Encouraging Words for Despairing Artists
If you’re an artist, or have an artistic impulse, or care deeply about art, you probably experience the kind of quiet despair that I find in many of my jazz musician friends, my poet friends, my painter friends, and frequently from myself. Yes, it’s heartbreaking to be part of a culture that finds the work that we do increasingly irrelevant and of little worth (at least in the marketplace sense). It’s depressing to be so astonishingly good at something and yet so relatively uncelebrated and unappreciated.
But you must never stop. We — all of us who care in varying degrees about stuff other than acquiring and consuming — are out there. We’re reading, and listening, and looking, and cogitating, and arguing, and questioning, and loving. We can’t be co-opted. We’re too smart and too aware. We’re not going anywhere. And we need you, you specifically, with your lavish talents, and all the others like you who bring something good and maybe lasting to this world.
Let me remind you that what you do — what all of us who traffic in ideas, in the endless and unknowable quest to understand and explain what it means to be alive and conscious — has value. It is good. It is beautiful. It’s a counterweight to the crushing barrage of disposable crap that the popular culture flings at us.
One of my very best friends is a 10-time Grammy-nominated jazzer. Tierney Sutton was my high school classmate. Bobby McFerrin is my hero. These cats and kittens have taught me a lesson in humility, the real kind. They understand that they’re gifted, that they’ve been given specific gifts from the Creator or the Universe or whatever concept you prefer. They understand that the gift is not theirs; they are merely the vessel through which the divine energy flows, and they are meant to, they are obligated, to share it with the world. It’s a heavy responsibility. These folks complain and despair and fret, because it’s so damn hard to go on when you’re reaching for the transcendent and nobody seems to care. But they go on reaching, anyhow. That’s what a responsible curator of divine gifts does: he bears the burden and he shares.
Your gifts matter, Mr. and Ms. Artist. You’re a beautiful creator and a beautiful person. How many (or few) people are capable of appreciating your beauty hardly matters. That there are any at all means you are important, hugely important — to us and to God, or whomever bestowed upon you uncommon intelligence.
So keep doing your thing. It’s a kind of magic; you’re blessed to be cursed with the responsibility of sharing it.
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