This is a trap that many artists fall into. They equate their work and how people respond to it with how much people love them. Most artists, if they were honest, would admit that they long for people to at least like what they do. If they were really honest, they’d confess that the reason they want people to like what they do is so that they might love them as people. “Do you love me?” they secretly ask.
Even those artists that don’t want you to love their art want you to love them for having the courage to make such an affront, in most cases. They want you to acknowledge their courage and their forthrightness at presenting the unpalatable. They want you to see them as somebody worthy, truthful, integral and somebody good. “Do you love me?” they ask again, silently.
Do art appreciators love the artist? Very seldom. Usually, what people love is the feeling that they experience in the presence of the art. It reminds them of happy times. It pleases them. It appeals to their aesthetic. It entertains them. Very seldom does the appreciation of a work of art cause the person to think kindly thoughts about the artist. Their art appreciation is about them, not the artist.
On the occasions when art appreciation spills over into adulation and fandom, does the art appreciator love the artist even then? What do they know of the artist, in reality? Other than the feelings the fan has for the artist, do they truly care about their well being, their inner angst, their worries and anxieties, their daily struggles and their situation? Most fans don’t have a clue about these. They’re not that close. The love they give is not deep, however sincere.
There are few things more tragic than an artist, sitting utterly alone and lonely, with some grave worries on their mind, being ripped to shreds and man handled by adoring fans. What the fans have usually constructed is a fantasy fiction. They have in mind an iconic representation of the artist they love, which is worlds away from the fragile, flawed, self-conscious artist that really exists. What could be more isolating than a horde of people that are unaware of and disinterested in your faults and failings, as well as your good points? “What do you want from me?” said the Pink Floyd lyric.
Artists that have grown up with us, such as the actors from the Harry Potter films, have often remarked that people think they know them, because they have watched them grow up on the screen in front of them, but nobody really knows their secret, inner selves. What they imply, I think, is that nobody really cares for that inner self either. “You don’t really love me. You can’t. You don’t even know me”, is what is playing inside their heads, I suspect.
We have an obsession with love, as a species, because it’s one of the very few truths we can adhere to. Love is actually what makes the world go around. But why is there so little of it? Artists can make themselves crazy, exhausting themselves, looking for that approval. They seek the love they never find so assiduously, so passionately and with so much energy, that when it isn’t returned, or when it is only returned superficially, it’s a very big let-down. The passion is repaid with insipid banality. No wonder so many resort to drugs and drink to numb the pain. “You don’t really love me, after all I have done to win your love”, goes the soundtrack in their mind. Rest in peace, Amy Winehouse.
The sad fact of humanity is that very few people do love you as deeply as you would wish them to. It doesn’t matter how much art you create for them or how good it is. Those gifts, born of love, are never quite enough to earn their love in return. Artists are not so much narcissistic as they are love seeking. They’re trying to satisfy a hunger that, in many cases, can never be filled. “You can never love me enough”.
As a species, we haven’t evolved to the point where we can give unconditional love of ourselves to other people. Sometimes we fail to give it to our nearest and dearest. Very often, we cannot even give it to ourselves. When love is given, it is frequently misconstrued as having some other agenda behind it or is seen as creepy. It’s not accepted with the genuine affection it is given. Usually it is thrown back at the person that gives it. The problem is that giving love places an obligation on the receiver not only to accept it with grace, but to return it in kind. When people feel incapable of giving that love in return, or somehow constrained from doing so, because it might be seen as disloyalty or betrayal of somebody else they love, they react very badly indeed.
Ironically, people that try to love artists are often treated badly in return, too. The artist, himself, feels unworthy or incapable of returning the love given. It’s a burden to them, not a gift. Consequently, they act as if they don’t love those who truly love them at all, even if they really do. “You do love me, but I am not worthy and I cannot love you as fervently”. It eats away at an artist to be in that position. If many people love them, they might feel the added pressure of not being capable of producing enough deep love to go around to all that do, however much they would wish to. The inequality can be the problem.
How do you survive the nagging, burning question, as an artist, then? “Do you love me?” It echoes emptily in the void. I think the only thing you can do is to love the work. Love what you make. If the art and the act of creation brings you joy, makes you smile and makes you love your own artistic output, that might be the best you can do. The works are inanimate, to be sure, but the feelings of self worth and self love that they can engender are probably the most constant love you’re going to find. At least it will insulate you from seeking love from others and never finding it. It will provide a refuge from the horrible truth that most people won’t love you as deeply as you would love to be loved. You can hold your head up with dignity, despite the emptiness and still declare “I made that. I love what I made.”
That seems sad, doesn’t it? For all the love that goes into making art, so little will ever be returned. Even if it is, it will be misdirected. Sincere, but superficial. The genuine heart-to-heart connection will be missed. The artist will not fill the empty void they long to fill. Love will lie bleeding.
Could we, as a society and as individual human beings, do better? Of course we could, but it would take a massive mind shift. We would have to stop seeing everybody else as rivals and competitors, or as commercial prey, to be exploited, taken advantage of and cheated. We’d have to embrace the most unlikely and damaged individuals. Our suspicions and mistrust would have to be laid to rest. We would have to learn to accept love, as well as give it. We’d have to dismantle our industrial scale capacity for belligerence, violence and war. We’d have to stop watching The Apprentice. We’d need to open our hearts and our minds to the possibility that we can all love each other, unconditionally, sincerely and deeply. We’re not there yet. I don’t think we’re even close.
So I leave you with this question, already knowing the answer full well: Do you love me?