The Portrait of an Artist / by Chris Weigl

When I talk to young writers, many get a bit disconcerted when I tell them that I feel like the best way for me to utilize my talents and express myself as an artist is by creating my work for a business.  This strikes me as odd on a number of different levels and for a number of different reasons.  The most obvious reason I find this reaction to be a bit peculiar is because we all have to work for somebody.  You cannot escape that fact.  Many writers do try to escape that, unsuccessfully mind you, and writers as well as most artists have a serious problem with the idea that they are being controlled by something or someone.  This bucking of authority is what makes many artists great for it is this spirit that leads to an artist’s own unique perception and expression of reality. 

Another reason that I find this response to be odd is because though we may create art for ourselves or because of very personal motives that does not change the fact that art is consumed on a large scale.  This means, in short, that we have to compromise.  What I find most mind-boggling however are the reactions I get when I tell people that I co-own this business.  The creative side of the business is mine to run as I see fit.  That is what I get paid for.  My judgment isn’t good for much in the real world, but when it comes to taste and creating art that people can both identify with and understand that is something where my judgment happens to be extremely good.

What I often find so baffling in my conversations with young artists is the idea that they can conquer everything.  I find that idea absolutely terrifying.  Not only does that actually restrict what you’re capable of creating because it is going to have to fit such a wide scope of different tastes and pallates, but the idea of creating the perfect product is something that no artist has ever successfully sought out to do.  Mark Twain did not set out to write the quintessential American novel when he wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  James Joyce, although clearly thinking he was quite the genius, but never believing he was the only genius certainly did not think Ulysees would be among the most studied books ever written. 

We don’t seek to create great art, we seek to create good art and it’s greatness is either affirmed or denied by our audience.  As artists many times we feel that art is a one way street.  We feel like if we build it they will come.  People will recognize our genius because we recognize our genius.  These people forget that art must be embraced in order for it to become great.  Someone besides yourself or a close personal friend has to come across your work and proclaim it great before it can ever be recognized as something masterful.

Why I talk to young writers is because I want to hear from ordinary people.  Now, let me be very clear about this point; I don’t like ordinary people nor do I like ordinary problems.  These people bore me.  A lack of originality and creativity leads to a very dull existence.  Most people lack the ability to raise the bar of conversation to a suitably high level.  New and complex ideas should stimulate brain activity.  I’m not sure why I like new ideas, but not new routines, but this is part of the duplicity that the artist must struggle with.  Change befuddles us all, but when we begin to operate in a state of stasis we cease to live altogether.  We cannot live a life of non-stop adventure.  At some point we must get our barings for we must first have a strong foundation before we can begin to build.

Artists have a unique set of biases and life experiences that make them unique.  We filter our lives through these biases and experiences as we go on living and what we come out with at the end of the day is our art.  No one is unbiased.  A lack of bias is only possible if one has not experienced anything.  We’ve all experienced something.  Nearly every experience we have ever had in our lives shapes the way we view the world.  We may not be able to understand how life’s experiences affect us until later in life, but our experiences shape who we are as people and what we can do as artists.  Just as we cannot truly understand that which we have not experienced firsthand we should not judge those who have lived through circumstances we ourselves have not faced. 

Even if we have an experience in common with someone else we should not judge that as being equal to our experience because our interpretations will differ.  This is why art is interpreted differently by different people despite the fact we are all interpreting the same thing.  No one opinion is wrong.  It is an interpretation and that interpretation is part of our voice.  Our voices are what make us unique as people and our voices is what gets us paid as artists.  The world would be a far different place if we judged a little less and listened a little more.  It is for these reasons that it makes as much, if not more sense for a writer to start a business to further his/her ideas as it does to work for a corporation that will manipulate these ideas and copy/paste them until our ideas lose their value.  By owning what we do and more importantly by owning who we are and what we are creating we are asserting our value as artists and as people.