The Myth of the Failed Artistic Genius
Stop me if you've heard this story:
A person with amazing creative skill who is beset upon by the world, cursed to be exceptional at a profession that is forever beyond their reach.
Yeah, you heard that one too? Maybe you haven't heard it and instead you know it because it's you.
Okay, here's the punchline: It's bullshit. Here's the corollary: artists who fit that bill are lazy.
In the twenty-four years of working in the arts, I've only seen two types of artists in any art: those who put their work out there and aren't afraid to crash and burn, and those who hide their artwork, whine, and wonder when the world will finally come to them.
The latter outnumber the former by a vast amount.
As artists, we LOVE a powerful story. It's what we DO. We get people to feel things — with paintings, with video games, with writing. It's what drives us. The successful artists cast their drive outward and make new things to try and make the world feel something, those too afraid to fail turn their focus inward and make it about themselves.
The easiest way to make people feel something as an artist is with the story of your life, it's the world's basest and most natural art form. Everyone does it, to a degree. Your history, your circumstances, your past. They do this because it is safe. It's easy to criticize a piece of art. It's much harder to criticize a person.
In my experience, lazy artists focus on their story. Some of them are even exceptional at what they do in the arts as well. But don't let that inherent talent fool you, they have chosen to protect themselves from any possibility of criticism, putting the onus on the world to come and discover them.
If you think this is going to happen in a world exploding with artists in all fields, you are severely mistaken. Drive is more important now than ever before.
It is normal to feel under appreciated as an artist. Artists are the classic outsider. The archetype of the other. It's what makes us do what we do. However, at a certain point, you need to take this feeling, put a pin in it, and move the hell on.
There's an easy test to see if you've fallen into the trap of the failed artistic genius.
Ask yourself: have you shown anyone your work? Your best work? Have you sent it around through the proper channels? Have you been rejected? Have you been rejected A LOT? Have you been laughed at? Have you been told you will never make it?
If the answer is no, you need to re-think what you're doing and why you're doing it.
If you've answered yes to the above questions, congratulations, you're on your way.
Louis C.K. said it best.
"Whenever you leave behind failure, that means you’re doing better. If you think everything you’ve done has been great, you’re probably dumb."
I once had a wall of rejection letters in my room. I mean, a whole damn wall. Now I have an inbox full of emails of great work I have to turn down because I just don't have the time.
The path between these two points of the spectrum involved only this: continuously flinging my art out into the world without fear of criticism, taking relevant criticism to heart, ignoring the bullshit, and trying to get better.
Get your stuff out there.