I’ve been thinking about what I might want to say about the disruptions in my life here on the blog… disruptions which have sidetracked me from my normal writing routines.
I’ve been considering what it means for me to be a writer. I’ve talked about this with other writer /artist friends and we all have our way of dealing with the situation of juggling responsibilities (pay the rent, buy food, keep the lights on) and our desires to create art.
But… I don’t know if I’m a REAL writer.
I know you won’t agree with me putting forth such an outrageous comment, but hear me out.
What I mean is:
- I write a blog;
- I’ve had my stories published in online literary journals;
- I am compelled to produce fiction;
So yes, I write things. That much is true.
But of what consequence are these writings? I’m not dedicating my life to my writing. I’m not making essential sacrifices to be a full time writer. I’m not doing my utmost to achieve visible success.
I know many artists who are so obsessed and compelled to produce art they are incapable of doing anything else. They cannot work at a regular job because it does not give them sufficient time to produce their art. Many of them (most?) live in poverty and undergo terrible intellectual suffering wondering if they will “make it.”
And sadly, many of us (most?) won’t achieve large-scale success like Stephen King, JK Rowling or Richard Russo. We will never sell enough of our books to be wealthy, we will not be published by a well known publisher, or make the NY Times bestseller list, or reviewed in the NY Times or LA Times Book Reviews, have our book (or story) picked up by a movie studio, or selected by the Oprah book club, given the Pulitzer Prize or provided with any other socially visible signs of artistic success as a writer.
And for artists such as painters and sculptors it’s the same. Many (most?) may never have a major gallery pick up their work, they won’t sell enough paintings at a sufficient price to make a full time living, they will not have their works collected by museums, and they will not achieve the visible success of people like the Chuck Close’s, Damien Hurst’s or Jeff Koons of the world.
A writer friend complained to me recently that there is too much content being produced nowadays. There are too many blogs in the world, he said, spewing out stuff (much of it mediocre he postulated) and overwhelming any potential audience from finding the “good” content. But who will be the first to stop producing their content if they do not believe it is of the highest quality? And then we must multiply blogs by the Facebook accounts, Twitter tweetings, and all manner of other mechanisms belching out relatively meaningless content day after day.
To what end, should we dare ask?
All of the people who call themselves artists: writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, actors, musicians, singers, songwriters… all of us… what chance do we have to become a successful version of our best artistic selves?
Or should we accept that, perhaps, we are nothing more than dedicated hobbyists? Do we pitter, patter and piddle around producing stuff to be burped out of the massive gut of an online machine of similar hobbyists in a world-wide act of continuous public mental masturbation?
What is the mechanism we must trigger to achieve success?
What does it mean to be successful?
To close, I’m going to turn this entire post on its head by quoting the Wikipedia article about Mark Rothko, an internationally acclaimed abstract expressionist (he hated that label, by the way) and whose work hangs in the most important museums all over the world.
Despite his fame, Rothko felt a growing personal seclusion, and a sense of being misunderstood as an artist. He feared that people purchased his paintings simply out of fashion, and that the true purpose of his work was not being grasped by collectors, audiences or critics.