July 23, 2012

The Artist's Quandary (or at least mine)

The most popular website I've created
So here’s my quandary, Blog:

On the one hand, I have this passionate desire to create things that are so uniquely, brilliantly original and captivating that they manage to please “most of the people most of the time.” In other words, I want to be the creator of something popular enough that it will naturally also result in some amount of fame.  Isn’t that any artist’s ultimate goal?

However, I’ve experienced--just a little--what fame is like; and that’s the other hand. The public always possesses a sense of ownership towards the famous.  They feel entitled to know whatever they want to know about you. They believe their affection for you ought to be reciprocated, at least a little. Although some of them respect your time and privacy, the majority aspire, however well-meaningly, to rob you of both.

MY favorite website I've created
Meanwhile usually there are others whose success depends upon your fame, and these people will drive you mercilessly…as undoubtedly you would drive yourself even without their demands. Becoming and staying famous is very hard work—hard work that can be utterly inescapable.  Unless, of course, fame abruptly abandons you.

My most famous crafted creation
Yes, don’t forget that any passion your devotees feel is subject to being doused in the next week or day or hour, either by familiarity or some new distraction. Meanwhile, of course, they have lives of their own, and for all their temporary interest in yours, theirs naturally take precedence. The adage “fame is fleeting” the truest of old saws. And as much as I’ve been annoyed by the demands of my flirtations with slight fame, being forgotten or ignored is just as unpleasant.

The creative will create, and if they have talent, will doubtless create some beauty. It is impossible for artists to desire that their work not be too beautiful, lest it attract too much attention. We can’t help but want our art to be admired, and be driven by that yearning. So either an artist will be annoyed by the costs of fame, or disheartened by the lack of it. I want my work to be loved, but I don’t want to suffer anything by consequence. Isn’t that just like a human being to only want the upside?

MY favorite crafted creation
There is another problem—yes, yet another! Sadly for the creator, there is no fairness or justice as to the popularity of art. We’ve all heard the countless stories of unrecognized genius that clearly demonstrate it’s folly for an artist to base his self-worth upon public recognition. The most exquisite work may not attract the slightest attention, the smallest validation, particularly if circumstances do not put it the public eye. “Putting it in the public eye” is, of course, marketing--the most precocious, frustrating business there is.

Marketing is a mysterious science even the greatest expert cannot decisively understand or apply. I’m one of those people who rather like marketing, but even I agonize over it. Who are the people who would enjoy my creation? Where are they? How can I reach them using my limited powers and resources? How can I shout louder than my competitors? Should I shout louder--or is morally wrong for me to try? How much shouting can I do before I exhaust myself and come to loathe my own creation?

Who wants to make life into the equivalent of a high school popularity contest? Didn’t I start this just wanting to create something wonderful?

My most popular book
So, to sum up: I want to be loved but not too famous, I’d rather be famous than unnoticed, and either way I want not to lose control of my time, effort, and creative license. Oh, of course I know it’s ridiculous to hope for all this--there’s no such thing as a free lunch, especially at my level of talent. But my problem is, I don’t even know what’s most important to me, or most likely to make me happy. I’m almost 56 years old, and I don’t even know what my dreams and aspirations should be!

I’m sure a guru with a far higher consciousness than mine would give me this advice: Simply create what you wish, and enjoy it yourself! I know I could try this...but there’s something inherently unnatural about that, isn’t there? Would it have been good for Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of his private home rather than the Sistine Chapel? Or for that talented star of the local theater production you enjoyed to not try out for the part? Or for your Aunt Sue to only bake her fantastic apple pie for herself? Of course not--even the humblest works of human minds and hands, such as mine, are worthy of sharing with others. Human society wants and needs such things to be shared.

MY fave book (of course)
I suppose there is another approach, although it’s not the easiest to pull off: create and share, by the simple means at hand, but don’t judge yourself based upon the praise you garner. If there is praise, enjoy it, but if there is not, you can still delight in what you’ve created, and be glad that you have the good fortune to be able to do so.

Maybe that last bit is the most important thing of all. If you are born with a skill, have had the opportunity to cultivate it, to train and practice, then be grateful. There are others around you who would trade a great deal to have your ability. Try not to focus on what you wish you could do, those lofty goals you are highly unlikely to achieve, and think instead how fortunate you are to be gifted with your talents.

It is a cliché that artists are tormented—a cliché based in large part on the truth. But if I want to be a happy artist rather than a tortured one, perhaps there really is a way to make that a reality. As in so much of life, it may depend far less on action, and far more on attitude.


  1. For what it's worth, I've watched your growth as an artist for a while now, and it's incredible to behold. You have so many interests and instead of being paralyzed by everything that interests you (my usual quandary) you create unceasingly in so many forms. You certainly appear to balance well the public eye through your blog with actually making more art. I'm really excited about meeting you next week.

  2. Gosh, Renee--you are beyond too kind! Thanks so much, you're a peach. And I'm really excited too, it's going to be amazing to meet you and Sam!!