What is an artist supposed to do?

(Content warning for descriptions of sexual assault, some ableism, and racism. Now, then…)

Does an artist have to hold things in until they become good, ripe, and ready for action? Spend countless hours wrestling with the anger, the powerlessness, and the danger until it eats a hole into one’s brain?

Should an artist go to therapy, letting out some steam, or does the act of doing so remove the, “juice” that makes a work special? Is your misery something that propels you to better places, or just an excuse to destroy yourself because you’ve been taught by the movies that a suffering artist is more interesting than everyone else?

Do you really believe that you deserve the spotlight, or to be seen?

How much pussy/dick do you think you are going to get from this? Or do you not want that, you just want…connection? Appreciation? But then why would anyone want to connect with or appreciate you? If one is defined by their work, then what does an artist have that makes them a worthwhile person to be around?

Clerks, customer service agents, police officers, soldiers, homeless folk, sex workers, waiters, nurses, civil servants…they have stories to tell. They have inner lives. But the inner life of an artist is one of a parasite, or a dog eating their pups. Consume, consume, consume, and what do you make of it? Crumbs, at least compared to the slop you consume. But they’re nice crumbs, aren’t they? Gather enough of them, and you have a body of work for other citizens/civil servants/would-be artists to consume. But what about you?

You distance yourself, or you get so close to your subject it’s creepy. You do a lot of research, or you just wing it. You study, or are guided by instinct. Your entire life is work, or at least a long preparation for it. As an artist, you spend so much time being outside of the life you occupy that it hardly feels like living. You perceive that other people are living, “fuller” lives. Drinking, groping, partying, going out to nightclubs.

Wait…artists can go to nightclubs, too. But are they really THERE? Are you there?

You read philosophy, study history, hang out with politically active friends, eat different foods, spend a lot of time watching people and how they work. All because you never fucking work, not by the Oxford sense of the word.

You tell yourself stories about how grand you will be if only you just finished your fucking work. It’s not that you’re lazy, it’s just that nothing fully comes together. Everything to you is a work in progress, and even as you set a deadline and get your shit together, deep down you feel a tinge of guilt when someone sets their sights upon your work, like you’re unworthy of the host you set your leeching jaws onto. And in a lot of ways, you are.

You will most likely never be the super-polished Sundance/Cannes Film Festival selection loved by psuedointellectual White Liberals, who everyone thinks are rich just because they looked like they robbed an Urban Outfitter.

You will most likely never be the rugged, classic icon loved by Conservative Old-Timers who are bitter at a world that has passed them by, and so want to drag it all into the same oblivion they’re headed for.

You will most likely never be the media darling with the dozens of sycophants who will defend you when you rape someone, or go after your smartest critics/rivals the very moment they voice an objection.

You are most likely not the would-be rebel who will shake up The System with your singular vision, for The System swallows all, and knows all.

Your work of art will mostly likely not impress the person you’re hitting on, or get good reviews, or make you the darling of your starving yet crowded niche.

You are most likely not going to pay off your debts or afford a nice house/apartment based on your work.

You are going to be ignored, no matter how much effort you put in. You will be listed in IMDB, but no one will give a shit. You have a well-organized DeviantArt/InkBunny/Pintrest/FurAffinity/whatever-the-fuck account, but no one knows you. Your Vimeo/YouTube profile sits with no one following you. Your best hot take on Twitter/Facebook/Wordpress/Blogger/LiveJorunal/Alibaba will only get 9 people liking it AT THE MOST…and then it will be forgotten by them, but remembered by The System (provided the servers don’t get fucked in some catastrophe).

You will reduce every supple thing around you to ashes, taking every possible subject around you and inside of you just to make a work of art, exploiting yourself like the plebs you love to mock. Do I even need to spell out how similar you are to the Svengalis and Bill O’ Reilys of the world, no matter what you believe?

You have hallowed yourself out, alienated your colleagues, all in the name of glory and self-expression. The people who were interested in you, even sympathetic to you, will one day not answer your calls or your text messages. The creative havens you build or stumble upon will crumble, and don’t even bother asking, “When?”

The life of an artist, as sold to us by The System, is that of a curmudgeon who is less than human, but is held in high-esteem (usually after death) BECAUSE they are less than human. A being who is only tolerated because they do one (or a few) things well. Someone who coasts along on mythology and glory, using such things as a shield to prevent the populace from eating them alive. A being who is one step away from being hanged (and deservedly so).

What, you think your passion excuses your shitty behavior, or your incompetence at other parts of life? It’s not that blue/white collar jobs are more, “important” than what you do, it’s that you are nothing without those jobs…and they are nothing without you. But you need to stop being a fucking jackass.

Why do you have to live like a fucking parasite being too close to things for comfort, or a fucking predator stalking your subjects from afar? Do you honestly believe that people appreciate that? You think it’s flattering to them? They want nothing to do with you, and if they did, you wouldn’t have to exploit your subject matter just to have something to say.

And as for you dealing with yourself…you know what, fuck it. Fuck dealing with yourself, you already know all about that. You know who you are, why do you need to dig inside? Introspection/Extroversion is one thing, but your psychoanalytical self-study means nothing unless it translates into something for someone else. You’ve crafted the prettiest fucking private room inside of your mind…when do you bring something out of it?

This is the only reason why people are allowed to be artists: with the expectation that something of, “worth” will come from it. Oh, sure, you’ll most likely never be paid for it in your lifetime. You’ll most likely die alone while your parasitic heirs scronge your work to fund their addictions. Some fucker in an expensive dress will host your work with ponderous bromides about your work’s significance, all in an air-conditioned room full of white boxes and New Helvetica. And your life will be the subject of countless shitty biographical works. Your corpse (or the most presentable parts of it) will be made into a new god, preserved in paper, plastic, silicon, pixels, glass and metal. No matter how long and restrictive your copyright, or how free and permissive it is, you will have to face oblivion.

The only thing that makes being an artist worth it is being able to say something and being well compensated for it within one’s lifetime. But there are things holding you back, both on a systemic level and a personal one. You will have to stop being a jerk, but you also have to deal with obscurity, piracy, bullshit contracts and draconican DRM measures made by short-sighted penny pinchers. A hard, thankless fight on both fronts…but an important one. Because if one can’t escape oblivion, they can damn well at least try to have some dignity while coasting towards it.

Being an artist means doing the work and fighting for one’s rights. It does not mean being a god. Your failures and successes are just those things, nothing else. One only knows so much about The Invisible Hand and the chances that it will pat you on the head…assuming such a thing exists to begin with.

Despite all of that…you create. You continue to explore, ponder, do things and show off. Simply because you can. Simply because you want to. And you hope to whatever/whoever you believe in that someone will look at you in the eye and say, “I want to pay you for that”. Or, at least, take at peak at your stuff.

Listen: you are going to fuck up. Hell, you’re an artist, you are already the biggest fuck up known to life as we know it. Right now, you are more likely than not creepy, stuck-up, untalented, unskilled, and overconfident. But so is everyone else, if one is being honest. Who doesn’t stumble? The key is to stumble in a way that matters, no matter how large or small. Maybe that explains why artists are held up in such a high esteem when they succeed: because they stumble in an appealing way.

That doesn’t excuse Bill Cosby, Lena Dunham, Woody Allen or Ted Nugent, though. So…do the work, but be educated. Be passionate, but not a prick. Be creative, but know that you are standing on top of people just as thankless and overworked as you are.

I’m sure the people you entertain/provoke as an artist could use a pat on the hand from The Invisible Hand, too, and just as desperately.

All work on this blog is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.