Original post here.
“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must take a wider view, see the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here.” – Annie Dillard
Last night I wandered streets of a small town, bustling with people “crawling” for an art crawl, they wore boots and brightly colored scarves in celebration of the air finally turning brisk. I had just driven ten hours with Becca, several through the mountains of Tennessee, the scenic road running along a river dotted with yellow rafts filled with people squeezing out the last moments outdoors before the cold sets in. I was feeling both tired and invigorated, drinking in all the smiling people, old friends, art and music going down warm like the glass of pinot grigio being handed to me. It felt like a welcoming party for the autumn for being in North Carolina for the next few months of my life.
I followed friends into a coffee shop where a girl was singing passionately, her face bright with emotion and meaning. A man accompanying her on the piano sang along at times. When they announced they were going to do The Civil Wars I melted with happiness.
It was a nearly perfect duet. Only Joy and John Paul could have done any better. I looked around at the twenty or so people in the cafe, eyes wide at the beauty filling there ears, a slight smiles reminding them of some memory, some person.
I don’t have a choice, but I still choose you.
In the midst of it all, I thought what I can’t help think when I am faced with incredible genuine talent,
“Why aren’t they famous!?!”
The thought was normal, but in the moment it felt almost profane.
Whether they are famous or not has nothing to do with the beauty they possess in their voices, their instruments singing along.
And then tonight I saw a play. It was written by an eighty-year-old man. His wife played the only character, the entire performance a two hour monologue. But I was enraptured. I went on a journey with this woman, crying and laughing. I peered into her soul, saw her pain, her reasons for being, and ultimately walked with her out of the door of the prison in her mind.
Afterwards, we talked to the genius couple that made this play come to be. The man spoke of how hard it was to market it, as all he knew was the old school ways, and they were thinking of canceling the next few shows. Again, the question arose in me, this time more urgently.
“Why doesn’t the world know about this? This is such incredible talent! This is such an important message! We need to get as many people to see this as possible!”
I wonder how many times I have said that. It’s a natural reaction, to want to share beauty, to try to as Annie Dillard said, “take a wider view and describe what’s going on here.” It compels us, it’s part of what makes us human.
But can our desire for masses to behold these works of art actually rob something from us as we behold them?
This is so close to home because I see myself as an artist. Not in a pretentious way, but rather in the simple fact my purpose is to create, to string words together to try to create image, emotion, to allow Something Else to breathe into it and reflect on what it means to be a human being and beyond. It’s obviously hard when I feel like no one is listening. I am sure this has been the conflict of creators throughout the history of humanity; like a new mother, we desire to show the world our baby so everyone can know how special he is.
“This is natural, of course. This desire to be heard. To be acknowledged as an artist. But ultimately it corrupts the art, the pure desire to create.”
But I still get this sense of righteous indignation, the idea that those with amazing creative talent deserve a huge platform.I am sure you know at least a handful of “should be” famous people. They play in dive bars and coffee shops, paint in their basement, sing in the their shower, act in front of a handful of people in a warehouse-turned-theater. Often, they are struggling, the “starving” artists who can barely pay their bills, and yet they keep creating.
In a culture that cranks out auto-tuned robots and uses sex and CGI to sell instead of creativity and good story telling, it’s easy to get bitter real fast. But there has to be a better way.
We all want beauty. It’s easy to rant about how “arts and entertainment” shouldn’t be in the same category, how society as a whole just wants fluff and no substance, how culture is dying and being replaced by clones, but I’d rather try to see the hope.
People, all over the world, are creating because we love to. We have songs and books and plays and sculptures inside of us and nothing will stop us: not being broke, and definitely not anyone telling us that what we are doing has already been done or that it’s not marketable.
Side note: That is never good advice to give someone- it kills dreams and stops people from even trying. People who say this usually have given up themselves. Don’t ever listen.
Every year I have been alive, I understand more how important art really is. It reflects how we try to make sense of the world around us. It is our mouthpiece of dealing with pain, overwhelming emotion, beauty that muddles our minds. It shows us who we are and where we are going.
It’s our “feeble attempt to express the inexpressible.”
Maybe the amount of people that experience art does not determine its value, maybe it is valuable because it was made in the first place.
How many people have given up because their talent was never recognized, they never got paid for what they thought they were worth? How many of those people are now bitter at the world?
I don’t write this because I have it all figured out. Even as I write this I hope I will be recognized. It’s a choice every time I post to choose to not allow my view of what I’ve written be judged by the amount of facebook likes.
If I write for the praise of people I may as well give up right now. Accolades are addictive, you can never have enough.
I wrote this because I’ve listened to the music and watched the scenes play out and I’ve felt the frustration of wanting the world to experience what I had in those moments. I wrote this because my fingers literally start twitching and I know if I don’t get it out I’ll spontaneously combust.
So I’ll keep on writing until the day I die, whether it’s an audience of one or a million.
I will leave behind the facade and bare my heart because that’s who I am and the world doesn’t need another copycat.
I’ll know I create because I was created to create and every day I will choose to believe that is enough.