(Another chapter... Note: this includes/adapts some material that was included in a prior "Persist: The Blog" entry.)
No. I actually don’t do it for myself, and it saddens me when I hear an artist or a fellow writer offering this last-ditch defense.
Creativity is love-making, not masturbation. Okay, I’ll concede what most of us already know: masturbation is not without its solitary pleasures! But still, it’s no substitute for what really counts. Creation—whether of life or of art—is an act of pro-creation. Art-making involves (for all of us, and I include the female) penetration; followed (for all of us, and I include the male) by gestation and the sometimes agonizing process of giving birth. And the work does not stop there. It includes taking responsibility for the care and nurture of the resultant love-child.
That stretches the metaphor far enough, I think. I do understand where the “I do it for myself” defense comes from. We live in a society that produces artists of all kinds as plentifully as popsicles in our production-line schools, and turns them out into the world with a fine piece of parchment assuring them that they are now qualified to go forth and join the multitude of others struggling to survive.
But the reality these well-intentioned, well-trained people confront is far different from what they have been led to hope for, and the number who can expect to compete in the market place is relatively small. The rest must fend for themselves and find other motivations for pursuing their dreams, not to mention other than commercial outlets for their work. It’s not surprising that some resort to that last-ditch justification for what they do: “I do it for myself.”
Art, however, by its very nature, is an act of communication. I write in order to say something to another human being. That’s what words are for. I believe the same of paint, or musical notes, or movement, all of which are means to conveying something about ourselves or the world to another human being. I love the words that Dylan Thomas used as an introduction to his “Collected Poems,” way back in the 1950s. “These poems,” he wrote, “with all their crudities, doubts and confusions, are written for the love of man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn fool if they weren’t.” I don’t happen to believe in the God he mentions, but I do know what he means. I feel that way about my own work, and I hope that all artists feel the same about theirs.
What we do, then, requires the ear to listen and the eye to see, and these are not necessary easy to find. This, too, is work. It takes effort—the time and energy we’d much rather be expending at the computer or in the studio. But I believe this to be a part of our responsibility as creative people. Call it the spirit of generosity. It’s about caring deeply enough about what we do to feel compelled to share it. If we’re worth our salt, we make our work in passion and have a passionate need to have it speak to others.
There is reason for good cheer on this front in this day and age, in which the amazing advances in communications technology make it possible to put our work out into the world without depending on the monolithic, commercial system of galleries and publishers. Remember, not much more than twenty years ago, the days of cumbersome submission via the US Postal Service—standing in line at the Post Office to send out packages of “slides” or padded envelopes stuffed with “manuscripts”? Who could have envisioned then the marvel of the “website” where an artist can post an entire history of images for the world to see; where a writer can post poems or stories—or essays, like myself? Who would have predicted the existence of “social networks” where a few moments’ work at the keyboard can draw world-wide attention to your latest entry?
(I ran into an artist just the other day, who had the good fortune to have his new work chosen for a prominent Los Angeles exhibition space. Even so, he was worried about whether anyone would ever hear about his show—until it was reviewed at a popular arts site online—and attracted, in a single day, some 200,000 hits in 103 different countries!)
As a writer, I fell into the blogosphere a number of years ago, like Alice Through the Looking Glass, and found myself in a world of previously unimaginable possibility. I’m now the writer-publisher of three blogs, in which I manage to publish something every day of my life, attracting readers in literally every corner of the world. What more could a writer wish for? The blogosphere also offers me the opportunity to satisfy another need: the need for feedback, response, the validation of what I have to say by another human being, who has read and listened to my words—even if that person happens to disagree with me.
So there’s no excuse these days. The Internet has opened up endless possibilities for any artist willing to take advantage of them—whether to offer their work for sale or simply to broadcast their images to the world. Almost every artist I know has a website. They include not only images of their work, but also videos, resumes, statements, contact information and links to other sites. There are numerous sites where inventive, entrepreneurial spirits bundle user-friendly meeting places for artists and art buyers. And of course there are numerous online art magazines offering venues for reviews, advertisement, ongoing discussion, and the exchange of information.
I happen to believe that artists provide an act of service to their fellow humans with the work they do. Art, as I said earlier, is about communication, and yet too many of us unnecessarily choose the path of isolation. That’s where it starts, but not where it should end. The wonderful Buddhist practice of metta begins with the meditator sending wishes of goodwill and compassion in the first instance to him- or herself—and then out, in ever-widening circles, to family, friends, acquaintances, and eventually all living beings. When I find myself questioning the value of my own small contribution to the well-being of the world, I call to mind that the only thing I can really change is myself. If I want to change the world, that’s where I have to start. Art—for me, writing—is about observing, activating and realizing the change within, and putting it out into the world. It may be no more than the flutter of a butterfly’s wing, but it can create that proverbial tempest on the other side of the globe.