I shouldn’t do it when I’m feeling fragile, but I do it anyway: I go look at my Amazon ratings and trawl Goodreads to see whether my books have picked up any new reviews. Invariably, I’m disappointed. Invariably, I feel even more like shit. To make matters worse, I then go read my older three-stars-and-less reviews. Admittedly, I don’t have many of those, but it’s not like I’m drowning in new, glowing four- and five-star reviews either.
I shouldn’t have to care what other people think of my art, but I do.
I think Amanda Palmer sums it up best when she says it’s about wanting people to see you, and not just look at you. You want them to *notice* you.
Because, face it, as a creative, be it a musician, author or artist, there’s no denying that you *need* to share your vision to help it grow. Simply having the intent and the means to create works of art isn’t enough. Your audience completes the picture. Without that cosy, warm assurance that you’re not completely barking mad for laying your soul bare, you’re essentially shouting into a hurricane. There is no moment where the winds abate and others can hear your song.
(I could also phrase this a little more indelicately by stating that an artist without an audience is basically just wanking.)
Why do we create? I’ve heard some folks say it’s because they want to leave something of themselves behind for future generations – a stab at immortality, if you will. The ancient Egyptian pharaohs had the right of it, in that case.
That’s all fine and dandy, but that doesn’t fill that void I, as an artist, feel *now* – that what I create *now*. I don’t want to be like Vincent van Gogh, who only became famous after he died. His success meant nothing to him once he was dead.
Also, consider this, that an artists needs to be present to curate their own works. They don’t create in a vacuum, but are also shaped by society and events around them. A legacy is not so much that which is produced but it is also the process and the interactions within a society.
Remove the artist from society, and you sit with a stagnant body of work that is only good so long as there are dedicated fans to keep the spirit alive and somewhat functional. Yet there will be no new growth – only deviations presented by others who view the works through their lens, which may not quite match what the artist initially intended.
I want to be here, *now*, and involved in my art. I want to enjoy my art *now*. Even if I write fanfiction for an established fandom without any financial gain – simply having readers respond with enthusiasm feeds my spirit. Rather that than a deafening silence.
When random readers message me to tell me that they’ve devoured my book in one sitting or others as, “So, when is the next one coming out?” I dance on sunbeams. (Yeah, prerequisite fluffy imagery there.)
I am inspired. I will create more because that which I have created has not vanished into a dark hole. To be quite honest, I don’t care what happens to my writing once I’m dead because, well, I’ll be dead, and nothing will matter to me. What’s the point of not being around to witness whether one’s legacy endures?
So, if you’ve read this far, and whether you are an artist or a consumer of art, you may wonder what you can do during present times when nothing is certain.
Here’s the deal, and Neil Gaiman nailed it when he simply said, “Make good art.” If you’ve yet to listen to the keynote address where this immortal line comes from, go do so now. I promise it will make it better. I feel like tattooing those words on my left hand.
Now, whether you are painting pictures of cats on sidewalks in chalk or composing a string quartet, carry on making art. Even if you play your song to an audience of three (and one of those present is your mom) carry on playing. Carry on writing your flash fiction. Embroider a tapestry of a jabberwocky hunt. Whatever it is that makes you happy, *do it*.
Then, if you have heard someone sing, or you have read a book that gave you all the feels, take a moment out of your day to thank the artist. Put a coin in a hat. Tweet @ them on Twitter. Leave a review over at Goodreads. Hell, write them fanmail. Share with them what it was about their art that touched you.
Do it now.
Do it every time their magic sets fire to your spirit, and you will spread that magic and make this world a little brighter, a little less cruel.