Appreciation is the currency that rewards most artists. It can be expressed in many ways, one of which is the money necessary to sustain the life of the artist, but it also has to be said that most artists are, in general, underappreciated. Artists need the support of other people to survive, or they eventually lose the ability to do what they do; either for prosaic reasons, like running out of the ability to pay their bills, or because they lose heart, when so few are genuinely interested in or moved by the art they make.
When you make something, like an artwork, it puts your entire existence into a vulnerable position, because you have put every part of your heart and soul into it and you leave it for others to judge. The lack of appreciation that comes back can be very hard to bear, if not overwhelming. It can feel like a rejection and abandonment of everything you are and everything you hold dear. When you make your most honest work, to the best of your ability and it’s met with disinterest, disdain or simply ignored, you wonder what more you have to do to get people to appreciate what you have done and support you as an artist, in some way. The supreme effort you’ve made has been turned in, for public grading and you have been found wanting, apparently. Nobody likes getting an “F”.
Everybody, at their core, wants to be loved and to make connections with other human beings, if they were honest with themselves. If you put your art out there, as a calling card for you, the artist and yet those connections are not made or the love is not forthcoming, it can leave you feeling very empty and ugly. Is your art really so repulsive, that nobody likes it? Are you regarded as so unlikable that nobody even bothers to look at what you made? Does anybody care whether or not you starve?
People live absurdly busy lives today. Being busy is glorified, like a perverse badge of honour. A consequence of this self-involvement is that a lack of attention paid to others has become a commonplace. If attention is never paid, then no opportunity to appreciate anything ever arises. About the only things people appreciate, these days, seem to be their own work, their own lifestyle choices and what is happening to them, in their own lives. Even the children barely get a look in, regrettably. Noses are pointed firmly toward screens, while they obsessively tweet or post, desperately seeking attention from anybody. Of course, they get very little.
Making art that is offered publicly, but which gets little or no response, is analogous to preparing for a party, sending out the invitations, preparing the food and decorations for the big day, laying on the entertainments and free drinks and then finding that nobody bothers to show up. It’s a hollowness that can lead an artist to think nobody cares. If nobody cares, why offer the art? It’s as well to make it for your own amusement and keep it to yourself, as a private indulgence. Of course, no artist can pay their bills that way.
Personally speaking, I make a point of supporting artists, whenever I can. I spend time looking at what they made, or listening to their music. I comment encouragingly and favourably and spend money buying their works, when I am in a position to do so. That generosity of attention is rarely reciprocated, though, I have found. As much as you pay attention to somebody else’s art and artistic career, you cannot necessarily expect the same in return. That said, there are people that will surprise you, too, who will lavish attention and praise on you and what you have made, beyond your most optimistic expectations. You can never tell.
I think that our obsession with being productive and justifying the value squeezed out of our every waking minute is that we’ve crowded out the ability to quietly appreciate things. I include nature, other people, your good fortune, small, poignant moments in your life and the art other people make, in this sweeping categorisation. It’s as if we’re convinced ourselves that any moment spent not creating something of value is wasted. If we don’t have something to show, to justify the time we have spent on some pursuit or other, we feel shame and guilt, as if we’ve wasted something precious wickedly. Well, I’m here to tell you that appreciating art creates value. It rewards the maker of the art and encourages them to continue. Failing to notice the fruits of their efforts is, in reality, a cold, heartless and frosty demeanour to take into the world, as outwardly positive, bubbly and smiley you might be.
Artists have always been undervalued and underappreciated. Most of the great ones are only truthfully assessed and lauded, once they are gone. While they are working, nobody gives them a second glance. If anything, they are strange creatures to be avoided by law-abiding, right-thinking folk, or so the cultural stereotype would have you believe. It’s cruel, but it is how we have acted, historically, toward outstanding, brilliant people of all kinds.
It has to be said that some people begrudge offering their appreciation, especially if the art on offer makes them feel that their own efforts are below par. This can be a form of jealousy. They’d rather starve somebody that made something good of the praise and acclaim that they ought to give, than confront their own feelings of inadequacy about their own outpourings. That’s small minded and sad, but it happens.
There is also a class of artists that believe they, alone, are the artists and everyone else is the audience, so they can be particularly blinkered about appreciating the work of other artists. Creative collaborations are often characterised by a single artist that completely minimises the creative contributions of the other artists they are working with. It’s one of the many complicated reasons that bands can break up, for example. They call it “creative differences”, but that can be code for one of the musicians taking all the credit for everything the other band members put in. When money is attached to authorship, this dispute can take on serious dimensions.
Artists who attempt to market their own art can especially feel the cold wind of rejection. People still dislike self-promotion. They would rather ignore the art, out of disdain for having had it brought to their attention, than begrudgingly view it. What is an artist to do? Without self-promotion, nobody will learn of their art and so they won’t sell enough to survive. It’s exceedingly rare for somebody else to promote your art on your behalf, as an artist, so it is especially appreciated, when it does happen. An artist should always remember to express gratitude to anyone that gives you their personal recommendation. In any case, you’re dammed if you do self-promote and dammed if you don’t.
Perhaps artists are too sensitive and precious about their art. Maybe expecting people to take an interest and spend their precious time to have a look or a listen, when you have consistently done that for others, is not a reasonable expectation. Who is to say? Maybe the world can get along just fine, without your art. Perhaps so, but it seems lamentable to me, if this turns out to be the case, for most artists. It’s a measure of our withdrawal from culture, as a people and from understanding each other and ourselves. To me, it represents opportunities for connection that go begging.
I think it’s important to spend time appreciating things, in general. It’s part and parcel of living a life of gratitude. People, who say they exercise gratitude, but who never offer their appreciation of others to them, are not really living a life of gratitude to the full and without hypocrisy. I encourage you to visit somebody else’s exhibition, listen to their songs or take a look at their works today and don’t be sparing in doing whatever you can to support their art. Just saying you looked can be appreciation enough. It could make the crucial difference between that artist flourishing or else perishing. You have that power in your hands.