I read something thought provoking, today. It was the idea that artists too readily accept the tag “starving artist”, even if in jest. The signal that glib acceptance sends to people that don’t know any better is that perhaps art is worthless, as evidenced by the fact that the artists are starving and openly say so. In fact, one of the search terms that finds this blog most frequently is: “is art a waste of time?” If we suggest our work is valueless, then people are apt to accept the assertion, uncritically.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, quite emphatically. I think that being an artist is one of the most important callings a person can have. Why? Because you are conveying important ideas in a way that makes people rethink their own. That’s what an artist’s real value and contribution to humanity are. You are doing something important to change the current situation into something better. As an occupation, it has to be at least as important, if not vastly more so, than being able to draft a commercial legal agreement or determine the numbers on the balance sheet of a company, surely!
I suppose that artists, me included, need to stand up for what they do and assert its importance. Some people might take some convincing and initially meet your assertions with disbelief, derision and ridicule. They happen to be in the wrong. Being an artist is being a person charged with shaping the future. Your contribution is important. In fact, it’s vital.
So, why is there a disparity between the importance of the ideas you daily propagate, through your art, and the rewards for doing so? Firstly, there is a lot of resistance to change. People who benefit most from how society is, today, have the most power and like these ideas for change less than anybody. They will obstruct you. Secondly, they’ve spent a lot of their time getting artists to tell a particular narrative to the general population on their behalf. It’s a narrative that reassures and tells everybody that the current way is the best way, indeed the only way and that no other ways are possible. Some artists, it has to be said, have been collaborators and the power of their art has made it difficult for other artists to move the thinking of humanity forward.
When you start with a populace who have the idea that all is well as it is today as their opening assumption, getting them to accept the important new ideas you deliver, through your art, is going to be a struggle. While breakthrough, disruptive innovations pay the biggest dividends, for humanity, they are so much harder to propagate than the incremental tweaks and new idealettes (mini ideas) that so often come to prominence.
I have, in the past four or five years, written some 700,000 words, approximately and published them, for free, on this blog and my other one, on innovation. That’s enough to fill seven full, published books. I have, at all times tried to write fresh, unusual, thought-provoking, relevant, irreverent, surprising and delightful pieces that are unexpected. I hope they’ve been interesting and entertaining, if nothing else. My paintings are about the fragility of both humanity and our lives, but also about how brightly we all shine. Through my music, I have sought to show that we are being constantly manipulated, for other people’s gain and that other lives are possible and desirable. Those messages, it has to be said, have not found a huge audience. I certainly don’t have enough people receptive to my particular “important ideas”, meaning the ones that motivate me, to make a viable living out of it.
Does that mean my messages are unimportant or wrong? I don’t think so. I just don’t think many people are ready to hear them. A truth may be a truth, but so many people may remain in denial of it, for reasons of self-protection or because they are unable and unwilling to open their eyes yet. Denial doesn’t change a truth into something else, though.
I will continue to be who I am and tell the story I think is important to tell. There is no choice in this. You are who you are. I will continue to tell my story through my writing, painting and music. It’s just that not enough people are reached and touched by those messages. I can but try. Ultimately, it may all fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. If that’s the case, it becomes much harder to maintain the output of my artistic practise. A lot of art might simply never get made.
I appreciate each and every person that likes the art I make or is in some way encouraged to think differently because of their exposure to it. I wish there were more of you. Your support has been invaluable and I am eternally grateful for it.
I ought not to be a starving artist. No artist should starve. Art is something that humanity requires in order to make any progress whatsoever. It helps us unearth forgotten ways of dealing with our predicament, as fragile creatures in an indifferent universe. It helps us see better possibilities and to embrace them, for the improvement of the lives and happiness of all. I feel proud of what I have done and hope to do a lot more of it. I hope you, as artists, do too.
Hold your head up high and be proud of the art you’ve made. It mattered.