anyone with a laptop, there are still few movies or music compilations to get excited about.

The fact that content is given away for free is hardly an inducement for anyone to devote him to life-long discipline in the creative arts.  Getting a Master of Fine Arts in a discipline will not lead to any sort of gainful employment.  There are no meaningful certifications in the creative arts.

We are in a strange place with our culture. I can hear Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five play Potato Head Blues on my cell phone, laptop, pad, and if I were to buy a blue-tooth enabled hearing aid, I could even listen to that snappy tune on that if I wanted.  I think I already own one pair of good headphones and three pairs of ear buds, enabling me to listen without being constrained to any one location.  I have the freedom to consume anything that is created nowadays, except that I am unaware of any such product. One could assume that alive today there are many artists as talented and driven as was Armstrong, but I have no way to knowing who they are.

Would Armstrong have been able to develop his prodigious talent if he had been unable to get paid for writing and performing? I imagine if he had to endure four years at University in order to get a teaching credential in music in order to lead a high school band, such an ordeal might have taken the wind out of his sails before he ever bothered to record himself and distribute it free on Youtube. Burdened by student loan debt and exhausted at the end of the day from preparing lesson plans and the onus to constantly proving his worth to school administrators, he might have soured on the whole music thing by the time he hit his prime.  Bix Beiderbecke only made it to the age of 28, so going that route would have surely been a fool’s bargain for him. Chopin and Mozart would have proved too difficult to get along with the school board or the PTA, and their only hope might have been to seek permanent disability status.

Maybe the reason I don’t know what to get excited about in the arts today has less to do with my age than it does with the fact that we have created a world that actively discourages creativity. Rather than being a boon to artists, the Internet has proven to be the final stake through the heart, the last knot in the noose, the biggest clump of dirt thrown on the coffin.



  1. I don’t know Dan… there is some truth, of course, in what you say, but as someone who has been involved in the arts for my entire life I don’t quite see the world the way you do. Being an artist is not so simple a category such as being an accountant for instance. I do not do my work 9 – 5. I could not possible be paid for all the hours in which I “WORK”. It is not a choice, but rather who I am. How I perceive the world, how I interact with it. I have, in my 40+ year “working life” been paid well (meaning I could actually pay for “things” without constantly thinking how was I going to pay for my next meal, rent, etc) and other times have … not. Rarely have I ever been compensated in a way that would reflect what say OTHER professions might be considering the amount of time, degrees, experience, etc. I have. As for whether or not the new technology has had a play in all this – hmmm – without a doubt it has certainly, but prior to the internet explosion —- the complaints were there as well — at least in the performing arts world of the 99%.
    As for the clump of dirt on the sinking coffin…
    I guess I feel, these days anyway, that I am lucky to have the gift to be an artist, to live this life, as crazy as it is, to make the work that I do, doesn’t mean I don’t wish for “more” financial renumeration or that audiences weren’t being drained by SOOO much demand from other sources of entertainment that even those who really are still interested say in live theater, live performances still don’t make it “out” as they are “too tired, too busy, too overwhelmed, too, too, too”.

    But for me, I keep kicking aside the clumps, or am inspired to use it as set materials or props 🙂 …. Have to tell you that Dr. Science was a huge success – for a long time — wonder what it would have been like had it been “stream” accessible? hmmm. would that have closed doors or opened more?

  2. This is a very thoughtful discussion. And it’s an important one at the heart of the question of how to live a happy fulfilled life. I’m tempted to say I’m not qualified to contribute as I’m not an artist — I’m an engineer. At this point, the question of whether I feel I’ve been compensated adequately can be put aside. I have been. It’s often a point for me to ponder as to why people whose talents are different than mine (or others in finance, logistics, quantum physics, etc) are compensated so differently. I don’t love my work as an engineer more or less than those who write plays. And I doubt if I work harder or more hours. Socialism might appear to be the answer, and I’m saddened to say that apart from mountains of empirical data that Socialism doesn’t work, it seems much more fair and Christian. But life has shown us all that there are certain things in life that motivate people. If everyone was paid the same, maybe the problem would be that we wouldn’t develop the technologies that appear to drive our economies, grow more food efficiently, and equip the army needed to repel those who don’t like the way we treat the rest of the world.

    So how to be happy? Of course, livelihood has a lot to do with it, but as I get older I find a well rounded life is what jazzes me each day. But if I was still worrying about how to keep a roof over my head and food on my table, I might not have that luxury would I. Hopefully, avocations and non-work related pursuits can be found that satisfy our need to be happy, and fit in our means?

  3. Louie Armstrong was lucky to be able to read and write b/c he was really a self-educated man. No one ever gave him a piece of paper called a diploma saying he was qualified as an artist. He played on street corners for change as a child. Believe me, we are still seeing plenty of people busking on street corners. The very definition of an artist might be one who has a compulsion to make art.

    What we are missing now is authority. A single authority that determines what is best. “The New York Times” is still telling people what’s best in New York. Just saying.

  4. The thing with creativity is that it is a way of being. Yes, it can be actively discouraged, tamped down, neglected, and in the end, it may not triumph.

    I knew someone with the most amazing voice, who never made it anywhere, not even in a living room. On her deathbed she hummed and sang, and till this day, that dying voice, punctuated with rattles, haunts me.

    I don’t know if all creativity is meant to ‘succeed’– sometimes it does, at others it gets frustrated. But it just is, and for some people it is the way of things.

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