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  • Writer's pictureJacke Karashae

journal art

so i joined a songwriting club yesterday, and i got to pick a few songs that i was stuck on to throw onto the group drive to get some feedback from.

even though i have volumes of tracks in various states of incompletion, picking incomplete songs to show others was surprisingly difficult task. and i think the reason for it was beyond the expected “i feel insecure about how people will react to this”. it’s really because writing is a (but not the only) way that i process my life.

songs are my journal. and that brings a whole, whole lot of potential problems.

we think of journalling as an essentially private activity–that’s part of its power. we can vent our fears, dreams, visions, and silly theories for the sake of saying it, and we don’t feel like we are imputing all of that stream-of-consciousness on other people. sitcom hijinks aside, a journal is a bastion of private revelation. it’s particularly powerful for talking about our unspoken fears and insecurities, things that we feel weird letting other people hear about but need to acknowledge at least once to just deal with it (warning: not a psychologist, who would actually know if this kind of private disclosure is actually helpful.) a moment in a journal is significantly insignificant: it’s understood to be a thought in progress of figuring out the truth rather than the final truth itself.

in contrast, art (and especially western folk/pop music) has a final, definitive feel to it. when i listen to an album by someone like sufjan stevens, bright eyes, or metric, i assume that there is a final truth or point being conveyed. even songs that talk about insecurity, fear, or a sense of loss also have a sense of completeness to them–even if they feel stream-of-consciousness, it is clear that there is time, effort, and energy put behind both what is said and how it’s said. as such, art seems more like a permanent reflection of the person writing than a journal — it’s the truth someone thinks they’ve arrived at, and should(?) be considered with the gravity of a theory or philosophy.

what i’ve realized is that the songs that i write in the “journalling” mindset are significantly different in tone than the songs i write in the “art” mindset. with journalling songs, i don’t feel much of a responsibility to write anything beyond honesty of where i am and where i think i’m going wrong. because of this, these songs are often pretty significant downers, or at the best are bittersweet. but that’s because those pains are the things that i need an overflow to write about most often. they’re the things that have to be said at least once.

in contrast, when i write from the “art” (other people will see/hear this) perspective, i have a sense of responsibility to the listener. even if i go through a terrible time or mindset, i don’t necessarily want to dump those issues on someone else. i want to be honest, but rounded; i want to represent not only the question mark, the semicolon, the interrobang, but also the period, the comma, the exclamation mark. i want to express not only the moments of feeling hopelessness but also the moments of feeling hope and the underpinnings that tie it all together.

there’s a kind of fashion to artsy brokenness that makes us want to say that immediate honesty is more important than a rounded perspective. we think that the immediate is significant, that the truth of how we feel is the truth worth expressing. this perspective pushes us to consider art as a kind of “sung journal”, and anything involving more critical evaluation or later modification to be a cop-out move, a way to shield ourselves from allowing the (true, good, must-be-said, best-for-the-listeners) vulnerability from leaking out.

i’ve grown sick of that fashion. i still stand firmly behind speaking out of pain, speaking out doubt brokenness, speaking out of ellipses and question marks. but i refuse to believe that anything that isn’t visceral isn’t valuable. i refuse to compel myself to make a spectacle out of every trembling though (just some of them). i want some songs to be those journal moments and others to be–gasp–*contrived* to explain the balancing factors that i feel a responsibility to convey, as a person who doesn’t live dominated by my doubts.

on top of that, i’ve come to accept that most of my songs-as-journals can (and should) remain just unsaid overflow. the fact that your journal is artsy can make you feel pressured to somehow package it and release it, because that’s how we conventionally believe art matters, when it’s in the public eye. but if your art is actually journalling, the thing that mattered, first and foremost, has already happened.

you’ve spoken the transient emotional truth, let yourself just say it so you can process it better. and if that’s all it does, i think that’s probably enough.

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