Work: Sustaining the Arts

Exploring issues of sustainability in the arts.

–by Scott Pinkmountain


Part 3: The Ocean

Even beyond this deep level of the mine, there are convoluted passageways that seem to go on forever and ever. They’ll be hidden or inaccessible at first, but the more familiar you are with this fundamental territory, the more comfortable you become. Your eyes, so to speak, adjust to the light, your lungs and blood adjust to the pressure and depth. You are accustomed enough with the shattering beauty and profundity of the infinite-seeming object that you can afford yourself a look around for something else. You gain enough trust in yourself and that unnamable other to relax just a little bit.

If you follow any one of these passageways down, unfathomably deep, eventually it will lead to a great cavernous cistern. As you work your way out the very end of what you might still perceive of as “your” mine, you’ll find a dark cool cave containing a vast, horizon-less ocean that flickers with the reflection of some invisible sun.

This is the center and there is no further for you to go in terms of exploring your own mine. But you will notice that there are other paths leading away from this great cavern. Many, many paths. This is the place where all of our individual mines ultimately lead. It’s a connecting station at the deepest reaches of consciousness, a unifying nexus, and from here you could travel into and through the identity and sprit of any soul. If you were to submerge yourself in the reflective waves, or bathe in its cloudy depths, you would hear the one sound of all-voice, all-thought, mingled together. You would feel all sensation and emotion simultaneously. The collective pain, joy, love, hate, fear, dreams and disillusions of all things past, present and future. You would simply know, and in knowing, move beyond sympathy, beyond empathy, to being. Your heart would expand to encompass an infinity of compassion, for you would experience firsthand the interconnectedness of all things. You cannot return from this place, this center of the inner earth, unchanged, unsympathetic. But likewise, you cannot access this place without delving inward, without first recognizing the primacy of the individual and respecting the capacity of the self to inform us of, and commune with, others.


 If you choose this path, the benefits and responsibilities, if it’s really your calling and you’re fierce enough to step up, embrace your fate, then you’re truly among the most fortunate of all, because in the mine, you will find infinite mortality. Don’t confuse this for immortality.

In this line of work you will be at the center of a system containing maximum potential energy. There is always something more to discover, more distance to cover, another rung on the ladder, hence further to fall, greater stakes. There is always a deeper level of virtuosity, fluency, comprehension to strive for. There’s always a new technique to experiment with or a familiar one to sharpen. There’s more history to learn, more context, more training and preparation to undergo. There are new discoveries being made by others that you must study, digest, respond to, steal. There are always bigger concepts to grasp, higher, richer, more nuanced elements to perceive on both the macro and microscopic levels. You could spend the rest of your life coaxing subtle variations from a single threaded vein, or you could span galaxies through constant varied excavation. If this work is your calling, then you have the opportunity to be forever humbled, forever reduced to the raw wonder of novice.

Most importantly, never shirk from failure. It’s your holy grail from here on out, the god before which you prostrate yourself. It’s more than likely you’ll never reach the central cavern. If you are seeking arrival, perfection, completion, go become a mechanic. And a mediocre one at that. The illusion of perfection is a commercial value and has no place here. The failed pursuit of it is, however, a spiritual concern. In this work there is no finish line, only milestones, and they are few and far between. They are often mocking, and it will only be you who can see them. You might try to point at them, claim some kind of marginal victory, and others will only see the filth beneath the nail of your pointing finger. At best you will leave behind a trail of curiously flawed footprints as evidence, documentation of your ongoing pursuit of spectacular, ecstatic failure.

And each broken curio you do manage to transport to the surface will itself reveal your every lack; it will broadcast every weakness of your soul; every shameful desire and hideous selfishness; every petty egoism and greedy entitlement. The blind spots in your heart will be magnified, whether you are honest in your endeavors or not. If you seek to conceal or obscure your deficiencies, the very insecurity or embarrassment you aim to disguise will become the amplified organizing principle of your efforts. There is absolutely nowhere to hide in the work itself, the attempt to do so will expose itself lewdly. Better to exploit your weakness, embody your insufficiencies, wear your meagerness like a suit of armor. Expect that armor to be torn away.

Understand though, your weaknesses is your success. It is your base humanity that is of any value to others. By exploiting your own vulnerability, you will be able to better communicate your findings with the rest of us, soothe us in our alienation. The gods, if they exist, cannot soothe us. Gods and mortals have no common ground, they cannot unite, share. If they were to meet, the gods would be bored senseless and the mortals would shit their souls. Never strive for godliness, struggle only to become always more human. Always more alive. Always more vulnerable, and thus ever more mortal.


Scott Pinkmountain is a writer and musician living in Pioneertown, CA. His writing has appeared on This American Life, in The Rumpus, A Public Space, HTMLGIANT, and other publications, and he hosts the Make/Work podcast for The Rumpus. He has also released dozens of albums of both instrumental music and songs. He works as a music analyst for Pandora Radio. He can be found at and @spinkmountain.