This past summer, Lauryn Hill showed up late to a show in Chicago. Someone in the crowd made note of it during her performance. She responded that she didn’t “owe” him anything and that, instead she “did this for love.”
The encounter stirred up some very interesting conversation about the relationship between an artist and her audience. And while I’m not entirely sure what I think about an artist “owing” anything to an audience, here’s an angle on the same conversation I am a bit clearer on: I think an artist greatly benefits from a relationship with her audience.
In my experience nothing has drawn out the best out of me like other people. Whether it’s CrossFit culture, which pairs me up with others to work out, or it’s fatherhood, it is the responsibility and privilege of passing myself onto others and sharing my life that often calls the best of me forward. I am simply not motivated sufficiently within myself to do my best work. It is always been that I get to offer my gift to listeners or viewers and readers that has drawn the better artistic work out of me
Friends in Alcoholics Anonymous tell me that, at some point, it’s not so much having a sponsor that keeps them sober so much as it is that they sponsor someone else. I believe the privilege and responsibility of relationship draws out the best in us. And I think an artist’s relationship to her audience not only helps to keep her on the rails at times, but also helps draw out the best in her, artistically.
I look a bit longer at this idea in my book “Title Pending,” which is available for pre-order now.
“Part of the hard work of being a good artist is learning when to put something down.”
This is an excerpt from “Title Pending: Things I Think About When I Make Stuff.” The book, a look at my creative process, will be available later this year.
The music is by Eluvium, whose magical work accompanies on many jogs. http://eluvium.net/works/
Over the next few months, I’ll be posting short, video excerpts from Title Pending, the book I’ll release later this year. Title Pending is a look at my creative process and history. It will be available later this year.
The above video is a few paragraphs from the book. I hope you find these thoughts helpful in your own process.
I’ve also created a video series exclusively for folks on my email list, highlighting key moments in my creative process over the years. I’ll touch on every album I’ve made and if that interests you, be sure to subscribe to the email list.
Later this year, I’ll release a short book I’m calling “Title Pending: Things I Think About When I Make Stuff.” Between now and then, I’m posting previews of the book here at this blog and elsewhere, like the Art House America blog or On Pop Theology. Below is the third installation (the first is here, the second here).
I don’t believe, at all, that every piece of art needs to make some kind of statement. But, in the event that part of what you want to do with your artwork is to say something you think is worth saying, then say it entirely. Write it all the way out. Sing it as loudly as you can. Paint it as broadly as your arms will allow. And if you do it all with both excellence and courage, I guarantee there is an audience willing to receive, engage and consider your idea or your critique,.. even if they disagree.
Give your readers, viewers or listeners the credit they deserve. They are whole persons whose lives are as nuanced and conflicted as yours. They can handle you being human and having human passions. In fact, they may need your art to be angled and slant and nuanced and conflicted so that it might help them give voice and shape to the lives your work touches.
For more in-depth previews of Title Pending, as well as for special access to unique content, sign up on the email list.