I went to an album release party not too long ago. The music was incredible, and the band had printed stunning vinyl and CDs. As we were admiring those copies, a friend of mine, also a musician, made a remark that stuck with me. We held the CD and as I said wow! and turned it over in my hands, he shrugged a bit and said, “Yeah, but…no one cares.” I understood what he was saying. I replied, “Does that mean we shouldn’t do it?”
This exchange made me question why I do what I do. Isn’t that the great issue with any endeavor, artistic or otherwise? Why do it if no one cares? As an artist, I get this. It’s easy to feel lost in a noisy world. There’s always something new or another issue, not even around the corner- it’s literally a tiny slide of a finger away.
If we did things only because we wanted them to matter to an outside source, would that be worthwhile? The whole key is doing things that we truly believe in, that we love, that we want to bring into the world.
But there’s a couple of problems inherent in that. One, how do you continue when it seems no one cares? 50 Cent, in his book The 50th Law, writes that you keep putting it out publicly and listening to what people say and work to speak and incorporate that into what you do. I don’t really agree with that. I think a true avant-garde, a true trendsetter, take risks and can often be thought of as outer limits until (maybe) widespread acceptance sets in.
Second problem: Remaining motivated and retaining belief. This directly comes from the above. No one cares, and yet, I have to keep working simply because I have to. But man, it’s hard not to get depressed and want to quit sometimes.
Last weekend I had a show and I thought, why am I doing this? Does this matter? All the time I spend, all the effort, all the money? The very next night, I took my daughter to Taylor Swift’s concert at F1, and everyone there cared so much. I often don’t know if I am encouraged or discouraged by something like that. We spent hundreds of dollars and slogged ourselves out there through crowds and traffic. Do artists continually hold onto the hope that maybe it will matter on a grand scale someday? I know I’ve been guilty of that more than once.
Think of all the authors who went unpublished in their lifetimes. Emily Dickinson never knew the difference she made, with thousands of poems scattering her home. She just did it. Because for her, I am assuming, those words mattered and had to come out. Think of the artists who weren’t appreciated in their day. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his short lifetime. But those they have affected are forever changed, as just those two artists alone have inspired likely more than we can count. Who is to say you won’t someday, too, with something you create? Something that may be deemed not worthy of being cared for by some, today?
My mother spent the second half of her life writing. She was never published other than a small, self-published book of poetry. She worked tirelessly, hours on end, and I haven’t even read all her work, and it’s now been over eleven years since her death. Yet in addition to the writing itself, the physical act of it means a lot to me: that she worked so hard and kept at it because she was driven to do so.
This reminds me of a favorite quote of my late father’s, from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” It is impossible to ever truly know our impact on others. I just read the New York Times article about Kesha and her career, and how shocked she had been that she, once portrayed as a non-stop party girl, inspired others. Perhaps, by this thinking, when what we do or create affects one person and means something, it is utterly worth it. One or one million: does it matter?
Or perhaps it is simply worth it to ourselves. To create beauty, to love, to make, to live, this can be success, depending on our internal definition of said concept. Those CDs and albums mattered to that band. And they ended up making an impression on me, too. They did something. For no reason other than doing it. And it mattered to me, this one person.
The irony as I write this, of course, is whether anyone will read and care about this entire article. Maybe someone will, or maybe not. But I simply had to get it out. It’s been on my mind for weeks. And so, it mattered to me.
And then maybe one person will read it months from now, and breathe easier, and feel more solid in continuing with their own endeavor when it feels like it just doesn’t matter. I’m willing to trust that it will matter, and I’m willing to keep going. And affecting one life? That’s a beautiful thing.