Ever wonder why so many creative souls smoke, drink, and drug themselves into oblivion? I can tell you. I once read this really clever French book, How I Became Stupid (Comment je suis devenu stupide) by Martin Page. The premise is this: our protagonist, Antoine, an Aramaic scholar, realizes that his life-long and laser-pointed focus on intellectualism has distanced him from the rest of humanity, and he looks upon popular culture with almost alien eyes. He sets upon a comedic, but self-destructive quest to become, as the title says, “stupid,” in order to rejoin society and to be able to enjoy such common pleasures as alcohol and sports. Now by no means am I suggesting that people are “stupid,” nor do I consider myself a member of some elite intelligentsia. On the contrary, I do love me my rum and football. But I can relate, from an artistic perspective, to this feeling of separation, and I assert that it only gets worse, commensurate with one’s commercial success. Whether you’re completely invisible, have a small cult following, or are a smashing success as an artist, being creative is a curse.
Let’s start with the invisible masses. These are the people who don’t even attempt to “make it big” or “get into the industry,” and instead are resigned to simply keep their art to themselves and maybe a small circle of friends and family. (This is most of us, by the way.) Understand: we’re NOT here, in this category, because we haven’t even tried or because we’ve tried and failed. In fact, many of us have enjoyed either nominal or great success for a time, but we’ve either rejected that life due to its commensurate miseries (which I’ll explain in a moment), or because we’ve seen what it does to others, and we avoid it like the plague. And yet, obsolescence is a curse all on its own. The artist creates things that extremely few people understand or appreciate, even those devoted few in the artist’s inner circle. These creations, however magnificent, provide no means of sustaining the artist’s quality of life: i.e. food, shelter, clothing, money, etc., and so the artist must find gainful employment in a field that is decidedly NOT their passion. Now the artist is left with extremely little time to actually create the art that so nags at the soul of every waking (and many a sleeping) minute. Even to ignore the call of the muse is no solution—it’s as delusional as insisting you could breath underwater if you could just convince yourself you could. Being creative and invisible… it’s a curse.
Here are the artists who’ve at least “cracked the surface” and “broken in” to their respective industry to a certain extent. They’ve decided they’re going to brave the trials and tribulations of the business side of things, and though they may yet maintain their “day-job,” there’s at least a dream that it will one day be supplanted with their love’s labors. The artist has decided to expose their art beyond the “inner-circle.” This is the level where the judgment begins.
Thanks to modern technology, it is increasingly possible for artists in every media, whether film, writing, painting, game-design, or what-have-you, to choose some form of “self-publishing,” and we now see in all of these fields a split in the road that could lead to commercial success. One path is self-publishing through reasonably cheap but decent-quality methods, raising investment capital through a rich uncle or through crowdfunding sources like Kickstarter. The other path is the so-called “traditional” publisher, who already has the bank-roll and the infrastructure to finance, manufacture, and commercially promote the entire venture, and who’ll no doubt create a much more polished and higher-quality end-product than the self-publisher possibly could.
Neither path is guaranteed to succeed; neither path is free from hardship; both are cobbled with stones thrown in judgment. In truth, the artist’s only real question is, “whom would I prefer to judge me?” The masses can judge you and your self-published art, levying all manner of criticisms against the quality of the product or its cosmetic appearance. They will forever weigh it against the “traditionally” produced and grossly well-funded alternatives. The frustration here is that the reason so many people self-publish is because they don’t have the kind of money necessary to create or promote a product that the traditional publishers will even look at. If the artist could actually produce something of such high quality, then they wouldn’t need to “self-publish” in the first place.
Then again, if you go the “traditional” route, then you get to have the so-called “experts” judge you and your art, from their entrenched position of “what will sell” rather than “what is good,” and you may be asked to compromise the very essence of your art if you want commercial success. That’s the heartbreak: not all “self-published” art is automatically bad; not all “traditionally-published” art is automatically good. But the artist who’s mustered enough courage to try and become even remotely visible gets to suffer and be judged either way. See? Being creative and trying to get recognized or appreciated… it’s a curse.
Congratulations. You’ve “made it.” By some combination of raw talent, extremely hard work, personal sacrifice, dumb luck, and maybe even distasteful compromise, you’re a commercial success, and relative to your field, you’ve attained celebrity status. Or at least your work has, which is what you wanted. Guess what: the misery and judgment haven’t ended. In fact, they’re exponentially worse. Hordes of patrons now consume your art, at least one half of them misunderstanding it at best, hating it at worst, and because it has all become somewhat disassociated with you as a person, the vitriol people are willing to spew in the form of widely-publicized media knows no limit. Just the other day, I read the shortest and (in my opinion) most devastatingly hurtful critique of Batman V Superman. It was a simple Facebook post, four words long:
I was not impressed.
My god. Not impressed? I mean, Jesus. To have an opinion is one thing. To dislike a movie for any number of reasons is perfectly fine. But “not impressed”? As if the thousands of people who have to come together for countless hours over several months or years to create a film of this magnitude, who work painstakingly for hours and hours at their jobs (jobs which are quite possibly NOT their passions) on tiny but vital details that no one really notices or which end up on the editing-room floor, who get no recognition for their contribution save a passing mention in the credits that nobody reads, who have convincingly made it appear that a man is flying and that a city is being destroyed… as if all of this is of no more consequence than a YouTube video that a couple of high-schoolers slapped together on their iPhones the night before it was due. Not impressed. Wow.
So yes: you’re a commercial hit. But it doesn’t matter, because His Majesty is not impressed. Because art patrons everywhere have become so desensitized to the art in question, and expectations have been raised to such an unattainable height that either your success is going to be short-lived or extremely painful to maintain, and to do so may in fact corrupt the creative experience so much that it is hardly distinguishable from that loathsome job you had when you were invisible and starving. So yeah: being creative and successful… it’s a curse.
So if you’re a creative soul, then have a drink on me, mate. I know where you are, most days. You either can’t create what you really want to, or you do create it, only to have it torn to ribbons by the very people for whom you’re creating it. This mythical “muse” is more like a monkey on your back, but you couldn’t get rid of him if you tried. So to hell with it: pour a drink, have a smoke—whatever’s your poison—and pour another one for the monkey. Then get back to your studio, and create something new and awesome all over again, just for you.
You are invited to subscribe to this blog feed and/or to leave comments using the forms below. If you enjoy what we produce here at Past Go, please consider becoming a patron of ours on Patreon. Even the smallest donation is gratefully received. May you be happy.