Create to express, not impress
Updated: Feb 19
Artists are crazy.
Our insanity spectrum is wide. It goes from quirky cute to full-blown "I'm going to strip naked and chase unicorns with a butterfly net because the great vanilla cracker in the chocolate sky is judging me again."
We can't help but be crazy; our diet consists of emotions, after all. Writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, chefs ... The medium matters little. In the end, we are all trying to give form to something that is intangible. Our perceptions and biases, our pains and joys, our darkest desires and fears -- everything that makes us who we are becomes raw material for that great processor between our ears to grind into something else. Something that, if we're lucky, will elicit a response from you, dear Public.
In other words, we're exhibitionists. We'll show you ours, whether or not we get to see yours. Crazy, I tell you! The motivation may be as self-centered as a narcissistic ego or as noble as the desire to fight social injustice. But I believe it is important for artists not to dwell too much on what effect our work might have.
A long time ago, in a classroom far, far away, one of my journalism instructors imparted this piece of advice: "Write to express, not impress." Let's change one word to make the statement more inclusive:
"Create to express, not impress."
This is more challenging than it seems. Egos being what they are, we all want to be noticed; we all want to matter, at least a little. We all hope that our lives will amount to something; that maybe, just maybe, we'll leave a mark on this world when we turn into stardust. Such speculations are understandable, but ultimately wasteful. We can't control how others react.
I would argue that, when we focus on impressing rather than expressing, we jeopardize our integrity to fit our perception of what may or may not be popular. We waste time trying to break or fit into an abstract mold created by what exactly? The fashion of the day? The politics of the moment? All of those things are fleeting, and ultimately shackle creativity.
Expressing an idea clearly, powerfully, even beautifully: That is the goal. The public being impressed is secondary, merely the consequence of a job well done. By being true to ourselves, by being authentic, we grow not just as artists, but as human beings. There lies true freedom.
Embrace the insanity.
— July 16, 2017