I got an email from fellow writer Theresa Largusa with this request: "Here are a couple of questions I think about often, especially in light of how self-publishing is now considered legitimate: What is the artist's responsibility to herself? What is the artist's responsibility and obligation, if any, to the public? I'd be interested in what you think. Also, if you feel these questions would make a good blog post, that would be wonderful."
I oblige, of course. Here is what I think. There is really only one responsibility an artist has, and that is to create honest art. Not copy, not create to sell, not create to match something that is popular or because it fits a popular genre or category or what have you, not imitate the style of others, but to see the world the way you see it, and share that, however scary or morose or malicious or unsavory or, perhaps on the other end of the spectrum, too illustrious or kitsch or cutesy or... (insert the last bad word you called your art) it is. It doesn't matter what others think, it also doesn't matter what your internal critic thinks, because that's not you talking. That is your dad, or your mom, or your bad art teacher, or your jealous ex-lover, or the talking penguin you saw in your LSD dreams that has clearly articulated to you that you suck, and your genes suck, and that why you can't produce great art, and your art sucks, and life sucks in general. Whew. That was a long sentence. As an artist your responsibility, both to yourself and to the public is to share. As it is. Share everything. You successes, your failures, your glum days, your glorious days, everything. Your responsibility, in one word, is to get naked. Now, I hope you won't take that literally and run off to get rid of your pants, although it is a very subliminal activity that will air out your stale ass and perhaps will make it smell better (I know it does mine), anyway.
To create is to feel. To make art, that is, to make your creation digestible by others, is to transcribe that feeling into something you can give to others, so that they can pass it on. A book. A painting. A song. A sculpture. A photograph. A video of a dance. That requires a certain mastery of the language you are using, be it words, or paint, or clay, or musical notes. This is where most artists get scared and fail. When they start out, they can't help it but to get scared. There is so much to learn. The trick here is to record your emotions. If you adhere to this artist's responsibility to get naked, whatever you will produce, will find an audience. Why? Because you were honest, you got naked, you showed it how it is. You grammar sucks? So what, write. Never used watercolor before? Who cares. Paint. Don't know how to sculpt clay? Just knead it and see what comes out. If while you're doing it you draw from the heart, you haul out that reservoir of feelings and mess with it, get inside, soak in it, we will feel it too. Think of your kids drawings. Kids are great at this. Ask a kid to draw a horse, and a kid will give you a picture of a purple balloon. And you ask, how is this a horse? And the kid says, the horse is hiding behind it, because it's shy. THERE. That is art. That is as honest as you can get. The kid is not being embarrassed to be made fun of, for confusing a horse with a balloon. That's how you see things too, except you forgot, and got scared, and now you're full of anxiety over how your view of the world will be received.
Create the way you would. (By the way, I'm very guilty of this, I'm still scared shitless most of the time and have to fight through it.) That's your responsibility. To help others see life a million new ways, get inspired to live. Because life is beautiful, and we all see it however we see it, and seeing it through the eyes of others is what helps us enjoy this time we're here. Because, hey, in case you have forgotten, any minute that dirigible might collide with that ADD pelican high up in the air and crash on your head, and POOF! You will turn into a pile of soggy rags and be no more.