The heavens are trying to teach me something, it seems.
I saw my friend Mark deliberate over the final iteration of his memoir that's about to be published.
And I saw my other friend Carl spend night after night, recording his solo EP in a studio in downtown Atlanta.
I see all of this, and I realize something: There is still a place for great art in this world. Still a place for people who think outside the box, for misfit artists like me… and maybe you.
Why we need art
These friends of mine, these artists, are doing something that borderlines on obsession. They're tirelessly working their fingers to the bone to create something important and meaningful. They're spending more time on their craft than they ever will be rewarded for.
But none of that matters to them. Because they're creating art. And while the “reward” may never come, they will leave a legacy.
Art allows us to see the invisible, to call forth light in a world shrouded in darkness. It speaks to that most real part of ourselves we've forgotten. It transcends circumstance and gives perspective.
We can't face great art and not be changed. And the world most definitely needs to change — for the better. What will do the job?
- Politics won't do it. Laws and regulations aren't enough to transform human hearts.
- Business won't do it. Economic success doesn't translate to happiness and wholeness. (We should know this by now.)
- Science won't do it. Human progress describes how something works, not why it works.
None of these will work. Neither will intellectualism or sheer brute force. All these may be good for something. But they are not enough to change the world.
We need something more than an explanation or equation. We need to be restored. And only art can do that.
Great art begins with intention
Making great art requires good motives. You can't set out to do this with the sole intention of making money. It doesn't work like that. People see through your ruse. The work has to be, first and foremost, a labor of love.
Somehow, God takes notice of this and rewards you in his own, unexpected way. Eventually. Your job is to do the work, not expect the reward. And as you apply your passion, it turns into conviction, maybe even compulsion.
You spend hours and days and weeks and months and years trying to get it “just right.” This is not because you're a perfectionist, but because art warrants tedium.
Fortunately, it doesn't end there.
You still must ship
All this obsessing, all your constant tweaking, doesn't matter if you don't ship.
If you don't ship, it doesn't count.
I don't know how you reconcile the two sides of the creative spectrum (idea generation and production), but I know that it never goes away. If you are an artist, you have to learn to live in this tension.
You have to keep releasing your work into the world, and it has to be good. If it's excellent, and nobody sees it, it doesn't count. If it's on display for the world to see, but ordinary, it's irrelevant.
The path to compelling work lies somewhere in between the two extremes of genius-but-invisible and ordinary-but-in-your face.
Only the artist knows the true balance; only she can find the harmony. This is the person with the taste and passion to make meaningful work. She's the ones with enough gumption to create change. These people, true artists, are rare.
And for good reason…
There are a lot of people in the world doing mediocre work. The problem is they think it's pretty good. And that's what makes it mediocre.
“Pretty good” isn't good enough. If your project is not press release material, if it's not remarkable enough to tell the neighbors, then it needs more R&D. It needs to be more compelling, more noteworthy, more shareable.
Spend time on this. Make your book or album or dance class the most amazing, incredible thing you could possibly make it. And then ship.
Do this so that you don't have to feel like a sleaze for promoting it. Create something so world-changing that you're proud to promote it. Make it something you can't not talk about.
It sure beats the alternative, right?
Go do something amazing
What're you waiting for? It's time to begin. The world deserves better than mediocre. So do you, and so does your art.
And once you've created something, do it again. And again. And again, and again, and again…
The world is longing to be changed. It is desperate for great art. We need more artists. Will you rise to the occasion?