Why An Artist Should Share His Work

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Many artists believe they have to strike out on their own, that art is an inherently personal endeavor and that the opinions of others should never matter. This is a perfectly acceptable outlook if one’s work is private. But if an artist ever hopes to publish his creations and share them with the rest of the world, at some point he’s going to have to accept that the opinions of others do matter, that he can’t go it alone and expect to build a significant following.

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of what we artists do is by nature solitary work. We have to turn off the world outside so that we can tune in to the world inside our heads. But in-between these interior excursions, if we are to be understood by others, we must at some point submit our discoveries to the scrutiny of others. We must be prepared to be misunderstood and rejected. We must accept that our work is imperfect and that critical feedback can help us improve it.

The art-making process is like dreaming. Though the initial result might make sense to the dreamer, those outside won’t understand its many inconsistencies and contradictions. Reliable outside witnesses are therefore a necessity. They will be able to see what we as artists cannot so that, armed with knowledge we couldn’t have gathered on our own, we can make our work more relatable.

Sounds simple, right? Gather feedback, then improve. Why then is it so hard for us accept feedback from others?

The problem is that we artists are by nature sensitive people. Often, this sensitivity is an asset. It allows us to perceive the ordinarily latent subtleties inherent to the human experience, to amplify them and to reflect them back into the world from a different angle so that others can share in our discoveries. But the same sensitivity that allows us to penetrate emotional undertones and to make good art also hinders us in our ability to perfect it, because to do so requires us to admit that our work isn’t perfect, that the children of our minds which we’ve fallen so deeply in love with are flawed, that we failed in our attempt to create something beautiful. Because of our heightened sensitivity, we feel an almost agonizing despair.

To be successful, we must first learn to identify true beauty. Art is never perfect, especially not good art. It is and always will be imperfect, because the humans who make it are also imperfect. We must love our art not for what we wish it to be, but for what it is. We must accept it with our whole hearts, on its own terms, with all of its many flaws. In wanting the best for our work, we must desire that it be better even than ourselves. By encouraging healthy outside criticism, we are able to refine our work in ways we could never have dreamed of on our own, allowing us to accomplish precisely that.

Once our understanding of true beauty has been rooted in a more practical perspective, once we’ve removed our work from the pedestal that would have set it forever out of our audience’s reach, then we can learn to appreciate and even enjoy critical feedback. We might not always agree, as great minds will seldom see eye to eye. But we’ll no longer cower in fear of rejection.

Of course, in cultivating an open mind, we must be careful to filter out those voices which are better left ignored. Not all feedback is good. Unfortunately, there are those who, for reasons of their own, delight in tearing others down. They’ll sit atop their pristine white horse, proclaim with feral brutality every last way in which an artist’s work falls short and sneer snootily while declaring that his work isn’t even suitable for the garbage. This type of criticism can be corrosive and toxic to the soul, because it often contains just enough truth that we begin to question and even doubt in our abilities as artists. We must learn the difference between constructive criticism and insults so that we can filter out harmful comments and focus on making our art better instead of throwing up our hands and giving into despair.

Lastly, we must understand that good art doesn’t please everybody. The human population is diverse. Everyone has a different type of mind that operates in a different way, so that everyone resonates with a different type of work. Don’t believe me? Check out the Goodreads page for any classic novel (David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, is a good example) and filter for one star reviews. Making your work accessible to all would require you to boil it down to something so basic and simple that it loses all its flavor, ensuring that your art will please no one. Spend your time courting those who can appreciate you for who you are and what you do, because art should never be a popularity contest.

Art will always a personal journey, of course. Its manufacture requires us to reach deep inside the cavernous depth of subjective experience. But to be appreciated by an outside audience, it must first be transformed into something the audience can understand. We must never be afraid to solicit opinions. Rather, we should accept criticism with enthusiasm, because it’s through honest feedback that we can finally make our creations shine with the radiance we knew them to be capable of from the get-go.

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You Are a Universe

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Have you ever gazed at the stars, pondered a vastness you couldn’t begin to comprehend and asked yourself if you’re really that significant, if you’re anything more than a speck on a grain of sand in a sprawling desert?

If so, take heart. Though you may be small in stature, the world inside your soul is astronomical, a boundless cosmos pregnant with thoughts and dreams, experiences and beliefs, all of which cluster into more complex structures: the humanities, the sciences, an infinite expanse of human endeavors that’s as vast as any material universe.

At the beginning of life, like the beginning of our universe, your mind, though tiny, is a roiling mass seething with enormous quantities of potential energy. In just a few short years, it expands. It acquires language and experience. Synapses form, transforming your brain into a thinking feeling powerhouse. In the process, prototypical thoughts and beliefs collide. Some are annihilated; others emerge from the rubble.

As you age, these units of thought coalesce, condensing into more stable structures. Your experiences, your perceptions, all that you think and feel, everything that defines you and makes you who you are is drawn together. Then, pressurized in the forge of the imagination, it ignites. Books are written. Technologies emerge. Diseases are cured. Outward expressions of the soul burn like stars, saving the world from darkness.

At some point in your life, you’ll likely be pulled into another person by the intense gravitational force of love. There will be a collision, and like the Big Bang, a whole new cosmos will form, a world filled with shared dreams and common experiences. Couples will cluster into families, families into communities, communities into states and nations, worlds stacked upon worlds.

When faced with the enormity of the stars, you might be tempted to conclude that your existence is just so much flotsam adrift in a celestial sea. But though you may be small when compared with the length, width and height of the universe, if you instead measure yourself against a more existential dimension, you’ll discover a whole new universe, waiting to be explored.

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Rationalist Software Developer Encounters Paradox and the Supernatural

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I was freewriting a couple of days ago, trying to flesh out an idea for a new story. I wanted to explore the overlap between the rational and the transcendental. Given my own experience as a software developer, I thought it would be interesting to take a rationalist programmer, whose daily experience is with logic and code, and place him in a situation where his philosophy would be challenged by something that human reason alone would fail to explain.

I haven’t figured out what this story is going to be about. It’s been quite a challenge, because I want this to be fantasy rather than sci-fi, yet I also want the narrative to be driven by a technologically sound scenario.

His Profile

As I said, my main character is a developer. He develops for the web, though he has a more general background in computer science and develops many different kinds of software in his spare time. He loves that he can create something from nothing, that he can make a tool simply by describing to the computer how that tool should work.

He muses over the nature of data and instructions, over the difference between the two which is nothing more than semantics. He believes that thoughts and ideas, that everything abstract and seemingly transcendent about human nature, can ultimately be reduced to and explained in terms of software and computation. He ponders the nature of the soul, and reflects on the mystery of software as “the ghost in the machine.”

He wonders sometimes if reality is just data and instructions, a simulation in some cosmic-scale computer. He wonders if it would make a difference one way or the other.

He has the rare gift of being able to tunnel down into the code he’s writing, looking for potential bugs and vulnerabilities, while simultaneously maintaining a high level awareness of the software’s architecture. He has the type of mind that latches onto problems and won’t rest until patterns emerge. He has a strong love for logic, and will sometimes spend hours of his free time exploring alternate solutions to the same problems.

He’s a little detached from things that are outside of his own head; he sees the world through an abstract theoretical lens, through algorithms, heuristics and data. He often formulates logical probabilistic models to help him explain what he observes in other people and their behavior. He develops “risk models” in his mind that he thinks will help him to live his life while minimizing risk to himself. This abstraction leads him to dehumanize the world, so that he’s concerned primarily with his own self interest.

What I Want to Do With Him

As I hinted at in this blog’s title, I’d like to throw my main character into a situation that forces him to confront something paradoxical and supernatural. But I’m not exactly sure yet what that will be.

On the one hand, I want to stick as closely as possible to the technical realities of computers and software. On the other, I don’t want this to be too scientific because I’m going for fantasy, not sci-fi. I almost feel as if the story’s theme itself is paradoxical, because it seems to me that these two constraints are mutually exclusive.

One crazy idea I had was to introduce spiritual beings whose chosen incarnations were computers. But I think that’s far-fetched. I then thought about introducing the idea of a chaotic solution that, though rationally defined on the surface, always yields unpredictable results that eventually drive my main character, and perhaps much of the technical world later, mad. But that feels a little too sci-fi.

For the moment, I’ve hit a dead end and can’t go any further. No amount of freewriting will get me out of this dilemma, at least not for a while.

So…Why Did I Share This?

Because I thought it would be fun to share what I know about my main character so far. I think he’s interesting enough on his own that he’s worth sharing. Also, I guess there’s a part of me that’s hoping one of my readers will have ideas, since right now I’m pretty stuck. So please, don’t be shy! If you have any insights or ideas that might help me figure this out, let me know in the comments below. If I use anything that comes from you, I’ll be sure to give you credit.

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Writing is Hard

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It really is.

Sure, you have the occasional explosion of creativity that spatters the walls of your mind, so that all you have to do is scrape the surface to create beautiful prose without really trying. This kind of intense inspiration can last for days, even weeks or months. But there inevitably come in every writer’s life moments when the ideas are gone, when all you can do is huddle in a dark corner with your hands over your eyes, wondering how suddenly it could have all been snatched away.

When the honeymoon is over, when you’re no longer in the throes of passion, doting over the muse with her intimately whispered secrets, when you’re left to limp alone across the desert of mediocrity and self-doubt, that’s when your dedication to the craft must not waver. It’s at the height of desperation that your faith in what you were created to do will be tested, a faith that’s critical if you’re to find the strength you need to continue stumbling blind in the dark, placing one clumsy word after another.

Good consistent writing is borne of hard work and discipline. You must be able to reach into the dusty corners of your mind, to wander through the labyrinthine corridors of consciousness, twisting and turning into infinity, diligently searching until at long last you stumble over deposits of the rarest substance there is, that raw clay of the mind, forged in the furnace of your imagination. You must shape, mold and sculpt this clay into something unique, something beautiful, something that catches the light of common everyday experience and reflects it back in all the colors of the philosophical rainbow.

Writing asks for nothing less than your soul. You must offer it willingly, allow it to be consumed by and absorbed into your stories, articles and blogs, and in so doing, allow your soul to be laid bare before the world, so that your deepest self is vulnerable to scorn and criticism.

Writing is emotionally draining, time consuming and is often without reward. Very few reap any compensation for their work at all, and of those who do, but a small percentage are blessed with the means to make a living through their art alone.

Yet, despite much hardship, the Writer takes joy in his work, for the soul of the Writer has, in spite of everything, accomplished what it was created to do. Like the One who created the Writer, he can gaze upon his work, a product of his blood and tears, and at last proclaim, “it is good.”

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