1.11.2012

The Artist's Conundrum

There are two sides to being a successful artist. I don't mean financial success or fame, but two parts of the puzzle that have to fit together before any reward may come your way. Sometimes the answers are obvious, other times not.

Part the first: I do this for me. Not you. Not you over there either. I create, be it music or visual art in my case, strictly for myself, for my own satisfaction. The process of creating and finishing work is what I live for, it's what feeds my energy to keep living. Putting pencil to paper, brush to canvas, setting up microphones, tracking parts, mixing the final song, all of that thrills me. Yes, at times it can also be very frustrating when I've written a guitar part I can't play, or the finished painting is far from what I saw in my mind. But those failures are also the points where I learn, grow, and improve. Then when I conquer the guitar part or the paint, all the more sweet and satisfying it is. What does this have to do with you? Nothing. I could be the last man on Earth and I would still do this.

Part the second: I do this for you. When I finish my song or my painting, I am compelled by some mysterious force to share it with you. It would be fair to call this force ego. I want you to hear it, see it, experience the thing I made. I want you to love it or hate it. I don't want you to be indifferent. My esteem is boosted when you like it, scarred when you don't. Scarred worse when there's no reaction at all. If I want a chance at being recognized for the work, or to have a change to sell it, I have to take the risk that I will fail. That no one will like what I do. I know I will take that personally, because I poured myself into the song. But it isn't personal because it's just business. Or rather it is personal. Personal to me when I create, personal to you when I share. As soon as I play you that song or show you that drawing, it's no longer mine alone. It's ours to experience as we each will, in different ways shaped by our lives up to that point. If you don't like it, I have to just shrug and start anew. I can't argue you into liking it.

And that's the enigma of all this. If I can be damaged by you, why share at all? If, in the phase of creating, I'm totally wrapped up and concerned only with pleasing myself, why do I care what you think when I'm done? Maybe it's human nature or the nature of art. I'm sure it also has to so with my desire to make a living at this. If I don't share, then it's no more than a hobby. I know there are a lot of hobby artists and musicians out there who do stop at part one and love it. I love it, too, but I've made it more complex by a desire to make a living at art. And I will freely admit, it feeds my ego. My music and art is what I want to be remembered for. Most people who know me well would consider me quiet, unassuming, humble. And most of the time I am. But when the project is done, that's when I stand on top of the roof with my split personality and shout out loud "I did this! This is me! I have achieved this! Screw you if you don't get it!" while quietly inside I fear rejection and defeat. And I will do this over and over again until I die.