Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Perils of Praise and the Artistic Ego

At the end of the day everyone wants to be appreciated and admired. We all work hard. Whatever it is we do, we work hard at it day in and day out. Sometimes there is a lot of tangible reward to our work and sometimes there is not. When there is not a tangible compensation for our work, like a pay check or some sort of award, we look for the intangible; praise.

Everyone wants to feel appreciated and like all of their hard work was worth all the effort that was funneled into whatever the project was. It is amazing how far a "Good job", "Well done", or "That is amazing!" can take a person. When these words come from the mouths of those in positions of power or from the well respected in your community it means all that  much more. Someone who is considered the best giving you even the slightest praise can send a person dancing on clouds.

Lets face it, it also feels really good to be praised and admired. It is a sort of endorphin inducing experience to be lauded for your efforts. When those moments of praise come in a public forum it is an even bigger high. Not only are you being appreciated but you are having your work publicly justified. Justification of your hard work is important and for many is the difference between soldiering on and quitting.

I mean who wants to work hard all the time with nothing to show for it. If no one in charge cares why should you care? I mean isn't that why we are all doing this? To be loved and adored by those we admire and respect?

Sadly this is the point many of us find ourselves, especially artists.

Artists are not necessarily unique in the world, but they seem to be some of the most praise dependent people there are. Without some form of affirmation and acknowledgement it is hard to tell if what you are doing is worth it. When your medium is completely subjective it makes everything you do potentially both a failure and a success all at the same time.

Whether you are creating physical works of art, writing stories, making music, or performing there is a high chance that what you are doing will be loved as loudly as it is hated. You can have a gallery opening with people sneering at what they see while critics are writing 10 inches on how inspirational your work is. You can have patrons giving you standing ovations while the review the next day is nothing short of insulting.

It is safe to say that this sort of hot and cold reception can be nothing short of maddening. For artists, who lead what is often a manic and maddening existence to start with, that sort of commentary on what is our passion can be positively devastating.

Artists egos are fragile things. You find your artists mostly in two flavors; tough as nails and don't seem to give a damn what anyone thinks of what they do, and so fragile that the most insignificant tangential online comment can send them into a self loathing spiral of doom.

When actual awards are involved, and not just a nice pat on the back, things get even worse. We get so wrapped up around the concept of this hunk of metal or pottery that we will become all consumed in the pursuit of this thing. This one bobble that somehow will justify all the pain and misery we have suffered through for our art. It is the one thing that proves that we are worthy.

I say 'we' because I am an artist over several mediums, and I am just as guilty of chasing the award as pretty much everyone else is. I want that award and praise, I crave it even. It is natural to do so. We are after all only human; human artists who thrive on praise.

The sad thing is that it is all an illusion. As I said art is subjective. Certainly an 'expert' or 'authority' in a field has more 'credibility' in their words, but they are  not the end all be all of your medium. Their opinion is just that; an opinion. You know what they say about opinions right?

I feel that when we get caught up in the vicious pitfall of praise we are cheapening ourselves and our work. It is easy to lose sight of why we are doing this thing in the first place. It is easy to forget why you first picked up a brush, a camera, an instrument, or stepped on stage. We forget the passion that drives us and in that loss of focus, our art suffers.

I don't perform or write for the praise. The praise is a nice by product, but it is not why I do it. It is not why I ever did it. The first time I stepped on stage it was not about the audiences approval, it was about telling them a story. It was about being in that moment under those lights and being the story. Living out those lines so that maybe someone watching would fall in love with the words the way I had. The mere chance that I would evoke something inside of someone was more exhilarating than anything I had ever experienced before.

When I write I do not do it to please others. I want people to like my stories and this blog, but that is not why I write. I write because the words live inside of me and are tearing me apart from the inside so that they might get out. I just want people to read my words, because they were meant to be heard. Not loved, not hated, just heard.

My art exists to exist. I know not everyone will like what I do, and they do not have to. That is the beauty of art and performance. If everyone loved it then it somehow would be cheapened. It would mean that I have nothing else to tell or achieve. I am not trying to appeal to everyone, I am just trying to be honest and true to my art, and in that I should not meet everyones approval.

I am not perfect. I have days when I fall back on my instinctual need for praise and admiration. I still crave those words of approval from those that I look up to. I still want those awards and trinkets that validate these things I do. I am human. Those days are fewer and far between though.

When those feelings of inadequacy start to seep in and I begin to claw at that ideal of recognition for validation I make myself stop and take a step back. I stop and remember the gleeful look on that little girl when I crouched before her and shared the magic of faire with her. I remember the small voice of an almost stranger thanking me for words I typed from the heart. I remember a new friend laughing uproariously at a story that was never meant to be. I remember that what I do matters and is good.

I remember that it is good for me. I remember that I have done the best that I could at that moment and that every day I become better at this thing I do. Every time I try I succeed simply by not giving up.

I do not begrudge the person who does win the awards or praise. I do not think that they are undeserving because that is not true. They are deserving just as I am deserving. Today was just their day. They crave that attention as much as I, and who am I to deny them that? I am no one. I am just an artist with a fragile ego just like they are.

Today I will bask in their triumph and give to them their well deserved praise. Mine might come tomorrow, or it might never come, but that is alright. I will still  be here creating, because that is all I know to do.

If you are an artist, do yourself a favor and stop chasing the praise. Stop and remember why it is you do whatever it is you do. Remember that fire and passion and let that drive you again. You might find it freeing in a way you did not know possible. Let that weight go.

And me?

Well, somewhere someone is better for what I have done, and that is praise enough for me today.

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