Somehow, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually become less cynical about art. To pursue a career, or even just a paying sideline in the arts requires a tremendous amount of self-confidence because if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you, in good faith, ask someone else to believe in you and hand over cash for something you made that doesn’t actually do anything? We’re not building garage door openers here, after all.

But, as American Idol has been kind/malicious enough to point out, a whole lot of self-confidence is utterly misguided. My wife used to work as a talent scout for a modeling agency, and a woman approached her one night asking if they repped models with disabilities, because she thought her daughter would make a great spokesperson for something. The woman then plopped onto the table in front of her a photo of a child with no eyes. No. Eyes. And the mother said, without even a trace of irony, “Now tell me that face couldn’t sell mustard!”

Anakin Skywalker. A face only a Jedi could love.
“One last thing, Luke. Be sure to stock up on Funyuns!”

So yes, there are sometimes clear and loud disconnects between one’s perceived and actual prospects when it comes to employment in entertainment and the arts. But these days, I’m much more inclined to say “So what? God bless ’em.”

The world is, I can say without hesitation, a better place because Modeste Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is in it. But it is also a better place for all of our terrible, awkward YouTube videos.

For myself, I have two artistic goals (or rules, or guidelines, or whatever) and I think they are good ones.  They are:

1. Tell the truth
2. Don’t be boring

Maybe the first is more important than the second, but if you’re not at least attempting to abide by those two ideas, maybe it’s not really art you’re making. Maybe it’s play. But that’s fine, too.

The fundamental question we might ask ourselves when we start working on a story, song, painting, film, etc., is, “Why bother?” What will it contribute to someone else’s life or the larger discourse? Are we tackling this project for ourselves, or for others? Does the idea burning to get out of us want to communicate something unique and honest to the world, or simply…escape? Personally, I try to look beyond myself. I don’t want somebody to pop in music I made because it’ll make me feel better, but because I fervently hope it will make them feel better. Because of that personal disposition, I used to think that I didn’t want to be bothered with anything other people made that wasn’t trying to tell me something. Not so much anymore. Because it turns out the answers to those questions aren’t as important as I used to think.

I realized something:

As terrible as the world can be — and is, somewhere, at any given time — it is a better place if we are pumping it full of creative energy, whatever the result. Creativity is how our souls communicate. So who the hell is anybody to tell us we should ever quit, or give up, or worse than that, not try in the first place?

Do your thing.

I used to hate this. Now I have better things to do.

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