Anyone who has spent time making art knows that it’s really hard to be proud of something that you’ve made. For example, I have a pen sitting by my keyboard that I made. It looks kind of stunning from this distance, but if I pick it up and look at it closely, the imperfections jump out. Even though the connections between the wood and the pen kit are almost perfect, I can hold it up and see a scratch on the black finish of the nib from where my hand slipped during the sand papering process and a tiny crack in the wood up closer to the top where I got a little too forceful with the reamer. It’s a pen I would have listed at $40 minimum, but because of these mistakes, it’s one of my personal pens that no one else will ever see.
Actually, there are a bunch of pens that I’ve made that have similar fates.
Artists are often their own harshest critics. And in a way, that’s good. Art needs a filter before it is released into the wild. One of the fears that was unleashed when Amazon made self-publishing a reality for so many writers is that the gatekeeper to the publishing industry was removed. Who’s going to figure out what’s worthy of being read now? How will you be able to sort through all the garbage to find a good book?
In a way, that fear never really manifested. Sure, loads of bad books were (and are) published on the Amazon format, but lots of newer good books were, too. I discovered a lot of great writers that just never had the interest of waiting for years to get their books published traditionally through this format–and a lot of awful writers. Eventually, the bad was weeded out of my reading library and the good remained.
The gatekeeper wasn’t removed, he just moved to a different place. Instead of the publishing houses, the market is the gatekeeper. It’s opened up a lot of awesome possibilities for more people.
So, what does this have to do with art?
In one way, there’s never been a traditional gatekeeper in the art world. For centuries, artists would need some sort of patron or benefactor to really devote themselves to their work. But unknown names (like Van Gogh) had the potential to work in obscurity and even if it took decades, their work was eventually recognized for the greatness that it held. The market decided, not the museums.
That’s why someone like Banksy can be so popular, yet museums turn down the art. The gatekeeper isn’t always right.
What am I proud of in my work? I am proud that it has made me pay attention to detail. I’m not good at that in real life. I can overlook the little things and focus on the big. But that’s not what art is. That’s not what relationships with others are. That’s not what a good book is. The little things are what separates good from great. I’m proud that my work has helped me to learn this and to keep striving to see those little things in whatever venue I’m in, whether it’s a conversation with my wife, reading a book, or rejecting a project to my “personal use only” stash. I’m proud that I’m seeing how to be a better, more compassionate person through my art–even if my art itself never sees the light of day as a result of that.