Artists can be prone to becoming discouraged. We all know that. Everyone knows at least one artist that became so discouraged that they gave up, even if for a short while. But that’s an interesting thing. Why does it take courage to create art? What kind of terrible battle is being faced? What is the peril? Why are we in need of courage, just to proceed?
It’s because lots of people need affirmation, when they create something, so that they can feel that what they do is good, worthwhile and brings pleasure to their intended audience. Some acclaim and approval is what they seek, to make it all seem worthwhile. No musician likes to perform to a near empty room. No painter enjoys cutting and snide critiques of their paintings. It does take courage to put your creative output in front of people, to be judged. That courage can evaporate if the reception is not good. It’s all too easy to accept that what you do, as an artist, is a waste of time and unworthy. The popular cultural view of artists is that they are wastrels and that what they produce is a load of old tripe. We’ve come to erroneously believe that the work of an artist is trivial and unimportant, as if nobody would miss their work, if they chose to get a “real job” instead of working at their art.
It isn’t true. The work of artists is of critical importance to humanity and I will explain why.
The world is chock full of ugliness and despair. War, poverty, disease, famine, hunger, cheating, tyranny, assassinations, dictatorship, state-sponsored terrorism, pollution, toxins in the air, food and water, carcinogens, mutagens, greed, selfishness, heartlessness and prejudice are all features of the world we live in. During the 1980s, selfishness was hailed as a positive virtue. Oliver Stone had a key character in his film “Wall Street” say that “greed is good” and people adopted it as a mantra, instead of seeing it as the biting critique of societal attitudes it was intended to be. Be in no doubt that those that create ugliness and despair work tirelessly and ceaselessly to achieve their ends, not necessarily because they wish the world to be a terrible place, but because they see their own aims and appetites as the highest moral end, regardless of the impact that may have on others.
Coupled with this is the prevalence of ignorance, brutishness and inflexible thinking that keeps all of these ugly things going. People are never taught to see differently, to look at things from different perspectives or to think flexibly. They are not taught to value beauty or art. Luckily, art is so powerful that it can touch the hardest of hearts. It is emotionally affective. It’s hard to stay brutish in the presence of breathtaking beauty.
This is where the work of artists can be so vital. Any counter measure to ugliness, despair, ignorance, brutishness or inflexible thinking can only bring the world back toward some kind of balance and ideally, totally defeat these negative human traits. So, as an artist, when you create your art, you aren’t only doing it for acceptance, praise or even affirmation of your worth and your talents. You have a higher purpose. What you are doing is adding to the stock of beauty in the world, encouraging people to use their minds to see things differently, with empathy and helping them learn to think flexibly. You are generously giving something to the world that runs counter to the prevailing zeitgeist of serving yourself first. You are striking a blow against the negative, ugly, brutish, inflexible aspects of life.
If you find yourself playing to a handful of people instead of the crowd you are expecting, if you find people asking if you meant your painting or sculpture to look that way, if they ask if it is finished, if the critics maul you in the press for what you wrote, sang or put on in a theatre, just remember that whatever happens, you increased the amount of beauty in the world. All that matters is whether or not you felt it was good.
And never, ever be discouraged.