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The Artist's Motivation

May 13, 2015

Both of this week's posts are going to be slightly off-beat from my regular tone on these biweekly posts, mostly by sheer coincidence. But I came across an idea today that i just couldn't let go of, even after making a video about it. So writing it down seemed like the second best thing. This post is inspired by the wonderful Mary Kate Wiles's YouTube video:

Since several weeks ago, I've been managing a relatively young website by the name of Cafe Avant-Garde. Cafe Avant-Garde tries to make a place for the unheard voices of the average high-schoolers stuck in our lovely time of life, balancing relationships, academic expectations, and personal goals of identity in an insane juggling act of values. We talk about everything from the newest Avengers film to the downfalls of current science education to the stress of living under constant academic and social pressure, and our small team of around twenty people all share, more or less, the same goal -- to get our voices out there, for new audiences and our friends alike to stumble upon. But earlier today, one of the writers told me something that made me rethink the entire concept of running a website like this in the first place, and that's what I want to talk to you about, as well.

The story, very much abridged from its original form, is about the various people who have come out to tell us, the writers, that they agree with what we have to say about certain things, or that they've been thinking the same thing, and that they're glad we put it out there for the rest of the world to see. In other words, they told us we're doing well to reach our vision -- to get our voices out there for the rest of the world to see and consider, even if for a moment. And by saying that, they're telling us that our work -- the hours we spend writing our posts, having meetings, developing the website, and everything in between -- matters to them. To me, the fact that my time and effort does have some value in someone else's life makes my work worth it. And the fact that somebody somewhere has gotten some positive value out of something I've created justifies, in my mind, all of the effort I put in to each and every post I write, both here and on other websites.

They're telling us that our work -- the hours we spend writing our posts, having meetings, developing the website, and everything in between -- matters to them. To me, the fact that my time and effort does have some value in someone else's life makes my work worth it.

But building websites and cranking out computer code is hardly the most artistic thing I do -- that honor goes to my original music, mostly found as recordings on my YouTube channel. I share them with my friends on occasion, of course, but they're by no means getting thousands of views or making any money -- I just make those videos because I like writing songs, and I like putting them to matching photography or video. And whenever a friend tells me she listens to them while reading or that it's a part of her iPod's music library, it makes my day, simply because that tells me that the hours of work I put into writing a song and making a video brings value to the people who enjoy it. In other words, I create a lot of things, from websites and apps to small doodles and original music. And I, being a student, don't do the creative work I do for any explicit return, monetary or otherwise*. I sacrifice my own time I could be using for schoolwork and entertainment to create, because I love making things. But that doesn't mean I sometimes don't wish I had a little extra time to finish homework in time, or a couple of extra hours of sleep every day. I create because the value is implicit in my act of making stuff, and that value is satisfaction and enjoyment. And if someone else also finds their own values in what I do, that gives me assurance that what I do matters.

I create because the value is implicit in my act of making stuff, and that value is satisfaction and enjoyment. And if someone else also finds their own values in what I do, that gives me assurance that what I do matters.

Art, in whichever form you find them, isn't a one-way product. When I make a video project or a new piece of music and share it with the world, that's not a complete piece of art. I think a work of art is not the concrete object that we usually label as the "artwork", but the interaction that happens between the creator and the audience as a result of that concrete thing. A tree falling in a forest may always make a sound, but the "Moonlight Sonata" on infinite loop in a forest isn't always art. Art, and any creative work, gains value not in itself but when the audience gets something out of it. And for that reason, each and every person who tells me something positive about my work makes what I do, and the effort i put into it, that much more valuable.

I'm certain I speak for more than myself when I say that that's the artist's motivation -- people around them, the world around them, getting something of value out of the creative work that they do -- regardless of if they create music that makes people cry tears of joy, if they dance for thousands of tourists every day, or if they're an independent writer crafting short stories somewhere in the hidden corners of the Internet. Our work, the creative work, becomes more and more valuable to us when you find some value in it as well, and our time feels effortlessly light when we hear that what we do matter to you. So if you have an artist you like, an artist you can't seem to get enough of, an artist whose existence is your very livelihood -- go and tell them that their work matters, and that you get something out of what they do. It'll make their day just that much better. And of course, to anyone who's done the same for what I do, Thank You.


* If I were, by minimum wage only I'd have to earn two Benjamins every week -- unfortunately, that's not quite the reality I get to enjoy.